My first exposure to comida Peruana was during a year a spent living in Buenos Aires. It was by total accident. Late one night I found no restaurants open to eat at. I wandered the empty streets around San Telmo and found a small Peruvian restaurant was still open. It didn’t look like much, but the food blew my mind.
The following May I decided to go to Peru to sample the food on its home turf. The mixture of warm and cold dishes, with a sweet acidic taste and heavy flavours, captivated my taste buds. I made it my mission to try as much as I could and assault my own taste buds with the rich and crisp flavours on offer on every street corner across the country.
The cornerstone and staple of fine Peruvian cuisine, there are plenty of variations of ceviche but the back to basics mixture of sea bass, lime juice, chilli, onion and salt that brought international acclaim to this national dish was my favourite.
The moist and creamy potatoes are juxtaposed by crisp and crunchy corn kernels, followed by the kick of the chilis on the back of the throat. The flavourful marinade is known as leche de tigre and can be drunk as a shot or blended with Pisco, the national spirit, to give a nightcap which kicks like a mule.
AJI DE GALLINA
This creamy chicken dish is a local favourite. Chicken shreds bathe in a rich and creamy yellow sauce. It is a milder dish, but no less flavoursome. The sauce and chicken are draped over rice and boiled potatoes and garnished with olives and a boiled egg.
PAPAS A LA HUANCAINA
The bright yellow colours of the potatoes and huancaina sauce may not be pleasing to look at but the mixture of strong flavours provide a complex and tasty dish. The chilis give a soft kick, but it is almost immediately softened by the cheese and citrus flavours.
It is usually served cold as a side dish or a starter. The huancaina sauce is also available on wraps and burgers at fast food outlets across the country and enhances any late-night snack.
Cuy, or guinea pig as it is commonly known, is a Peruvian delicacy, often served at weddings and other special occasions. You can find these in the mountainous regions of the country, oven roasted or sprawled out on sticks and barbecued at the side of the road.
The idea of tucking into guinea pig may not inspire an appetite, but those who have the heart to take it on are rewarded with tender meat nestled beneath a crisp and crunchy outer skin. Think of the tenderness of dark chicken meat, encased in a crispy hog roast skin.
My waiter told me that the only way to enjoy cuy is with your hands, giving it a fried chicken feel. The whole experience was given a macabre and eerie feel when the waiter placed a tiny Peruvian hat on the little-charred creature in a welcome gesture of dark humour.
Colourful and succulent red peppers are stuffed with a mixture of ground beef, onions, olives, raisins, garlic and herbs in this Peruvian classic. The heat of the pepper will clear any cold or sinus issue you have been nursing, as the rocoto is around ten times hotter than the average jalapeño pepper.
The egg and milk sauce generously applied to the top of this dish cools and soothes the tongue after the bombarding assault of the chilis. This still hasn’t gained universal popularity outside of Peru, but I would expect it to break into international recognition soon enough as the world wakes up to the delights of comida Peruana.
POLLO A LA BRASA
Peru’s shop windows are littered with rotisserie chicken and Lima’s streets are filled with the wafting smells of the garlic and herb marinade. The whole chicken is served with a tantalisingly good huacatay (black mint) sauce. Many Peruvian families have a closely guarded recipe for pollo a la brasa and are incredibly proud of it. This one should not be missed.