Everyone who knows a Peruvian knows that they love to eat. In fact, they’re quite obsessed with their food. Don’t you dare say you don’t like some Peruvian delicacy, it’s almost a mortal sin.
Kidding aside, Peruvian cuisine is increasingly getting popular around the world. Star chef Gaston Acurio just recently opened his first restaurant in New York City, La Mar, moving into Tabla’s old haunts. La Mar is preceded by very many good and not so good Peruvian joints in the city, perhaps most known is the excellent Pio Pio with 4 locations in Manhattan, 3 in Queens and one in the Bronx. And anyone who’s been to the Japanese Brazilian Peruvian fusion restaurant Sushi Samba can appreciate that Peruvian food definitely adds some flair.
What makes the Peruvian cuisine interesting is that it has been influenced by so many different directions. Immigrants from Japan, Spain, China, and Africa have all added their spices, utensils, ways to prepare the foods to the traditional Peruvian style. In addition, several of the foods we consider staples in our own kitchens originate from Peru and Latin America: potatoes, tomatoes, corn, peanuts and chilies. The sum of it all is a cuisine that’s quite unique. Ceviche: raw fresh fish/seafood “cooked” in the acidity of lime juice. Aji de Gallina: strips of chicken served with a creamy yellow and spicy sauce. Causa: mashed yellow potato in layers with chicken/tuna, avocado and mixed with key lime, onion and chili. Pachamanca: a variety of meats, herbs and vegetables that are slowly cooked in a covered hole in the ground on a bed of heated stones. And of course Lomo Saltado, the flagship of any Peruvian restaurant worth its name. Lomo Saltado is a dish of strips of beef cooked with onions, tomatoes, oregano and french fries. Served with rice, of course.
Which brings me to the funny side of Peruvian cuisine. Everything is served with rice and potatoes. Everything. Even pasta, sometimes, is served with rice and potatoes. If you don’t have those two sides, it’s not really a meal.
But potatoes can also be served on their own. With over 5,000 varieties of potatoes in Peru, it’s not a wonder that potatoes are so popular. So don’t be surprised to be served a plate of cold potatoes with a yellow spicy sauce for appetizer. Potatoes and nothing else. That’s Papa A La Huancaina. Delicious, but funny for us non-Peruvians. The other one is Papa A La Ocopa, in a gray-green creamy herbal sauce. Both are topped with slices of a boiled egg and black olives. Voilà – you’re set.
Unfortunately, overeating on rice and potatoes will give you a body like Sponge Bob: skinny legs with a square torso. While there is an emerging revolution of healthy foods and exercise, many people still look like they’re carrying a suitcase under their shirt. And tourists that come for a week or two will most likely gain a few pounds. But don’t let this discourage you from trying Peruvian food. Some of it’s really good. With all the seafood and lime, some of it is actually also healthy.
So go on – indulge. As long as as you stay away from all that rice and all those potatoes…