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Peru Food And Drink: A Cultural Odyssey

When you travel to Peru, you will soon discover that its diverse cuisine reflects the country’s long and colorful history. The meals you eat on a tour of Peru reflect the country’s distinctive geography, its colorful mosaic of races and nationalities, and its ability to maintain ancient traditions while embracing modern methodologies.

Mountain, jungle and coastal cultures inspire  many of the traditional Peruvian food specialties, while other tasty dishes show traces of European and Asian flavors. In their book entitled Culture and Customs of Peru, authors Cesar Ferreira and Eduardo Dargent-Chamot explain that Peruvian food illustrates the process of mestizaje – the mixing of races and cultures.

Ceviche, a popular highlight of Peruvian cuisine, Peru tours with Vaya Adventures

Ceviche, an enormously popular highlight of Peruvian cuisine

The Incas: The ancient Incas of Peru dined on the food that grew in the Andes region, including corn, potatoes, nuts and lima beans. Modern-day Peruvian cuisine continues to nod to its ancient heritage, and even some of its ancient cooking methods. The Pachamanca is an example.  The word comes from Quechua language, where “Pacha” means earth, and “Manca” means cooking pot. Pachamanca is thus an earth oven.  On the surface, Pachamanca is a dish prepared by burying it underground and cooking it over hot stones for about two to three hours. The preparation, however, is often a community event, which pays homage to the earth and sun gods and goddesses.  Grains, corn, potatoes, spices and a variety of meats comprise the typical Pachamanca.  If you are interested in participating in a Pachamanca, please let us know and we can arrange it.

The Spaniards: When the Spaniards arrived in Peru, they brought their own cooking ingredients, which included rabbit, cows and hens, and vegetables such as eggplants, onions, spinach and asparagus.  Their Moorish slaves introduced fruits such as figs, peaches, cherries, limes and apples into Peruvian cuisine, and added sugar cane to create a variety of sweets and desserts.  The alfajore is a chocolate-covered sandwich cookie filled with dulce de leche, a carmel-like substance made from sweetened milk. This Peruvian dessert, which often shows its smile-inducing face in other parts of South America,  is of Moorish origin.

The Africans: When the Africans arrived as slaves, they brought some of their culinary traditions with them. If you travel to coastal Peru, for example, you might have the opportunity to try Tacu Tacu, an Afro-Peruvian specialty comprised of rice and beans which are formed into a tortilla and fried. An egg or a slab of fried chicken of beef sometimes accompanies this dish.

The Italians: After Peru gained independence from Spain in 1821, Italians immigrants arrived from Genoa, and added their own cuisine specialties. Thus, it is not unusual to see a typical Peruvian dish — like the lime-marinated raw fish called the ceviche – served with a plate of spaghetti. The Italians might have influenced foods such as Conchitas a la Parmesana, or scallops topped with grated Parmesan cheese.

The Chinese: The Chinese arrived in the 19th century to work on the Peruvian railroads. After the migration, they opened their own restaurants.  As a result, Peru has over 2,000 chifas or Chinese restaurants.  You will notice many of them when you travel to Lima.  If you’re hungry, go inside and order Seafood Chaufa, a plate of Chinese fried with rice ginger, spices and lots of shellfish.

The Japanese: The Japanese immigrants arrived in Peru in the early 20th century. Their culinary influence prevails, as evidenced by the sushi restaurants you’ll see when you tour Lima.  The Japanese probably influenced the Titadito, a raw fish dish marinated in a ginger and red pepper sauce. If you’re in the mood for a snack or an appetizer, consider the tequeno or Peruvian spring roll.  These thin rolls are filled with seafood or chicken, fried, and served with a colorful medley of sauces.