Traditional Peruvian cuisine can be divided geographically into three branches: seaside, mountain and rainforest. The depth of the food has also been attracting global attention in recent years, with many local restaurants receiving international exposure. Here are seven things that define the gastronomic culture in Peru:
There are more than 3,000 kinds of potatoes
It all began with the Spanish expedition and subsequent discovery of the new continent: After landing in the Americas, explorers initiated the Columbian Exchange, in which they took home foods unheard of in the Old World, like the potato, tomato and maize. Life in Europe would never be the same again.
Long before quinoa, Peruvians brought the world a staple food in the form of a humble root vegetable. The adaptability and fast growth rate of potatoes made it instantly popular in European countries. (It would be almost unimaginable how people there would survive the difficult episodes in history without it.) As the birthplace of the potato, Peru’s Instituto Peruano de la Papa estimates there are more than 3,000 varieties grown on home soil, coming in all shapes and colors. Bonus—they’re all genetically unmodified.
Ceviche is a favorite in Peru, and is often the meal of choice for many locals. The coastal sensation is made with freshly-caught seafood steeped in onion, chiles, and most importantly, lemon or lime juice, resulting in the fish appearing as “cooked.” Like any household delicacy around the world, every family has its own secret recipe.
Seasoned with spices and grilled on open fire, guinea pig (or cuy) has been a delicacy for the Andes people for a long time. Though it has raised a few eyebrows in communities where the animal is seen as a pet, locals do not consider it any different from pork or beef.
Corn is everywhere
Another significant export, corn boasts a great amount of varieties in different hues, with the purple maíz morado being the most expensive. Popular local snacks, cancha, are large choclo kernels are toasted in olive oil and then sun-dried. The juice of corn is also used to produce chicha, the national beverage that can either be alcoholic or non-alcoholic.
From Spanish Conquistadores to Asian immigrants arriving from the 19th century, Peruvian cuisine has been constantly shaped by external influences. A large community of Cantonese live in Peru, which gave rise to Chifa cuisine, a Chinese-Peruvian hybrid prominently featured in cities like Lima. Dishes like lomo saltado, a beef stir-fry with onion, tomato and French fries, demonstrate such cross-cultural mingling.
It takes advantage of the nature
Ever so respectful to the natural surrounding they live in, the highland people are adept in making the most of the conditions. Pachamanca is the perfect example of this. According to the native language, pacha means “earth” while manca can be translated as “pot.” An “earth pot,” or oven, is created to cook spice-marinated meat and potatoes. The food is then covered with hot stones on the ground—it’s one of those dishes that makes you wonder how simple food can actually be so good.
A South American cuisine isn’t complete without street food, and salchipapas is the dish you’ll find at every turn in the city. Salchicha, or “sausage” and papa, meaning “potatoes,” makes this dish self-explanatory—the two are mixed together with a savory coleslaw and served with a variety of sauces on the side. Forget the calories and dig in.
This article originally appeared on the MICHELIN Guide Singapore website.