Financial Times shares our love of Peruvian cuisine!

As have continuously touted the merits of Peru’s culinary treasures and are thrilled to see the Financial Times echo are sentiments! Aracari’s very own Marisol Mosquera is quoted in below article.

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After Machu Picchu, try Lima’s tacu tacu
By Naomi Mapstone
Published: November 7 2008 19:50 | Last updated: November 7 2008 19:50

It’s lunchtime at El Rincón que no Conoces, one of Lima’s best criollo restaurants, and the restaurant floor is packed. Diners, eyes glinting with anticipation, sip on chicha morada, a juice made from purple corn, quince, cinnamon and cloves, and watch great steaming plates pass by. There is tacu tacu (refried beans and rice), carapulco con cerdo (dried potato stew with pork) and pickled pigs feet.

The buzz of conversation stills for a moment as an elderly woman dressed in a long purple robe steps into the room from the kitchen. The robe marks Teresa Izquierdo out as a devout Christian (who, like many others in Lima) wears purple for a month each year to venerate the Lord of Miracles, a mural painted by a slave on to the only wall of a church to survive a devastating earthquake in the 17th century.

Izquierdo opened this restaurant 31 years ago, calling it ‘the corner that nobody knows’ because it was her first venture as a cook beyond the homes of Peru’s elite families. Now in her 70s, Izquierdo has been cooking since she was eight, and she is renowned for her faithful and painstaking approach to cooking the criollo cuisine developed by African slaves brought to Peru by the Spanish conquistadores from the 16th century until the abolition of slavery in 1856.

“My mother wanted me to be a midwife,” Izquierdo says, laughing. “She said there would always be work.” Seeing a child born put an end to this recession-proof career path quickly, she admits, something her Peruvian followers are no doubt grateful for.

While Izquierdo and El Rincón is no secret among Limenos, tourists are relatively new converts to their charms.

Ever since explorer Hiram Bingham crawled across flimsy rope bridges and through dense jungle to discover the great Incan ruins of Machu Picchu, tourists have been drawn to Peru for its archeological riches, its dramatic Andean mountainscapes and its vast tracts of Amazonian jungle.

But when travellers returned home, their tales of food revolved around guinea pigs and alpaca; much of the best food was being cooked in people’s homes.

As Gastón Acurio, Peru’s most famous chef, says, Peruvians for many years suffered from a cultural cringe when it came to their cuisine. “We were not proud of it,” says Acurio. “We were always taught to import culture from outside the country and suddenly we realised that our food was a great product that we have invested in for the last 5,000 years … that it is possible that instead of importing culture, we can export culture.” Acurio has been a leader in this shift in thinking, branching out from his fine-dining restaurant, Astrid y Gaston, to T’anta, a sleek bistro and La Mar, a high-end cevicheria. He now has restaurants across Latin America and in Spain and the US, and from his studio in Lima’s bohemian Barranco district he constantly develops further concepts.

Tourists from Latin America are ignoring the majesty of Machu Picchu and coming to Lima for a weekend to eat, he says.”They are coming from Chile, Colombia, Venezuela, Argentina, all over. They might have dinner at Astrid y Gaston, lunch at La Mar, then dinner at Malabar and then go to La Granja Azul to eat roasted chicken.”

Tourists from the US and Europe, who once gave Lima wide berth, using it only as a pitstop en route to Cusco, are spending extra days in Lima to sample the cuisine, he adds.

Acurio’s enthusiasm is palpable. Peruvians are a people obsessed with comida, from ceviche – fresh raw fish tossed in lime juice, chilli, coriander and salt – to anticuchos, barbecued skewers of marinated sliced cow heart, and causas, cold yellow mashed potato filled with variations of seafood.

Gay Barclay, an American who travelled to Peru for a horse-riding trip between Machu Picchu and Cusco, discovered this when a Peruvian friend greeted her with a long and considered list of dishes she had to try. He ordered a few of them at the Museo Rafael Larco Herrera. “The aji [yellow chilli] sauce made a huge impression on me,” Barclay recalls. “The beautiful colour and the lovely flavour and” of course “ I was just swept away by the quality of the ceviche.”

But her favourite meal came later in the mountains near Cusco. “It was a revelation. We received a plate of plain steamed potatoes. A purple one, a red one and a yellow one … then there came these three marvellous sauces: aji, black olive and green herb. It was so good we ordered it twice.”

The quality of ingredients is something that the French-born chef Hervé Galidie extols. At his elegant Miraflores restaurant he employs French technique with ingredients such as camu camu, an Amazonian fruit, with acclaimed results.

Marisol Mosquera, executive director of Aracari travel consulting, which specialises in tailoring itineraries, says her clients are increasingly sampling the cuisine. “Peru in the 17th century was a centre for fine dining and lavish entertaining,” she says. “The Spanish brought olive oil, lemons and onion, their Moorish cooks brought cinnamon and cloves and introduced frying … and the Africans introduced hog breeding and the production of fat .”

Later waves of immigrants from China and Japan brought further influences, giving birth to Chifa – a mix of Lima creole and Chinese influences – and Nikkei fusion cuisine, a mix of Peruvian and Japanese.

Adrian Macedo Fernandez, an Aracari guide takes tourists to Lima’s culinary haunts, from markets, where he splits open Amazonian fruits for tastings, to the seaside suburb of Chorrillos for a demonstration of the art of perfect ceviche by Sonia Bahamonde: fresh fish, tossed with squeezed Peruvian lime, garlic, coriander and chillies and a little salt, served with sweet potato and corn.

Naomi Mapstone is the FT’s Andean correspondent
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Details

Gaston Acurio’s La Mar cevicheria (Avenida La Mar 770 Miraflores, Lima) serves great ceviche and tiraditos and feels tropical even on grey days. Bookings recommended.

Hervé at Atahualpa (195 Miraflores, tel: +51 1 446 5164), serves excellent New Andean cuisine with a French base in a chic setting.
Pescados Capitales, a gorgeous cevicheria (Avenida La Mar 1337, Miraflores; tel: +51 1 421 8808) puns the Spanish for fish with the Spanish for sins pecados and rewards gluttony, vice and sloth.

Chef Wong. Javier Wong’s restaurant has been called a “speakeasy for ceviche” (Garci­a Leon 114, between block 3 and block 4 of Avenida Canada; tel: +51 1 470 6217).

At El Senorio de Sulco (1470 Malecon Cisneros, Miraflores; www.senoriodesulco.com) chef-owner Isabel Alvarez and her son and executive chef Flavio Alvarez specialise in fusing traditional Peruvian cuisine with modern technique.

Astrid y Gaston is Gaston Acurio’s fine-dining restaurant in a beautiful old house (175 Calle Cantuarias, Miraflores; www.astridygaston.com)
Copyright ©  The Financial Times Limited 2008

 

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