Rediscovering Peru food as we know it

I am not a writer or a storyteller. I am a man of flavours and ingredients coming from a faraway land of a mystic culture and exotic products.

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to rediscover my own country of Peru. Through flavours I was able to understand a culture that I kept in my childhood memory, that influences my palate and is a part of who I am today.

I left Peru more than 10 years ago – to discover the world, to embrace new cultures. I was a young chef in the quest of new flavours and forage traditions. I can say that I did travel extensively through Europe, North America, Asia and Australia. And after all that, here I am seeking those flavours and experiences that take me back to my grandma’s kitchen or a table full of friends sharing a ceviche at the beach.

Just 6 years ago I found my biggest challenge and set a personal mission, to bring to light those ingredients and flavours that were sleeping in my memory. Going back to my roots, awakening those stories that come with each smell and every bite.

Alejandro at Mercado de San Jose in Cuzco – photo Katrina Lobley

Going to Peru and living there are two different things. Travelling to Peru is like a romance. You have to visit it, understand its past, understand its people, learn from it, walk with it through its incredible landscapes, enjoy its food and drinks. Only then will you fall in love with Peru and the country will fall in love with you, and then, just then, you will really get to know the heart of Peru.

The heart and soul of Peru are the Peruvians, with their inimitable spirit. They are friendly, open, welcoming and proud of their history and culture.

Without this spirit there will be no Peru as we know it. It’s what makes Peruvian cuisine what it is, what makes Peruvian coast an incredible surfing spot, the Peruvian Andean Sierras a sentimental but not sad place, the Peruvian Amazon jungle a hot and happy green place.

Preparing fish at Mercado de Ica Peru

Preparing fish at Mercado de Ica – photo Katrina Lobley

I grew up in Lima, capital of Peru located in the coast. The cuisine there is very fresh and the main ingredients are aji amarillo (Peruvian yellow chilli), fresh seafood and fish.

I like to relate my memories with smell or flavours, it’s my way to describe things. So now close your eyes and think of the coast of Peru smelling like sea, the Pacific Ocean rich in fresh fish and seafood, fresh citrus from our limes and dry earthy cinnamon and cloves from our sweets, tangy grapes in the Pisco. Can you imagine?

Peru is well-established in the food world as the potato country, with more than 5,000 varieties of potatoes, but Peru is more than that. Peru has some of the most diverse ingredients in the world, like ajies (Peruvian chillies), citrus fruits, fish and seafood, grains like quinoa, herbs like coca leafs and huacatay (Black mint).

Preparing Pachamanca, a traditional Peruvian dish baked on hot stones

Preparing Pachamanca, a traditional Peruvian dish baked on hot stones – photo Katrina Lobley

Peru is a country of many regions and a great variety of cuisines, from the strong Spanish influence through to Chinese, Japanese and African. But what would be Peru without those incredible Andean products quinoa, corn, chocolate and more?

On Intrepid’s new Real Food Adventure – Peru you’ll discover that these local flavours, vegetables and wild animals like vicuñas and alpacas are the backbone of a whole empire. This is where traditions are kept in their people and through food we share our cultural heritage with visitors, as a whisper.

I end this trip of rediscovering with a hand full of quinoa, a few potatoes, aji amarillo, a nice fresh fish and a lot of aromatic herbs, to create a dish that resembles what I enjoyed as a kid, and share in my new home what I am and what I found in the great land that we all call Peru.

Photos in Peru c/o Katrina Lobley.


Rediscovering Peru food as we know it was last modified: October 6th, 2016 by Alejandro Saravia