The Influence of Peru: Essential Ingredients that Shape Lima’s Gastronomy

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Peruvian gastronomy

Peru boasts a remarkable fusion of diverse foods and flavors, making it home to one of the world’s most renowned cuisines. The country’s culinary treasures have been nurtured by the bountiful resources of the Andes, the Amazon rainforest, and their exceptional biodiversity, providing Peruvians with a wealth of ingredients to craft some of the most extraordinary, enticing, and unparalleled dishes on the planet.

Lomo Saltado. A traditional Peruvian dish featuring sirloin strips, vegetables, and French fries.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JIMENA AGOIS FOR PROMPERÚ

Peru’s restaurants consistently earn prestigious spots on global top 50 lists, with Lima’s Central claiming the second spot in 2022. Passionate food enthusiasts can embark on a culinary pilgrimage through Lima, exploring a myriad of food establishments and relishing in the country’s gastronomic marvels.

The success of Peru’s cuisine can be attributed not only to the innovative and imaginative chefs but also to the indigenous ingredients that form the foundation of their culinary creativity.

Peruvian Ají

Ají, the Peruvian term for chili pepper, has remained relatively unknown internationally for centuries, yet it serves as a staple in many of Peru’s iconic dishes. These exceptional chilies can be sourced from the Peruvian Andes, offering an astonishing range of flavors and versatility. When combined with garlic and red onions, ají becomes an essential ingredient in modern Peruvian gastronomy.

Chefs primarily utilize fresh ají, but these chilies can also be dried and crushed or transformed into a paste.

Left: Ají, a chili pepper with Andean roots, known for its sweet and fruity flavors.
PHOTOGRAPH SUPPLIED BY PROMPERÚ
Right: Aji de Gallina, a popular dish featuring yellow peppers.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JIMENA AGOIS FOR PROMPERÚ

Each ají variety possesses its own distinctive flavor profile. For example, ají amarillo, a bright yellow pepper with a moderate level of heat, offers fruity and sweet notes, making it ideal for stews and marinades. On the other hand, ají panca, with its maroon hue and mild smoky flavor, enhances meat dishes with its earthy undertones.

Ají is incorporated into various Peruvian dishes and features prominently in the recipes of the country’s most esteemed restaurants. At the award-winning Mayta in Lima, diners can relish in ají amarillo with zapallos (squash puree) followed by sea bass with ají charapita.

Corvina

Before corvina, a type of white sea bass, graces the plates of food enthusiasts, it is caught in the shallow coastal waters along the Pacific coast, spanning from Chile to Peru.

Despite its unassuming silver coloration, this fish is incredibly versatile, lending itself to various cooking methods such as broiling, frying, baking, and more. Consequently, it has become a staple ingredient in traditional stews and soups.

In recent times, corvina has garnered attention from chefs and seafood connoisseurs alike, prompting Lima’s restaurants to experiment with it in their dishes. Notably, Chef Pia Leon at Kjolle presents a standout starter of corvina and clams.

Furthermore, corvina’s mild flavor allows it to harmonize beautifully with Peru’s most emblematic dish, ceviche—a preparation in which the fish is marinated in citrus juice. The acidity of the juice effectively “cooks” the fish, while the corvina’s firm and flaky texture elevates the dish.

Ceviche, an emblematic Peruvian dish beloved by locals and tourists alike.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JOSÉ CÁCERES FOR PROMPERÚ
Zapallo Loche

Deep in the Lambayeque region along the northern coast, one can discover the hidden gem known as zapallo loche. This medium-sized squash boasts a dark, bluish-green skin that mirrors the surrounding landscape—distinct in appearance and rich in color.

To taste this fruit is to savor the abundant heritage of Peruvian cuisine. Both its skin and golden yellow flesh are edible and have been used throughout history in stews, soups, and empanadas (baked, filled pastry parcels) due to its sweet, nutty flavor and high nutritional content (rich in vitamins A, C, and fiber).

Kjolle, a prominent restaurant in Lima, serves zapallo loche with shrimp and bitter orange, while one of Mayta’s specialties showcases duck paired with zapallo loche, exemplifying the versatility of this squash.

Zapallo loche, a squash full of character, nutritional value, and a centuries-long history of nourishing the Peruvian people.
PHOTOGRAPH FROM SHUTTERSTOCK
Pisco

Peru’s blessings extend beyond mouthwatering food; the country is also renowned for its beverages. One such treasure is the alcoholic drink known as pisco, which traces its origins back to the Spanish colonial period and remains an integral part of Peruvian heritage.

Pisco’s flavor is as intricate as its history. Crafted from eight different grape varieties, all grown and harvested in Peru’s coastal valleys, it undergoes pressing, fermentation, and distillation in copper pots, resulting in its distinctive taste.

Perhaps the most famous pisco-based drink is the pisco sour. This delightful concoction blends pisco with egg white, lemon or lime juice, Angostura bitters, and syrup, creating a sweet and tangy cocktail that captivates taste buds worldwide.

Apart from the pisco sour, there are several other pisco-based drinks to enjoy, including mosto verde, a fresh and fruity beverage made from partially fermented grape juice, and the maracuya sour, a sweet and aromatic cocktail combining passionfruit and pisco.

The renowned pisco sour, a delicious and refreshing cocktail with a silky texture.
PHOTOGRAPH SUPPLIED BY PROMPERÚ
Potatoes and Quinoa

While potatoes have been ingrained in Western culinary traditions for centuries, quinoa has gained popularity on Western plates more recently. Despite their apparent differences, these staple foods share a common origin—the Peruvian Andes. Historical evidence indicates that both crops thrived around Lake Titicaca, the second-largest lake in South America.

Long before potatoes became a staple in Europe, this versatile vegetable was cherished in ancient Peru. Often referred to as “Inca gold,” potatoes’ extended shelf life and nutritional value contributed to their domestication. The Incas not only used potatoes for sustenance but also utilized them for medicinal purposes, such as aiding childbirth and treating injuries. Potatoes continue to shine as side dishes on modern menus, with the café at Museo Larco serving them alongside aji de gallina, a classic Peruvian dish consisting of ají peppers, chicken, and a cream sauce.

Left: Unique and versatile dishes like Causa Rellena.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JIMENA AGOIS FOR PROMPERÚ
Right: Potatoes grace numerous menus across Lima.
PHOTOGRAPH SUPPLIED BY PROMPERÚ

Archaeologists exploring burial sites across different regions of Peru have discovered quinoa as a food offering for the deceased, underscoring the long-standing relationship between the native population and this grain. Today, while quinoa has gained worldwide popularity, it is best enjoyed in its country of origin. At Huaca Pucllana, a restaurant in Lima

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Peruvian gastronomy

What are some key ingredients that shape Lima’s gastronomy?

Lima’s gastronomy is shaped by a variety of key ingredients. Some notable ones include ají (Peruvian chili pepper), corvina (white sea bass), zapallo loche (a type of squash), and pisco (Peruvian alcoholic beverage). These ingredients contribute to the diverse and unique flavors found in Peruvian cuisine.

Why is ají important in Peruvian gastronomy?

Ají, the Peruvian chili pepper, plays a significant role in Peruvian gastronomy. It adds heat, flavor, and complexity to dishes. With different varieties offering distinct taste profiles, ají is used in various recipes, from stews and marinades to sauces and soups, showcasing its versatility and enhancing the culinary experience.

How is corvina used in Peruvian cuisine?

Corvina, a white sea bass, is a versatile ingredient in Peruvian cuisine. It can be prepared in different ways such as broiling, frying, or baking and is often featured in traditional stews and soups. Corvina’s mild flavor and firm texture make it a perfect choice for ceviche, a popular Peruvian dish where the fish is “cooked” in citrus juice.

What makes zapallo loche special in Peruvian cuisine?

Zapallo loche, a unique squash, holds a special place in Peruvian cuisine. Its dark bluish-green skin and golden yellow flesh offer a sweet and nutty flavor. Zapallo loche is used in various dishes such as stews, soups, and even empanadas. Its versatility and nutritional value, rich in vitamins A, C, and fiber, make it a cherished ingredient in Peruvian cooking.

What role does pisco play in Peruvian gastronomy?

Pisco, a renowned Peruvian alcoholic beverage, is deeply ingrained in Peruvian gastronomy and cultural heritage. Made from specific grape varieties grown in Peru’s coastal valleys, pisco is used to create iconic cocktails like the pisco sour. Its layered flavor, derived from careful distillation in copper pots, adds depth and character to many traditional and modern Peruvian drinks.

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3 comments

Foodie4Life July 10, 2023 - 7:56 pm

wow peru’s cuisine is just amazing with all these ingredients. love the ají peppers they are so versatile. pisco sour is a must try. yum!

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GastronomyExplorer July 11, 2023 - 7:31 am

lima’s culinary scene is out of this world! corvina and ceviche are just chef kiss perfection. gotta try zapallo loche and pisco too. yummmm!

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PeruvianFoodFanatic July 11, 2023 - 10:42 am

peru’s gastronomy is the bomb! those potatoes and quinoa are top-notch. and the ají peppers, omg, they bring the heat and flavor. can’t wait to visit lima and try it all!

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