Until recently, many tourists would have viewed Lima as a necessary diversion on their way to Cusco, the former Inca capital, and Machu Picchu. But in recent years the Peruvian capital has become somewhat of a gastronomic mecca for Peruvian cuisine: It’s estimated that as much as 100,000 tourists now come to Lima each year for the food alone.
Blessed with an abundant variety of natural resources, from the seafood of the Pacific to the vegetables of the Andes and the wild tropical abundance of herbs and fish from the Amazon, Peru’s disparate climates – from coastal desert to Andean valleys and Amazon jungle – produce a cornucopia of fruit, fish, vegetables, spices and grains.
An example of the sheer magnitude of available ingredients in Peru is that it famously yields 3,000 varieties of the simple potato.
But the country doesn’t just have great ingredients; it has one of the world’s great culinary fusions.
Over the past two centuries, with the arrival of African slaves, along with an amalgamation of immigrants, including Italians, Japanese and Chinese, a strange and eclectic blend of cuisines and cooking styles have been stewing together (excuse the pun), and the past two decades have seen increasing innovation based on that rich variety.
Considered a secret gem of worldwide gastronomy for some time, over the past few years Peruvian cuisine – and that of Lima in particular – has become less and less of a secret, to the point where it has overtaken even the traditional stalwarts of worldwide cooking: countries like Italy and France. According to Restaurant magazine, an astonishing seven of the top fifteen worldwide restaurants are found in Peru.
So any tourist thinking of arriving to Lima only to quickly depart should think twice. And most of those who do take the time to discover Lima, other than maybe the most seasoned of gastronomites, will realize soon enough just how little they really know about food, and how it can be served; on menus here they will find all sorts of almost-unimaginable fare: from Alpaca to freshwater snails, from ceviche to guinea pig. Not to mention the molecular gastronomy craze in Lima, which is increasingly rivaling even the Nordic experts of that particular genre of cooking.
“Cooking now vies with Machu Picchu as a source of national pride”
There are a whole generation of chefs spreading a new Peruvian vision of what food can become when approached with typical Peruvian inventiveness, and this nationalist vision is typified by a man named Gaston Acurio, chef and owner of a host of restaurants in both Lima and abroad and known as the godfather of Peruvian gastronomy – and even tipped by some as a future president; proof, if it was needed, of just how important Peruvians take their cusine.
Cooking now vies with Machu Picchu as a source of national pride, and it’s no surprise given the sheer number of quality restaurants to be found in both Lima and Peru, and the astonishing smorgasbord of different foods and their different preparations.