As previously mentioned in this post, I grew up in a Peruvian household, with very traditional Peruvian cuisine. I’ve never questioned the origins of the food served in front of me as 1) it was free, and 2) my mother’s chancleta was waiting for any unappreciated questions. But now as an adult, I challenge the whereabouts of my family’s cuisine, and decided to investigate the truth behind all the rice and potatoes that have been served throughout my lifetime.
If I haven’t mentioned this already, my mother and grandmother are from Lima, whereas my grandfather is from Cajamarca. If this doesn’t make a difference to you, well you’re not alone because I was in the same mindset as well. But it turns out, regional cuisine is a huge thing in Peru. Lima, the capital of Peru, is located at the edge of the central coast, right next to the Pacific ocean, and Cajamarca is located in the upper coast. Who cares, right? But if you are interested in Peruvian gastronomy, the different locations of Peru have an impact in the food that’s produced due to the cultural and climatic disparities. There’s definitely a smorgasbord of cultural influences from many countries such as Spanish, Chinese, Italian, and Japanese cuisine that has fused with Inca traditions. Cuisine of the coast is strongly affected by Colonial Spain. Then, Japanese, African, and Chinese have been incorporated in current Peruvian cuisine. Meanwhile, the cuisine from the northern coast has Inca, Spanish,and African predominance.
Let’s use ceviche’s cousin, the tiradito, as an example of immigrant influence in Peruvian cuisine. A tiradito looks very much like italian carpaccio or japanese sashimi, but basically it’s thinly sliced white fish mixed with lime juice and aji amarillo paste. These dishes look very similar in their presentation. The tiradito is definitely influenced by japanese and italian counterparts, but modified to Peru’s current access to ingredients.
Arroz chaufa is another perfect example of immigrant cultural effect on Peruvian cuisine. Chinese cuisine is extremely popular throughout the country. Lima, in particular, has a plethora of Peruvian-style Chinese restaurants or “chifas” as they are known locally. Arroz chaufa, or Peruvian-chinese fried rice is a staple of this fusion.
Chinese Peruvians, also known as tusán (meaning local born), started as Chinese immigrants from Macau that were contracted laborers in the 1800s taken to work in the coastal sugar plantations in Peru. Also noted were the Chinese immigrants that feared communist regime after WWII, and thus found refuge in Peru. Currently, five percent of the Peruvian population is tusán.
Another country that has influenced Peruvian cuisine is Africa. The first Africans were brought to Peru as slaves for Francisco Pizarro (Spanish dude that conquered the Inca Empire) to help modernize Peru in the 1500s. Cau cau, or tripe stew, is a Peruvian dish linked to African cooking. It is said that this platter was conjured by the resourcefulness of the slaves brought to work in Peru. This modest meal is served in any authentic Peruvian restaurant, upscale or affordable.
To conclude this brief background, I think it’s safe to say that Peru’s gastronomy is a medley of different cultures. Forging delicious fusions based on ingredients at hand, is a practiced art Peru can claim confidently.
Written By Miami Food Blogger: Caroline Shalabi