Peruvian food is being hailed as the next big thing in the food world. Movers and shakers in the industry are racing over to Lima to meet chef Gaston Acurio, taste the local dishes and learn about authentic ingredients. Then there are new Peruvian restaurants popping up all over the culinary capitals like New York, London, Cape Town and beyond.

Having recently returned from my trip there, I guess I was in the perfect place to comment. But frankly I could not rave about the food that we ate whilst we were there. Admittedly, we were on the road hiking the Inca trail and burying ourselves deep in the Amazon rainforest so I didn’t expect much more, but now that I am back, I wanted to understand just what everyone is getting excited about.

I guess it is thanks to their geography and heritage that Peru has such great food credentials. This incredible country incorporates the sea, the jungle/rainforest and those impressive, beautiful Andes mountains. Combined with that, it was home to some major food cultures over the years, with the indigenous Incas, The Spanish colonists and the Japanese settlers all bringing their influence and farming methods to the country. It’s no wonder it is a unique place for food.

Ceviche and Pisco cocktails seem to be the key components that have translated to the London restaurant scene with the opening of both Lima and Ceviche featuring this fishy favourite washed down with a Pisco Sour for good luck.

Roasted Guinea Pig

Anyone researching Peruvian food will come across the tradition of eating Guinea Pig and it was indeed readily available, particularly inland in places such as Cusco. The truth is that it is a bit gamey but more importantly not exactly meaty. I could only conclude it was there to shock/delight (delete as applicable) the tourists rather than for its culinary prowess.

We were all much more impressed with the alpaca which was organically farmed and a really wonderful meat to eat. This is not some chicken-reincarnated quirk, but a wonderful, lean white meat that is more in the veal category and was enjoyed by almost everyone one in our group. Very light, moist and tasty.

The biggest revelation for the people I travelled with was Quinoa (pronounced “Keen-wa”).

This has been a trendy ingredient for some time now, especially since it is a gluten free and cholesterol free wholegrain, so a good carb alternative for coeliacs and all those dieters who think it’s a good idea to avoid carbs completely. This grain is a great substitute for rice or barley and whilst it is on all the trendy healthy salad menus these days, it was in fact a staple for the Incas way back in the 1400’s. It was known as The Mother Grain to them and much cultivated at the high altitudes of the Andes. Last year, Peru banked $23m from exporting this little grain so they must love the fact that it has caught on.

Quinoa is in fact a protein rich chenopod, if you know what that is, or distant relation to spinach to you and me. The part that we eat is in fact the seed of the plant. It is a complete protein, containing all of the eight amino acids and has been recognised by the UN as a supercrop for its health benefits, packed with dietary fibre, iron, phosphorus and magnesium.

But more to the point, it is easy to cook and pretty tasty with a nice nutty flavour. We all enjoyed the local Quinoa soup and Quinotto which is risotto made with quinoa rather than rice. The soup in particular was new to me and one that I will recreate in my kitchen. I saw it made in the house we stayed at in Juliaca, on Lake Titicaca. They ate it for breakfast and served it to us for dinner. Very yummy and quite a revelation watching it made with water from the well on their wood fired stove.

The kitchen chez Joaquin Calsin, Juliaca, Peru

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