Excerpts from The Exotic Kitchens of Peru by Copeland Marks
Potatoes have been cultivated in Peru for an estimated 6,000 years in the high-altitude areas of Lake Titicaca. On a walk through the public market in Puno, the large city on the shores of the lake, one finds a diversified variety of potatoes in a startling number of sizes, shapes, and colors. There are an estimated forty-eight varieties of potatoes in the Puno-Lake Titicaca region. On display are long-twisted forms, rose-colored knobby shapes, smooth-skinned varieties, and light-brown conventional types. Among them is the yellow potato, which might be the most desirable of all, with its mealy texture and pleasant flavor. Peruvians admire yellow potatoes very much.
Potatoes are one of the four most important foods in the world. The others are rice, wheat, and corn. Statistics indicate that in 1970 Peruvians consumed 180 kilos (about 360 pounds) of potatoes per person per year. In 1996, consumption had decreased to 45 kilos (about 90 pounds), which is still a considerable quantity.
Nature has been generous to Peru. Everything seems to be available in the vegetable- and fruit-filled markets. The varied climate in the coastal (Lima), Andean (Cuzco), and jungle (Iquitos) regions makes it possible to find all one needs. An adjunct is the cross-cultural culinary contribution of the indigenous people, plus the Chinese, Negro, Japanese, and Italian immigrants. The sheer quantity and diversity of the culinary output is impressive. One can move from city to city or region to region and find dishes that are characteristic of the area. It makes for an exciting illustration of cooking, tasting, and recording.
When one thinks about the food of Peru, what leaps immediately to mind is ceviche, the raw seafood appetizer that is marinated in lemon or lime juice, which cooks it without flame. Red onion, chilies, and cilantro are typically added, but even so, Peruvian ceviche will differ from one region to another. The only limiting factor—and it is not one in Peru—is the freshness of the fish, which is derived from the unique and incredibly plentiful waters off the western coast of Peru. The best ceviche in all of Central and South America is Peruvian ceviche.
Peru probably has the most important cuisine in South America. Historically it combines the indigenous agricultural products of the tribal groups with the middle period, which saw the introduction of the Chinese and Negro immigrants, and secondarily the Italian immigrants, each of which made its respective culinary contribution. The contemporary (modern) scene is exemplified by the modifications that have occurred in the home kitchens and the attempt by home cooks (and restaurant chefs) to include specialty ingredients from imported sources. It is time that the richness of the Peruvian way of cooking be better known and better appreciated than it is at present.
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This page modified February 2007
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