Peru: First Impressions

29 Sep 2009, Posted by Jennifer Iannolo in chefs & restaurants, food, travel

suspiroAfter several days here in Peru, one thing has become apparent: This is a culture deeply in love with its food. Nowhere else have I seen such a strong emotional connection to the kitchen and table. In kicking off La Mistura, Peru’s annual culinary festival, Chef Gaston Acurio talked about the state of the economy, and how food is the one sector that is growing in this country — because the emotional connection Peruvians have with their food is the last thing they’re willing to let go. Instead, they are spending their scarce funds on high-quality food products and ensuring that one integral piece of their lives remains intact.

There is something to be learned from this. To eat in Peru is to take the pleasure of dining and hospitality to a level we rarely see in the U.S. Even the fast food here is of better quality — and I’m happy to say that Bembo’s, the national burger chain, is outselling the golden arches, simply because the food is better.

Service is also prized here, and Peruvians demand the very best. The quality is evident at every level, from street foods like anticuchos (hearts, liver and intestines), papa rellena (a mixture of beef, onions and olives deep fried in a mashed potato crust) and picarones (fried dough) to the more exotic fare found in the city’s best restaurants.

With such a rich choice of ingredients, my palate has been surprised a number of times with new textures and flavors, including some from the Amazon that I’ll detail in a later post. We’ve practically gorged ourselves on ceviche and pisco sours, both national treasures. We’ve even sampled cuy (guinea pig), which is surprisingly good, especially when the skin is crisped to a crunchy finish.

It will take me a while to really absorb and share what I’m experiencing here, because it’s life-changing. I’ve never had so many new flavors in a matter of days, so my palate is still reeling from the experience.

We are now in the Sacred Valley in preparation for our trip to Machu Picchu, and it seems that everywhere I look the landscape is bursting with colors and textures — my senses will remember this trip for many years to come. We’ll have videos, photos and podcasts in the months to come, and can’t wait to share it all, but for now we’ll post as much as we can. It’s difficult when we’re always on the go (I’m supposed to be sleeping right now, as I have a 6:45 AM train to Machu Picchu), but at the very least you can take a peek at my Facebook albums:

La Mistura Culinary Festival
Lima Market Visit & Ceviche Lesson
Lima: Photos of the City
Museum of Archaeology (and Erotica – my fave!)
Sacred Valley & Pisac Market (and me on an ATV – w00t!)