Peru has one of the most diverse food cultures in the world–it’s home to 5,000 varieties of potatoes alone! With landscapes that span the Pacific Ocean, the Amazon Rainforest, and the Andes Mountains, the countryside is a rich tapestry of ingredients. Let’s go on a journey to get a taste of this rich flavor. Along the way, we’ll meet the chef working to preserve and elevate Peru’s culinary heritage!

Food is a storyteller. What we put on our plates says a lot about who we are, where we’re from, and how we grew up. So, what would the plate of a country look like?

On this edition of Saturdays Around the World, we are exploring the rich culinary history of Peru, a country home to a diverse range of landscapes and culinary traditions. From ceviche to potatoes, to delicacies hidden deep in the rainforest, we’re about to give you a little taste of what Peru has to offer.

Let’s start with a staple most of us are familiar with: the humble potato.

For most of us, the potato is a pretty boring food. Maybe we’ve seen it in yellow or purple or once had it seasoned with something exciting. But in Peru, the birthplace of this globally beloved vegetable, potatoes take on all kinds of unbelievable shapes, colors, and sizes!

While the potato is now the world’s fourth largest food crop, it was first cultivated by Peruvians around 8,000-5,000 BC. 1 Domesticated from the wild potato, there are now almost 5,000 varieties of potato preserved in the International Potato Center in Peru! 2

Our first adventure takes us to the farm of Julio Hancco Mamani in Southern Peru, where he cultivates nearly 400 varieties of potato! His dedication to the diversity and history of his crop speaks to the deep cultural and historical significance of this beloved ingredient to Peruvian food and culture.

Here he is in a beautiful piece from Great Big Story:

The beauty of Peruvian Food doesn’t end at potatoes…No, they are just the beginning to a menu of culinary wonders.

Think of Peru’s landscape as one of the world’s most diverse markets.

One with shelves brimming with brightly colored vegetables, fruits, herbs, and greens. These endless regional delicacies represent the country from the sea to summit to the soils of the rainforest. And they’re made even more beautiful when artfully combined!  

This is where the master chef Virgilio Martinez, comes in. He has made a name for himself as one of the most innovative chefs in the world. Every plate he crafts in his restaurant is a celebration of the diverse tastes across Peru. His use of rediscovered traditional and long forgotten flavors combined with regional delicacies is a true celebration of Peru’s foodscape!

With the help of Mater Iniciativa, the biological and cultural research center dedicated to searching out Peru’s treasure trove of untapped ingredients, Virgilio’s restaurant, Central, is creating a remarkable culinary experience.

Together, they are redefining Peruvian food through the celebration of the country’s native ingredients.

For them, it is all about highlighting the tradition of the ingredients. So here’s a great look at the work Central and Mater Iniciativa are doing to reimagine what “food of the region” looks like! Thanks to the wonderful creators at Great Big Story:

“The ingredients are not important because they’re tasty. They are important because of what they mean to their culture of origin.”
—Virgilio Martinez, Chef and owner of Central 

Food tells the story of who we are. It speaks to generations of traditions. Recipes are passed on, lands are tilled for centuries, new varieties of vegetables are the result of generations of cultivation. Celebrating a culinary tradition is celebrating the history of a people.

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We’ll leave you with one last culinary delight from the mountains of Peru.

In this video Virgilio and Malena, who you met in the previous video, head to the Peruvian Andes with the Off the Table series host Jim Kane to enjoy the cultural traditions and tastes of the region.

It’s beautiful that the artfully crafted plates served at Central have deep roots in longheld tradition!

Take a look:

If you want to check out more from the Off the Table series I suggest you jump over to their full playlist.  It’s a series that will leave you with a feeling of wanderlust. Your mouth will be watering as Jim Kane explores the dynamic culinary cultures of Spain and Latin America.

In particular, I was struck with how wonderful it was to see a chef out of their element. There’s something lovely about watching a master in a field learn from generations of knowledge. Outside of their state of the art kitchens, they are still artists working to perfect their craft.

What will you savor?

As always, writing about the food of another region reminds me of the dishes and specialties that I savor. I think to myself, “How I am fortunate enough to have grown up in places with different culinary traditions?” (Even though they are both in the United States.) It’s impossible to explain the taste of a fresh southern Illinois peach to a Vermonter. And even more difficult to describe the wonders of freshly boiled maple syrup to my family in Illinois. Yet, in combining the two over some Ben & Jerry’s vanilla ice cream, I have found a way to marry both of these regional culinary delights.

We don’t have to go someplace far away to celebrate the way food brings us together and is a part of our identity.

So, how will you look differently at your next meal?

Stay beautiful & keep laughing!

-Liesl

Tell us about your “food of the region”!

We want to know about the food you hold dear. What’s the story behind your Aunt Anna’s famous sweet rolls, or favorite stew? Share it with us on on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram using #ItsStillAnAmazingWorld!

Notes:

  1. Potatoes USA. “Potato Facts | The History of Potatoes | Facts About Potatoes.” Potatoes USA, www.potatogoodness.com/potato-fun-facts-history/. Accessed 8 May 2019.
  2. Mann, Charles C. “How the Potato Changed the World.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 1 Nov. 2011, www.smithsonianmag.com/history/how-the-potato-changed-the-world-108470605/. Accessed 8 May 2019.
  3. Great Big Story. “The Farmer Growing 400 Different Kinds of Potatoes.” YouTube, Great Big Story, 12 Sept. 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=p9qWJ89m-hY. Accessed 8 May 2019.
  4. Great Big Story. “Elevating Unknown Ingredients In Peru.” YouTube, Great Big Story, 4 Apr. 2019, www.youtube.com/watch?v=XzOar1TTxXE. Accessed 8 May 2019.
  5. New Worlder. “OFF THE TABLE #8: Virgilio and Malena Martínez.” YouTube, New Worlder, 5 Apr. 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=8mLRNCq62qg. Accessed 8 May 2019.

Liesl Ulrich-Verderber

COO of Ever Widening Circles, Founder of EWCed

Liesl is a camera-toting traveler, a global story seeker, and an aspiring—but more often floundering—outdoor enthusiast. She can be found on Instagram @Liesl.UV