November 11, 2022 5 min read
We believe a country’s gastronomy talks a lot about it. The fact that you can have a clear idea of how a country was born, how people live and even what type of environment comprises it with just looking at or tasting its food is mesmerizing.
The marks we see in Peru’s cuisine, for example, tell us a long and interesting story of how it became one of the most diverse in the world. We’re going to take a brief trip into thehistory of Peruvian food, how it all began and all the aspects that have made it what it is today.
Even though Peruvian food consists of an important mix of different countries’ ingredients, it all began before the invasions, it all started with the Inca culture. Due to its peculiar soil and gentle weather, Peru is a country able to grow several types of food.
From tubers such as maca and yuca to grains like corn and quinoa, passing through sugar cane, chillies and fruits like lucuma and aguaymanto, you can find almost any type of food group in Peru’s lands.
Thehistory of Peruvian foodeven suggests quinoa was so important for Inca culture that it was considered sacred. People called it the “mother grain” orchisaya mama and it is also said that the Inca emperor used to plant the first quinoa seeds each year as it was a privilege.
Regarding the animal source food, it was reserved to people of higher status but it was a part of many dishes. The Incas used to eat meat coming from llamas, deer, fish, guinea pigs and some types of birds. Although they might seem like exotic meats nowadays most of them are still cooked.
Like any other Latin American country (or any country in the world, for the matter) thehistory of Peruvian food evolved drastically with the Spanish conquest. This occupation represented an open door for ingredients not only Spanish but from all over the European continent.
Creole food was born with the mix of Spanish food such as potatoes (which would become one of the most used ingredients in Peruvian cuisine), onions, citrics, beef and dairy, and the classic ingredients found in Peruvian land.
But not only the conquerors brought their gastronomy to the table, African slaves who arrived at Peru ‘spiced up’ Peruvian food with their strong flavors. It is actually the Africans who brought one of Peru’s most beloved dishes, Peruvian anticuchos (you can check the full recipehere).
With the Peruvian Revolution came an important number of immigrants from several European countries. This could only mean an even bigger diversity in the local cuisine in small dishes such as mousse coming from France.
Although Europe was the first region to add something to Peruvian gastronomy, nobody could have foreseen the great impact of Asian food on this Latin American country. How did this happen?
Reaching the first half of the XIX Century, the first Japanese and Chinese immigrants arrived at Peru to work as servants, and ever since then they revolutionized Peruvian cuisine.
After decades of hard labor serving wealthy families, most of the Asian immigrants managed to live established and better lives.
Slowly more and more Chinese and Japanese restaurants began to open in Peru, with their classic dishes but with a warm nod to Peruvian cuisine to show their gratefulness.
But it’s not only the ingredients that were adopted by Peruvian gastronomy, some techniques such as the stir-fry and the preparation of raw fish and shellfish was spread widely across the country and coasts.
As you can see, thehistory of Peruvian food is an extraordinary one. After all, not many can say that they gather the best of the four continents in just one country.
So when you’re a mouth- watering ceviche, or indulging in a warm plate of lomo saltado, you can thank the many, many cultures who did their part in making Peruvian cuisine a global delight.
There was a surplus in Japanese farmers seeking work during the First Sino-Japanese War in the late 1800s. It coincided with the years after the Pacific War between Chile, Peru, and Bolivia, which saw many of Peru's Chinese workers disappear. It was the first country in South America to receive Japanese farmers. In 1899, the first boat arrived in Peru. Many never returned to Japan.
"When these communities began to grow, they wanted their cuisine but couldn't find the right ingredients," says Alejandro Saravia, Peruvian chef from Pastuso. He will soon open Farmer's Daughters in Melbourne and UMA in Perth. "For instance, we don't normally grow wasabi, so they substituted it with Peruvian chilies."
The Japanese-Peruvian cuisine Nikkei was born out of this resourcefulness. Tiradito is another example of a Nikkei-inspired dish, and it is available at Pastuso. After being marinated in citrus, Peruvian ceviche can be served diced and turned white. Tiradito, on the other side, is cut like sashimi. The marinade will drizzle over the fish just before it's served.
Tiradito can also be found on the menu at Nikkei Bar & Restaurant, Sydney. However, this new version is made from duck breast. Marco Oshiro Giron, venue manager, is used to hearing people tell him that the menu is not Japanese or Peruvian.
He says, "People might think our menu isn't very Japanese. But Nikkei's Peruvian cuisine is through and through Japanese food because Peruvians made it."
Nikkei was established in Sydney in November 2019 and was inspired by Marco's heritage and the desire to present a new approach to an under-represented cuisine.
Marco admits that "growing up, the culture at my home was very South American" and that he still doesn't know much about his heritage. "You can ask the fourth and fifth generations about Japan. All they know is Peru."
Marco knows how to navigate a bar. However, he is not bound to any tradition. He can create unique cocktails inspired by Nikkei, such as the Morada with pisco (Peru's national spirit), chicha Morada (a drink made of purple corn), yuzu [Japanese citrus], aquafaba (chickpea hydration), and plum bitters.
"Peruvian-Japanese isn't fusion; that is what we tell our customers. Nikkei cuisine is a 100-year-old tradition. Marco says that it is an organic mixture of cultures."
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