Posted by: acooksca | 05/08/2012

Criolla Cuisine in Peru

Waiter Tomas Rojas, Lima

Waiter Tomas Rojas, Lima

Peru has probably the most diverse cuisine in South America. Foods that were prepared in the time of the Inca are still staple dishes in the Andes and the Amazon. Typical Peruvian dishes along the coast, however were influenced heavily by European, Asian and African immigrants. Indigenous products…potatoes, sweet potatoes, grains, corn, all manner of squashes, peppers, chilies, a wealth of seafood…blend with introduced products and foreign cooking techniques to form a fusion known as Comida Criolla.

Arriving in Lima last month, Bruce and I are told we must start with the national dish, ceviche. A meal of raw fish has been around since the earliest civilizations along the Peruvian coast. But it became ceviche when the Spanish brought citrus and onions to Peru.

We are directed to Antigua Taberna Queirolo in the neighborhood of Pueblo Libre. This is a modest place with a weathered bar and clusters of local men sharing a noon time Pisco (Peruvian grape brandy). The ceviche is simple: corvina sea bass in one-inch cubes tossed to order with leche de tigre (citrus juice seasoned with salt and pepper), accented by yellow aji peppers and very thinly sliced sweet red onions. Each flavor is distinct, full of vitality and in perfect balance.

Antigua Taberna Queirolo

Antigua Taberna Queirolo

The next afternoon we find Restaurante Portofino, on the sea cliffs of the tony Mireflores district in Lima. This level of dining targets wealthy locals and foreign visitors. Our waiter, Tomas Rojas, directs us to a mixed seafood ceviche and scallops wrapped in bacon accented with local chilies and Pisco. The seafood is so well prepared that we return for another lunch a few days later. Tomas recommends a good Chilean Sauvignon Blanc and we order two Italian style seafood salads, one featuring pounds of grilled octopus with potatoes on sautéed greens. Richly flavored and at half the price it would be in Europe.

Many of the criolla classics are clearly Spanish in origin such as Rocoto Relleno (small red peppers stuffed with ground meat, capers and vegetables), Escabeche (fish with peppers, eggs, olives) and empanadas. Chifas are Peruvian-Chinese restaurants, often very modest, preparing one of the country’s most beloved dishes, Lomo Saltido. This turns out to be a stir fry of beef strips and vegetables in soy sauce over white rice served with fried potatoes. With Pisco Sour cocktails one night we order a ubiquitous bar snack in Lima: grilled beef heart skewers, a contribution of the African community.

Scallops with Bacon, chilies and Pisco

Scallops with Bacon, chilies and Pisco

Before heading down to Peru we eat at La Mar Cebicheria Peruana in San Francisco, a restaurant by Peruvian celebrity chef Gaston Acurio.  Acurio has 20 restaurants in his portfolio in North and South America, Mexico and Europe, all serving some form of Peruvian cuisine.

 Now in Lima we secure a table at his elegant Astrid y Gaston, named one of the top restaurants in South America. The dining rooms are sophisticated, the service engaging and the wine list international. The menu is one of the most whimsical we have ever seen. Each dish is described poetically. I order an appetizer translated as “scampering through wild fields on dainty pig paws”. This turns out to be boned pigs feet stuffed with native herbs and they are spectacular. Both my lamb entrée and Bruce’s suckling pig arrive in five distinctive, complex preparations.

This cuisine is criolla gone global, less Peru than Paris. It is a place far too expensive for most Peruvians to ever dine at. And they probably wouldn’t recognize much on the menu as “local.”  But it is pushing Peru’s diverse culinary scene to new limits and that seems very criolla.

La Mar in San Francisco:
Astrid y Gaston in Lima:





  1. Ohhhhh makes me want to go to Peru right now !!! what a wonderful food adventure.

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