Best known until recently for the Incas, Macchu Picchu and Paddington Bear, Peru is now a key player on the world gastronomic stage with Peruvian restaurants popping up all over the world.Theirs is the ultimate fusion food — a result of centuries of immigration and the converging of cultures and cuisines. From the Spanish conquistadores who arrived in the 16th century, to later arrivals of African, Italian, Japanese and Chinese immingrants, fusion can be clearly seen in dishes such as the Japanese-influenced tiradito, a sashimi-style dish of raw fish 'cooked' in lime juice, or the popular chifa (Peruvian-Chinese food).
Martin Morales, owner of London's first modern Peruvian restaurant, Ceviche, said: "All these people brought all their own foods and mixed them with Peruvian and created subcategories of cuisine that only exist in Peru. "Foreign influences aside, within the country itself the food is very diverse. The territory spans the soaring Andes, the tropical Amazon and the Pacific coast, meaning that the biodiversity is second to none — Peru boasts over 3,000 varieties of native potato. Such incredibly dynamic produce means they have a lot to work with in the kitchen.
This fits in perfectly with their national passion: food. From ritzy Lima suburbs to the remote Andean foothills, food is and always has been a hot topic. Martin said: "We cook a lot, we eat a lot, we're very critical of it and we're very passionate about it. We find it so fascinating."
Peruvian food is not just experiencing a revolution here in the UK. Gabriel Gonzalez, owner of Lima London, said: "It started by going in to the main Latin American capitals, then to the USA especially New York, Florida and San Francisco. "In Peru itself the boom is in full swing. Gabriel said: "It's a foodie destination nowadays. They declared it the food capital of the Americas many years ago. There are about 80,000 student chefs in Peru – that is the most per capita any country has. "We want to bring the boom that's happening in Lima right now to London."Ceviche is the quintessentially Peruvian fish dish that has got people talking and their taste buds tingling.Martin said: "The best ceviche is so simple. All you need is the freshest fish, a squeeze of lime, a bit of salt and some chilli. That's it. "This marinade is called tiger’s milk and the fish is "cooked" in it for just a few minutes. The result is a colourful, refreshing and light dish with the perfect balance of spice.
The surf is best followed by some turf. An anticucho — skewered barbecued meat — was a staple for the African slaves whom Spanish colonisers brought with them aross the Atlantic. The dish was originally a way to make the scraps, normally beef heart, more palatable. Now they are a national delicacy served in parrilladas (grills) and at street stalls all over the country.As well as authentic imports, the new wave of Peruvian restaurants also serve reinterpretations of native classics. Ceviche offers arroz con pato (duck with rice) but this simplistic translation does it no justice. It is a show-stopping, melt-in-the-mouth duck confit marinated and cooked in coriander and dark beer rice – imagine a Peruvian abuela's (grandmother's) cooking brought bang up to date in 2012.Fear not, Peru's notorious national dish, cuy (barbecued guinea pig) has not yet made its way onto any of the menus.Dishes are generally small plates designed for sharing and are often healthy. The grain quinoa is a national staple and exotic fruits and nuts abound.Part of Gabriel's prerogative is to bring some of these unusual ingredients into the wider market and incorporate them into his menu.
"We source unheard of ingredients and try to bring those products into the market and create awareness about them, for example rare seeds from the Amazon," he said. "The whole value chain is included in the process, from the producer to the chef. "Most people will recognise most of what the dishes contain, we didn't want them to be alienating but there might be one or two things that are new to them." It's not just the food that has put Peruvian cuisine on the map. Peru's national drink, Pisco Sour, a grape brandy cocktail, is a 'must try'. The heady and delightfully smooth mix of Pisco with lime juice, egg whites, sugar syrup and a couple of dashes of Angostura bitters is a heavenly accompaniment for a plate of ceviche.With both restaurants buzzing on weeknights, it seems London has welcomed Peruvian fare with open arms. Next month Coya, a contemporary take on Peruvian, opens on Piccadilly. Headed by Anjum Waney, the brains behind the acclaimed Zuma, Roka and The Art's Club, his interest in the cuisine is a sure sign that Peruvian food is not just a passing novelty.
Try out some Peruvian classics at home:Lemon Sole Ceviche
Ceviche, 17 Frith Street, London, W1 www.cevicheuk.comLima London, 31 Rathbone Place, London, W1 www.limalondon.com