Best of Cuisine on Display in Peru

by Kathy Jones on Sep 30 2012 8:42 PM

 Best of Cuisine on Display in Peru
It has been claimed that only food and football can unite all Peruvians.
But with the nation's prowess on the pitch on the wane it is cooking that has become a passion.

Chicken morsels blended with rice and wrapped in leaves from a fabulously red, spiky Amazon plant called the Lobster Claw.

Or pork simmered with bananas, washed down with a glass of pisco -- the quintessential Peruvian brandy -- and snazzed up with mango or honey.

Welcome to Mistura, Latin America's largest culinary festival which attracts hundreds of thousands of foodies.

Peruvians are nuts about food, be it from the coast, mountains or jungle.

Cooking schools are all the rage among young people, with many dreaming of reaching the dizzying heights of Gaston Acurio, the country's best known chef and culinary ambassador.

French-trained Acurio is a friend and associate of Spain's Ferran Adria, considered the pioneer of molecular cuisine -- the art of taking food and drink apart and putting them back together in unexpected formats.

Luis and Virginia Flores and their two children came to the Peru food fair with a hearty appetite, plenty of time and the equivalent of 100 dollars -- a lot in this country where the average monthly salary is only twice that.

"We are going to taste a little bit of everything," said Luis Flores. "We are going to stay all day, eating slowly."

He said the pig roasted on a spit, or the chicken steamed in a metal drum, were "not to be missed."

About 150 restaurants were represented at the fair, which took place earlier in September.

The festival also illustrates what big business food is in Peru. It provides jobs for 300,000 people in more than 60,000 restaurants, more than half of them in Lima, according to 2010 figures from the Trade Ministry.

Juan Carlos Ventura, 21, studied in one of the hundreds of cooking schools that dot Lima and now works in a restaurant called Tumbes Mar. He said its specialty was a dish cooked with potatoes, a spicy yellow sauce and crab meat, all nestled under a crunchy layer of breadcrumbs.

Ventura's favorite is ceviche, the popular Latin American dish of seafood marinated with lemon or lime juice. "I recommend it for lunch as an option that is always fresh, especially if it is made with sole. It is the perfect fish, tasty, white and firm."

Isabel Alvarez, a sociologist and culinary researcher, said passion for food in Peru spanned young and old, urbanites and country folk, irrespective of social distinctions.

"They are all together on this," she told AFP, adding that society was otherwise very fragmented, and food -- like football -- was something people could enjoy together.

"Peru has not been in the World Cup for 30 years. In the face of all that frustration that people feel, we find this big success in cuisine, which means a collective achievement that we can show off to the world," she said.