Morena Cuadra, author of the blog Peru Delights is our new culinary expert for Peruvian cuisine on 196 flavors.
Can you tell us more about yourself?
I’m an editor, a traveler and a trained cook. I love to write and, of course, I’m an avid reader. I have two kids and two grand-babies, and have been living in Peru for most of my adult life.
Tell us more about your knowledge and experience when it comes to Peruvian cuisine.
I learned to cook when I got married and came to live in Peru. At first, I thought this cuisine was awesome but very complicated for a home cook, but then I learned the secrets and the techniques with my in-laws and with Amelia, our family’s cook. She is from the Andes and is an amazing cook. She is an expert in Andean food and taught me all her secrets of her delicious and comforting dishes.
What makes Peruvian cuisine unique? What differentiates it from other cuisines?
Peruvian cuisine is a melting pot where you can find Chinese, Japanese, Italian, Spanish, French, and African influences. All of these, combined with the local cuisine which is different in every part of the country (we have the coast, the Andes and the Amazon), along with superb ingredients, native and foreign, make an outstanding cuisine.
What is your favorite Peruvian recipe or the most unusual dish of the country?
That’s a tough one! I have so many favorite Peruvian recipes. Cebiche is one of them. Did you know that you can make the best cebiche in the world with only five ingredients? I love rice with shrimp, lomo saltado (stir-fried steak), causa (mashed yellow potato dumpling mixed with key lime, onion, chili and oil), everything made with quinoa and other Andean grains and cereals like kiwicha, cañihua, etc. Paiche (a fish from the Amazon river which weighs almost 200 lb) with Lima bean puree… And the most unusual… roasted piranhas (only in the Amazon), or roasted suri, a worm that grows in the palm tree. Locals say that these worms are great for your body and for the respiratory system.
What other cuisines do you like or influence your cuisine?
Sometimes, my cooking is a bit crazy. I love Central American and Mexican food because I grew up eating like this. And from my travels, I adore Moroccan, Italian, French and Spanish food. I had great meals in Sweden and some other countries. This is why in my cooking I try to incorporate the flavors from these countries, and from some Chinese or Thai dishes. I’m always buying and reading cookbooks and learning about spices from all over the world. I love to try everything.
Which place would you recommend to visit in Peru?
If you mean restaurants, you must go to Central in Lima. It is number 4 on the list of the 50 Best in the World. Maido serves Nikkei food and it is truly an amazing experience. Don’t miss La Balanza, Astrid & Gaston, and La Gloria. (There are so many!)
If you are traveling to Peru, you should know that Arequipa has a wonderful cuisine. In the northern part of the country, Piura, Chiclayo, Trujillo, have the best fish and seafood ever.
Is there any chef from Peru (or beyond) who is a reference for you?
I like Marisa Guiulfo, the best Peruvian caterer I know. She makes the best chupe de camarones (shrimp chowder) in the whole world. Her food is a masterpiece. I love Gaston Acurio, Pedro Miguel Schiaffino (he makes new Amazonian cuisine), Rafael Osterling, Rafael Piqueras… and Amelia.
What are the main difficulties in Peruvian cuisine?
I think it is the chili peppers. If you are not familiar with them, your food could be inedible. Peruvian cooks know how to tame the heat in the chili peppers to give their food their delicious flavors and colors with only a hint of heat. Then you could feel the floral and citric perfume of some of the chilies.
What would you suggest if you had to prepare a complete Peruvian menu: starter, main course, dessert?
Appetizer: Causa filled with crab
Main course: Aji de gallina (chicken in a spicy sauce)
Dessert: Suspiro limeño, manjar blanco (dulce de leche) topped with a port wine and cinnamon meringue
And now I am hungry!