By Louis Hooper
When my mother immigrated to the United States, she didn’t entirely leave her Peruvian heritage behind. Sure she learned the language and adjusted to the customs, but my sister and I were well aware growing up that there was a bit of Incan flare in our home: From unorthodox Christmas time traditions, to decorative plates of the Nazca lines in our dining room.
But if there are two things Peruvians (as well as any people of hispanic background) love, it’s music and food. Today we will be talking about the latter.
Keep in mind, this isn’t a recipe guide, but rather just a brief overview of some dishes I particularly enjoy.
At some point in your life or another, you’ve probably eaten a variety of different cow parts; brisket from the upper body, sirloin from the back, ribs from the… well, ribs. You get the idea. We like to use most parts of any animal we eat.
Yet if you were to tell someone in the states that you had eaten a cow’s Heart at some point in your life, they would probably raise an eyebrow or two in your direction… unless that person happens to be a Peruvian, in which case you’d be in good company.
Anticuchos are pretty straight forward: cuts of meat served on a stick like a kebab. What makes an anticucho an anticucho however is the specific piece of the cow used, which you might have already guessed is the heart.
While the idea of cooking an animals heart might seem grotesque to some, it is actually a very tender piece of meat, with a soft chewy texture and mild yet satisfying flavor (not counting the plethora of spices that would be applied, of course).
Perceptions of certain animals vary from country to country.
To Americans, Cockatoos seem like rare exotic birds, but to Australians they’re practically pigeons.
Cows are seen as mere livestock to Westerners, yet they are revered as holy beings in the streets of India.
And while someone in the states would think “Animal Companion” when they think of a guinea pig, a Peruvian would think “Dinner”
Much like how we use the word Chicken, Cui is a word used to describe both the guinea pig animal and the guinea pig’s meat. It’s a very common dish in Peru, and can be found served in a majority of restaurants across the country.
It’s a very gamey meat, comparable to rabbit, but unlike rabbit, Cui is traditionally served whole… yes, even the head. The head of the Guinea Pig is served still attached, gaping toothed maw spread open, as it is served on your plate. The rest of the animal’s body is served flattened with limbs extended.
Overall, it’s a hilariously grotesque display, but the average Peruvian citizen isn’t bothered by it. And hey, it’s some pretty good meat.
Green Noodles. The name Tallarines Verdes literally translates to green noodles. Green tends not to be a very appetizing color to a lot of people, and seeing a pile of green stringy stuff may not sound mouth-watering at first, but I assure you one taste is enough to make the sight of it plenty stimulating.
Pasta preparations tend to be the same anywhere you go in the world, but as they say, the secret is in the sauce, which just so happens to get its distinct green coloration from a mixture of basil and spinach. Other ingredients include condensed milk, pecans, and Queso Fresco, which literally translates to “Fresh Cheese”. While the naming conventions of this dish leave a little to be desired, the creamy, rich, yet not overpowering flavor are sure to satisfy, especially if served with some fried milanesa.
When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. When life gives you oranges, you make orange juice. And when life gives you corn, you make Chicha. And if there’s one thing South America has in abundance, it’s corn.
Chicha is found in a variety of South American countries, with different variations based on the local maize available.
They’re all prepared by boiling corn in water and adding a sweetener (and in some cases alcohol, but not always) but there is one kind of chicha that is unique to only Peru: Chicha Morada
Chicha Morada has a sweet, nutty flavor, and generally served without alcohol. For those without any knowledge of Spanish, the name basically translates to “Purple Corn Drink” and yes, where most Chicha is a yellow color, Chicha Morada’s claim to fame is its distinct purple color, produced from boiling purple corn.
It’s widely considered one of THE signature beverages of Peru and has a history of consumption even predating the Incas of old.
Usually when people think of Spanish food, stuff like Tacos or Paella come to mind. But just like divergent evolution in animals, the different cultures of South America’s various countries have also evolved in different ways, and food is a major aspect of culture (and I’ve only talked about four dishes). So keep that in mind; there’s more on the menu than you might think further south than the south of the border.