A rumor races from ear to ear in Peru. “They say Peruvian cuisine is conquering the world, but in France there are no Peruvian restaurants.” That is whispered with all the fire of unproven “truth” and envy. It is the old voice of a Peru that lived insecure in the face of a world where all good things came from the north.
It even made its way to me in the United States. I could hear the clucks of “I told you so” scolding one and all. If the French, those who invented gastronomy and restaurants, would not tolerate Peruvian food it must not be as good as Gastón Acurio and his fellow promoters insist.
Though I could not hop on a plane, because of work obligations, to go to Paris to check out the truth of this assertion, I could go online. A simple google search for “resto Peruvien Paris” or “Peruvian Restaurant” turned up a different face.
Peruvian restaurants and cafes array themselves over the arrondissements of Paris like minced parsley on a soup in Cuzco.Even when you discount for what in good Andean Spanish is called “alardería” or overstated self-promotion and presumption, a common trait, you find proof that Peruvian food is spreading from country to country outside Peru.
The efforts of Peru’s government to use gastronomy as a pole of development is bearing fruit abroad. Of course, this comes on top of emigration from Peru in the nineties and the first decade of this century. While it may not universally be all the rage, it is widely accepted and promoted, gaining friends in high places.
One sees names that could be on Peruvian restaurants elsewhere, a kind of totemism of names that signify national identity to Peruvians and nationals. In Paris these include the Picaflor (hummingbird), El Condor Pasa (the flight of the Condor), Cevichería Mi Peru, Rico Peru, Machu Picchu, El Pulpo, El Galán, and so on. Similar names crop up wherever Peruvians are located.
Hummingbirds, condors, squid, horsemen, the great Inca city, and the name of the country, over and over. It is as if talismen from the great myths of Peru’s ancient civilizations along with the Spanish conquistadors, flew, swam, and rode now in condensed form all over the globe.
It used to be that people would say “vale un Peru”, it is “worth a Peru” to speak of the great wealth in gold and silver that came out of that country and financed the Industrial revolution. Now that same saying also speaks of the great riches in cuisine that come from Peru and develop in engagement with it.
But it is more, Peruvian food is growing in sophistication and in the variety of offerings. Years ago you would find a small canon of creole dishes–lomo saltado, pollo saltado, suprema de pollo, jalea de mariscos, ceviche, and so on. Now the offerings are much larger and creativity on the code of Peruvian food abounds.
Just look to see in the United States how Peruvian restaurants have dealt with the national Holiday of Thanksgiving celebrated this week, when North Americans of all races and ethnicities eat turkey.
Peruvians also serve turkey; it is one of the indigenous birds of the Americas after all. While many restaurants in the United States would offer special versions of Peruvian dishes, many others experimented with turkey to come up with versions of the big bird that spoke both Peruvian and American, such as a roast turkey with Peruvian pepper as part of a dry rub, and sauces made from Peruvian berries on the side.
It is not just Americans in Peru who engaged in this kind of hybridity. Peruvian restaurants and households throughout the US did as well.
Peruvian restaurants gain stars and their chefs gain ever more recognition. In fact there is a demand for chefs trained in Peruvian culinary schools with experience in Lima restaurants to work abroad.
Peruvian food is here to stay and, like many international cuisines, it will continue to adapt to its host countries, to the expectations of people who may have been tourists in Peru, to the dreams of Peruvian expats, and to the endless desires of chefs to innovate. The cuisine will never be the same again, nor will Peru, despite the scolds and gossips. Peruvian food is indeed claiming a place in the world.