As Peru’s Independence Day approaches the whole country paints itself red and white. Flags fly everywhere since the pride of a nation that is so rich in cultural diversity as ours requires a grand fiesta to celebrate the day in which we became free and independent.
Today we remember when the Liberator Don José de San Martín proclaimed the independence of Peru and we became a free republic instead of a colony of the Spanish Crown. For this reason today is very important in Peru. Throughout the country there will be an infinity of celebrations.
Although the most central is the massive Military Parade through the heart of Lima, the tastiest part of the celebration will be all the gastronomic fairs that will take place all over Peru. The finest chefs and cooks will gather in them to offer the public a taste of the most exquisite dishes of our traditions. The fairs will also bring together the winners of the competitions that took place during the year.
One example is the gastronomic fair presented by the District of Barranco, known for its food and famous bridge. This fair, and most others, is divided into two sections: sweet foods and savory foods.
In the section of sweet foods you can find the finest desserts, especially ones that date from the Viceroyality. These include the famous picarón covered with chancaca syrup, a deep-fried, golden ring made from sweet potato flour and topped with what we call “miel”, a syrup of raw sugar with seasonings.
You will also find our typical rice pudding and purple corn pudding, arroz con leche and mazamorra morada. Other desserts are the melcocha, the ranfañote, the frejol colado, and the famous King Kong. There are also humitas, pastel de manzana (apple pastry, and the famous shampu de la sierra. Desserts that originated after the colonial period will also be found. These include the famous suspiro ala limeña and the encanelado.
Another new offering is the very rustic iced cheese (queso helado) that was invented by a farmer with a lot of imagination. He developed this dessert to please his children but it became well known. People kept coming to his house for some. They were so fascinated with the dessert that they insisted it be made available for sale to other people. After lots of work, it is now presented in many gastronomic and other fairs, having become very well known and well liked.
The most interesting aspect is the way in which the queso helado is made. Based on the principle of an ice cream machine, this technique requires a barrel with ice water on which is placed a bowl containing a mixture of milk, cinnamon, cloves, and coconut. Then the bowl is moved rapidly by hand, simulating the action of an ice cream machine, until the proper consistency of the ice cream is obtained. It is ingenious and from the show the vendors gain a great presence in the fairs. The queso helado even made its way to Peru’s great culinary offering, the Mistura Fair.
In the realm of savory foods, the magnificent anticucho (skewer) of beef hearts rules. It is an exquisite urban dish that dates to viceregal times. They say it was created by the ingenious Moors who came to Peru as servants. Nowadays, it graces the menus of the most luxurious restaurants as well as being found in the traditional street carts of Lima.
To this treat are added choncholí skewers, as well as the papas rellenas (stuffed potatoes), the papa a la huancaína, and chanfainita. These dishes stand out as being the most representative of all that are found in the fair, since they are the ones the people most desire.
The fair’s decorations are spectacular. Every stand is decorated with the colors of the Peruvian flag, red and white. The design is viceregal, which gives it a touch of yesteryear. The people who work the fairs are dressed with clothes from the colonial period.
There is also a large stage where many artists perform, especially those who sing Creole music, which has become the national music. Not only do the artists make the event more exciting, they also give it the patriotic touch that is important for our national day. You will see old and young alike enjoying everything the fair has to offer.
Every cook has a story to tell whenever a diner approaches his or her stand. The gastronomic heritage extending from their grandparents to their parents and on to them, and the responsibility they have of continuing to cook are common themes. The cooks feel an obligation to continue presenting the flavors that have taken them so many years to perfect. They also feel the responsibility of teaching the art to their children so that it will continue from generation to generation.
Knowing clearly the mission that they should carry out in life, they throw themselves completely into the task of pleasing all who appreciate Peru’s gastronomy. They do not see it as just making food in order to survive, but rather an art which we can enjoy and which pleases our palate. In it one continuously finds new and different flavors, some simple and some complex, but all of them good.