Peruvian is the new Mexican. The South American country's mouthwatering cured-fish ceviches, spicy mashed-potato causas and tender alpaca steaks — though possibly not its roasted guinea pigs — are going global. Native chefs such as Virgilio Martinez, of Central restaurant in Lima and of the forthcoming Lima London in Fitzrovia, are reworking the nation's classic dishes and its cornucopia of fresh ingredients for gourmet palates. International gastronomes such as Denmark's René Redzepi and Spain's Ferran Adrià sing the praises of Peruvian food, and Peruvian restaurants are springing up across the Americas, Spain and London.
I flew to Peru to taste today what the rest of the world will be eating tomorrow. Arriving in Lima at midnight from Miami, the signs do not look promising. Acres of traffic jams and urban sprawl are broken up by the glaring lights of casinos and enormous pollerias — fast-food chicken joints. But after a restful night at the historic Country Club hotel I get my first taste of the enormous variety of produce that Peru's rare geographical mix of coastline, jungles, mountains and rivers has to offer at the Mercado de Surquillo in the district of Miraflores.
Wandering around the 90-year-old domed building I sample chirimoya, a wet and impossibly sweet white fruit, and the creamy, orange lucuma, used to make icecreams and puddings. Huge, hard, red fruit of the cocoa plant are piled high next to rocoto chilli peppers the size of a fist and hotter than a habanero. There are dozens of different kinds of corn, including choclo, the kernels four times the size of those on European cobs, and the black Inca variety, which is boiled to make the sweet purple drink called chicha. Peru has 3,000 varieties of potato, I am told by one of the stall owners, 'but we only use about 36 of them'. A statue to Peru's black martyr, San Martin de Porres, gazes out from his shrine at the sides of beef dangling to the floor, and sole, sea bass and tuna fresh from the nearby Pacific.
Outside, gold-toothed women with stern Indian faces and traditional alpaca fedoras serve tamales and humitas — heavy, moist corn cakes wrapped in banana leaves. A small sample gives me an appetite for breakfast and
I head to Salon Capon, in Lima's Chinatown. Cantonese immigrants first came to Peru in the late 19th century to work in the burgeoning guano industry, and their presence resulted in a hybrid cuisine, chifa, or dim sum with a Latin flavour, such as the dense tau sar bao dumpling that yields a sweetly nutty brown paste.
I eat dry, peanutty duck and sin mai — pinkish steamed pork dumplings with a spicy kick. The first floor restaurant is basic and low-ceilinged but by 11am it is full of Chinese and Peruvian families.
Way to go
British Airways flies from London Heathrow to Lima via Madrid with Iberia and via Miami with American Airlines.
Join the Executive Club and earn around 28,836 Avios points when you fly Club World to Lima (return). Or to redeem your Avios points, 60,000 will get you to Lima. (World Traveller return, excluding taxes, fees and surcharges.)
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