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Ancient traditions and a growing gastronomy scene provide unique cultural experience

Article - April 9, 2016

Peru offers the opportunity to immerse yourself in a truly unique culture – one that balances ancient indigenous traditions with today’s modern, vibrant and stylish way of life, including some of the best gastronomy you can find anywhere in the world

From the Colonial and Incan architecture of Cusco, to the busy streets and beaches in Lima, Peru draws visitors from all over the world in search of its wonders. Whether it’s climbing up to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Machu Picchu where Inca emperor Pachacuti once ruled, or the beaches of Máncora or Punta Sal – Peru is a perfect destination for those searching for the opportunity to immerse themselves in a truly unique culture – one that balances ancient indigenous traditions with today’s increasingly modern way of life.

Language and culture
Language is one area where the diversity of the country can be seen. With 43 native languages there is coexistence in Peru that you don’t see in many other countries.

While Spanish is the official language, there is also Quechua, which is spoken in the Andes, as well as Shipibo, Ashaninka and Aguaruna that are used amongst communities in the Amazon.

The number of civilizations coexisting means there are a wealth of festivals that offer a look at Peruvian culture with close to 3,000 annual popular festivals in Peru, including patron saint feasts, processions, carnivals, and rituals. The indigenous cultures are celebrated in the country’s many religious or seasonal festivals, with lots of pageantry and celebrating. While there are many traditional Catholic celebrations such as Semana Santa (Holy Week) these are also adaptations of older agricultural festivals, like the harvest. Because of the amount of local festivals, visitors to the country can enjoy a slice of local culture and “fiesta” most of the year.

Cuzco’s most important festival, the Inti Raymi (Festival of the Sun) is held on June 24. It attracts tourists from all over Peru, the region and the world to celebrate on the streets. Cajamarca, meanwhile, celebrates Carnival in style with one of the most popular and rowdy events in the country.

The indigenous cultures are celebrated in the country’s many religious or seasonal festivals, with lots of pageantry and celebrating. While there are many traditional Catholic celebrations such as Semana Santa, these are also adaptations of older agricultural festivals, like the harvest

Music and dance
Music and dance have always played an important role in Peruvian society. Pre-Hispanic musicians used seashells, reeds, and even animal bones to produce sounds and explored themes of religion, war, and folklore. One of the most famous instruments is the panpipe, which is still played today. The music of Peru is an amalgamation of sounds and styles drawing on Peru’s Andean, Spanish, and African roots. The traditional folklórico music that originated in the Andes is famous for its melancholy pan-flute melodies and rhythmic charango guitar picking. Música criolla, on the other hand, emerged on the Pacific coast of Peru as Spaniards and African slaves blended their cultures with those of the indigenous tribes. Chicha has become one of the most popular hybrid genres for Peru’s urban working class. Chicha is a fusion of rock, cumbia and huayno that combines wistful guitar riffs with shuffling rhythms and soulful lyrics that usually focus around themes of poverty, heartbreak and life’s many struggles. This is the music most tourists hear in large cities coming from homes and cars.

Amazing gastronomy
One area of Peruvian culture which symbolizes the meeting of Peru’s many diverse and exotic elements is that of its rapidly growing gastronomic scene. While food has long been central to Peruvian culture, the growth in reputation of Peru’s amazing gastronomy around the world coincides with the government’s decision to begin branding the country back in 2003. That year, Pomperú (The Commission for Promotion of Export and Tourism) launched an aggressive international campaign, starting in Latin America and Spain, and arriving later to other European markets and the United States. The test of this project began in a food festival organized by the Hotel Ritz in Madrid. Johnny Schuler, connoisseur of pisco (Peruvian brandy), and native chef Rafael Piqueras were summoned to represent Peru, and word began to spread quick about the tasty treasures of the relatively unknown Peruvian gastronomy.

It was in 2005 when the Peruvian food scene really began to takeoff after a food brand to identify the country was born: Mucho Gusto, an initiative that pays tribute to the country’s cuisine.  Lima held the first ever Peruvian food fair with the name of Peru, Mucho Gusto in 2008. The following year, the Peruvian Society of Gastronomy then gave life to Mistura; a culinary event which has become one of the most important in the whole of Latin American.  

The gastronomic fair is part of the Peruvian “food boom” that has put Lima on the map for gourmet excellence.  The festival has grown from just 30,000 attendees back in 2008, to more than 600,000 who went last year. Every September, Peruvian restaurants and famous chefs from around the world gather in Lima for a celebration of Peruvian cuisine at the Mistura festival.

Traveling in Peru opens a gastronomical door to of some of the finest food in the world. Because of the mixture of cultures and climates, Peru offers a wide variety of cuisine that will suit every palette.

It is the diversity of Peru’s agriculture, microclimates, geography, and culture that has enriched the culinary industry in Peru to the point where it is now recognized as one of the best tasting global cuisines. The tourist-industry association estimates that 75,000 people visit Lima every year to enjoy its food, and while they’re there they spend an average of $1,250 each.

These days, the accolades for Peruvian gastronomy keep on coming. The Organization of American States (OAS) appointed Cultural Heritage of the Americas to Peruvian cuisine in 2011 and for the third consecutive year in 2015, Peru has been chosen as the best dining destination in the world by the prestigious World Travel Awards, known as the Oscars of Tourism. What’s more, in this year’s list of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants, two Peruvian restaurants are within twenty best in the world and one of them has been named as the best inLatin America.

“We can change the world though cuisine, but we are not the protagonists. We are just a way to spread what is going on in Peru”

VIRGILIO MARTÍNEZ VÉLIZ, Chef and Owner of Central Restaurante

A culinary melting pot
Indeed, from the fish of the coast to the exotic fruits that grow high in the mountains, Peru has arguably the best food in South America. While there are plenty of traditional dishes, there is also plenty of influence in Peruvian cuisine from Spanish food, as well as China, Italy, West Africa, and Japan.

The fusion of flavors has produced dishes like the unique anticucho de corazón, tacu-tacu stew and carapulcra – all dishes that have African heritage.  The traditional staples of Peruvian cuisine are corn, potatoes, and beans, combined with the Spanish influence of wheat, rice, and meat. Many traditional Peruvian foods including quinoa, kiwicha, and chili peppers have grown in popularity in recent years, as healthy eating becomes a big factor in people’s lives.

One Peruvian classic that tempts the taste buds of visitors is ceviche. Thanks to the bounty of seafood available in the country, this dish of raw fish marinated in citrus juice is a must-try for any visitor.

Food is a developing industry for Peru and a new generation of chefs are working and experimenting with local dishes and giving them a new twist. The availability and variety of ingredients means there is a lot for chefs to play with, from the 3,000 varieties of potatoes to yacon, oca, and kañihua. This combination of Peru’s ancient foods and culture with modern techniques and ingredients is making its way  onto menus in cities like Lima. In the past many chefs took inspiration from outside the country when it came to dishes, now they are looking within and using the rich gastronomic heritage that the country offers.