1 GEOGRAPHIC SETTING AND ENVIRONMENT
Peru is South America's third-largest country, with an area of
496,226 square miles (1,285,220 square kilometers), slightly smaller than
the state of Alaska. Peru is divided into three contrasting topographical
regions: the coast, the Andean highlands, and the Amazon rainforest to the
east, with 18 rivers and 200 tributaries. The Peruvian Andes are divided
into three chains. The western mountain chain runs parallel to the coast
and forms the Peruvian continental divide. Less regular are the Cordillera
Central and Cordillera Oriental. Lake Titicaca (Lago Titicaca), the
highest navigable lake in the world (about 12,500 feet/3,800 meters high),
lies partly in Peru and partly in Bolivia.
2 HISTORY AND FOOD
The first inhabitants of Peru are believed to have migrated from Asia
These early nomadic (roaming) tribesmen relied on the hunting of animals
and the gathering of fruits and plants to survive. By 5000
, small communities were established and the early cultivation of cotton,
chili peppers, beans, squash, and maize (similar to corn) began. Most of
the early settlers lived near the coast, where the wet climate allowed for
planted seeds to grow.
One of the world's most popular vegetables,
(potatoes), were first grown in Peru. The earliest remains of potatoes
have been discovered at archeological sites in southern and eastern Peru,
dating as far back as 400
However, it was not until the 1400s that Europeans first came in contact
with the potato. They took the vegetable back to Europe, where it was slow
to gain acceptance. Europe now cultivates the largest number of potatoes,
but Peru continues to produce the largest potato varieties and has been
referred to as the "Potato Capital of the World." Potatoes
were not the only vegetable in ancient Peru, however. Avocado
pits have been discovered buried with mummies dating as far back as 750
The Incas came to power in the 1400s. They survived mostly on maize and
potatoes that they planted on terraces that they carved out of steep
hillsides (which can still be seen today). Their empire was short-lived,
however. In 1528, the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro discovered
Peru and was intrigued by the riches of the Inca Empire. The Spanish
helped to introduce chicken, pork, and lamb to the Incas. In return, the
Incas introduced the Spanish to a wide variety of potatoes and
(chili peppers). As the Spanish gained control, they demanded that the
natives grow such European crops as wheat, barley, beans, and carrots. As
European disease struck the Incas and a shortage of labor arose, slaves
from Africa were brought over to work on the new plantations. Africans
contributed such foods as
(anise-sweetened, deep-fried pastries made from a pumpkin dough), to the
Peruvian cuisine, as did Polynesians from the Pacific Islands, the
Chinese, and the Japanese.
Baked Papas (Potato) Skins
- 8 baking (russet) potatoes, scrubbed and pat dry
- Olive oil, to brush on potato skins
- Sweet paprika, to sprinkle on potato skins
- Salt (coarse preferred)
- Sour cream, for topping
- Preheat the oven to 425°F.
- Prick the potatoes a few times with a fork and bake them in the middle
of the oven for 1 hour.
- Let the potatoes cool, halve them lengthwise, and scoop them out,
leaving a ¼-inch shell; reserve the potato pulp for another use.
- Cut each shell lengthwise into 6 strips and arrange the strips on a
- Brush the strips with the oil, sprinkle them with paprika, salt, and
pepper, to taste, and bake them again at the same temperature for 20 to
25 more minutes, or until they are crisp and golden brown.
- Serve the potato skins with the sour cream.
Palta Aji Sauce (Avocado Chili Sauce)
- 3 ripe avocados, peeled, pit removed, and mashed
- ⅓ cup cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
- 1 large tomato, finely diced
- 3 hard boiled eggs, grated
- 1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce, or to taste
- ½ lemon juice
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Combine ingredients in a medium-size bowl; mix well.
- Serve with fresh vegetables.
Picarones (Pumpkin Fritters)
- 1 package dry yeast
- ¼ cup lukewarm water
- 2 Tablespoons sugar
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 1 can (16-ounce) pumpkin
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 4 cups flour
- Oil, for frying
- Maple syrup
- In a large bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the lukewarm water and stir to
- Add the sugar, egg, pumpkin, and salt; combine thoroughly.
- Add the flour, ½ cup at a time, until the dough becomes too stiff
to beat with a wooden spoon.
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and knead in enough of
the remaining flour to prevent the dough from sticking to your fingers.
- Continue kneading until the dough is smooth and elastic (about 8
- Shape it into a ball and place in a greased bowl. Cover and let rise in
a warm place for 1 hour, or until doubled in size.
- Punch down the dough and tear off pieces, shaping into doughnut-like
rings, about 3 inches in diameter.
- Heat about 1-inch of oil in a deep skillet and fry the fritters for
about 5 minutes, turning them once, until crisp and golden brown.
- Drain on paper towels and serve immediately with warm maple syrup.
Makes 12 servings.
3 FOODS OF THE PERUVIANS
The Peruvian cuisine largely consists of spicy dishes that originated as a
blend of Spanish and indigenous foods. Such dishes are often referred to
, or Creole.
(chili) is the most popular spice in Peru and is used in a variety of
ways to give food extra flavor. Mint, oregano, basil, parsley, and
cilantro are also included in Peruvian dishes, particularly soups and
stews. Aside from spices, however, potatoes, rice, beans, fish, and
various grains are essential staples (foods eaten nearly everyday) in the
Peru's unique variety of climates and landscapes has helped to make
the Peruvian menus some of the most diverse in South America. Such
geographical variety gives Peru distinct culinary regions that are
The diet of people living in the highlands includes corn, potatoes,
and rice. These women offer sacks of dried corn and other grains to
shoppers at a market near Lake Titicaca.
divided into coastal, mountainous/highland, and tropical. In addition,
the impact of various ethnic influences can be seen through indigenous
(native), Spanish, Asian, and African cooking styles and dishes.
The Pacific Ocean provides Peru with a wide variety of seafood,
particularly for those who live near the coast.
—fish, shrimp, scallops, or squid marinated in a lime and pepper
mixture—might be considered one of the country's national
dishes, due to its overwhelming popularity. It is often served with
(toasted corn), or sweet potatoes. Salads in this region are also common,
huevos a la rusa
(egg salad) and
The mountainous/highland diet closely resembles food the Incas prepared
hundreds of years ago. Basic staples of potatoes, corn, rice, and various
meats (especially beef and pork) are common ingredients in the highland
Choclo con queso
(corn on the cob with cheese) and
(meat-filled corn dumplings) are popular corn dishes.
(deep-fried pork and chicken),
(meat cooked over a hot stone pit) are common meat dishes in this area.
Soups containing an abundance of spices, onions, and eggs, as well as
freshly caught fish from Lake Titicaca (particularly trout), help satisfy
the highlanders' appetites.
Meats and fresh fruits and vegetables are the basis of the tropical
Peruvian diet. Bananas, plantains (similar to the banana), and yucca
(similar to a yam) are readily available, and therefore are eaten in great
quantities. Inhabitants of the tropical region also enjoy a variety of
fish, wild game (such as boars, monkeys, pigs, deer, and chickens), and
plenty of rice.
Choclo con Queso (Corn on the Cob with Cheese)
- Corn on the cob (one with the largest kernels you can find)
- Monterey jack cheese, cut into small cubes
- Box of toothpicks
- Boil corn on the cob in salted water in a large pot, about 15 minutes.
- Let cool and remove kernels from cob by standing the cob on an end and
slicing downward with a knife.
- Place a few kernels of corn with one cube of cheese on each toothpick
(or as fits). Serve cold.
Makes about 3 dozen.
Street vendors throughout the country often sell some of Peru's
most beloved food and drinks. Coconut-, chocolate-, and lemon-flavored
(cakes) are sweet and loved by Peruvians of all ages.
(ice cream) is a favorite among children. Snacks such as fried plantain
(banana chips) are widely available, as is Inka Cola, a Peruvian
bubble-gum-flavored soft drink. What is not available from vendors will
likely be sold at a local meat or produce market or a local
Frozen Orange Delight
- 2 cups water
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 cups orange juice
- ¼ cup lemon juice
- Rind of 1 orange, grated
- In a saucepan, bring water to a boil. Stir in the sugar until it has
- Allow the sweetened water to cool for about 20 minutes.
- Mix in the orange juice, lemon juice, and orange rind.
- Pour this mixture into 2 ice cube trays with the dividers removed, or
use a freezer-proof bowl, pie plate, or cake pan.
- Freeze until solid, and serve like ice cream or sherbet.
Makes about 2 pints.
Flan, a sweet dessert garnished here with a slice of star fruit, is
a favorite in restaurants throughout Peru.
4 FOOD FOR RELIGIOUS AND HOLIDAY CELEBRATIONS
As a result of Peru's heavy Spanish influence, most Peruvians (90
percent) are devout Catholics. Christian holidays such as Easter,
Christmas, and All Saints' Day are joyously celebrated throughout
the country, often with fireworks, bullfights, dancing, and roast pig. The
remainder of the population adheres to indigenous beliefs, believing in
the gods and spirits the Incas once did hundreds of years ago. Many
Christian holidays coincide with existing traditional festivals, allowing
most Peruvians, regardless of differences in beliefs, to celebrate
Christmas brings great joy to the Christians of Peru, especially children
who await the arrival of Santa Claus. Families use the holiday time to
travel to the homes of family and close friends. Because of the number of
people rushing about through Peru's streets, vendors rush to sell
holiday foods and other goods to passing people. Sweet mango juice, bakery
rolls, and homemade
doughnuts coated with sugar and syrup are Christmas favorites. Flan,
caramel custard enjoyed throughout Central and South American countries
(as well as Spain, the Philippines, and the United States), is also a
dessert enjoyed by Peruvians.
- ¼ cup sugar, plus ¾ cup sugar
- 4 drops lemon juice
- 2 cups milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 4 eggs
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- In a small saucepan, heat ¼ cup sugar and drops of lemon juice over
low heat until mixture is dark brown, like caramel syrup. (Don't
worry if syrup burns a little.)
- Pour into a flan mold (oven-proof straight-sided souffle dish or
individual molds work nicely), covering all sides and bottom with the
- Place in the refrigerator while preparing flan.
- Bring milk and vanilla to a boil in a small pot over low heat.
- In a separate mixing bowl, combine the eggs and ¾ cup sugar,
- Slowly add the egg and sugar mixture to the boiled milk.
- Pour into refrigerated mold. Place flan mold into a larger baking dish.
Add water to a depth of about one inch, and carefully place in the oven.
- Bake 35 to 40 minutes. Flan is done when knife inserted in the center
comes out clean.
- Cool and remove from mold. Serve chilled.
Serves 4 to 6.
(kar-nah-VAH-lays; Carnival) is an elaborately celebrated national
holiday that takes place a few days before Lent. It is the last
opportunity for people to drink and dance before the fasting period of
Lent begins, when such activities are not allowed. During these few days,
some practice native traditions of rounding up wild game to present to a
priest or mayor, who in return provides
and cocoa leaves. The offering of the animals dates back several hundred
years to the Incas, who used to give offerings of food to the gods in hope
for a good harvest.
Papas a la huancaína
(potatoes with cheese) is a popular meal during Carnival.
Papas a la Huancaína (Potatoes with Cheese)
- ¼ cup lemon juice
- ⅛ teaspoon ground red pepper, or to taste
- Salt, to taste
- 1 onion, thinly sliced
- 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
- 3 cups Monterey Jack or Swiss cheese, shredded
- ½ teaspoon turmeric
- 1½ cups heavy cream
- 6 potatoes, drained, peeled, and quartered
- 1 to 2 hard-boiled eggs, for garnish
- Scrub the potatoes, place them in a saucepan, cover with water, and boil
until tender (about 20 minutes). Drain, allow the potatoes to cool. Peel
them, cut them into quarters, and set aside.
- In a small mixing bowl, combine the lemon juice, red pepper, and salt.
Add onion slices and coat them with the mixture. Stir well and set
- Heat oil in a large skillet over low heat.
- Add cheese, turmeric, and heavy cream. Stirring constantly, continue
cooking over low heat until cheese melts and mixture is smooth.
- Add the cooked potatoes and gently stir to heat through, about 5
minutes. Do not allow mixture to boil, or it will curdle.
- Transfer to a serving bowl and garnish with hard-boiled eggs.
- Sprinkle onion mixture over the potatoes. Serve immediately while
potatoes are hot.
5 MEALTIME CUSTOMS
Peruvians are extremely hospitable and enjoy preparing and eating meals
with company. Guests often consider being invited for dinner as a
semiformal occasion. Nice clothes are worn and a small gift of flowers,
chocolates, or wine is offered to the host on such occasions.
Most of the time, however, Peruvians simply prepare meals for themselves.
Meals consumed by a typical village family often depend on the altitude of
their village and what crops can thrive there. People living in
mountainous areas can grow potatoes and select grains, as well as raise
llamas, sheep, goats, and cattle. At lower altitudes, fruits and
vegetables such as lemons, limes,
(chilies) can be cultivated.
Villagers are often responsible for their own land and must spend much of
the day tending to it. As a result, a villager's day begins early,
usually around dawn. The woman of the house will begin her day preparing
an herbal tea called
(MAH-tay) and various foods for her family. A light
(breakfast) may include triangular-shaped rolls, roasted wheat kernels,
(boiled dried corn), bread, and
(coffee). The main meal of the day is
(lunch), which the woman of the house typically begins preparing while
her family eats
in the early morning.
is important so workers will not be hungry in the fields. It may consist
of a thick broth of potatoes, corn, and barley,
sauce (avocado chili sauce) with vegetables, and cool beverages. Adults
, a beer made of fermented maize, while children might prefer
(soft drink), or hot cocoa.
(dinner) is often the most filling, despite
typically being the main meal of the day. Potatoes will almost always
make up one of the two to three dishes served for
(boiled dried corn) with meat or the popular
(marinated seafood) may complete lunch or dinner. Children may drink
(a soft drink made from maize) as a refreshing accompaniment to most
Peruvians enjoy sweets, whether it is an extra-sweet soft drink or
, a deep-fried, honey-filled pastry,
(crunchy, spicy cookies), and
arroz con leche
milk) are sold by street vendors throughout the country. Shish kebabs,
seafood, fruit juice,
(meat- or cheese-filled pies), and other popular Peruvian fare are also
sold by vendors.
Many Peruvian children do not eat at midday during school hours. However,
a combination of
, noodles, beans, and potatoes is commonly eaten among school children.
Ceviche (Marinated Seafood)
- 2 pounds white fish fillet (preferably sea bass), cut into small pieces
- ¼ cup fresh lime juice (or more, if needed)
- 2 onions, thinly sliced
- 1 Tablespoon olive oil
- 1 Tablespoon fresh cilantro
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- 1 to 2 chilies, finely chopped
- Black pepper
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Mix the lime juice with the onion slices, oil, cilantro, garlic,
chilies, pepper, and salt in a mixing bowl.
- Place the fish in a shallow glass or ceramic dish just large enough to
hold it in a single layer. Pour the lime-juice mixture over it. The fish
must be completely covered with the mixture. Add more lime juice if
- Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for several hours (or
overnight) until the fish is "soft cooked." (Make certain
it has marinated long enough.) Serve on lettuce leaves garnished with
onion rings, thin strips of pepper, and sweet potatoes and/or corn on
Serves 4 to 6.
Arroz con Leche (Rice and Milk)
- ½ cup white rice, uncooked
- Cinnamon powder (plus cinnamon sticks, optional)
- 3 cloves
- 1 can evaporated milk
- ½ cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon butter
- ½ cup raisins
- Boil the rice in 2 cups of water with the sugar, sticks of cinnamon (if
available), and cloves, and cook according to package directions.
- After the rice has finished cooking, add the milk, butter, and raisins.
Let cool, and then refrigerate, covered, until ready to serve.
- Sprinkle cinnamon powder on top and serve in dessert bowls.
6 POLITICS, ECONOMICS, AND NUTRITION
About 19 percent of the population of Peru are classified as
undernourished by the World Bank. This means they do not receive adequate
nutrition in their diet. Of children under the age of five, about 8
percent are underweight, and over one-quarter are stunted (short for their
In a 1992–1993 census, it was found that nearly 22 percent of
children aged 4-years-old and younger suffered from a serious Vitamin A
deficiency. A lack of this vitamin can lead to blindness. In addition,
iodine deficiencies have caused nearly one-third of school age children to
develop goiter, an inflammation of the thyroid gland (usually in the
neck). Protein deficiencies are declining, thanks to the introduction of
high-protein maize, according to the United States Mission to the European
Union. High levels of protein can prevent malnourishment in children
growing up in developing nations, such as Peru. Organizations such as
PROKID (also known as Help for Poor Peruvian Children) are helping to make
a difference. Established in October 2000, one of the goals of the
organization is to educate mothers about the nutritional needs of their
7 FURTHER STUDY
Peru: Cultures of the World
. Tarrytown, N.Y.: Marshall Cavendish Corporation, 1995.
King, David C.
Peru: Lost Cities, Found Hopes
. Tarrytown, N.Y.: Benchmark Books, 1998.
ed. Victoria, Australia: Lonely Planet Publications Pty. Ltd., 2000.
ed. Bath, England: Footprint Handbooks, 1999.
The Rough Guide to Peru
ed. London: Rough Guides Ltd., 1997.
Traveler's Peru Companion
. Old Saybrook, CT: The Globe Pequot Press, 1999.
Authentic Peruvian Cuisine. [Online] Available
(accessed April 18, 2001).
Christmas in Peru. [Online] Available
(accessed April 18, 2001).
LAPA (Latin American Parents Association). [Online] Available
(accessed April 19, 2001).
Peru: The Land of the Incas. [Online] Available
(accessed April 18, 2001).
The WorldSchool 2000: Peru. [Online] Available
(accessed April 18, 2001).