Quinoa and ceviche are now commonplace on many restaurant menus, while Latin American ingredients, chillis and condiments are becoming more widely available. With tourism booming in this part of the world, so too is our hunger for Peruvian food, as seen by London restaurant Lima being awarded a coveted Michelin star last year.
“Seven years ago, when I first arrived in Australia, it was very hard to source Latin American ingredients in general,” says Peruvian chef Alejandro Saravia.
“Then, you start talking to a few suppliers and suddenly, like magic, appears one Peruvian chilli there, or a Peruvian chilli paste, and then everything starts to come into place.”
Saravia, the former executive chef of Sydney’s Morena restaurant (a Latin American eatery with a Peruvian focus), says it took some time for locals to embrace his native cuisine. Now, the Lima-born chef is preparing to open Pastuso, a “100% Peruvian restaurant” in Melbourne.
Studying cookery at Le Cordon Bleu Peru, despite the wishes of his “traditional” father, Saravia has since worked in Michelin starred restaurants throughout Europe, including Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck in London.
According to Saravia, what sets Peruvian food apart from its neighboring cuisines is its diversity of ingredients and migrant culture – particularly its Chinese and Japanese migrants, who we have to think for the Peruvian staple stir-fry dish, Lomo Saltado.
Peruvian cuisine, much like the country itself, is divided into three main regions: the ‘Costa (coast), the Andes, and the Amazon Jungle.
“So, we’ve got Chinese Peruvian, which we call chifa, and Japanese Peruvian, which we call Nikei. These immigrants were introduced to the local ingredients but they used their traditional techniques and mixed it a little with their own ingredients, making a very special cuisine.”
“And, the amount of ingredient we grow in Peru is just incredible,” says Saravia. ”We have purple corn, which we use for a traditional beverage called chicha morada, and so many different chillis, depending on where you are, like the citrusy aji amarillo. We have strong Andean influences from the Inca times, using animals like guinea pigs and alpaca for example.”
Will we be seeing these animals on Pastuso’s menu?
“Yes, we will have alpaca – it is a very lean and healthy meat, with a delicate flavour that isn’t very gamey. So, it is a good option for those who don’t enjoy the strong flavours of lamb, beef or venison.
“But in Australia, guinea pig is considered a pet, so we’re not allowed to serve it,” he says.
Pastuso is set to open in Melbourne this winter. Click here for Alejandro’s snapper ceviche recipe.