The Amazon’s amazing natural pantry
The world’s greatest tropical rainforest has played a key role in shaping Peruvian cuisine, providing all kinds of exotic ingredients and inspiration.
Although there’s nothing like eating traditional local recipes, such as fish grilled in a banana leaf, in the jungle, there are also Amazonian restaurants in Lima.
One of the keys to Peruvian cuisine’s mouthwatering originality and diversity is the influence of the Amazon. Two thirds of Peru’s national territory is, in fact, tropical rainforest, an area twice the size of California that provides a myriad of natural ingredients, and recipes, which often simply cannot be found anywhere else. The most common is yuca, also known in English as cassava or manioc, a starchy root that cooks and tastes similar to potatoes. Peruvians love yuca, particularly when it is served as large, chunky fries with seafood platters or grilled meats. But there are so many other ingredients, ranging from the aji charapito, a tiny, ferociously hot chilli pepper, to all kinds of freshwater fish and a plethora of tasty, sweet fruit that even many Peruvians have never heard of.
There are other ingredients too that most visitors might not wish to try, other than for a dare, such as capybara, the world’s largest rodent, which native Amazonians — not to mention jaguars — love to dine on, or suri, a large palm weevil that can be eaten fried, or even live. But dishes that tend to prove more popular with travelers include patarascha, a whole fish wrapped in a large leaf and grilled with firewood or charcoal, and an Amazon classic, tacacho with cecina, which is dried or smoked pork with a kind of outsized hash brown made from banana. Another great, cold dish that goes perfectly with the jungle’s calid climate is ceviche. Although a Peruvian classic, ceviche comes from the Pacific coast but has been becoming increasingly popular in the Amazon. There, it is made with local, freshwater fish species and the sweet potato that soaks up the tangy juices is often replaced with either steamed yuca or plantains.
Of course, the ideal setting to try Amazonian cuisine is in the jungle, preferably, perhaps, accompanied by an icy beer. But there are good restaurants in Lima serving jungle fare. The best may be Amaz, in Miraflores, run by Pedro Miguel Schiaffino, widely recognized as one of Peru’s top chefs. It provides a haute cuisine twist to many Amazonian staples, from cocktails to palm heart salads or juanes, bundles of rice and meat also cooked in a banana leaf. You could also try Malabar, Schiaffino’s first restaurant — often ranked among the top five in Peru. Although the recipes there draw from across Peru and internationally, the chef loves to play with Amazonian ingredients in stunningly creative ways, including using masato, a fermented yuca beer beloved of jungle natives, as a salad dressing.
To try Amazonian cuisine, in the rainforest or in Lima, as part of your unique, individually tailored itinerary, contact the Peru Empire Company at firstname.lastname@example.org or on +51-1-700-5100 or, if you are in the US, 347-713-7030/34.