Lima. Oct. 12 (ANDINA). Most tourists arriving in Peru immediately reply “ceviche” when asked what local food they would like to try first. To visit Peru and not taste this dish made with marinated raw fish or seafood would be gourmet heresy. However, ceviche, although emblematic, is only one of more than 490 native Peruvian dishes born of the country's rich cultural and racial heritage. making Peru one of the latest hits of the world gastronomy circuit.
The British magazine The Economist recently included Peru on a list of 12 countries with the best food in the world. Peru's reputation in this field is on the rise. According to experts. the variety found in Peru's cooking puts it on a par with French. Chinese or Indian cuisines.
“We compete with the best French. Italian. Spanish restaurants. with no inferiority complexes. with the certainty that our product is neither better nor worse. of the same quality. but different.” chef Gaston Acurio told dpa.
Acurio. through his enthusiastic support for Peruvian cooking has become a popular figure in Peru. An estimated 5 percent of all visitors arriving in Peru are drawn exclusively by an interest in food. That means that some 30.000 foreigners travel to Peru just looking for pleasure at the dining table. Although it is quite a high figure. and experts indicate that it increased 25 percent in recent years. it is still below other countries. For example. Thailand earns some 6 billion dollars annually from food tourism.
In a survey conducted by the government Committee to Promote Peru. 91 percent of foreigners who visited the country with no gastronomic pretensions described what they had eaten during their stay as “good” or “very good.”
Acurio feels that the potential to exploit that side of Peru is high. “Mexico has a single concept. that of its tacos with tequila and margaritas. and it has 200.000 restaurants all over the world. We don't have just a single concept. we have about 10. and we have 500 restaurants. The truth is. we're just beginning.” he said.
Only a few Peruvian agencies offer exclusive gastronomic tours. Those that do not only provide the tourist with the opportunity to taste culinary delights in select restaurants but also offer talks and give visitors the chance to put on aprons and help prepare the dishes.
Government tourism expert Amora Carbajal suggested that efforts to encourage gastronomical tourism must focus on Latin America. Being so close by. she said. makes it more possible for tourists to want to visit just for the food. Another advantage is that many tourists travel to Peru because of their interest in culture and archaeology. Culture and cuisine go hand in hand. and therein lies the strength of Peruvian cuisine.
“Behind each great cuisine. Arab. Japanese. Mediterranean. Chinese. Hindu. there is a great culture. In the past 500 years all the ingredients and flavors that different migrations brought were incorporated into (Peruvian cooking) and African. Japanese. Chinese. European and Andean influences joined together.” said chef Acurio.
Peru's varying geographical conditions and soil types also contribute to a richness of local natural ingredients. The country has an ocean coastline. mountain ranges and forests. large communities at sea level and others 4.000 meters above sea level. and an impressive river network including the Amazon. For example. the potato is native to Peru. and there are more than 2.500 kinds of potato to be found in the country today. Also. Peru has 650 different kinds of native fruit. such as the chirimoya and the lucuma.
The International Gastronomy Summit in Madrid in 2006 declared Lima the “gastronomical capital of the Americas.” This honor was not only aimed at such top-notch restaurants as Astrid y Gaston. La Rosa Nautica. Punta Sal. Rafael. Costanera 700. Brujas de Cachiche or El Senorio de Surco. but also referred to more modest spots or even street stalls that offer exquisite products.
In 2005. the government proclaimed Peruvian cuisine a national “flagship product.” a move supported by everybody. German press agency dpa reported.
But there is still a long way to go before Peruvian cuisine gets the attention it merits. The country needs lovely markets. better service in restaurants and stricter hygiene controls.
Provincial restaurants must catch up with Lima and professional cooking needs to be at the reach of everybody. The Peruvian Gastronomy Association and local chefs. of which a number have won international prizes. are working together towards that goal.