Ten years ago, had an intrepid eater embarked on a search for tiger’s milk, anticucho or tiradito, in even the most cosmopolitan, forward-thinking foodie capitals, their quest would more than likely have proven fruitless (or almost certainly ceviche-less). A decade on, though, and Peru has staged its very own culinary invasion, infiltrating cities all over the world, establishing the country and its cuisine as not just a fleeting trendsetter, but as one of the leaders on the global cooking stage.
The UAE got its first real taste of Peruvian cooking at the tail end of 2014, with the launch of Coya Dubai, an offshoot of the London flagship. Others quickly followed, and almost three years later, the country boasts an ever-growing array of choices for Peruvian-inspired eating. In Dubai, there’s Ceviche (another London original) in Emirates Financial Towers and Garden at the JW Marriott Marquis, as well as Inka, Mayta, Pollo Pollo, Ají and Waka. Those living in the capital are now well catered for thanks to both Limo Restaurant at the Bab Al Qasr Hotel and Coya Abu Dhabi.
This enthusiasm shows no sign of waning, here or internationally. With Virgilio Martínez as chef proprietor, Lima London was the first Peruvian restaurant to be awarded a Michelin star back in 2014 and Central, his restaurant in the Peruvian capital, was ranked at No 5 in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants this year. Lima Dubai opened its doors in March this year.
So what is it about Peruvian food that has proved so alluring? At a time when we are all increasingly aware of what we eat and how this affects our well-being, it certainly doesn’t hurt that, by its very nature, Peruvian food is generally healthy. There’s an integral lightness to the cuisine, along with an appreciation for ancient grains and a dedication to fresh ingredients that all tie in seamlessly with modern, health-conscious approaches to eating. And while it might sound superficial, with social media – particularly Instagram – awash with beautiful food images, it helps that this style of cooking is very easy on the eye. As well as taste, texture and flavour, the colour and visual appeal of food has long been important to Peruvian cooks.
The diversity of the cuisine and the sense of authenticity that surrounds it is another major draw. While it’s not unusual to be able to trace the political, social and economic history of a country through its food, Peruvian cooking is the edible embodiment of this idea. From the continued use of indigenous produce (potatoes, corn, maize, chillies) as well as Inca techniques and traditions, to the way the cuisine has assimilated produce and ideas from migrant countries, notably Spain, Africa, China and Japan, this is fusion cooking of the highest order.