The Economist Article
TO OUTSIDERS, Latin American food may conjure up not much more than the smell of Mexican tacos. But Peru can lay claim to one of the world's dozen or so great cuisines. Beyond its trademark dish of CEBICHE (raw fish marinaded in lime juice), Peruvian food is little known abroad. That may be about to change. Peru is in the throes of a "spontaneous revolution" in gastronomy, as Raul Vargas, a journalist and foodie puts it.
Two things give Peruvian food its distinctive edge. The first is the country's huge biodiversity, with dozens of microclimates. Potatoes, squash, peanuts, hot peppers, beans and maize were all grown before the Spaniards arrived. Despite overfishing, the cold Humboldt current that hugs Peru 's desert coast is still rich in fish and shellfish. Though grazing for large animals is poor, poultry and game are abundant. "It's a luxury for any chef: I go to the market and can choose between 60 different varieties of fresh fruit and vegetables and 70 different species of seafood," says Gaston Acurio, a Lima chef. Second, Peruvian cooking has long reflected cultural fusion. According to Isabel Alvarez, a sociologist turned restaurateur, its basics were established by the 18th century, when Lima was the moneyed capital of a vast Spanish viceroyalty. Slaves and migrants added African, east Asian and Italian touches. Nobuyuki Matsuhisa, who worked for several years as a cook in a Lima restaurant in the 1970s, has exported his own brand of Peruvian-Japanese food through his Nobu chain.
In such a poor country, food has traditionally been robust, spicy but lacking in sophistication. That is starting to change. A decade ago, Lima had no cookery schools. Today, there are 14, including a joint-venture with France 's Cordon Bleu. Mr Acurio, the son of a politician, trained in Paris while pretending to study law; now, cooking has become an acceptable profession for the children of the elite.
A dozen or so upmarket restaurants have opened in Lima in the past few years. Quality in the hundreds of umbler CEBICHERIAS (fish restaurants) is improving too. The media have taken an interest. Mr Vargas, the director of Radio Programas, a leading radio station, launched a weekly food programme in 2001, which awards an annual prize for the best CEBICHE.
Will Lima become a new Mecca for gastronomes? Mr Acurio reckons that while it cannot compete at the top end, "it is one of the best places in the world to eat for $30-35 per head including wine". But whetting the appetite of potential tourists may depend on raising the quality of Peruvian restaurants abroad, many of which are poor.
Mr Acurio has led the way: his Astrid y Gaston has a branch in Santiago (recently voted Chile 's best restaurant by local food critics) and is opening in Bogota . A handful of new Peruvian restaurants in the United States are
hiring some of those newly-trained chefs from Lima .The government is encouraging locals to invest in restaurants abroad, and promoting festivals of Peruvian food, says Manuel Rodriguez, the foreign minister. In a country recovering from terrorism and misgovernment, cooking has become a source of national pride.