In butter chicken-obsessed Delhi, few exotic cuisines find immediate resonance with the foodies. However, Peruvian cuisine is garnering respect as the one to "watch out" for from the few food fests I’ve attended involving this cuisine. Inheriting its innovation, mix and flavours from Peru’s diverse mix of people, Peruvian food best exemplifies the fusion developed over cultural exchanges between the Spanish, Africans, Chinese, Japanese and Italians. The food became more and more eclectic as races mixed and migrants kept landing up in the beautiful country best known for its iconic landmark – Machu Picchu – the sharp-peaked mountains captured beautifully in the Aishwarya Rai-Rajinikanth blockbuster Robot’s song "Killimajaro".
The intermingling of Peruvian cuisine has given the world stellar dishes like the anticucho de corazón (skewered cow heart), tacu-tacu stew and carapulcra which hew to the African heritage. The umami flavours arrived with Italian migrants, who introduced traditional green or red pastas. The quintessential Peruvian dish – ceviche – emerged from a fusion with Japanese cuisine.
Armed with the knowledge of Peruvian cuisine’s provenance, we landed up one nippy, wintry evening to relish the creations of chef Bruno Andreas Santa Cruz at Cafe, Hyatt Regency Delhi. Cruz had flown down especially for the three-day festival to showcase a menu most representative of his country. But disappointingly, he was missing from the scene when we landed up. However, sous chef at Cafe, Umesh Kumar, ably filled in Cruz’s shoes by helping us navigate a mammoth buffet. There was Tuna Ceviche (raw pink tuna cured with lemon juice, chopped red chillies, and coriander), the unusually named Red Snapper in Tiger Milk, Quinoa Tabule embellished with olives and cottage cheese, among others. Mains comprised Rocoto Relleno (pork minced stuffed red chilli baked on egg), Peruvian lamb stew (braised in beer for hours along with onions and tomato) and a raft of other dishes.
Despite being meat-focussed, what’s remarkable is that Peruvian cuisine doesn’t give short shrift to vegetarians. Ergo, we feasted on the storied Lima beans stew cooked in a tomato-ey sauce. Pitifully, the dish lacked complexity. On the other hand, the mushroom spicy walnut cream hit just the right spot, the taste of al dente button mushrooms accentuated by a velvety walnut cream sauce.
Verdict? Peruvian cuisine is an acquired taste for sure, but it works wonderfully if you’re seeking pep for your palate.