The BBC’s Dan Collyns talks food – how much it matters to Peruvians and what benefits it could bring to the country.
Rich or poor, Peruvians pride themselves on eating well. Fast food is frowned upon and a poorly-prepared platter is seldom tolerated.
Strange in a country where a quarter of children still suffer from malnutrition but Peru’s sharp inequality is one of its many paradoxes. It is one of the 10 countries in the world classed as ‘mega-diverse’ in terms of its biodiversity, which means in nutritional terms it is rich beyond measure.
The Andes holds dozens of unique grains, roots and vegetables. It is the birthplace of the potato, with around 3,000 varieties.
The Peruvian Amazon is sparsely populated but a whole new world of flora and fauna. You can find caiman (a type of crocodile) on the menu here and an enormous freshwater fish, the paiche. Plaintains, peccaries (a type of wild pig) and dozens of unusual fruits make up the cuisine.
Peru’s coast has probably the richest fishing grounds in the world thanks to the cold water Humboldt Current which sweeps up the western side of South America from Antarctica.
While chronic overfishing has left much of the rest of the world’s oceans with dwindling fish stocks, Peru’s sea is still bountiful. It has 80% of the world’s biomass of anchovies near the bottom of a thriving food chain of marine fauna.
Fishmeal exports are one of the principal pillars of the economy. But now it is the food business which could be propping up Peru’s strong economic growth as the financial crisis hits commodity prices and the country’s extractive industries.
One study by a Peruvian company, Arellano Marketing, predicts that the food business will make up about 11% of Peru’s predicted GDP in 2009.
‘Story of conquest’
And it’s just the beginning, says Gaston Acurio, a celebrity chef and household name in Peru. He is the man with the Midas touch in all things culinary and he aims to make Peruvian cuisine as international as Chinese, Thai and Mexican.
He already has restaurants outside Latin America with La Mar, a seafood restaurant in San Francisco, and he plans to break into New York to really move into the gastronomic fast lane.