We braved the incessant July downpour to arrive at the residence of home chef and author, Ananya Banerjee. The bait was to be able to sample some of her exotic Peruvian delicacies, attend a cooking demo and listen to a chat she was having with travel consultant Ansoo Gupta.
Polo ala brasa (Rotisserie chicken)
The duo is scheduled to hold a food and travel workshop about the exotic Latin American country. "Food and travel always go hand in hand. It is incomplete to know about one without the other," Banerjee tells us. Gupta, who has travelled to over 60 countries including Peru, echoes the sentiment. "We don't eat Indian food when we are in another country. We also stay away from global fast-food chains; except maybe to check out their local innovations. Regional delicacies tell you so much about the culture of the country," she shares.
When in Peru...
According to Banerjee, Peruvian food is the original fusion food of the world as they have influences from immigrants from Japan and China. "Their food is simple. They don't use much masala, and the high point is that you can taste the ingredients. Some of it might take Indians time to get used to," says Banerjee, while walking us to her kitchen where ingredients are neatly arranged for the cooking demo that will commence shortly.
Arroz chaufa Rice. Pics/Sneha Kharabe
The first dish on the menu is the Papa a la Huancaina (potato salad). "Peru is the potato nation of the world. The main ingredient of this dish is potato. Everyone has boiled potatoes at home. Varieties of corn are also a staple," Banerjee points out. "Today, most ingredients are available in India. Very few like the Aji Chillies and certain varieties of cheese are not available here, but they can be substituted with Spanish chillies that you find here," she points out.
The dish is ready in a jiffy. Our eyes are glued to the kitchen platform where she effortlessly makes a paste with cheese, crackers, oil, and garlic and adds a little water to dilute the consistency. Next, she pours the sauce over boiled potatoes placed on a plate and garnishes it with olive, boiled egg and chopped chillies.
Ansoo Gupta (left) with Ananya Banerjee (right)
Next up is the most popular Peruvian delicacy, the Ceviche that has a Japanese influence. "This simple dish is widely prepared in Peru. It is also one of my favourites. You cure the fish, using lime juice, which has an acid, that breaks down the protein and the fish is cured. So, it's actually cooked but not in the conventional way. In Peru, they don't cure it for more than five minutes. They say it's too acidic then," explains Banerjee.
"You can make it with any firm fleshed white fish. In Peru, they mainly use sea bass. The important thing is that it has to be extremely fresh. I picked up some tuna and fresh water prawns. When you put a fish in a pan, it changes colour and you know it's cooked. The lime does that in this case," she says, adding that people normally use fresh catch in Peru, particularly for the Ceviche. There is no refrigeration.
"Indians are not very fond of raw meat but this is not raw. The curing is just a different way of cooking. The remaining juice is used to spike up your drink, and they call it tiger's milk. It's supposed to be very potent," laughs Banerjee. "I always say the most important thing about travel is to have an open mind and try new experiences. When you are in a new country you must always find out where the locals eat, Ask the watchman at the hotel or a cab driver," shares Gupta as we take a bite of the delicious dish. The tangy, fresh fish, with nuts added for a crunch is perfect.
Also on the menu is the Arroz chaufa Rice that has a Chinese imprint. "There is a huge Chinese influence in Peru. Peru's Chinese restaurants serve what is called Chaufa food. It's how we Indians have our version of Chinese," reasons Gupta. With pieces of bacon and a fried egg on top , the dish is very much like an Indonesian Nasi Goreng and the Chinese influence is evident. Banerjee had also prepared Anticuchos, skewered pork which is usually made with beef and the Polo Ala Brasa (Rotisserie chicken) with gremoleta sauce.
"The roast chicken is made all over the world and is extremely popular in Peru," says Banerjee as we cut ourselves a piece of the tender meat. We found the skewered pork, soft with a smoked flavour and worth traveling to Peru for. The dessert was the high point. The Suspiro Limeño had a thick condensed milk taste with meringue on top. We experienced bliss with every bite of this masterpiece. We left Banerjee's home with a firm resolve to book tickets to Peru at the earliest.
Sign up: Ananya Banerjee will host a Peruvian pop-up with Sterling Holidays on July 30. Non-members can write to firstname.lastname@example.org to book a seat.
> All Peru visas are issued from their consulate in New Delhi. You don't need to be there in person but the process takes time, so apply in advance
> Apart from Machu Picchu, consider Lima, Puno, Lake Titicaca, Nazca lines, The Amazonian jungle and Huacachina dessert.
> December to March is rainy season. Most people think that Machu Picchu is closed during the rains. Only the trekking route is closed. The site remains open.
> There are multiple Michelin star or equivalent restaurants in Peru where one can find affordable food. You can buy food by popular global chefs at 1/3 the price you would pay in European countries.
> While shopping in Peru, be careful as many items are banned for export like plants, animals and their parts (like feathers), archaeological souvenirs, etc.
> Flights and trains in Peru have strict baggage restrictions so travel light.
> Very few people speak English. Spanish is the main language.
— Ansoo Gupta