Pisco sours, anticuchos con salsa criolla, ceviche de pescado, yuca frita. These don't sound like local specialties...unless you're in Peru, which is where Madison author Joan Peterson traveled to research her eighth guide for on-the-road food lovers. The world wanderer chronicles regional fare wherever she goes; her just-released Eat Smart in Peru (Ginkgo Press), co-authored by Brook Soltvedt, explores the country's culinary history and includes recipes, restaurant and street favorites, and glossaries that translate everything from well-known dishes to obscure ingredients.
It's just the thing for a trip to the land of the Inca, but it would also come in handy at a special Peruvian dinner the authors are hosting at 6 p.m. on April 30 at The Dardanelles Restaurant, 1851 Monroe St. The meal will feature such dishes as ají de gallina (shredded chicken in cheese sauce with walnuts) and cauche de camarones, a kind of shrimp and potato chowder. (Price is $50, and reservations are required; call 256-8804.) You can also meet the authors at a book signing on April 22, 2-3 p.m., at Borders West (Eat Smart in Peru purchases include a coupon good for $10 off the dinner and a contribution to REAP Food Group).
For a snapshot of the foods of Peru, here's more from Joan Peterson.
What are the main ingredients and influences in Peruvian cooking?
Peruvian food draws on the tangy heat of chili peppers, the tartness of tropical limes, the textures of a wide variety of grains and tubers - grains such as quinoa and kañiwa and tubers such as yacón and arracacha. There's also the pungent flavors of cilantro and huacatay, an herb in the marigold family. Fish and seafood are especially important in the diet.
Influences from the Spanish conquerors, their African slaves and immigrants from China and Japan are all evident. One of the most popular fusion cuisines is Chinese-Peruvian, served at restaurants called chifas. Another note of interest is the ascendency of Novoandino (New Andean) cuisine. Chefs are creating designer dishes by combining pre-colonial Inca (or earlier) ingredients with elements of innovative nouvelle cuisine.
What street foods were of special interest in your travels?
Roasted corn on the cob served with a slab of cheese was a popular street food, as were freshly squeezed juices. A favorite of mine is the cherimoya [a green-skinned fruit with custardy flesh]. In Lima there are drive-up stands that serve a delicious sliced pork sandwich called butifarra, which is flavored with salsa criolla - a mix of red onion, chili peppers and lime juice. Yum.
Any other dining customs that really stood out?
Travelers to Peru typically shudder when they hear that Peruvians eat guinea pigs. We think of these critters as pets, not food. Yet it's important to realize that this culinary item came of necessity because there weren't a lot of meat sources prior to the arrival of the Spanish. There were no chickens, pigs, cows, sheep or goats before the Spanish brought them.
What delighted you the most about Peruvian food?
We were quite amazed at the tremendous regional variety of the food. The three main areas of Peru are so different: arid, desert-like coastal regions crossed with rivers replenished with melting snow from the Andes and [containing] verdant and rich agricultural oases; the Andes; and the jungle.