Ají Meets Risotto: Ítalo-Peruvian Fusion

Introducing Ítalo-Peruvian Fusion

It’s no secret that Peruvians love fusion. They are not afraid to try new ideas and then make them their own.  Nikkei cuisine is becoming increasingly popular. Chifa, once limited to the cheap end of the  dining out spectrum, is undergoing a resurgence. With so many flavors of fusion in Peru, it’s easy to overlook Ítalo-Peruvian cuisine.
Check out our related video in which we take a tour of Incanto in Cusco, Peru which offers pizza from the oven, handmade pasta, and Peruvian-Italian fusion.
One of the reasons that Ítalo-Peruvian cuisine is often overlooked is that it blends in so well into Peruvian cuisine. Perhaps, Italian and Peruvian traditions fuse especially well because both cuisines love their meats and carbs;) Furthermore, there is not much in either cuisine that would clash. In other words, pasta goes well with pretty much everything.
It’s important to note that Ítalo-Peruvian fusion was not inevitable. I’ve tried Italian food in other South American country (it’s the default tourist food), and they tend to replicate Italian or Italian-American dishes rather than incorporating local ingredients and techniques.

Everyday Ítalo-Peruvian

Pastel de Tallarín, a picantería staple and the ultimate cheesy comfort food
Pastel de Tallarín, a picantería staple and the ultimate cheesy comfort food
One of the staples at meńu places (local eateries specializing in daily specials) is tallarín verde which translates as “green noodles.” It’s one of those dishes that has become so well integrated into Peruvian cuisine that it is considered more traditional than fusion.
This dish is the Peruvian version of pasta in pesto sauce. Many of the modifications to the original dish grew out of necessity. The early Italian immigrants to Peru did not have pine nuts or parmesan cheese so they substituted walnuts and Andean cheese, respectively. There is also milk so the pasta is a bit creamier than the original version. This dish is generally served with a bit of meat, usually beef or chicken. It’s filling and can be made in large batches, making it a good match for the Peruvian appetite.
In a similar vein, menestrón, Peru’s version of minestrone is commonly served in local eateries. Since soup is so versatile, it has evolved to incorporate a number of local ingredients including choclo (Andean corn), papa (potatoes), yuca, and more.
In picanterías, pastel de tallarín, a version of pastel de papa with but noodles, is a favorite, comfort food.
For those with a sweet tooth, gelato with Peruvian flavors (chicha morada, lucuma, and even ají amarillo) is quite popular and can be found in Lima and Cusco.

New Takes on Classics

Lomo Saltado at Danica in Miraflores, Lima
Lomo Saltado at Dánica in San Isidro, Lima
The Italo-Peruvian version of Lomo Saltado (a Peruvian beef stir-fry which bears strong Chinese influences) serves this Peruvian favorite on a bed of risotto. Some places takes it further and infuses the risotto with Peruvian ají.
Quinotto featuring Andean vegetables and cheese at Incanto, Cusco
Quinotto featuring Andean vegetables and cheese at Incanto, Cusco. Credit: Daryl Wild
Going in the other direction, quinotto prepares quinoa as you would a risotto. Quinotto usually features Andean vegetables and cheese.

Celebrating Pasta the Ítalo-Peruvian Way

Making fresh pasta in Barranco, Lima
Making fresh pasta in Barranco, Lima. Flickr gallery with lots more photos.

In contrast to Tallarín Verde, an everyday dish which typically uses dried pasta, there are other many Italo-Peruvian dishes that celebrate pasta.

Lomo and Pasta in Huancaína Sauce at El Corte Azul
Lomo and Pasta in Huancaína Sauce at El Corte Azul

Pasta in Huancaína sauce is another popular pasta with a Peruvian flair. Huancaína sauce, a yellow sauce from the town of Huacayo, is one of Peru’s most popular sauces. It combines milk, cheese, and ají amarillo and is traditionally served on top of potatoes. Over the last few years, it has become trendy again and quickly expanded to many other uses. 

Lasagna con Rocoto at El Italiana, Arequipa
Lasagna con Rocoto at El Italiana, Arequipa

In Arequipa, several restaurants offer lasagna with their beloved Rocoto pepper. This dish is a cross between lasagna and rocoto relleno (stuffed rocoto pepper). I feel that these two dishes are just meant to be together. They both have meat and cheese, and lasagna could use a bit of a kick.

Pizza Meets Peruvian Tradition

Fresh Pizza at Incanto, Cusco
Fresh Pizza at Incanto, Cusco
Pizza is the ultimate fusion food. It forms a nice, easy canvas for fusion. In terms of creative topping, there’s Mexican Pizza, Indian pizza, and the infamous Thai pizza. There’s an unlimited number of ways you could feature Peruvian ingredients on a pizza. However, in this case, the mixing of culinary traditions run much deeper.
Pizza coming out of the horno (Credit: Daryl Wild)
The horno (clay oven) is a central element of traditional, criolla-style cooking. It is used to prepare lechón, guineau pig, and a number of other dishes. Someone along the way had the ingenious idea to start cooking pizzas in an horno, resulting in pizza with the perfect crust-crispy on the outside and gooey on the inside.

Ítalo-Peruvian Cuisine at the Forefront

Squid ink pasta with shrimp, tomato sauce, and three types of ají
Squid ink pasta with shrimp, tomato sauce, and three types of ají
More and more restaurants are starting to Ítalo-Peruvian cuisine at the forefront. These restaurants are taking Italian-Peruvian fusion to the next level by layering on more levels of flavors and investing time into perfecting techniques such as making pasta from scratch.
Roasting bones for stock
Roasting bones for stock
One example is the Picante de Langostinos at Incanto. The shrimp pasta combines homemade squid-ink pasta with three kinds of Peruvian chiles. For another flavor boost, they incorporate their own stock that is made by roasting bones on the grill.

 My Recommendations

Calzone fresh from the horno at Nonna Trattoria in Cusco.
Calzone fresh from the horno at Nonna Trattoria in Cusco.
Here’s a short list of Ítalo-Peruvian restaurants in Peru to check out:
  • Cafe Tostado (Nicolas de Pierola 222, Lima)-A huarique (the term for a traditional, family-run restaurant) that serves a daily special everyday. Many of the served dishes have a strong Italian influence.
  • Dánica (Av. Emilio Cavenecia 170, Lima) is a bistro serving Ítalo-fusion fare. Their version of Lomo Saltado is a favorite.
  • Incanto (Santa Catalina Angosta 135, Cusco) specializes in freshly made pastas, Italian-Peruvian house specialities, and pizza cooked in the oven (see video at top of post).
  • Nonna Trattoria is a pizzeria that offers handmade pizza cooked in an horno. I had one of the best calzones I’ve ever had here-packed with ají, meat, and cheese.
  • La Trattoria de Monasteria (Santa Catalina 309), located right next to Santa Catalina Monastery, specializes in fresh pasta that combines flavors from Italy and Arequipa

Please let me know if there are others I should add to the list! Ítalo-Peruvian fusion was right my nose for most of my time in Peru, and I didn’t really notice it until my trip to Incanto.

Salud and Saluti

Fiore Rosa-a cocktail of pisco, aperol, lime juice, and aguaymanto (gooseberry)
A cocktail of pisco, aperol, lime juice, and aguaymanto (gooseberry). Credit: Daryl Wild.
On a final note, Pisco and Aperol (an Italian aperitif) make an amazing combination!

Please Share

22 Comments Add yours

  1. Wow, there really are a lot of similarities aren’t there. I love quinoa and have never heard of Quinotto so I am certainly going to have to try that.

  2. Italian food is my favorite – it is in my roots. But, I’ve never known about this fusion. Sounds incredible. I will have to give it a try!

  3. Lisa says:

    The fusion sounds and looks pretty unique. It all looks delicious would love to try these dishes, all part of the travel experiences. Hopefully get to visit there one day.

  4. Fusion is such a great way to spice up old classics. We’ve been enjoying Asian infused burritos often here in Tofino. So good. All of these dishes you have here look wonderful, too. That calzone looks really, really good! I could probably eat two of them right now because they’re making me quite hungry just looking at them.

  5. I’m not a gastronomist but i think this mix have a good taste.

    Congrats for the article.

  6. Rebecca says:

    I’m reading a lot about Peru lately and it is certainly giving me food for thought (pun intended)! The food looks absolutely delicious

  7. Wow. This article really makes me realise I need to try out new flavours and cuisines. Thanks for the info! Italo-peruvian food looks AMAZING.

  8. Wow I’m really hungry!!!! If it is how you described it, I have no doubt it taste just perfect. Thanks for sharing

  9. Michelle d says:

    wow this looks amazing! I would really love to try out these different foods and cuisines! The fusion sounds amazing.

  10. It is really interesting to me how an empanda suddenly becomes a calzone in Peru! That really surprised me. Really enjoy reading all of this stuff as we dream of seeing Peru soon!

    1. Sutee says:

      Haha, it was definitely a calzone (huge too). The crust was made with flour instead of cornmeal and the filling was less dense than in an empanada. I wish I took a photo of the inside!

  11. There are some fantastic fusions of cuisines in Peru. I had some Italian Peruvian fusion when I was in Cusco, and it was quite delicious. That Lomo Saltado risotto dish looks pretty delicious, especially since it combines two of my favorite dishes.

  12. Rossana says:

    All of the dishes sound amazing… I would love to try the lomo saltado.. Yum!

  13. Love the pic of the fresh pasta – looks so light and airy. Some seriously tasty stuff here – many dishes that I havn’t even heard of. Thanks for sharing these dishes!

  14. YuM! I’m not familiar with any of these dishes but the Lomo Saltado at Dánica was my favorite on the list. We have some friends in Boquete that cook Peruvian for us and it is quite delicious. I will have to ask them to make one of these yummy meals.

  15. Wow these all sound so delicious! Love the different fusions, makes me hungry just reading this!

  16. Jessalyn says:

    What a great article! The fusion between the two sounds and looks so great. We’ve been wanting to plan a trip to Peru for our next bigger trip (Italy was part of our last Europe trip) and I’m so excited! In the mean time, I’m going to try some of these recipes!

  17. It’s interesting to see the Peruvian take on Italian cuisine. It is true that each country has a different take on foreign cuisines. Italian food is a lot different in the States than it is in Italy. Chinese food is quite different in each country you travel to as well.

  18. Thanks for this post! I’m always interested in learning about local culinary cultures as i travel, especially as tastes evolve and these fusions begin to appear.

  19. Lusine says:

    I absolutely love Italian cuisine, and these fusions are so interesting to explore. Can’t wait to get to Peru and try the local food.

  20. Munchkin Treks says:

    I love learning about new foods! I don’t think I’ve ever tasted Ítalo-Peruvian food before. Your photos do a great job of capturing the dishes you describe.

  21. So many delicious dishes, Sutee! I would love t try the Risotto, perfect blend of flavors!

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