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.
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
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.
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
In contrast to Tallarín Verde, an everyday dish which typically uses dried pasta, there are other many Italo-Peruvian dishes that celebrate pasta.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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 deMonasteria (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
On a final note, Pisco and Aperol (an Italian aperitif) make an amazing combination!