Peru’s gastronomic renaissance
For a real spit-and-sawdust Arequipa eating experience, however, give the experimentalists a swerve and visit a picantería. These traditional, only-in-Arequipa restaurants are usually located in suburban areas and inspire fanatical local followings. Eschewing the gimmickry of the posh city centre eateries and generally only open for lunch, picanterías serve huge crowds of diners at communal tables in an atmosphere of organised chaos. Do not expect standard menus; the dish selection is largely determined by the day of the week. On a very crowded soup list, chupe de camarones is the crème de la crème, an Arequipan specialty that uses the city’s legendary river prawns submerged in a rich broth of milk, tomatoes, spices and hot peppers. It is traditionally served on Fridays; try it at Tradición Arequipeña where pan pipe-wielding music groups compete with the cacophony of hungry diners.
A further indication of Arequipa’s food obsession can be seen in the amount of gastronomic schools that lie dotted around the city. If you are visiting, you can learn the basics on a one-day cooking course with AI Travel. Peruvian food has gone international in recent years with television chefs such as Acurio taking the likes of cerviche and lomo saltado (a Chinese-Peruvian fusion dish made with shredded beef) into the mainstream. In 2004, The Economist stated that “Peru can lay claim to one of the world’s dozen or so great cuisines” while, two years later, Lima was recognized as the gastronomic capital of Latin America by the International Summit of Gastronomy in Madrid. Proud Arequipeños might beg to differ, but that is another story.