Those yet to experience the pleasure of Peruvian dishes may be surprised to learn that restaurants in Lima were named the world's sixth and seventh best last year.
Two eateries in the country's capital earned spots on the World's 50 Best Restaurants list compiled by a British magazine last year, proving Peruvian cuisine is something not to be missed if you're a fan of gourmet food.
Tetsuo Ota, a 38-year-old chef who trained in Italy and Spain, picked Peru as the final stop in his culinary studies. Ota wondered how potatoes and chili peppers native to the Andes tasted and prepared and dreamed of one day visiting the place. While staying in a small settlement in the Amazon, he tasted honey from bee nests in the jungle and accompanied locals on a hunt for edible turtles.
He was also drawn to the diversity of the people. The cultures of the indigenous people and those of Spanish ancestry fused, creating the country's varied food culture.
Chicharron sandwiches, a popular breakfast menu item in Peru, were created by African-Peruvians. Pork bellies are deep fried until crisp and placed between slices of bread. The sweet and spicy sauce made from chili peppers and honey coats the pork nicely and mint adds a refreshing twist. Ota first encountered them while working at a solitary restaurant in the desert run by an old woman. He has been making them ever since, all the while pursuing how to perfect its flavor.
Gaston Acurio was the main reason Ota was attracted to Peru. The chef, who helped spread Peruvian cuisine around the world, is known as the "person who steers the nation with cooking." Acurio cares for the producers of the ingredients and has established a cooking school that is open to needy children.
Ota trained at one of Acurio's restaurants and began fair-trading to purchase Peruvian cacao. He sometimes serves as a guide to Japanese cooks visiting the Amazon.
"I voluntarily serve as a sightseeing ambassador for Peru," he said with a smile.
Ota, who will be soon opening a restaurant in Karuizawa, Nagano Prefecture, hopes to open one overseas someday.
"The world is wide. You only live once. I’d like to take on the challenge," he said.
400 grams pork belly blocks
1/2 red onion
10 mint leaves
Juice of 1 lemon
4 French rolls (or a baguette if not available)
1 sweet potato ("anno-imo" type)
4 Tbsp Aji mirasol (Peruvian pepper) paste
4 Tbsp mustard
2 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp oil for frying
Boil pork belly in salted water for about three hours until tender.
Pour 1 Tbsp oil in pot, cook boiled pork for 30 minutes to an hour over medium heat until crisp. Turn sides occasionally. Deep fry 1-cm thick anno-imo slices. Absorb oil with paper towel.
Slice bread horizontally and toast.
Mix Aji mirasol paste, mustard, 2 Tbsp vinegar and honey to make sauce. Spread on bread, stack anno-imo and pork belly cut into 1- to 2-cm-thick slices. Pour sauce over pork.
Slice red onion and immerse in water. Squeeze out water. Mix with mint, lemon juice and bit of salt. Place on anno-imo and pork and cover with bread.
Aji mirasol paste is available at stores specializing in South American ingredients. Paprika powder diluted with water or olive oil may be used as a substitute. In Peru, a type of sweet potato called "camote" that tastes like anno-imo is used.
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This is the final article of Japanese Home Cooking translated from The Asahi Shimbun’s Watashi no Ryori column.