Food Experience in Lima, Peru

Lima was founded as the City of the Kings (Ciudad de Los Reyes) in 1535 by the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro. Today the city is again reigning supreme within culinary and gastronomic circles as a cradle of Peruvian and world food fusion experiences: Lima had three restaurants named to among the World’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2017.

Today we visit Ignacio Barrios, an enigmatic and enthusiastic Peruvian chef who has considerable international culinary experience, having worked in cities as diverse as Madrid and London. In creating Urban Kitchen, he envisioned a setting to let visitors witness and learn how Peru has become so enticing to food lovers on a world stage. This participative cooking experience includes a local market visit, followed by a cooking class where travelers get to fashion their own culinary masterpieces.

The market is near to the Miraflores district, which many visitors of Lima choose as their preferred base. Barrios explains to the group the number of factors that have influenced the development of Peruvian food and gastronomy; the core of these are location, promotion by chefs with government marketing, and, most importantly, cultural influences over time. Product comes first, however: without a good product there is nothing to market. Fortunately, Mother Nature provides an abundance of ocean delights from the cold waters of the Pacific Humboldt Current.

Fresh Peruvian Pacific Ocean Scallops at San Isidro Marke

These delights are complemented by a very diverse landscape that includes desert coastline, central Andes Mountains and the Amazon Rainforest. There are a myriad of ecosystems and micro-climates within these three landscapes that produce a mouth-watering array of natural produce. Chef Miguel Schiaffino is well-known for routinely venturing to the Peruvian Amazon jungle in search of unique flavors.

The fruit and vegetable sections of the market are a kaleidoscope of color and you can’t help but be drawn to the eye-catching offerings of lucuma, chirimoya, guayaba and camu camu, among others. Barrios is open to questions, and he enlightens us with a wonderful history of each of the fruits and vegetables. Both locals and tourists are actively seeking out advice to learn how to source and cook local foods, and this is the perfect place to do so.

Good to know: Urban Kitchen is equally as popular with tourists as it is with locals who often choose it as a place to go with colleagues for a little fun and to learn the secrets to creating great Peruvian food.

Fruit and vegetables at San Isidro Market

The government has played a significant part in promoting Peruvian food, too, both within the country and abroad. In addition, Peruvian chefs such as Virgilio Martínez (who began in Lima), have now opened restaurants in London, Dubai and other distant climes. These chefs have focused on sourcing local Peruvian ingredients as the key to their dishes.

Over many centuries the staple foods of Peru have seen influences from countries such as Japan, China, Italy, Arab and Spain. These influences added to an already-burgeoning food scene, and have served to create a true fusion of global cuisine. On the tour, we learn of examples, such as the development of the local ceviche dish, a fish marinade in lemon juice, now with Nikkei influences; also, a tallarín pasta dish with Genovese Italian traits. Both have grown into a wonderful symphony of food, unique to Peru.

A ten-minute drive takes us from the market to the Urban Kitchen premises in nearby Magdalena, Lima. The premises are impressive with a fine modern downstairs kitchen, and upstairs there is a dining area to enjoy the fruits of your labor. The teaching begins and we pick up the tips and secrets in creating a ceviche dish, which today includes sea bass fillet, lime juice, corn, onion, herbs and a leche de tigre marinade.

Guests enjoy their own hand-crafted Peruvian food creations // Photo by Urban Kitchen
Barrios is always at hand to offer guidance on preparation, timing and attention to detail to create the difference between a good dish and an exceptional dish. He suggests little things like using coarse Maras salt for decoration and taking time in separating the kernels of giant corn, not with a knife, but one-by-one with your fingers. The mistakes made by all are part of the fun and everyone enjoys their final tasting among newfound friends. That’s the beauty of this food tour in Lima: you help create it yourself (and that always tastes better).

The evolution of Peru as a unique destination for food lovers can be found in the midst of centuries of the fusion of cultures from East and West across the globe. This visit to Urban Kitchen adds greatly to this journey as a unique and fun experience in food, culture and cooking. This single-day food tour in Lima is a perfect addition to any visit to Peru. You, too, now know the secret of where to go to create food fit for a king, in this, The City of the Kings.