Chefs and restaurateurs looking for the next big food trend may find it south of the border, albeit a little farther south than usual. Having just returned from a multi-week journey through Peru, I couldn’t help but marvel over the sheer volume of exotic ingredients, native dishes and robust flavors from across the country.
More importantly, however, is the fact that Peruvian fare has gone virtually untapped in the US. For a food Mecca like Las Vegas, this is a wide-open market for menu additions, fusion and brand new restaurant concepts. This cuisine reaches an excellent balance of novelty and familiarity, health and indulgence, trendiness and evergreen quality. And best of all, it looks to be very profitable.
You’ll find several of Peruvian food’s business-related benefits below:
New, Yet Familiar Food Concepts
Peruvian food integrates the earthy tones found in Mexican food [think Border Grill rather than Lindo Michoacan] with the hearty meats found in Argentina and Brazil as well as more potatoes and corn than you can conceive of growing in the ground. Native dishes like lomo saltado [sautéed beef with peppers and onions] and Pollo Changa [chicken skewers with peanut foam] hit home for most people who have ventured beyond your typical gringo taco, but are still new and different to the point where an ‘I have to try this’ light goes on in the customer’s mind.
Similar to many Latin food concepts, Peruvian fare doesn’t rely on premium-quality meats or extensive preparation techniques. Fresh produce and bold spices and sauces are the name of the game; ideal for driving down food costs.
Tacu tacu, a crowd favorite, is nothing more than a rice omelet with beans as the base instead of eggs. Cachapas are corn pancakes, similar to Jewish latkes, with Peruvian sour cream [much thinner and less intense than the stuff we get in the US]. Starch certainly accounts for the base of many dishes, but leave customers feeling full, enriched and happy to not necessarily break bank like they would at a steakhouse.
Diverse, All-Natural Ingredients
Fun fact: there are 114 micro-climates, or regular weather patterns, in the world. Peru houses 84 of them. This allows a wide variety of crops to grow across the country. Peruvian farmers ship these products straight to local retailers, perfectly aligning with the ‘farm to fork’ trend that’s all the rage across the States.
Peruvian corn kernels can be nearly 10 times the size of those grown in the US, with very different taste and consistency. Roughly 3800 types of potatoes grow in Peru; yes, 38 hundred. Avocados can reach gargantuan proportions in this part of the world, mistaken for [American] footballs if you’re not careful. Any one of these entities can capitalize on customers’ increasing desires to try new and different foods and know where they came from.
Bringing Peruvian Food to Your Restaurant
So how can you broaden your scope across the Peruvian food horizon? If opportunity calls, I’d encourage you to make the trip yourself. After sampling some of the best Peruvian restaurants across Southern Nevada and California, I have yet to find anything that comes close to Lima’s culinary offerings.
Lima is without question the country’s food capital. Many people travel to Lima with no agenda other than to eat. Even the fast food restaurants pay careful attention to their ingredients and preparation for exceptional products. This city is a necessary stop for those looking to broaden their menu’s horizon.
To make the most of your experience, check out The Lima Gourmet Company [LimaGourmetCompany.com]. They offer both morning and evening tours that take you across the city’s top restaurants and bars, complete with tasting menus and vivid descriptions of everything you’re eating. This is no simple tourist attraction, but rather an opportunity to become truly immersed in the dining experience and understand the science and significance behind Peruvian fare.
Another stop to make is at a restaurant by Gastón Acurio, arguably Peru’s top celebrity chef. His Astrid y Gastón in Lima’s San Isidro District has been rated among the world’s top 50 restaurants. I stumbled upon his restaurant Panchita in the Miraflores District, which encompassed a remarkable variety of native haute dishes [bringing new meaning to the term with 1/3 of the menu costing a total of $90].
Peru may be making its mark onto the American culinary scene in the near future. Industry innovators, you’ve got minimal competition right now. Foodies in the US will likely be eager to get introduced to this next great taste profile.
Benjamin Brown is a seasoned restaurant writer and hospitality consultant, serving up SoCal's hottest food news and reviews.