Mistura, a gastronomy festival held in Lima every September since 2008, is an identity feast. Gastronomy in Peru has many layers of hidden meanings, it is not just about the food. In her acclaimed documentary Mistura:The power of food, director Patricia Perez sets out to discover what these deeper meanings might be, and she does a wonderful job in doing so.
Food and identity itself is an intricate subject to explore, more so with Peruvian identity, intertwined with so many different ethnicities and cultures. What is interesting is how all of them find in food a unifying force. A link they can not only feel, but to taste as well.
The award-winning documentary, with its wonderful photography and expressive cast, showcases brilliantly what feelings food is able to awake in Peruvian society. The presence of Gaston Acurio as the main voice is important too, as he is one of the main forces behind Mistura and, above all, behind the flourishing of Peruvian cuisine as a social axe on which people identify themselves as a nation. The stories by chefs Javier Wong, Grimanesa Vargas and Pedro Miguel Schiaffino goes on the same direction as well. Though subtitles were well done for the most part, I couldn’t help but notice that when Grimanesa Vargas, a renowned anticucho vendor in Lima, mentions choclo con queso (large kernel corn with cheese) as her favorite meal, the subtitles read “potatoes with cheese”.
The appearance of farmers like Julio Hancco in the documentary is inspiring. Maybe what the documentary is lacking and what would have helped round the whole circle is the inclusion of the fair goers as well, to hear their stories at the same level as the chefs and the farmers, for all of them are an integral part of Peru’s social gastronomy. After all, Mistura is a fiesta and everyone is invited.
Mistura: The power of food is a good introduction to understanding why gastronomy in Peru is a social phenomenon. We need to remember that this documentary lasts only about 38 minutes, so we can not expect it to give us all the answers. What it does do is give us a quick glance into Peruvian “gastroconsciousness” but the conclusions are for us to find. I think that’s where the success of the film lies, that it opens a door for further reflection.
Maria del Carmen Pottage, as a good Peruvian, has a crush on all things food. Currently, she is a graduate student in Food Studies at NYU, with an emphasis on Food Culture.