A great Amazonian restaurant is near impossible to create. First off, sourcing ingredients with any regularity in the region is done with hands in prayer. Second, where do you put it? Ideally it would be near the source of those exotic fruits and fish, though the entire region is blanketed… Read More →
If you happen to grab a bite in Peru’s Amazonian region and come across plates of yellowish balls served all around you, don’t panic! It’s nothing out of the ordinary, just one of the most wonderful dishes Peruvian cuisine ever invented. Served in every village, town and city in the jungle, tacacho is part of a strong gastronomic tradition that still remains a secret to the rest of the world. Although Peru has been enjoying a culinary boom for the past few years, its Amazonian region hasn’t gathered much international attention. However, it’s a solid gastronomic identity simply craving to be discovered.
As most of my work as of late involves eating and restaurants in Lima, Peru, I am often asked where to go. What is the cevicheria of the moment? Who is the hottest chef of the moment? Where should I go for a taste of the Amazon? Who has the best anticuchos? Which of Gaston Acurio’s restaurants should I go to? I could literally go on for days describing where to eat in Lima. While I’m usually scouting out huariques and market stalls in obscure districts, though for the passing writer or foodie that wants to know what is in right now, here is my Lima IT list.
Peru’s culinary boom has spread to more remote parts of the country and more Amazonian chefs are returning from cooking schools and high-end restaurants in Lima tot heir birthplace. Iquitos is the natural choice for the center of the Amazon’s new culinary boom: it has gone through several major booms and busts in the past century (rubber, oil, drug trade) where great wealth has come and gone that it is one of the Amazon’s more cosmopolitan cities. Pedro Miguel Schiaffino of Lima’s Malabar, one of the city’s great chefs and one of two South American chefs known for their explorations of Amazonian cuisine (Alex Atala in Sao Paolo is the other) has been actively involved in pushing local producers to produce premium products and encourage local chefs to look deeper.
On a post not far from my table a Kingfisher sits for a moment and then flutters off. Off in the distance closer to the shore a white egret stands zen-like. When I came by boat to Al Frio y al Fuego, a thatched roof restaurant in the middle of the Itaya river near Iquitos in the Peruvian Amazon, the clouds were dark and raindrops bounced across the murky water. Now the sun was out and the restaurants turquoise pool was sparkling and inviting though I didn’t think to bring my trunks.
Until a recent trip to Rio de Janeiro I thought Alex Atala at D.O.M. in São Paulo was the only chef diving head first into Amazonian ingredients in Brazil. I was wrong. Another chef, Roland Villard, at Rio’s Le Pré Catelan inside the Hotel Sofitel on Copacabana Beach, is just as intimate with these exotic ingredients. If not, more so. The French chef, serves an 11 Course Amazonian Tasting Menu that ranks among the best meals I have ever had the pleasure of eating.
A giant black door that must be at least 15 feet high separates the outside world from the wild jungle inside. This is D.O.M., Brazilian chef Alex Atala’s signature restaurant and is included on San Pellegrino’s list of the World’s Top 50 restaurants. Many would say it belongs in the top ten. Atala, a one time DJ, was trained in classical French cuisine, though he no longer serves foie gras and truffles on his menu. He serves strictly Brazilian food, the flavors of his youth, though he has reinvented them masterfully.
Brasil a Gosto, on a quiet tree lined street in São Paulo’s Jardins neighborhood, is one of those restaurants that teaches you as much as it feeds you. The restaurant was in fact founded after the chef Ana Luiza Trajano searched 47 different Brazilian cities across the country to complete an inventory of regional ingredients and recipes and then wrote a book, the same name as the restaurant, about it. Trajano takes many of those recipes, many of them usually found in dirt rooms shacks and market stalls, and presents modern interpretations in a contemporary dining room with high quality ingredients.
Pucallpa, in the Peruvian Amazon, is where the highway ends. From here the roadless expanse of the Amazon begins, extending far into Brazil. Fruits and vegetables arrive to the city from the Rio Ucayali and its tributaries and, what is not consumed here directly, are then filtered by road into the rest of Peru. While Pucallpa does not have a massive tourist lure (though there are a few tourists that make it here, mostly Peruvians), there is a considerable amount of interesting things going in and around the city, especially for the adventurous Foodie.