“[Peru has] an incredibly diverse cuisine, and not just because of the geography of the region, but also because of the immigrant culture and colonization history that Peru has,” Catherine Klene said on Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air. “It’s a really excellent mix of flavors and cuisines.”
From Incan staples like corn and ancient grains to varieties of peppers and potatoes, Peruvian food has been also influenced by regions including Europe, Asia and Africa, according to Klene, the digital managing editor at Sauce Magazine.
“Seafood plays a huge role as well in the cuisine on the coast,” she added.
Klene joined host Don Marsh along with Sauce Magazine critic and contributor Stephanie Zeilenga, who recently traveled to Peru, to discuss the cuisine of the South American country, which was featured in the July issue of Sauce Magazine.
“On the coast, ceviche is very popular,” Zeilenga said. “That is a raw fish dish that is marinated in a citrus juice that is made with lime and it’s flavored with ají, which is a Peruvian pepper.”
Also joining the conversation was Jorge Calvo Jr., bar manager and co-owner of the downtown restaurant Mango Peruvian Cuisine.
“It’s actually very easy to like ceviche,” Calvo said. “Some people may be a little stand-offish to try it out, but once they do, they usually love it.”
Zeilenga went on to explain how the food of the coastal region of Peru differed from other regions of the country.
“In the Andes, you have more of the mountain-area food,” she said. “That is kind of the heartier, more comfort food that’s designed to help the people that were walking those passes every day to make it through that terrain.”
In addition to experiencing food from various regions, Zeilenga said eating a cold mashed potato and seafood dish opened her eyes to what combinations could exist in cuisine.
“As someone who loves to cook at home, it was kind of inspiring to see how they were using ingredients that we don’t normally think to put together,” Zeilenga said.
However, for Calvo, these ingredients and dishes are what he grew up eating and what is served locally at his parents’ restaurant.
“My parents co-founded Mango together in 2004. They wanted to bring Peruvian cuisine to St. Louis and to America in general,” Calvo said. “We try to present Peruvian food in an approachable way, and in an environment that’s comfortable to be in and inviting as well.”
While some of the ingredients may be difficult to come across in the Midwest, Calvo said his family has made some connections within the community.
“We’ve gotten very lucky to have some of the local farmers actually start to grow some of the Peruvian peppers,” Calvo Jr. said. “The most common one that’s used in almost every dish that I can think of is what we call ají amarillo, which just translates to yellow pepper … it can be very spicy depending on how much you use, but it can also be very tame and just pack a lot of flavor.”
Listen to the full conversation:
Producer's note: Caitlin Lally is a regular contributor to Sauce Magazine.
St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer, Evie Hemphill and Caitlin Lally give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.