While Lima pushes gastronomy to new and exciting heights, Arequipa preserves and serves daily the traditional plates on which modern Peruvian cuisine is based.
Brendan Sainsbury made the astute observation, “Former French President Charles de Gaulle once asked about his native country, ‘How can you govern a country that has 246 varieties of cheese?’ Good thing he never got around to governing Peru, a country with 2,500 soup recipes, more than 3,000 different types of potato and 2,000 species of fish.”
Interestingly enough, the same traditional eateries that preserve this incredible culinary legacy, are very closely tied to the democracy that has held the country together.
Although Lima receives the international acclaim for its innovative twistson the country’s millenary celebrated recipes (fair enough), Arequipa stands content off-stage as both the birthplace and guardian of these all-important traditional dishes. While the culinary culture in Lima is progressive and contemporary, Arequipa’s eateries largely look, feel, and most importantly, taste the same as they have for decades – or more appropriately, for generations.
The dining culture in Arequipa is that of the picanteria, or traditional family-run kitchen, nourishing the family but also opening its doors to the nearby workers, residents, and immediate community.
These picanterias have long been the convergence of all walks of life. It is the only place where communal tables sit laborers shoulder to shoulder with politicians, artists, writers, influencers, caretakers and everybody in between. Exchange of ideas flow freely, as does the traditional chicha brew, the omni-present soup of the day, and a rotation of traditional dishes deeper than the nearby Colca Canyon.
Arequipean picanterias are a connection to the nation’s roots, nourishing the city with wholesome food, as well as reinforcing the city's proud heritage and keeping tradition alive. Collectively, they tell the story of the region and its resilient culture. Looking at the picanterias on an individual basis, they tell the stories of the families that carry on this legacy.
While Lima has the internationally trained chefs, state-of-the-art dining facilities, and dishes that constantly reinvent and elevate the industry,Arequipa’s claim to culinary fame has remained unchanged for centuries. Relying on the same recipes that brought celebrated chefs all the way overseas in the first place, enjoyed in no-nonsense humble yet comfortable locales, eating in Arequipa is not only a glimpse into the roots of the world’s greatest gastronomy, it is an opportunity to feel the heartbeat of the country, taste the story of the Inca, and remind oneself that simple yet strong values endure.