A chimichurri-spiked Argentinean mixed grill is great—once a year. And as much as you love Salvadoran pupusas (cheese-oozing corn tortillas) and feijoada, that Brazilian bean-and-pork-fest, the prize for South America's most up-and-coming food belongs to Peru. How often do you get to taste a dish that was eaten by the Incas more than 500 years ago?
Rivaling Mexican in its fusion of Indian roots and Iberian inspirations, the Peruvian kitchen is rich in corn and ancient staples like quinoa. Chiles are pounded into creamy sauces called ajies, then added to chowders and stews passed down from the pre-Columbian world. The seafood fostered by the cold Humboldt Current in the Pacific shows up as amazing ceviches at beachside cebicherias. In the highlands, chicha (Andean corn beer) flows freely at indigenous markets where Aymara Indians from Lake Titicaca barter essentials like corn for dehydrated potatoes with vendors from the Central Highlands.
To Lima's cosmopolitan larder, Africans contributed peanut sauces; Italians, pasta. The Chinese created the Sino-Latino urban hybrid called chifa, while Japanese migrant chefs have been responsible for modern-Peruvian raw seafood preparations so pristine, they're practically sashimi. (Lima, after all, is where Nobu Matsuhisa spent his formative years.) And how about a fusion cooking style—blending Andean ingredients with contemporary techniques—called nuevoandino?Or, if you're in the mood for something practically prehistoric, try guinea pig grilled on hot stones.
WHERE TO EAT IT
AT HOME El Perol Mission Market Mall, 2590 Mission St., San Francisco; 415/550-8582; dinner for two $36. Folded into the Mission's Latin market, this simple lunch counter's papas rellenas (stuffed potatoes), daily stews made with beef or chicken, and purple-corn punch will transport you straight to Lima.
ABROAD José Antonio 200 Jirón Bernardo Monteagudo, San Isidro, Lima; 51-1/264-0188; dinner for two $44. A comprehensive introduction to Creole-Peruvian food in a burnished colonial setting. Try the piqueo (a selection of small plates) and Lima's meanest, frothiest pisco sours.