Introduction

Introduction

By
Martin Morales
Contains
0 recipes
Published by
Quadrille Publishing
ISBN
9781849499941
Photographer
David Loftus

Andina, a word meaning a woman, or a dish or ingredient from the Andes. My grandmother Mamita Naty, my mum and my great aunts were all Andinas. I have Andina in my blood.

Why Andina?

Even though I grew up in the coastal city of Lima, with its culinary influences coming from all four corners of Peru and from immigrants from as far as Spain, Italy, Africa, China and Japan, reminders of my Andina heritage were all around me as a child. My great aunts (with whom I stayed at weekends) and their cooking, the food parcels Mamita Naty would send me every month, and the Andina traditions we followed in Lima built for me a cultural landscape that was alive and fascinating. The more I experienced it, the more I fell in love with it. Despite enjoying and learning about the different aspects of Peruvian food, I always returned to the centre, the starting point, the most ancient aspect of our cuisine. That’s Andina cuisine. So for me, Andina is a world full of food and stories too precious to remain unspoken; it is la cocina Andina, the cuisine of the Andes, the heart of Peruvian food.

Andina cuisine is always perfectly balanced and seasonal. If it’s summer, Andina cooking offers us the lightest and zestiest dishes; if it’s winter, the dishes are warming, hearty and filling. Using ingredients that are both seasonal and local, and a wide variety of ancient cooking techniques, this cuisine is built upon respect for the environment, the land and its people. As the highly respected Peruvian sociologist and gastronomy writer Isabel Álvarez says, ‘This is not fashionable food, this is food from thousands of years ago.’ Since ancient times it has been organic, nose-to-tail eating, from field to table with zero waste. In this way, ancient it might be, but it is also progressive.

Andina cooking is a perfect example of how a cuisine can evolve and adapt. Some ingredients, dishes and drinks date back thousands of years; others immigrants brought with them within the last five centuries. But there are others, such as recipes we have created in our restaurants and for this book, that might be a matter of only years or months old. The book includes examples of all these, ultimately harking back to the energy and creativity of the real stars of Peruvian cuisine: the picanteras, the generations of Andina women chefs, who are the purveyors of the great flavours and techniques that are so unique to my country’s gastronomy.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the more complicated or elaborate we make something, the better it will be. Often, all we need is something simple. For me, Andina cuisine offers that perspective. For the last 30 years, I have travelled the length and breadth of the Andes researching ingredients, tasting traditional recipes and spending time with the picanteras. I have eaten in their picanterías and in hundreds of other wonderful restaurants high in the Andes. Their dishes shy away from complexity and over-preparation. They are practical and economical, and yet they deliver a vast array of flavour.

I share something very personal with the picanteras. Many lost their mothers at a young age and had to find a trade, feed themselves and their siblings and learn that special seasoning touch, which in Peru we call sazón. So did I. When my mother moved out when I was ten years old, I was left to cook for my dad and sister. I can’t live without eating great food; I crave deliciousness, ideally in good company. Now, like so many Andina women I admire, I work in restaurants spending my days feeding beautiful, wholesome food to happy, hungry people.

Regional cooking in the Andes

The Andes spans seven South American countries: Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Venezuela. The Peruvian Andes alone is made up of eleven different Andina regions, each with its own traditional cuisine with ancient and modern influences, as well as its own geography, flora, fauna, climate and cultural identity.

In the Andes, generation after generation, people have communicated through music, dance, rituals and, above all, through food and drink. There is no significant activity that does not involve food: from weddings to saints’ celebrations, births to deaths, festivals to indigenous rituals. Celebration and ritual food might be slightly more complex, using techniques that can take a little longer, but day-to-day cooking is practical, quick and nutritious: starters are soups and broths and a main is usually a picante, a kind of stew. Farmers have el fiambre, hearty packed lunches to last all day. And family meals are built around the most accessible ingredients – tubers and cereals – adding vegetables, meats and cheeses, if available. Above all, though, traditional Andina cooking uses no industrialised processes. Andina cooks use wood-burning stoves and open fires, and centuries-old manual implements, such as the batán millstone. There is even underground pachamanca cooking at special occasions. The cooking also features pre-Hispanic techniques for flavouring, preserving or transforming ingredients. Among them are specific ways to smoke, dry, infuse, marinate and ferment. From goat to alpaca, beef to lamb, potatoes to cheeses, coffee to spirits, the Andina women have found ways to flavour, cook and preserve everything the land and rivers give them.

The Andes is a mixture of urban and rural environments. There are large, busy cities that share traits with cities everywhere (migration, transportation and technology – all of which have evolved the Andina way of life, including its food), relatively uninhabited highlands, and most of all many farming communities. Here, people unite in the kitchen, as they have done for thousands of years, around pots and pans. Women, who are mostly responsible for the cooking, are at the heart of home life. Many also manage the selling of produce that comes from their farms. The ancient barter system, known as trueque, encourages fair commerce among indigenous farmers and their communities. These exchanges value generosity: fruit, vegetable, meat and fish sellers always agree a deal with their customers, but offer a considerate little extra, called la yapa, on top.

Ancient peoples living in the Andes created sophisticated methods of farming, many of which are still in use today – from expertly managing agriculture at 4,000 metres above sea level to building complex irrigation systems and levelled platforms, called andenes, to ensure a measured water supply for crops. There are an estimated 2,000 varieties of indigenous potatoes; enormous quantities of seeds and grains, such as quinoa, amaranth and cañigua among them; as well as unique fruit such as lucuma, beans such as El Pajuro, and herbs such as muña, chincho and huacatay. With the Spanish came cucumber and limes, among other fruit and vegetables, as well as herbs and cereals. They brought goats, sheep and cows to join the native rabbit, guinea pig, duck, pheasant and llama. Having already taken over parts of Central America, the Spanish also brought cacao, vanilla and prickly pear fruit; while ingredients such as palms, banana and cassava came from Africa as a result of the slave trade. The influx of Asians in the 19th century brought tamarind and ginger, as well as rice; while in the 20th century, migrants from Austria and Germany have given us the techniques and flavours of northern Europe. The result is a rich melting pot of culinary influences, all of which fascinate and excite me, and inspire the chefs in our restaurants.

Andina and Casita Andina restaurants

I often say to my team, if a dish has been around for a thousand years, it has survived for a reason. Crafted over time at the hands of many cooks and chefs, it has fought off trends, fads and other challenges by evolving and adapting but never losing its essence and great flavour. At our award-winning restaurants in London, our dishes are inspired by these traditional soul-food dishes, made using the best possible ingredients and always beautifully presented.

I like to think of our design and service in a similar way. Andina is a kind of sanctuary: calm and comfortable in the daytime, buzzing at night; a modern-day picantería in London with a team of people who really love what they do. It has an open kitchen with counter eating so that our guests can chat with our chefs, a pisco bar and a juice bar, and a music room featuring a collection of more than 1,000 vinyl singles of Peruvian music. The food and architecture are inspired by the regions of La Libertad and Arequipa. When we first opened, the idea of it seemed almost too alien for people: ‘A picantería in the middle of East London? What’s that?’ But soon, happy locals discovered it and so did many chefs, intrigued by our work.

At Casita Andina (meaning ‘little Andina house’) we are inspired by the food of Cusco, Ayacucho, and of Huancayo in Junín. It is a cosy, charming picantería with commissioned art from the regions’ artisan craftsmakers and contemporary painters, telling our stories and paying homage to our food, our picanteras and our traditions.

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