Stories from the Andina regions

Stories from the Andina regions

Martin Morales
0 recipes
Published by
Quadrille Publishing
David Loftus


Feli’s strong arms gripped me in the most moving bear hug, squeezing out my tears of loss – circumstance was robbing me of her and almost everything I knew. By 1984, when I was 11 years old, the Shining Path had threatened my father and he was ready to leave Peru to seek a safer home for my sister and me. Feli, whom I called ‘auntie’ but who was our housekeeper, was one of the people I was going to miss most. Such was my attachment to her that my mother, also staying behind in Peru, had to wrench me from her arms. My connection to the region of Huancavelica is deeply personal, because it connects me to Feli.

Feli is short for Felicitas. In ancient Roman culture, felicitas (from the Latin felix, meaning ‘fruitful, blessed, happy, lucky’) is a condition of divinely inspired productivity, blessedness or happiness. Hers was always to be a positive significance in my life. I was five when I first met her. She worked as a housekeeper with our neighbours next door; they had a beautiful garden. One sunny day I saw Feli in the garden and asked her to give me some flowers to take to school to give to my friends. That’s how she recalls first meeting me. A year later she was taking care of me and working with our family.

Wise, caring and loving, she had wide, smiling eyes, kisses that made my cheeks pop, and hair thick as wire tied in a bun like a Japanese Geisha. She seemed very tall to my little self, and broad, with calves that any athlete would be proud of. She was a true Andina: powerful and built for hard times; ancient times. She was born in the 40s in the village of Santo Tomás de Pata, high up in the mountains of Huancavelica. This was a barren land, so cold that crops found it hard to bear fruit, and so high that the sun blistered its inhabitants’ dark skins. Born into a family of three brothers and sisters, her parents were farmers and she grew up living among the cows, horses, donkeys and sheep, and the crops of corn, potatoes and quinoa. The nearest school was two hours’ walk away and Feli spent much of her childhood walking and working, developing those strong calves. Her home was typical of those in her village, with no running water or electricity – which remains true even today in this poor, forgotten mountaintop corner of Peru.

Like many in her village, she dreamed of leaving and going to Lima – the Peruvian capital and supposed land of plenty. So, aged 18 and on her own, Feli left behind the harsh reality of everything she knew and headed for the humidity of Lima. There, she found work cleaning and housekeeping. She created a home in a mud hut on a plot of land near our house, where she lived among turkeys, dogs and allotments, and where for the first ten years, still she had no electricity or water. She worked in many places until she found me. I say found, because I was lost and slightly forgotten, too. My mum and dad were seldom at home, and when they were there, they would argue and sometimes fight. Feli became my world; she was pure light, and her cooking carried that special ingredient cariño, or care and love. I ate everything she fed me, every last morsel. For all her faults my mother did care about eating well, so she asked Feli to feed me healthy food: pulses, quinoa, beans. Anything but chips. And Feli’s seasoning was spot on.

Sadly, as a result of my mum’s strict diet, we never got to try the many local dishes Feli would talk about. The hearty Patasca, a slow-cooked stewy soup with its tripe, mote corn and cow’s foot mix to me sounded exotic. The flavourful El Puchero, another campesino (peasant) soup, made for those long winter days from January to March when the vegetables are in season. But above all she spoke of the Pachamanca. Feli tempted me with these delights and through the years I’ve sought out her different dishes, not only to try them, but also to learn how to make them; it is with extreme excitement that I present them here, in homage to Feli, in my book.

Eggs were the first thing I learnt how to cook, the first ingredient I really mastered: poached, fried, boiled. Feli taught me. One day, I realized I was eating so many eggs and my repertoire was getting limited. So much so that I cheekily said to her, ‘Oye Feli, si solo hago huevos día y noche, me voy a convertir en huevón!’ Which means something like ‘Hey Feli, if I can only cook eggs day and night, I’m going to turn into an idiot!’ The word huevón had a double meaning, much stronger than just ‘egghead’. She would laugh, and I felt completely protected by her. She was dark skinned, and always smiling, considered, measured, careful, caring, loving, warm, indigenous. She embodied the Andina spirit. Another mother of mine, this time from Huancavelica.

She’d talk a lot about her home. Located in the heart of the Peruvian Andes, with almost half a million people, Huancavelica is one of the oldest and coldest regions in Peru. It is surrounded by majestic high mountains with snow-capped peaks, and is peppered with deserted lush plains, beautiful blue-and-green lagoons and hot thermal springs. This was the home of the farmers and warriors known as the Wari, then the Chanca and then the Huanca people. Some say Huancavelica’s name comes from combining the Quechua words huanca and huilka, which together mean ‘Idol of Stone’. But I prefer the story that tells of a dazzling Huanca lady called Isabel, whom the locals lovingly referred to as ‘Isabelica’ (little Isabel), or simply ‘Belica’ – giving us, of course, Huanca Belica. The vast majority of Huancavelica’s people are indigenous – far greater numbers speak traditional Quechua than Spanish. Peru’s number-one potato producer, the region also grows great quantities of peas and barley, and a variety of beans; there is farming of trout, beef, pork, lamb and alpaca.

Its capital city, also called Huancavelica, with its beautiful colonial main square, was founded in 1571 when the Spanish discovered mercury there, itself crucial for the extraction of silver. But mining was a treacherous endeavour and the exploitation of miners was rife. Cruel mining practices have cost the lives of many thousands of Andinos over the centuries. Notwithstanding, through the sweat, the blood and the bodies of Huancavelica’s people, the region became home to the colonialist Santa Barbara mine, famous throughout the world and acknowledged as a pillar that supported the Spanish Empire.

But this was all before Feli’s time. The early 20th century brought both intense drought and devastating floods to Huancavelica, ripping through the heart of the agricultural community. Mining continued at the hands of foreigners, and local Andinos were left forgotten. Then, in the latter 20th century, the fierce Shining Path arrived from neighbouring Ayacucho, causing further mayhem and horror. For several years terrorists or the military took over many towns and cities. With their humble region now the scene of war, during the 80s many in Huancavelica began a mass migration to Lima.

It is then, against this backdrop, that Feli became a part of our family. I remember clearly the day when we discovered that more than 200 people had been rounded up and murdered in her village; a village that the day before had only 250 inhabitants. Her mother and sister escaped; her many cousins and uncles did not. Many have yet to be found. Although Feli was safe with us during such devastating times, through her kind, smiling eyes, her face painted her pain in every look. To me, like her region’s name, she was an Idol of Stone, a Wari descendant, a Quechua lady that to this day is my friend and surrogate mother.

Thankfully, since the mid-90s Huancavelica has been a place of peace. This land of farmers and miners, appreciated for its hospitable warmth, simplicity and humility, is once again blossoming, poised off the beaten track to be discovered by anyone seeking human and natural beauty. Feli carries her region’s renewed positivity and confidence. When I see her on my travels back to Peru, I take her a bunch of flowers in memory of that most special of moments when we first met. Together we reminisce, and I often wonder what life would have been like if I’d stayed in Peru in 1984, with Feli by my side. Soon enough I’m sure we would have dug up the garden and cooked our own delicious Pachamanca.

La Libertad

Located in the northwest of Peru, La Libertad (meaning ‘freedom’) is the only department that covers Peru’s three main geographical regions: coast, mountains (80 per cent of its territory) and jungle. Its capital, Trujillo, is considered the city of eternal spring owing to its semi-tropical weather. Trujillo was one of the most important cities in the north of Peru during the Spanish conquest, but it was also the first to be freed, making it a key player in the later struggle for independence. The liberator, General Don Simón Bolivár, proclaimed, ‘La Libertad has given Peru its freedom!’ Hence the region’s name.

La Libertad has become the third-largest regional economy in Peru through its investment in agriculture, livestock, hunting, forestry and manufacture. The largest harvested crops are sugar cane (La Libertad is the main producer in the country), rice, wheat, barley, potatoes and yellow corn. Furthermore, with high international demand for asparagus, La Libertad, with its good soil and suitable climate conditions, has become the country’s leading producer of that, too. Artichokes, avocados and peppers are not far behind.

For me, though, the fact that the region’s name means freedom is something of an irony. Journeys there when I was a kid, when I used to go to see my granny Mamita Naty, felt like being trapped in never-ending torture. We’d set off from Lima on a ten-hour bus ride up the Pan-American Highway. In the 80s, this single-lane, superfast road, packed with drivers who didn’t look and were always in a hurry, was the site of many overturned buses and accidents that were often fatal. It frightened me and made the journey feel twice as long. Once reaching Trujillo, which was halfway through the journey, we would stay the night at some new relative’s house – our family forever seemed to be extending itself. What happened next was the most arduous part: the following day we would board a bus to Santiago de Chuco, from where we would walk to Cachicadán, the hamlet where my granny lived.

Sounds straightforward, but Santiago was at least another eight hours on from Trujillo. The bus was basic, had no toilet, had sometimes a missing or broken window; the ride was always dusty and you were lucky if your seat had cushioning – most seats were merely planks of wood with a cloth on top. The bus would wind dangerously up the mountains, hugging the road and narrowly missing the precipice every few minutes. It often broke down along the way, as the dirty, pot-holed roads murdered its suspension and tyres. There was one good thing about the journey, though: the regular toilet stops, which were always in family-run roadside restaurants – the picanterías of La Libertad. There, I clearly remember eating delicious Shambar, or Chochoca soup.

When I finally got to Santiago, though, I always realized how worthwhile that journey had been: this is one of the prettiest towns in La Libertad. It is also the birthplace of Peru’s greatest poet César Vallejo. Born in 1892, Vallejo is considered a giant among Peru’s literary figures of that time; he was also my great-great uncle and his melancholic writings, often quoted at family gatherings, haunted me as a child.

Reaching Santiago was pure joy. The air outside the bus was filled with all the aromas of delicious breads and cakes emanating from the local bakeries. Then the most wonderful bit: seeing Mamita Naty once we reached her home. On the table of her house was always a welcoming dish of Shambar.

A true Andina, my granny was strong. She was a farmer, a bookkeeper and became Lord Mayoress of her village. She worked day and night to feed her eight children, my mother being one of them. She defied tradition and stereotype: she became a prominent politician, she refused to ride side saddle, and she was the life and soul of any party. Hers was an open house that reflected her own generosity, and her kitchen was her own picantería. Whenever I visited, there was always someone new sitting in there: a traveller, a local campesino farmer on a break, a messenger, an important local politician. Her suckling pig and guinea-pig dishes amounted to feasts fit for a king. She bred guinea pigs in the warmth beneath her mud stove and during my visits it was my job to choose which guinea pig to butcher for our meal. She would cook it with chilli and spices, turning it into a picante.

My visits made us close and, when I wasn’t there, she had a special way to keep in touch. When I was a young boy living in Lima, a highlight of my month was receiving an encomienda from my granny. This was a large basket full of ingredients – some prepared, some just as they came – from her farm: serrano ham (which from her village is spicy and hot), a creamy and strong queso fresco (delicious fried or eaten fresh), heavenly bread, and rosquitas (savoury, crunchy doughnut-shaped biscuits), chancaca (a sweet sugarcane sauce), manjar blanco (a type of milk custard) and eggs (the bluest and whitest you’ve ever seen, with bright orange yolks). All of these treasures we turned into dishes that not only our family, but also our friends could enjoy – in Mamita Naty’s own spirit of generosity. The practice of sending encomiendas in Peru was a typical token of love from afar. My granny would always attach a note that read ‘Con mucho cariño’ – ‘With lots of love’ – which has now become the motto in our restaurants.

Mamita Naty passed away just a few years ago, but I still hold Santiago dear in my heart, which is why Shambar is so special to me. It is sometimes called Monday Soup. According to historians that’s because the soup was made using the leftovers from the weekend’s festivities and celebrations. The essence of the dish lies in the type of gammon or serrano ham you use: the more cured and spicy, the better.

If you go deep into La Libertad’s Andes, to towns such as Santiago, Angasmarca or Otuzco, you can find great serrano hams and so also great Shambar. A few years ago, a top British restaurant critic went to Peru. I hooked him up with my uncle, who took him to a slum where there is a La Libertad fellow who cooks a mean Shambar. The critic came back raving about the soup, saying it was the best dish he had ever eaten. There’s no doubt that that soup will have been made with the most delicious ham, but I don’t think that’s all the critic could taste. Stirred in, to make the soup truly great, were also history, tradition and, most of all, the secret Peruvian ingredient known as mucho cariño – much love – as Mamita Naty used to say.


The heart of Peruvian food is felt in all corners of the Andes: in the many markets, street stalls and restaurants, and in the aromas emanating from the kitchens inside the Andinas’ homes. But, I think, the heart beats faster and louder in Arequipa than anywhere else. Here, gastronomy is the result of plentiful native ingredients, dishes and traditions; like a culinary Inca warrior, it conquers the taste buds of all who cross its path; it is living, breathing history. The sheer quantity of dishes from Arequipa is exceptional. If I found 120 recipes in books from the region of Apurímac; I found more than 600 in books from Arequipa.

The region of Arequipa stretches across the central–south Andes right up to the Pacific coast. It is a place rich in indigenous culture and tradition; a place where its early tribes were overpowered and organized by the Incas. Legend has it that in the late 13th century, the Inca Mayta Cápac was the first to settle in Arequipa, stationed there with his troops. When the time came for the troops to move on, many men asked Mayta Cápac if they could stay. ‘Ari quipay,’ he replied, meaning ‘Yes, stay.’ In time Arequipa became a melting pot of settlers from Europe, as well as mestizos – those of combined descent.

Like so many other cities of the Andina regions, Arequipa is the name of the region’s capital city as well as of the region itself. Founded by the Spanish in 1540, the city enjoys a fine location and climate, and easy distance from both fertile lands and the coast. The city prospered, so much so that after Peru declared independence from Spain in 1821, Arequipa became the country’s capital, remaining so for almost fifty years. Now, it is second only to Lima. With its stunning churches and plazas, and buildings made using volcanic white rock (earning it the nickname the ‘white city’), Arequipa’s old town has been declared of great importance to the Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

A key economic outpost for the colonialists, Arequipa has attracted many migrants, making it the land of opportunity within the Andes for those daring to venture from the capital city. For more than 500 years, migrants to Arequipa have brought their many influences and traditions. For me, this fusion has made it a culinary giant on the Peruvian food scene.

As in many second-largest cities (think Barcelona or Manchester), Arequipa’s residents are a proud people with a fierce regional patriotism that aims to differentiate the city from Lima. I think there is a lot Arequipa can claim as unique. For a start Arequipa can boast being the origin of several of Peru’s most recognizable and emblematic dishes, including the Chupe de Camarones Antiguo, which is a kind of prawn chowder, the Solterito – a delicious broad bean, queso fresco and olive salad, the Ocopa Sauce made with herbs and nuts and the Rocoto Relleno or stuffed hot red peppers.

These were dishes my great aunts Carmela and Otilia cooked every week at home in Lima when I was a child. Today, everywhere I go I look for Carmela and Otilia. I miss them in so many ways, but most of all I miss their cooking. During all the terrorism and violence we had to live through while we were in Peru, their food provided comfort – it made me happy and gave me hope.

When I left Peru in 1984, I left Carmela and Otilia in Lima, old but alive and well. Sadly, they passed away almost a decade ago. I was not there, of course, and a part of me shall always mourn them. But, I will also always feel them with me. I see Otilia’s eyes in the eyes of my own daughter, whom I named after her; I have kept Aunt Carmela alive in recipes that have been published in books and newspapers, each printing bearing her name. I have photographs of both of them all around my house. When I go back to Peru, I see them in different places: in markets, in churches, in restaurants – the places they so often took me. Above all, though, I see them through the eyes of the picanteras, the women chefs and mothers who hold their families together through food and love, feeding them, their friends and their customers in their picanterías. These traditional family-run restaurants pop up in many parts of Peru, but they appear especially in Arequipa, serving the regional versions of the dishes my great aunts used to cook. In a way these dishes are my spiritual connection to this ancestry and it is in Arequipa that I feel and hear Carmela and Otilia most.

Every time I go back to Arequipa, I’m received more and more like a prodigal son. The picanteras of this city have adopted me as one of their own. These exceptional women hold the secrets to traditional cooking techniques. They have set up the Picantera Society of Arequipa, a group of forty or more (mostly) women, who come together to organize and chronicle their knowledge and establish key rules on how to run a picantería. Their generosity and enthusiasm are both infectious and limitless.

My most recent visit to Arequipa was in the week of my birthday and I spent it at La Nueva Palomino, a picantería in the heart of Arequipa. It is run by the charismatic and loving Mónica Huerta Alpaca, who invited me to celebrate my birthday with her, asking several other local picanteras to bring a celebratory dish, too. Mónica’s Chicha corn brew, which I’d go so far as to say is the best in Peru, flowed freely. We tucked into this and every other dish on offer. Every woman had chosen to cook something special – she had not only prepared it, but also offered it with love. It wasn’t just what these women did to celebrate my birthday that mattered, but how they did it.

Picanterías are unique, distinguished by four things: 1. They serve chicha; 2. every day has its own specific chupe (soup); 3. they serve a variety of picantes (stews) and other traditional dishes; and 4. they are democratic, inclusive places where anyone from any walk of life can eat traditional food, drink chicha and socialize. Presidents and authors, bricklayers and lawyers, artists and dentists – all are welcome. Years ago, in fact, picanterías were primarily places of cultural exchange. Social gatherings, political protests, art exhibitions, poetry readings and live music all found a voice there. Now, many are attached to farms, orchards or allotments. They all use local and sustainable produce that is organically grown.

On the walls of Casita Andina hang specially commissioned portraits of four picanteras who have particularly inspired us: La Lucila, La Benita, La Cau Cau and La Palomino. Some of these women have now passed away, but I hope that our gesture on the walls of the restaurant keeps their spirit alive. That, and their own families back in Peru. While I was in Arequipa, I spent the day at Picantería La Lucila. Doña Lucila, who reminds me of my own great-grandmother Luchita, died just a few years ago, but Gladys and Ruth, two of Lucila’s five daughters greeted me. Their kitchen is well known in Arequipa. At more than 100 years old, this kitchen has been handed down through several generations. With its whitewashed adobe walls, natural light that streams in sunbeams through a ceiling hatch, wood-burning stove and years of history etched on its walls, this kitchen embodies the real cooking of the Andes. The women have a large sink with fresh drinking water, but they have no electricity and no gas – there’s not a modern-day kitchen appliance in sight. All mixing and blending is done patiently and painstakingly by hand using the traditional batán. This is a giant, moon-shaped smooth stone that the cook rocks from side to side over a flat boulder, using it as a grinder, a mill and a pestle and mortar. Lucila’s daughters use the same batán that has been used since the opening of their picantería, and it holds the key to their slow, fresh cooking that places no importance on time. Cooking is unrushed; tradition and flavour come first.

Preparation starts at dawn, with the first dishes arriving on the table at 11am. The women keep going until the food runs out, or the picantería closes at late afternoon. When I was there, I sat at the kitchen table and watched how Gladys spent an hour using the batán to make a traditional Ocopa Sauce, while Ruth fed me carrot fritters, and let me try some exquisite salads – Sarza de Patitas and Sarza de Criadillas, all washed down with chicha. I was intrigued by their raw prawn dishes, such as Sivinche, a kind of spicy prawn tartare, and Celador de Camarones, which is like a raw prawn ceviche. Packed with flavour and character, these are ancestral dishes that are hard to find outside Arequipa – which is all the more reason to have included them in this book.

While I sat there watching these women and tasting their beautiful food, I became aware of the utter importance of this restaurant and all the restaurants like it. These are kitchens rich in history, steeped in tradition, committed to serving the best food for the benefit of all people. I feel passionately about them and want to support them in any way I can.

I’ve brought many of my chefs and members of my team here. I want them to experience the roots of our traditions, and the ingredients and techniques that inspire our cooking back in London. I want them to witness the personality, ethos, ethics and attributes of these mothers of Peruvian cooking. It is the closest thing I can do to bottling that spirit and expertise and bringing it back to London.

That day, as I watched Gladys and Ruth in their kitchen, they told me that I was sitting in the very place that had played host to thousands of other customers. Among those visitors was the great Latin American poet Pablo Neruda. Enriched by his experience, inspired and full of love, he looked over the small valley towards the fields of onions and wrote the Ode to the Onion, a small tribute to a great region held up by its Andina women.


My uncle and godfather ‘Chermo’ Morales was stationed in Cajamarca while he worked in the police force during the terror of the Shining Path. He knows its every nook and cranny, making him the perfect guide for my culinary adventure there. We drove all night, travelling inland up the mountainous roads from the coastal region of Lambayeque. When we arrived, the sky was bright orange and the sun was saying its last goodbye over the horizon. I felt the altitude mildly, or perhaps it was a combination of hunger and car-sickness – Chermo’s driving was speedy and confident, wrapping us tightly around all the hundreds of bends. Nonetheless, I was honoured to spend quality time with him, the warmest of my uncles, and to discover this region that he knows so well.

Although the early settlers were the Wari, the Incas established Cajamarca as a key region in their empire. As a result the city (also called Cajamarca) saw one of the bloodiest battles between the Incas and the Spanish invaders, resulting in the capture and murder of the Inca Emperor Atahualpa.

Atahualpa ruled Quito in Ecuador between 1525 and 1533, while his brother Huascar ruled the Inca Empire in Peru. The two brothers, though, were locked in a bitter feud that ended in battle and Huascar’s death. Atahualpa, victorious, sent his generals to occupy Cusco, while he stayed in Cajamarca. While he was there, the Spanish invader Francisco Pizarro entered the city on the premise of converting the Incas to Christianity. He summoned Atahualpa to a meeting in the main square. Atahualpa made a grand entrance accompanied by 6,000 ceremonial soldiers. Pizarro’s men gave Atahualpa a small book of scriptures and a ring as a religious gesture. In seeing no significance in the gifts, Atahualpa threw them to the ground. The Spanish were furious. Immediately, from their hiding places around the square, they opened fire. Mostly unarmed, the Incas could put up little defence and more than 5,000 of them were killed. On Pizarro’s order, Atahualpa himself was captured. Reports suggest that no Spanish soldiers lost their lives.

Pizarro took Atahualpa hostage in a room that is now known as ‘The Rescue Room’. It is 11.8m long, 7.3m wide and 3.1m high. Here, knowing that Pizarro was looking for wealth rather than blood, Atahualpa offered his captors a ransom in exchange for freedom. To this day this remains the biggest ransom ever paid: he promised to have The Rescue Room filled once with gold and twice with silver ‘until wherever your hand reaches in height’. In today’s money experts suggest that this would equate to a sum greater than half a billion US dollars. The Spaniards accepted, and from all corners of the Inca Empire, the riches of the ransom came to Cajamarca.

However, the Spaniards broke their word, tricked Atahualpa and set up what was essentially a kangaroo court – the trial was a fake and Atahualpa’s fate was already sealed. The Spaniards tried him and killed him. This story changed the course of history for western South America: Atahualpa’s meeting with the Spanish and his subsequent defeat and death is considered the foundation stone of the ensuing Spanish conquest.

In 1986, Cajamarca was designated a site of Historical and Cultural Heritage. One of the oldest cities in South America, it is today a living celebration of Spanish colonial architecture, beautiful landscapes, pre-Hispanic archeological sites and hot springs. Its gastronomy is as rich as its history. Well known for its dairy produce, its cheeses are spectacular, featuring in many dishes, including the delicious Caldo Verde, or green soup. As with many Andina soups, this one is packed with vitamins, making it perfect for local workers, who pick up hearty and sustaining bowls at the markets.

A block away from the Plaza de Armas (the main square) and housed in what is a 200-year-old building is a buzzing market packed with stalls selling everything from swimsuits to hats, combs to t-shirts and spring onions to cows’ feet. Here, at a stall selling soups and stews, Chermo and I sat down to a bowl of Caldo Verde. Even before the first sip, this glorious soup catches you with its steamy aromas of Mother Nature, fields and grass. It is a life-affirming smell, soothing and kind, ancient, authentic and natural. In Cajamarca, traditionally this soup is made using an ancient herb called chamqa, although more readily available herbs are now more common, and it is these that feature in our recipe. The semi-melted cow’s milk cheese stirred into the soup is an essential component – it feels like a comforting duvet from within the hot broth. Between the two – the ancient herbs and the cheese – this soup is the perfect marriage of Andina and European cultures.

Of course, there are lots of other dishes to try in Cajamarca’s markets. Among them, corn with cheese, tamales, humitas, wild mushroom ceviche, fried guinea pig with chilli potato, and pumpkin dessert. After the green soup, though, my favourite is the Caldo de Cabeza or lamb’s head soup. ‘Martincito, you have to try this lamb’s head soup, it’s really good!’ shouted Chermo. I did and for a second time stood still. Wow. In Peru, this soup is said to wake the dead. In contrast to the light broth of Caldo Verde, Caldo de Cabeza is thick and rich. It is serious nose-to-tail eating at its finest. The wealth of flavours that come from stewing a lamb’s head are worth discovering. A few months after my trip I debuted this dish at home, full head and all, and my fearless kids loved it.

I love my godfather Chermo and I have many wonderful memories of my time in Cajamarca with him. However, the enduring aromas and flavours of the dishes I shared with him there – and the conversations we had about them – are what I remember the most. In a way, the soups and stews we tried in Cajamarca gave us a better insight into people’s lives and the history of Cajamarca than even our visit to The Rescue Room. The flavours and textures took us not only to the moment, but also to times way, way back.


The dish Puka Picante represents the blood that flows in Ayacucho. Its name comes from Quechua puka, meaning ‘red’ and picante, denoting a rich spicy stew. Its bright red colour is the result of the native ayrampo red berries, beetroot, and panca chillies, which are its main ingredients.

Ayacucho’s history is devastating, full of pain, suffering and violence. For some, then, Puka Picante represents the blood unfairly spilled on Ayacucho’s land. From the gruesome Battle of Ayacucho that secured independence not only for Peru, but for the whole of South America, to the brutality of the Shining Path, and the ensuing civil war, this is a place that has seen more than its fair share of bloodshed.

Puka Picante is said to originate from pre-Inca times. Some say that it was eaten at the funerals of young children, with the pork within the vegetable stew said to represent the bodies of the dead. It was offered in particular to strengthen the fathers who had lost their sons. To me, this sounds a morbid beginning for such a flavourful and colourful dish, one that today brings people together, reconnecting Ayacuchanos with their roots and their lost traditions. It is one of the most poignant, celebrated and influential Andina dishes of all.

In the 1980s and 90s, more than 70,000 people died during the bloody fighting in Peru between the military and the Shining Path. Torture, mutilation and disappearances were common. In the rural parts of the Ayacucho region especially, thousands of humble, innocent local farmers were caught up in the crossfire. This generated a sense of wrath and displacement. Territorial conflict forced locals out of their homes resulting in mass migration from the countryside into the main cities – Ayacucho city itself and then ultimately Lima. Abandoned in their villages, those who survived lost everything, including their communities, their families, their dignity, their roots and even their traditions. In every corner of the Ayacucho region, the physical and emotional scars of war are still evident even today. That said, like so many tortured regions of Peru, in Ayacucho there is hope. I see it in local tradition and creativity, and in particular in the wonderful, bright red dish of Puka Picante.

I had waited all my life to visit Ayacucho – and finally I made it in 2016. As a child, I’d feared the place. Like Berlin in the mid-40s, Saigon in the late-60s, Fallujah in the mid-2000s and Aleppo today, Ayacucho in the 90s was a place of deep, unpredictable conflict. During the first few years of terrorist attacks in Peru, when I was around ten years old and living in Lima, newsreels told of how the majority of the fighting was in Ayacucho. For me, then, this place came to represent everything that was fear and terror, especially once the Shining Path had threatened my father and I’d come home one day to find armed guards at my house. In fact, they were there to protect us – but for my ten-year-old self the mere sight of them felt like being strangled.

I had spent the previous 24 hours listening to bombs go off, and watching news reports about the brutal advances of the Shining Path and their acts of atrocity against the communities living in the Andes – and in particular in Ayacucho, the headquarters of the insurrection. To me, then, Ayacucho was a region to fear most. It is a bitter prophecy that the word ayacucho itself means ‘the corner of death’.

Still, I believe that the only way to exorcise your demons is to confront them, so in 2016 I decided to visit. I hoped to find peace and reconstruction in all aspects of life there.

And so I did. Ayacucho today is a beautiful place. Actually, it is more than beautiful: it is a treasure. In the city (named Ayacucho, like the region), the gorgeous main square is a colonial masterpiece. Throughout, the city is peppered with more than 33 churches that boast some of the finest architecture in the Andes. At night, it is all lit up, elegant and dazzling, showing itself off in all its glory. I discovered a people whose faith and religious customs are exemplary among the Andina communities. Over Easter and the Holy Week, Ayacucho’s ten-day celebrations are considered the most important in Latin America and even among the biggest in the world. Thousands of Peruvians and tourists arrive in the city to participate in the ceremonies and processions, and to experience the cultural, artistic and gastronomic delights.

Ayacucho’s cuisine is a Pandora’s box characterized by rich flavours and wide variety. Dishes and drinks such as not only Puka Picante, but also Pachamanca, El Puchero, Humitas, Ponche and Chicha, among others, are served up both in markets and in homes, but they are also important traditional fare that form part of the feasting during celebrations and festivities.

Most of the region lies in the mountains of the Andes, some in the jungle, and agriculture and livestock provide the main sources of income for the region’s economy. In the jungle the dominant crops are cocoa and coffee, grown mainly for the international market; while in the mountains the region gives us potatoes, corn, barley, wheat and olluco. Especially important is the grain quinoa, which has given its name to one of the region’s most significant towns, Quinua, in Huamanga province.

When I visited I made a trip to the quinoa fields of the organic farmers we work with there, and saw the way our quinoa is processed. I went to the monument on the road to Quinua up on the Pampa de Ayacucho, an obelisk erected to commemorate those who lost their lives in the Battle of Ayacucho and helped to secure independence for Peru. The town of Quinua itself brims with wonderful, creative artisan potters. Ayacucho has a reputation as Peru’s capital of arts and crafts. Textiles, wood- and stone-carving, tin-sculpting and more than 55 other artistic crafts are at home here. And it is not just physical art for which Ayacucho is famous: in my previous life I was a music producer. Some 15 years ago, long before I visited Ayacucho itself, I had the chance to meet the master of Andina blues, Raúl García Zárate, who comes from the region.

A highlight for me during any of my regional adventures is always a visit to the local food markets. Two blocks away from Ayacucho’s main square is Carlos F. Vivanco Market. More than 108 years old, the market is a bustling place with plentiful ingredients and delicacies to taste on every corner.

I made the most of my time, joyfully eating my way through the stalls, as well as commissioning crafts and artwork for our restaurants. But, my most memorable time during my visit was an excursion to the Museo de la Memoria (Museum of the Memory). Through photos, videos, clothing and re-enactment, this incredible museum shares myriad personal stories that pay homage to all those who lost their lives during the armed conflict. Not only did it feel like a place of bravery, but also a place that laid bare the sacrifice and anger of the Ayacucho people. My feeling was compounded by the group of a dozen or so women I encountered when I arrived. Aged in their sixties and dressed in traditional dress, they stopped me in my tracks. ‘Do you meet here often?’ I asked them. With a sad look one of them said to me, ‘Yes. Every single week. We meet to organize our appeal to the authorities to give us the bodies of our husbands.’ Theirs is a story told across the whole of this region. They are widows whose husbands disappeared in the fighting. Now they are undertaking their own fight – for information and for the right to have their husbands’ bodies recovered and laid to rest.

After I left the museum and for the next few days, I kept seeing groups of women in their sixties walking the streets. I also saw many on their own. It didn’t take me long to realize that Ayacucho is a region with far more women than men; and that almost every woman over the age of 55 in Ayacucho is probably a widow.

Yet, at the same time, and even though when I think about what has happened in the region I am deeply angered, today I see a supportive community that is taking the path of progress. For every sad story I heard during my visit, I found a story of inspiration and strength; for every shattered memory, I also heard many colourful dreams. Overall, in the city, in the villages and in the people, there is a sense of peace. There is a long way to go to repair and compensate the region for its innumerable, unbearable losses, but I feel that its people are getting their lives back. This enduring spirit is what draws me to stand tall with the people of Ayacucho; it is what finally gives me the strength to let go of my own fear.

If you ever intend to visit Peru, I encourage you to seek out this magical place. Even from home find out about it, fight for it, help it to prosper again. In our own small way, to pay homage to Ayacucho, at Casita Andina we serve Puka Picante. Just in case anyone is superstitious (remember the significance of the pieces of pork), our version is vegetarian. Our chef Vito created it this way to give our customers, as he put it, ‘a sexy dish’. I think it is also an excuse to tell our customers an old Ayacucho saying: ‘Que te demores en partir y que te apures en volver’, meaning ‘May you take a long while to leave, but hurry up in coming back.’ It is a dish that is best eaten slowly and savoured. Then, once you’ve tried it once, you will come running back for more.

Finally, at the entrance in the back of Casita Andina you will find a beautifully hand-embroidered postcard made by Doña Leonila Ore. I bought it from the Museum of the Memory. Doña Leonila and many other widows make these postcards to raise funds to continue the mission to find out what happened to their husbands and other relatives. For me, it is a symbol of their struggle, strength and hope, and a reminder to me to be grateful for my heritage, my ancestors and most of all my family.


The region of Puno is located in the southeast of Peru. It borders with Bolivia to the east, Cusco and Arequipa to the west, Moquegua and Tacna to the south and Madre de Dios, the Amazonian region, to the north. At 3,800m above sea level, Puno city, its capital, is one of the highest cities in Peru.

The region has strong roots in Quechua and Aymara cultures, the latter of which harks back to the Tiahuanaco, who reigned there as early as 1000ce. In the 15th century the Incas took over, then the Spanish conquistadors, who flocked to the region in search of minerals. However, despite the wealth that lies in Puno’s soils, it is folklore for which Puno is most well known. Home to more than 100 varieties of traditional dance, Puno gives us the famous Diablada, the ‘devil dance’ performed during the Festivity of the Virgin of the Candelaria of Puno, a UNESCO-accredited celebration that takes place during the first two weeks of February. Hundreds of visitors come from all over Peru, as well as from abroad, making it one of the most important religious events in Latin America.

For a long time Puno’s gastronomy was the stuff of legend for me. I’d long heard about a succulent roast lamb, known by the traditional name of kankacho, that was the work of a certain Doña Julia Luna from the village of Ayaviri. Having been marinated in a blend of panca chilli, garlic and lager, the tender male lamb’s leg was then slow-cooked for seven hours in a wood-fired oven. And if the lamb wasn’t enough to tempt me, the British writer and geologist David Forbes wrote in his book On The Aymara Indians of Bolivia and Peru (1870) that the ‘chairo has at first a far from inviting aspect, which certainly would not recommend it at a European table, a taste for it is soon acquired, and it is even relished by the traveller who visits the inhospitable Puna of Bolivia and Peru’. Put simply, Chairo might not be the most attractive soup in the world, but its flavours are second to none. It is the ugly duckling of the soup world; the Cinderella, who, dressed in rags, hides a fundamental, irresistible beauty.

I’ve had the pleasure of having Chairo several times in the city of Puno. This is a bustling place, a frontier town between Peru and Bolivia, on the shores of Lake Titicaca, the highest lake in the world. When I visited, as I approached Puno, I couldn’t make out the lake from the sky. As is my instinct, though, I searched out Puno’s central market. Among the throng, I spotted a busy Chairo soupseller. With a large pot, almost as big as the seller herself, she stirred her soup and offered it to her customers, who came to sit in small benches right up close to her. I felt completely at home huddled up around this seller and her massive pot. In part it was the immediacy and quick service, a spontaneity that I seek to replicate at our restaurants in London; but also I felt at home in the pride in the soup-seller’s face. She had utter confidence in her ability to offer great seasoning and great flavours in her dish. There was no fusion, no blending; it was truly authentic. Why? Because Chairo is basic and practical; the quintessential Andina soup. It uses what is local and readily available. This is an organic, low-cost, zero-waste, zero-carbon-footprint soup.

The word chairo comes from both the Aymara and the Quechua languages and it means ‘food’ or ‘bag of food’. Traditionally, it was made for peasant farmers to provide energy for a whole day’s work. Thick and nutritionally dense, it gave sustenance to the men working far from home each day. Underneath the murky façade of browns, greys and sometimes even black colours (the result of the black chuño – freeze-dried black potatoes – in it), the soup has deep, rewarding flavours. It is a symbol of strength, not only for those working the land, but also against conquistadors and dictators – like the Andinas and Andinos themselves, it has endured for more than a thousand years.

The region of Puno is a powerhouse of soup production, and no wonder at such high altitudes with a cold climate, but Chairo finds variations elsewhere in the Andes, too. In neighbouring Arequipa it is spiced with chilli, giving it a slightly reddish colour; in Apurímac it is whiter, usually made using white freeze-dried potatoes, rather than black ones.

Puno is also the centre of Peru’s quinoa farming. Since before the Incas, quinoa has been prized more than gold. With quinoa featuring so extensively on our restaurant menus, I have travelled throughout the Andes making it my business to understand about the different types and how to plant, harvest and use each one. Quinoa is gluten-free, has twice the protein content of barley or rice, and is also rich in magnesium, calcium, iron, zinc, vitamins B and E and dietary fibre. It is so nutritious that UN declared 2013 the Year of Quinoa, in the hope it may be used to help eradicate hunger and malnutrition the world over.

All this has had economic implications for rural quinoa farmers. So, as well as learning about the grain itself, I have wanted to understand how the global explosion of quinoa’s popularity has affected the Andina farming communities. Even before 2013, Peru’s quinoa farmers had begun to export massive quantities of their grain internationally. What has struck me most has been the overall prosperity that has been realized as a result of the increased distribution chain: farmers have had regular work and a reliable and growing income.

By 2014, as a result of the UN initiative, demand for quinoa had grown to its highest in recorded history. While the crop for a year or so became somewhat more scarce and so more expensive for the locals themselves, they had plentiful access to amaranth and many other nutritious alternative ingredients to ensure their own continued balanced diet. Media reports at the time issued scaremongering: that the effects on the local farmers were malnutrition and poverty. This isn’t true. The growth in demand for quinoa has been beneficial for Andina farmers. My own visit to Puno was a brilliant reminder of how important this grain is both to our dishes and to the Andina economy. I have included in this book a straightforward seasoned Pesque de Quinua with cheese, just like the one I tasted in Puno, because I think this is the simplest quinoa recipe of all.

I’ve also featured a Puno-inspired recipe for Sango. Before Chinese settlers brought rice to Peru, and even well before the arrival of the Spanish, the staples were potatoes, tubers and sango. An ancient dish, the name originates from the Quechua word sanku meaning ‘corn dough’. Over time, Sango has become an accompaniment to both savoury stews and sweet desserts. By the 19th century, it had found its way down the mountains to the coast and had become a popular dessert for the street vendors in Lima. My recipe brings it together with Adobo de Pato, a succulent duck stew with roots in Arequipa – a perfect fusion of two of the Andina regions’ native ingredients.

Traditional Aymara cooking from Puno uses a lot of off al. For this reason I’ve also given you Picante de Lengua, an ox-tongue stew. Peasant food it may be, but this dish is one of the most flavour-packed of the Peruvian Andes. Try it, and remember, like with the Chairo, the beauty lies within.


An auntie once told me that my Great Aunt Carmela had dated the son of the Huánuco-born composer Daniel Alomía Robles, who wrote the famous song El Cóndor Pasa in 1913. More than 4,000 versions of this song now exist, including the version by Simon & Garfunkel. I’ve known about the story of our family’s connection to El Cóndor Pasa for many years, and its composer and Huánuco have always intrigued me.

Huánuco is the place where the oldest human remains have been found in Peru. Its roots are in the indigenous Lauricocha culture, which dates back 9,000 years, but it has also been home to the Yaros, and became an area of great importance for the Incas. Huánuco’s territory covers both mountain and jungle. It has important water resources thanks to its many rivers, lagoons and breathtaking lakes, as well as some of the highest mountains in Peru. Its steep jungle terrain attracts many visitors.

With diverse geography naturally comes a diverse climate. The jungle is warm and humid; the mountains are cold and clear. As a result the region also produces many different crops: a host of tubers, corn, wheat, fruits and vegetables, as well as bananas and coffee. However, in Huánuco it is the potato that is king: here, Peru’s three key potato varieties – amarilla, yungay and huayro – grow in abundance. In fact, Huánuco produces more of them combined than any other region in Peru.

The most typical ingredient of Huánuco is the herb chincho. Mint-like, it is easy and quick to grow and gives personality to many of the region’s key dishes, including the distinctive pork Pachamanca. Traditionally cooked using hot stones, Pachamanca is the most ancestral of all our Andina dishes, appearing throughout the Andes in various forms. Each region adds its own characteristic flavours (in this case of chincho), marinating the meats with local herbs or chillies, and adding locally grown ingredients to complete the dish. Another favourite is called Tacacho, from a Quechua word meaning ‘to smash’. This is plantain that has been cooked, then mashed, seasoned and made into spheres or small patties. A representative dish from the jungle area of Huánuco, it appears in various forms all over the Amazon; the version in this book is a fusion one that we love and is fun to make.

My other favourite, Chaufa, from the Cantonese word chau fan, meaning ‘to flambée or fry rice’, fascinates me because it represents a significant culinary and cultural influence that exists in the Peruvian Andes – and one that some might say is unexpected. In the 1850s, Chinese immigrants arrived in Peru looking for work and a better life. They settled in places such as Huánuco, working in agriculture or as hired help on the plantations. In 1952, residents of Huánuco with Chinese ancestry set up the Chun Wa Association. The organization aimed to promote the principles and moral code for a good life valued in China itself in order to provide support for the community. The association survives today, fervently observing many Chinese traditions and ceremonies, including Chinese New Year.

There is no single, representative Chaufa rice recipe, so I have given myself licence to propose a contemporary take on it, using tempeh. After all, any dish adopted by one culture from another evolves to include local, seasonal ingredients. Like the 4,000 variations of El Cóndor Pasa, one dish can become many dishes, each with its own place in the world.


My first ever flight over the Andes en route to Cusco was spectacular. The skies were crystal clear, shafts of sunlight hit the highlands below and, as we neared our destination, I watched the beautiful snowcapped peaks appear so close that they almost tickled the belly of the plane. From that altitude you can see the way in which agriculture shapes and moulds the landscape. Colourful fields of potato, corn, quinoa and beans of all kinds spread out across the different heights. The many lush shades made the whole landscape look like an unsolved Rubik’s Cube. At times you can see majestic village churches, steeples pointing upwards and painted in bright blues or yellows. Occasionally, when I looked down I could see people gathered, and I knew this would be a food market. The mere thought of those culinary treasure-troves gives me goosebumps even now.

I first went to Cusco when I was 14 years old – it formed part of my first trip back to Peru after moving to England and the first time I had seen my mother in three years. I had missed her terribly, and she had missed me – she wanted to mark our reunion not with a stay in Lima, where she lived, but with an adventure. We were to start that adventure straightaway – in Cusco, one of the highest regions in Peru.

With so little time to acclimatize, it was hardly surprising that when we arrived in Cusco city (like so many places in Peru, one name is given to both the region and its capital), I was overcome with altitude sickness. But my mother has tireless energy – some say that’s where I get it from – and before I could think about it we were driving to Sacsayhuaman, a citadel on the outskirts of Cusco city, then for a few hours on to Pisac, with its world-famous artisan craft market, and then to the Inca ruins at Ollantaytambo. It was a lot for one day, and it meant that I had no choice but to acclimatize quickly. It also meant that by the second day, I was fit enough to carry on happily to Machu Picchu, the ‘lost city of the Incas’ and one of the most impressive places to visit on Earth. My most vivid memories, though, are of several delicious ingredients and dishes we had along the way. And I’ll never forget the incredible papaya jam we had every morning at our hotel.

I now go to Cusco regularly to visit the charity project, called Amantani, I work with, and to look for new ingredients, producers and culinary inspiration. For me, the region is a chef’s paradise; its gastronomy, like its architecture, is one of the greatest expressions of the Inca Empire’s most impressive achievements.

Located in the south of the Peruvian Andes, the city of Cusco is in a fertile valley that lies 3,400m above sea level. The name Cusco comes from the Quechua word qosqo, which literally translated means ‘belly button’ – making Cusco the belly button (or centre) of South America. Founded by the Inca Manco Cápac in the 12th century, and later expanded and ruled by Pachacutec, Cusco became the capital of the Tahuantinsuyo – the Inca Empire and the largest pre-Columbian empire in the Americas. Cusco was where the administrative, political and military decisions of the Empire took place.

In the Inca Empire everything was managed through the ayllu system in which the ownership of livestock, land and water was the right of all those who lived in the village, as long as the inhabitants followed the established rules. Communal work on the land, including planting and harvesting, occurred alongside the building of roads, bridges and buildings, and even military service. The advanced agricultural techniques included aqueducts, and water channels for irrigation, known as andenes, which exist to this day. Andenes are stepped, levelled platforms hewn into the sides of the mountains and they enabled Inca farmers, and farmers since, to grow plentiful crops on small plots of land. The agricultural calender was established by the apparent path of the sun and moon across the sky, giving 12 months each of 30 days. Livestock, including cattle, llama, ducks and guinea pigs, and indigenous ingredients, such as potato, corn, quinoa and chillies, all flourish there, and are bought and sold using the traditional system of barter known as el trueque.

On my last visit to Cusco, I headed straight for the Urubamba Valley where the altitude is lower than that in Cusco city – I had learnt my lesson on the trip with my mother. In further contrast to that early adventure, on my first day I did nothing but take in the views, eat light meals and drink coca tea to settle my stomach. The people of the Andes have been consuming coca for more than 4,000 years. The Incas saw this native ingredient as a generous gift of friendship from the gods, and today it is the usual way to welcome visitors to the region.

The hotel where I stayed has a ten-acre organic plantation where I could search for ingredients and use them to cook for myself. One of the dishes I wanted to create was Kapchi de Setas, a favourite of mine. This winter dish is made primarily using wild mushrooms, gathered from the local forests where they grow abundantly after rainfall. It was a joy to make it in the Urubamba Valley, where it has been made for thousands of years. There is something deeply harmonious about using ingredients provided by Mother Nature in a place and at a time that she intended. How I felt then must have been how the Incas felt, cooking with the seasons from the land around them every day. No wonder they worshipped Pachamama – Mother Earth, the provider.

Cusco is home to San Pedro Market, one of my favourite markets in the world. It is aisle after aisle of treasure, each row carefully organized by its theme. Breadmakers from the regional town of Oropesa come to sell their chuta (a kind of flat bread). The cheesemakers, with their beautiful displays, offer samples of cow’s and goat’s milk cheeses. Fruit and vegetable sellers, based right in the middle of the market, layer up their glorious fresh produce in stacks that defy gravity. And butchers cut their meat with great pride, in front of your eyes, offering up every part of the animal for sale in line with the nose-to-tail eating of Andina food philosophy.

My favourite aisle, though, is what I call the ‘Fruit Juice Army’ aisle. Here, the sellers – all women, all glamorous – wear beautifully ironed uniforms of colourful bibs, immaculate surgical-white aprons and neatly lopsided hats. They mix up juices and smoothies using everything from well-known fruits to medicinal herbs and nutritious grains as well as dark beer and herbal teas. The last time I visited, each of the thirty or so Fruit Juice Army ladies was sitting atop a throne of fresh fruit. Customers in Peru are very demanding – we can taste something that is not ripe or fresh, and we don’t accept pre-prepared ingredients. For the sellers, then, there are no compromises. Once you place your order, drink-making is meticulous, energetic and fast. Everything is freshly cut, mixed and blended in front of your eyes. On that day I had a delicious mix of cooked local white quinoa with lucuma, peach, mango and milk – the perfect energizer for my day ahead.

When I choose somewhere to eat, I always veer towards stalls that have dishes I’ve never tried or that provide local, traditional food. That day I decided on a stall where an elderly lady sat in full traditional dress and holding a baby lamb. This was her regular lunch spot when she came to sell produce in the market – not the lamb I might add, that was her pet. She introduced me to the stall-owners, who reminded me of my great aunts Carmela and Otilia and were serving up traditional dishes such as pork chicharrón with mote corn, pork adobo stew with rice, and my favourite Olluquito con Charqui. It is said that this is one of the oldest dishes in the Andes, dating back some 4,500 years, and was popular with the Inca emperors. It is made using olluco tubers and an alpaca jerky and each ingredient seems to me highly representative of Cusco’s vast history. I take just a few mouthfuls and relish in its flavours. My friend and her little lamb, who got to try morsels of it, too, also seemed to be relishing this dish. In one way I felt envious of them: this was their routine, every day they could have access to this wonderful food in a way that I never could. In another way, though, I knew that if I could put this Cusco wonder in my book, I would be connecting my two worlds. I could be grateful not just for Cusco, the Empire and its great culinary treats, but for Mother Earth herself.


In 2009, after having worked for almost 18 years in the music business, I decided to change my life and start over. I had a dream to create the most beautiful Peruvian restaurant in London. My burning desire to cook the food of my country became an obsession, leading me down a road that, little did I know, would be the most challenging in my life. Once I’d made the commitment, over and over in my head the one phrase that I used to motivate me was ‘El timbre del éxito consiste en lanzarse a la profundidad sin perder la cabeza nunca.’ Or, ‘The sound of success consists in throwing yourself into the depths without losing your head.’

It was the great Apurímac writer and anthropologist, José María Arguedas, who first uttered these words. Known as the leading light in the indigenous literature movement of Peru, Arguedas suffered greatly through his early childhood. He was displaced through neglect and poverty many times, finding release only through his research, work and writings. Tragically, aged 58, he put a gun to his head, ending not only his life but the painful depression he had suffered for more than a decade. As a child I had heard of Arguedas, but it was not until I went to university in Leeds that my brilliant Peruvian lecturer Roberto Rodriguez gave me a copy of Yawar Fiesta – Arguedas’ second novel – to study. Arguedas painted images in my head and connected the dots in my indigenous ancestry. As a displaced and migrant child myself, I related to his story, and along the way I also learnt a lot about Peruvian culture and about the beauty, frustrations and hardship in the Apurímac region.

Apurímac is also the birthplace of my friend and chef Richard Llacta, who worked with us in London for a few years, before heading off to follow his own dreams. I think he liked me because his grandfather, who had taken care of him as a child, was also called Martin. He grew up in Vito, a village in Apurímac that until recently had no roads, electricity, water or sewage and was accessible only by horse. As a child, he and his friends played football until sunset. Without a watch to tell them when it was teatime, they knew it was time to go home only when the sun no longer shone on the mountaintop. Richard has described Vito as a place forgotten by God. However, in Quechua the word Apurímac means ‘where the gods speak’, apu meaning ‘lord’ and the revered mountains representing the seat of the gods, from where they offer advice and guidance to the people. For the Incas, the Apurímac mountains were a place of reverence. Located in south–central Peru, Apurímac is the smallest Andina region. In fact, it is named after the river that flows through it and is served by deep valleys and canyons, and wild peaks in a highland that reaches almost 4,000m. Before the Incas arrived, the Chancas, the rebellious and fearless warriors of ancient Peru, lived here. They were great farmers, too, and for thousands of years cultivated many of the Andes’ wonderful ingredients.

A home to puma, spectacled bears, wild deer, birds and fish of many species, the region provides habitats at many different altitudes, each with its own climate. Archaeologists have discovered that the diet and cooking techniques (over a wood-burning stove) of the people of Apurímac thousands of years ago was not much different to that of today. My favourite ingredient known here is probably the cushuro. Found growing wild on rocks near lagoons, these curious little balls are a soft and squidgy bacteria, sometimes nicknamed Andina caviar. Ranging in diameter from 3mm to 40mm, the colour of each ball may vary from green to reddish brown. The balls are high in calcium, phosphorus, iron and a variety of B-vitamins, and they are also very beautiful – adding pearls to any dish. You’ll find them in soups and ceviches, as well as in stews.

More than 400 varieties of potato are said to grow in Apurímac alongside mashua (a root vegetable), corn, barley, physalis, sugar cane, coffee, beans, pulses, amaranth and avocados. In Apurímac, the cuisine is distinctive for its use of aromatic herbs, such as muña, mint, paico and parsley, and its native vegetables, many of which grow wild – ataqo, lavano, llullucha and murmunta among them.

There are many specific Apurímac dishes that I love, but my favourite is Yawar Picante. The name comes from the Quechua words meaning ‘blood stew’ and the dish is a typical representation of Andina nose-to-tail eating. Made using blood and offal, yawar picante is sometimes formed into a sausage, rather as you might find black pudding or morcilla. At other times, though, its ingredients are cooked loosely, as in the recipe in this book.

Andina cooking crosses borders and boundaries and the Kapchi de Setas – a delicious wild mushroom soup, and Chochoca that my aunts brought to Lima from their home in La Libertad also form part of the Apurímac gastronomic repertoire. Apurímac is also known for its ponches, festival and celebration drinks that might include fruits or spices, be served hot or cold, and with or without alcohol. I think if I were an Apurímeño, I’d want the strong version, as this land is tough and rugged and its mountain gods have been silent for a long time.

If I could have any launch party for my book, it would be here in the mountains of Apurímac. I would invite José María Arguedas and my friend Richard, and I would listen to their stories of this land. We would drink much oomphed-up ponche and to end the night we would all shout the immortal Quechua words, made famous by Arguedas himself, ‘Kachkaniraqmi!’ – ‘We carry on being!’


On 28th July 1904, a man named Victor Vaughan Morris, from Utah, was leading the preparations for the inauguration of the train line that travelled from the port of Callao to the then phenomenally prosperous Andina mining town of Cerro de Pasco, Pasco’s capital city, high up in the Andes. The place had become home to the world’s greatest copper mine. Filled with dreams of wealth and glory, Victor had come to the Andes to work for the Cerro de Pasco Mining Company, which had not only bought the rights to mine, but also to build the train line. Victor began working in the sales department of the train company. Soon, he was Director, and by the time of the inaugural train journey, he was fully in charge.

The day of the inauguration was also Peru’s National Independence Day. Some 5,000 people were gathered, among them distinguished guests from the USA and from government and high society in Peru. Victor was in charge of the celebration, including the drinks. Without any whiskey on hand to make the classic whiskey sour, he used Peru’s national spirit, pisco, instead. The Pisco Sour was born.

Pasco and its towns and cities have always intrigued me. Not only because it was the birthplace of Peru’s national cocktail, but also because my father worked for the Cerro de Pasco Mining Company when he first arrived in Peru in the 1960s.

Located right in the centre of Peru, although sections of Pasco lie within the Andes, mostly the region is Amazonian. Overall, then, it is the smallest Andina region, and yet it still manages to play host to mountains, lakes, glaciers, valleys, and archaeological sites of great importance. Throughout Peru’s history, Pasco has played a crucial part in the struggle for progress. Its history is turbulent, unjust and even at times catastrophic, but it is also triumphant.

At 4,330m above sea level, Cerro de Pasco is one of the highest cities in the world. During the city’s heyday mining brought wealth and prosperity, securing Cerro de Pasco as an important economic centre for Peru. However, with highs come lows and years of exploitation have not only harmed the city’s landscape and infrastructure, but also its people. There is devastating pollution: at the centre lies an open mine – a crater that leaks toxins into the atmosphere. Furthermore, drug lords use pockets of land to farm coca for cocaine.

The harsh weather and altitude cause their own hardships for the people of Pasco, but still many ancient and native ingredients thrive here. These form the basis of some of Pasco’s oldest dishes (some of which occur elsewhere too, of course), including Pachamanca, Caldo Verde, Caldo de Cabeza, and the capital’s representative dish Charquicán, which is a little like our Olluquito con Charqui except mushier. Made with potatoes, tubers, chilli, dried llama or alpaca meat, and maca root, this nutritious dish was said to fortify soldiers who fought the War of Independence back in the 19th century.

Pasco is one of the most diverse regions in Peru in terms of ethnicity and language. A variety of indigenous cultures settled there thousands of years ago, then in the 16th century the Spanish conquistadors arrived. Americans came to find wealth during the mining years, followed by, among others, northern Europeans who came from artistic and farming communities. In fact, Pasco now counts among its peoples not only those with indigenous roots and mestizos (people of combined descent), but also those with Spanish, Italian, African, Asian, German and Austrian ancestry.

In the late-1800s the Germans and Austrians founded Oxapampa, in eastern Pasco. As a result of poor infrastructure and lack of access, for 50 years or more they lived in almost total isolation, incubating their traditions, dances, music and gastronomy. Today, a mixture of native and non-native ingredients grow here, including olluco, oca, rice, corn, beans, cassava, banana, oranges, papaya, chillies and coffee. Villa Rica in Pasco is known as the coffee capital of Peru, and Oxapampa and nearby Pozuzo (also populated mainly by descendants from Germany and Austria) are gaining a reputation for livestock farming, including excellent beef, pork and lamb, as well as cured meats, honey, and milk products. All manner of fruit orchards provide the ingredients for increasingly soughtafter jams and marmalades. One of my favourite fusion dishes from the region is Shtrukala, which is a take on a strudel, made with banana.

Despite any hardship, and no matter which melting pot of cultures has come together, Pasco is a region filled with festivity and dancing. In May, Pasco celebrates La Fiesta de las Cruces (the Festival of the Cross), during which the locals participate in colourful dances, all against the backdrop of traditional festival food and drink.

In fact, as far as drinks are concerned, today you will rarely find a Pisco Sour in Pasco itself. Instead, ancient Chicha and the sugarcane liquor Guarapo are more likely to pass your lips – both are firm favourites at the many regional events. But if you’re determined, while you might need to visit Lima (or Andina in London) to sip a pisco sour from a bar menu, I feel sure that if you visited the train station in Cerro de Pasco, you would find someone quietly saying ‘Salud!’ and raising a glass at the very spot of the birth of our country’s world-famous cocktail.


The rugged terrain of Junín covers two ecosystems, those of the Andes and the Amazon. In the southwest, Andina part of Junín, in the valley of the Mantaro River, the weather is mild and dry, providing the perfect conditions for potato, corn, green peas, carrots and broad beans. The warm, humid jungle, meanwhile, makes Junín the number-one orange producer in the country. This area also gives us pineapple, clementines and bananas, and yuca, coffee and cacao.

The capital of Junín is Huancayo, the most important city in the central Andes. Huancayo as we know it today was founded in 1572, but its history dates back to around 1200bce, when it was inhabited by the Huancas. This is the source of some of the finest indigenous ingredients for Andina gastronomic culture. Unsurprisingly, then, it also has its own unique, rich gastronomy. Some of its dishes, such as the Papa a la Huancaína, have even become standout recipes that represent the whole of Peru.

I was in Huancayo recently, and every time I visit something surprising happens. I left Lima at dawn one rainy and cold morning. The flight takes an hour and a half, soaring over multicoloured fields planted with a variety of crops and scattered with small adobe houses. The airport, at Jauja, is 3,400m above sea level – when you get off the plane the altitude hits you. You have to calm your breathing, making it slow and deliberate. For those not already acclimatized, this is a region that forces you to pace yourself.

One of the best things about Junín is that you have to drive only a few miles before arriving somewhere beautiful, filled with gastronomic treasures. On this trip, before long I came to the main square at the pretty town of Concepción. Here, my guide Dave had recommended Casita Del Lechón (the ‘Little House of the Roast Pig’), a food stall run by the very sweet and enthusiastic Doña Carmencita. I was in time to be the first in line. Confident, and smiling from ear to ear, Carmencita revealed what appeared to be a body, all wrapped up in a blanket and cardboard. She unfolded a corner for me. I was hit with the dizzying aromas of stunning slow-roasted, succulent pork.

Carmencita served me the first portion, and on the side she gave me her homemade llactan sauce. ‘Con un poco de orejita crocante por favor’ (‘With a little bit of ear-crackling please’), I asked. I stuffed the meat, crackling and sauce inside freshly baked artisan bread from the stall next door. Munch. Yum. The deep, pork flavours and spicy chilli sauce perked up my taste buds. With that and Carmencita’s warm hospitality, wow! I felt a great Huancayo welcome.

Carmencita explained how for six nights a week, she interrupts her sleep so that she can cook, turning the whole pork regularly while it roasts over an open fire, which she tops up with wood every three hours. On those days she finally gets up properly at 6am and rushes to her stall. She has a short nap in the late afternoon, then goes back to doing the same thing again the following night and day. Dave attests to this as he comes here often: ‘She is a bit of a hero of mine,’ he says. ‘Mine, too,’ I respond.

Next, I headed for Ingenio, home to one of the oldest and (aptly) most ingenious trout farms in Peru. The farm is built on a steep hillside and harnesses the power of the rapids of the River Chiapuquio to distribute fresh water and fish into large pools. Although many people think rainbow trout are indigenous to the Andes, in fact they are not. Apparently, in 1924 the Peruvian Dr J.R. Mitchell and the English engineer B.T. College, both Cerro de Pasco Mining Corporation employees and fishing enthusiasts, brought fertilized rainbow trout eggs from California and incubated them in a local lake, intending to provide themselves and other fishermen with a place to practise their sport.

Their first attempt at breeding the fish failed, but the next time fifty fish survived and grew to full size. In 1930, they gave their friend Juan Morales Vivanco some fully grown trout – he used them to start a trout farm in Ingenio. Today the farm has 75 pools with around sixty fish in each. It is a model for sustainable farming and is a fascinating tourist attraction. And the fact that trout farming is now such a significant local industry, means that trout dishes such as Trucha a la Parrilla are aplenty.

The fish farmers invited me to get involved in the checking, measuring and auditing of the fish in one of the many pools. Kitting me out in waterproof waders, gloves and apron, the fish farmers invited me in. I helped corral the fish into our pool with a wide net, then catch them one by one. Together, the fish farmers and I catalogued each trout, measuring its weight and checking the females for signs of eggs. I have never seen anything like it: the fishermen taught me that if I pressed gently on the back of the female fish, I could squeeze out the eggs almost on demand, catching the roe in my thick, wet glove. ‘Comelo’ (‘Eat it’), one of them urged. Trout roe is a key ingredient in our Trout Tiradito at Casita Andina, so how could I refuse? It was silky smooth, so sweet and juicy. I wished I could gather a portion for my team back in London.

The drive from the fishery towards Huancayo takes you past fields of artichokes – next to fish, artichokes, I think, are the region’s most delicious ingredients. On our journey we stopped at a riverside restaurant to taste dishes made using both. Standout was a stunning artichoke ceviche that has inspired the version in this book.

Food markets are the lifeblood of any town: in Huancayo’s markets you can feel the heartbeat in the way sellers interact with their public, from how they display their produce to the noise, discussion and bartering. Stall-holders, who must learn to be hustlers to survive, are packed into halls full of movement and push and shove. These are hectic, forever-changing environments. At Maltería Market in Huancayo, I walked through a hall filled with potatoes and tubers of all varieties. I spotted two tocosh sellers. I would have loved to have included a tocosh recipe in this book, but it just wasn’t practical. Tocosh is a white potato that has been fermented using a traditional pre-Inca fermentation technique. To make the tocosh, you need to dig a well of about 1m deep on a river bank. You then wrap the potatoes with a mesh, place them inside the well and cover them with heavy stones, which squash the potatoes down. Then, you let the river flow around the potatoes, leaving them where they are for six months. After that time you remove the parcel from the water to reveal a pungent foodstuff that looks (and smells) like overcooked potatoes mixed with blue cheese; bitter but with more natural penicillin than pills made by pharmaceutical companies! Best of all, you can use it to make a great dessert.

I had been told that at Maltería Market, Doña Esther Quispe Rodríguez does the best Gelatina de Pata or Foot Jelly. When I first made this dish in the UK, I was met largely with a sense of disgust. But, to me, there is beauty in any recipe that is delicious, nutritious or different; I approach all ingredients with no prejudice whatsoever. Esther looked at me sternly at first: she is used to Limeños turning on their heel once they realize what she uses to make her desserts. I reassured her that I knew about this dish and had made it myself. Impressed, she told me all about her cooking techniques: she slow-cooks cows’ feet, extracts the jelly, and adds spices and Demerara sugar. The result is a dessert full of protein that’s great for the joints and for skin and tissue replenishment. I tried it: hers has an agreeable sweet and subtle taste, and with such health properties, I can’t see why anyone would not want to tuck in.

That night Dave took us to the Instituto Continental, Huancayo’s main culinary school, which is where he teaches. One of Dave’s colleagues, the chef and teacher Mrs Pamela Rojas, told me about her love for pastry and her work with some of Lima’s best bakers. We ended up talking about steamed buns.

‘We have traditional steamed buns called otongo in Huancayo, too, you know?’ she said. Chinese bao buns are a favourite of mine, but I’d never heard about a variant from Huancayo. My eyes lit up.

The following day at Maltería Market, I spotted a lady with a large bin-shaped pan with what looked like a metal dustbin lid on top. She opened the pan to reveal the most beautiful array of steamed otongo buns, the same that Pamela had told me about the previous night. It was morning – steaming, warm and stuffed with melting chancaca syrup, the buns felt like a naughty treat. What better indulgent snack for first thing in the morning? We ate, licked our lips and agreed that our kids would love them.

Deep within the rows of corn-sellers at the market is a half-built building that looks like a small warehouse. The frontage of the shop is narrow, but the room goes back several metres. At the back there are hundreds of sacks of produce. All neatly piled up, one on top of the other, the sacks are like skyscrapers; at their feet are large tubs of every native Peruvian dried ingredient you can think of. I was in awe; like I had found the very heart of Huancayo. In fact, it turned out that this shop is the place where all produce arrives from the region and within a 300-mile radius surrounding it; the place that everyone seems to come to buy. While I stared in wonder, the owners took delivery of sack after sack of ingredients. To me, it felt like every chef’s paradise.

I’ve always loved collecting: Latin and jazz vinyl 45s, black-and-white photos of Peruvian people eating, cookery books from around the world – and this shop was the greatest treat of my year. I picked up handfuls of small sample bags and started filling them. Labelling each bag in turn, Dave and I talked about the ingredients. There were 22 varieties of corn, six varieties of quinoa, four of maca, several of amaranth, 16 of bean and several of pea. There were flours in everything from quinoa to maca to broad bean, chickpea and more. In more than three hours, with a smile on my face at every second, I filled and labelled some 82 small bags of culinary treasure.

Elated, I headed for lunch at the family-run restaurant Huancahuasi. This place has won a national award for its Papa a la Huancaína, an iconic regional dish named not after the province, but after a dazzling lady from Huancayo. Many years ago, when the train line from Lima to neighbouring Cerro de Pasco was being built, women would sell potatoes with different sauces to the men digging out the mountains. One of these ladies was known simply as ‘La Huancaína’ – a lady from Huancayo. Beautiful and coquettish, she blended white queso fresco with cooked hot rocoto pepper, then added milk. She poured the sauce over some boiled potatoes and topped off the snack with a sliced boiled egg. The road diggers used to say that ‘La Papa de la Huancaína’ (‘The Potato of the Huancayo lady’) was the best – and so the dish was named. I tried Huancahuasi’s version and it didn’t disappoint. The result was creamy and lumpy, and I could tell it had been blended by hand using the traditional batán, which gave it an earthy texture.

The restaurant’s Huallpa Chupe and Pesque de Quinua were exquisite, too, and I ate and chatted to owners Doña Esther and Don César Palacios about their 43-year-old restaurant. They told me that the secret to being Huancayo’s best restaurant is Mama Lucha – Esther’s late mother and keeper of all recipes. I am in awe of restaurateurs who have run restaurants for many years – and 43 years is a long time, especially considering how tough running a business is in Peru. To succeed, Esther and César had treated the restaurant like their home. Their team was their family; their processes had become a culture in itself, a labour of love and discipline. Their passion is deeply inspiring to me: I dream of having a restaurant that succeeds for so long.

Later, back at my hotel I jotted down all the tips they had given me on how to survive in the restaurant business no matter what life throws at you. My to-do list is massive; I shall be implementing it for years to come – and I shall celebrate and think of them, Mama Lucha and all the wonderful picanteras, when I, too, maybe reach my 43rd anniversary as chef and restaurateur.

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