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Food and the Creative City


A wide array of local ingredients and techniques passed down for generations have made Arequipeño cuisine one of the most varied and exquisite in all of Peru. Fish, mollusks, and other seafood are brought from the coast. Freshwater shrimp, caught in the rivers that wind through the valleys, is the star ingredient in a number of traditional dishes. The coastal valleys yield high-quality rice and all types of fruit, including grapes, the source of the region’s renowned pisco. In Yauca and Bella Unión stand the old olive groves whose harvests are made into oil. The markets are filled with products from the countryside, such as garlic, onions, rocoto peppers, and other vegetables and tubers. Local farms raise chickens, guinea pigs, and ducks. Inter-Andean valleys such as the Pampacolca, Chuquibamba, and Lluta are dairy-producing regions, known for their excellent cheeses. In Cotahuasi and Colca grow potatoes and maize, as well as Andean grains such as quinoa, kiwicha, and cañihua. The region is also known for its lamb and alpaca meat. Cooks and chefs in restaurants both cutting-edge and traditional combine these ingredients with age-old wisdom. Arequipa is a crossroads of culinary trends. Chocolates, craft beers, and a number of international cuisines have found in Arequipa fertile soil in which to take root.

The Picanterías of Arequipa

A picantería is a traditional type of restaurant found throughout much of Peru. In Arequipa, it is practically a temple of flavor, where the seasoned hands of picanteras (as the cooks are known) work with their pots, burners, and pans just like they were taught by the women of their families, with secret recipes and personal touches. Since the sixteenth century, there have existed popular taverns where chicha—a traditional fermented maize beverage—has been brewed.

Over time, these establishments began to serve snacks (piqueos) to stimulate their patrons’ thirst. Eventually, the local cuisine made headway with its diverse concoctions and eating habits. Over the last two centuries, Arequipa’s picanterías have achieved a rigorous level of quality that has been maintained to this day.

These picanterías are largely run by women known as picanteras, who began a process of symbiosis between the Andean and Hispanic culinary traditions, masterfully combining ingredients from the coast, valleys, and highlands to create their own distinct dishes. A picantería is a social gathering spot as well as a symbol of identity and integration. Today, there are around sixty picanterías in the city.

Contemporary Arequipeño Cuisine

Arequipa is a crossroads of contemporary culinary trends such as veganism, breadmaking, and craft beers; locally-made fine chocolates; coffee shops with an array of brewing methods; Peruvian products with official designations of origin; parrilla restaurants specializing in grilled meats, both traditional and dry-aged; gastropubs and wineries. Foreign cuisines including Swiss/Alpine, Indian, Turkish, Italian, and Thai traditions have all found a welcoming home in Arequipa, sometimes creating fusions with the local cuisine, to the delight of residents and visitors alike. Ever since Peru gained its independence, Arequipa has attracted people from all over the world, giving a distinct cosmopolitan flair to the international cuisine here. The steady flow of tourists from both Peru and abroad means that the city is always up-to-date with the latest trends when it comes to dishes and techniques, drinks, customer preferences, and the décor of its dining establishments.

Regional products of Arequipa

One of the things that makes Arequipeño cuisine so incredible is the variety and quality of local ingredients. From the coast come products such as corvina, sole, medusafish, sea urchins, octopus, macha clams, limpets, and a local mollusk known as the barquillo. The region’s most prized product is undoubtedly its freshwater shrimp, found in most of Arequipa’s rivers. In fact, there are now special laws in place to keep it from being overharvested. The coastal valleys, primarily in Camaná and Tambo, produce high-quality rice, as well as sugarcane and fruits, including the grapes used to make excellent pisco vintages. In Yauca and Bella Unión, there are olive groves that have been there for over four hundred years which continue to produce exquisite olive oil to this day. Crops grown in the Arequipa countryside include garlic and onions, as well as rocoto peppers and other vegetables and tubers. Local farms raise chickens, guinea pigs, and ducks. The Inter-Andean valleys of Pampacolca, Chuquibamba, and Lluta are dairy-producing regions, known for their outstanding cheeses. In Cotahuasi and Colca, we find excellent potatoes and maize, as well as Andean grains such as quinoa, kiwicha, and cañihua, while prize livestock includes lamb and South American camelids such as alpaca.

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