Lima is my home city now, and so I am always interested to see what new things are happening here on the food scene. The city has been catapulted to a world stage in the past number of years with famous Peruvian restaurants such as Maido, Central and Astrid y Gaston. These places are however not the only places to get to enjoy the wonderful foods and cooking Lima and Peru has to offer to travellers. Recently I met Ignacio Barrios who is involved with an exciting new participative cooking venture called Urban Kitchen.
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I was interested because this is not a typical food tour of restaurants, it’s different. It allows people to learn about the food culture. It starts with a market visit, after this you are brought to a great kitchen to have fun cooking an authentically Peruvian creation. Ignacio says the business continues to grow with new locations coming onstream soon, and so I decided to go and sample what this tour is all about.
Ignacio Barrios Creator of Urban Kitchen
The meeting place is the Produce Market of the district of San Isidro which borders Miraflores District, beside the Manuel Bonillo football stadium on Avenida Ejercito. It’s a small market but has a host of fish, fruit and vegetable offerings from across Peru. Ignacio begins with an introductory chat on the origins of Peruvian food. This is done in a fun and friendly style and you immediately will feel at ease with his good humor and his encyclopedic knowledge of his Peruvian passion. He has learned his trade in far flung places like Madrid and London. He expresses a global mindset in describing these foods development and fit into the daily lives of both visitors and Peruvians. We learn that this Lima food tour is equally popular with local Limeños, who use it as a way to spend a fun day with friends and learn to better cook their very own familiar foods. That’s one gem for this tour that it really is authentic and not a tourist trap.
So why is Peruvian food now so popular?
Ignacio revels in helping us understand what’s at play here; it’s a combination of product diversity, cultural fusion and people influence. You may well ask -what does that mean in plain language?
Firstly, the diversity of produce available in Peru is centered about three main regions; Pacific and desert coast, central mountains and finally the mighty Amazon Jungle. In addition, here we have some eighty-four recognised micro climates across those three regions. The environment for mother nature is perfectly suited to host a bewildering array of fresh produce, and it does so in abundance.
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Secondly the cultural fusions over the ages has seen influences from notably Spanish, Japanese, Chinese, African, Arab (Moorish) and Italian cultures. As an example. Italian immigrants from Genoa Liguria brought pesto al la Genovese to Peru and over time the local cooks created tallarines verdes (green noodles), an Italian- Peruvian fusion of taste.
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Thirdly the proliferation of modern cooking would never have been possible without governmental support in marketing and a legion of dedicated chefs who are innately proud of their nation.
What’s to be seen here?
The fish stall of Cesar is a favorite for Ignacio, and today’s ocean catch includes scallops, squid and shrimp all native to Peruvian shores. The coast is washed by the influence of the cold Humboldt Current which uplifts plankton to see it deliver a bountiful world leading rich marine harvest.
The fruit and vegetable stalls are equally well stocked, especially so the display of Don Ortiz. Don is an amicable good-humored veteran of produce sales with forty years in the business. Many unusual fruits and vegetables are on display including tree tomatoes, sandia bebe (baby watermelon), aji charapita (baby chilli), lucuma, huacatay (black mint) cherimoya, olluco tubers and cacao fruits.
We take a short drive from the market to the Urban Kitchen premises located in the neighboring district of Magdalena de la Mar. The downstairs modern kitchen layout can accept both individual and private tours of up to 32 people, perhaps more if needed. Upstairs has seating to allow guests to sample and enjoy their own cooking, all washed down by a local beer or a glass of wine.
The class today included the preparation of a ceviche dish, a national favorite, of fish such as sea-bass marinated in lime juice. Ignacio takes care to show us the intricate details of getting this just right, from the chopping of herbs to the perfect blend and timing of ingredients. The ceviche has changed even in the past decades as Japanese chefs prefer to marinate the fish with the lime juice by serving it quickly, as opposed to the traditional Peruvian method of leaving it for an hour or two before eating. Throughout the food preparation the conversation is always lively and with so much be learned too. When all the cooking is done guests are led upstairs and you can sit eat and drink with your fellow foodies and enjoy the tastes of your newfound skills. I was proud of my creation today, it was delicious, but unfortunately the internet does not allow you to taste, yet! You really must come and experience it.
Ceviche created by me!
The Urban Kitchen Experience. Credit: Urban Kitchen
Is it worth a visit?
For me the answer is a resounding yes. This tour doesn’t just take your money and give a generic package. At the market, you are given deep insight to the food culture of Peru and its people. You become educated and you then learn how to do something with that education by working with the ingredients to create something unique. The biggest attraction to the kitchen experience is in the enthusiasm of the staff, they want you to feel at home, have fun and enjoy yourself. What a great way to spend a day in The City of the Kings- Lima.
Prices and Packages
Two packages are offered by Urban Kitchen, a basic and a premium experience. Contact them directly for exact pricing, as their pricing varies depending on the type of tour taken, and the amount of people in your group.