Foodie or not, you have probably noticed Peruvian cuisine permeate the London restaurant scene of late. Forget gluttonous gastro-burgers and haute-hot dogs; it’s zingy fish dishes and potatoes-a-hundred-ways that we’re now salivating over. Since 2012, ceviche restaurants have popped up over the capital, with DJ-Producer-turned-Restaurateur Martin Morales leading the way in the Peruvian take-over. The news that he’s about to open another Ceviche restaurant at Old Street on the thirtieth of this month is an indication that our appetite for Peruvian has not yet piqued.
Aside from over-indulgent, strip-lit Brazilian Rodizios, the London gastro scene had little to offer in the way of Latin American flavours a few years ago. Peruvian is the flavour of the moment - and quite rightly so - with Lima leading the way as one of the world’s new culinary capitals. But what of the rest of South America? Chile, Colombia and Argentina have their own foodie hot-spots, with dishes that are enlivened by the rich cultural heritage of the continent and its diverse cornucopia of ethnicities. And yet their culinary offerings have not managed to make the leap across the Atlantic.
With South America’s economy slowly burgeoning after China increased investment there by 71% last year, it’s only a matter of time before further foodie influencers head from LatAm to London. Until then, it seems that to taste the true delights of what South America has to offer, culinary enthusiasts will have to travel to the continent to try it first-hand. The diverse landscape that boasts jungle, lush coffee plantations and the vast expanse of the Andes makes for a melting pot of cultures and in turn, flavours.
Nowhere is more representative of the mixing of cultures and continents than Chile’s capital, Santiago. Tucked between the Andean mountains, the city has long been separated from its surrounds but somehow, this has fostered a hub of gastronomy. Sushi spots are ubiquitous thanks to Chile’s Japanese expats. German settlers in the 19th Century brought with them a love of sandwiches that has not left. Sandwich shops – from gourmet to back-street – can be found all over the city, with the ‘completo’, a hotdog topped off with tomatoes, onions and sauerkraut, as the favourite fast-food snack. Go posh with a fancy hot dog at Hogs in Barrio Lastarria or head to Fuente Alemane for an authentic and indulgent sandwich filled with pulled pork, oozing cheese and avocado. For traditional Andean cuisine, head to Peumayen in Bella Vista.
Stand-out Colombian cuisine can be found in Cartagena, not the official capital, but a top destination where gastronomy is concerned. Fried meat and stodgy rice dishes lacking in vegetables dominate dinner tables across Colombia. The same cannot be said for Cartagena, the pastel-coloured colonial town on the Caribbean coast. Taking inspiration from its Caribbean neighbours and advantage of its proximity to the sea, Cartagena serves up flavoursome seafood dishes with sides of plantain, corn on the cob and avocado. The ultimate Colombian dish is Sancocho (stew), found everywhere from bustling markets to high-end restaurants. The people of Cartagena have swapped the hen in this hearty dish with seafood, making for a lighter meal. Hit up La Vitrola restaurant (on Calle Baloco), a favourite of the late Gabriel Garcia Marquez, to sample true Colombian food with heart.
As mentioned, Lima is currently touting itself as the culinary capital of South America. Having been divided geographically, racially and politically, Peru has found a common uniting force in its food. Taking influence from the Andes as well as its African, Asian, Middle Eastern and European migrants, Lima offers a little of everything, infused with the spices and natural flavours of Latin America. Ceviche is the must-try dish, but Lima teems with offerings, from traditional Peruvian dishes at award-winning El Rincon que no Conoces to Japanese-Peruvian fusion food at Maido. We can take or leave the over-cooked guinea pig.
A carnivore’s dream, Buenos Aires boasts the very best steak in the world thanks to the perfect cattle-rearing conditions and expansive rolling green landscape that surrounds it. Ask for your steak to be cooked ‘vuelta-vuelta’ and you’ll get it rare, for those that prefer theirs medium, ‘jugoso’ is what to ask for. Also boasting excellent Italian cuisine thanks to its large number of Italian migrants, Buenos Aires and indeed Argentina, is perhaps the most European in its approach to cuisine. Some of the world’s best wine is produced in Mendoza, adding to the gastronomic allure of Argentina. Offering everything from fine dining to supper clubs and trendy pizza joints, Buenos Aires is definitely the foodie forerunner of the country. Visit El Refuerzo (Calle Chacabuco) in San Telmo for Italian-cum-Argentine cuisine in a cosy neighbourhood restaurant with character.