Memories, history, culture and traditions all form a recipe for carrying on the culinary heritage of families or sometimes whole villages. National cuisine is a pivotal part of the culture of a population and plays a fundamental role in the way other countries perceive us: a nation of foodies or fast food junkies.
So, what does immigration bring to the hosting country’s cuisine?
Immigration and the stream of new cultures and cuisines gives life to a new culinary identity, marked by the fusion of ingredients but also by a different vision of the world where a certain creativity marries the arriving culture and the virtue of its people adapting to foreign ingredients.
Peru has been the destination and land of hopes for many people since the beginning of the 19th century. Among them are my people, Italians, those looking for a better future following the World Wars, who embarked at the port of Chiavari, Liguria and faced a boat trip that sometimes lasted months. They left behind the cradle of emotions, il Bel Paese (The Beautiful Country)as we call it, leaving their loved ones with the promise to not return empty-handed. They arrived at the port of Callao in Lima, armed with willpower and the spirit of sacrifice in order to make something of their lives.
This part of history and the marriage between the Italian and Peruvian culture will be recreated this winter as a tasting menu that travels through all the stages of emotions of the trip with poetry and a touch of melancholy. “El Viaje” by Gastón Acurio, undoubtedly the most internationally recognized Peruvian chef, recreates each part of the experience. The departure, the voyage, the arrival, the triumph, and the eventual return home are reproduced as courses that represent, as he defines it, a brotherly embrace of cultural integration that gradually gave life to a new world of Italian memories and Peruvian soul. “El Viaje is a story told through cuisine. It’s a tasting menu which tries to convert itself into a new gastronomic experience that travels through art, design, fashion and music to shake not only the senses but also the heart and soul”. With these words, Gastón describes with a visible degree of emotion all the passion he put into making this gastronomic experimentation become a reality.
The image of the Italian immigrant arriving at the port of Callao and his path through sacrifice and integration in the Inca land is superbly reproduced in a video which intersperses history and culture on the Lima shores with the interpretation of these emotions on the kitchen counters of the Astrid y Gastón restaurant, number 14 on the 50’s Best Restaurant in the World list. The costumes, setting and soundtrack used in the short film powerfully evoke vivid memories and emotions, especially among the people who have either lived or listened to these stories, like me.
In the past I’ve often encountered such tales from my compatriots in Peru.
My Peruvian father-in-law used to speak of the Italian migration to Peru with great admiration and respect. He always told me that Italians in Peru stood out because they were hard workers and all dreamed of starting their own business. Many opened bakeries, pasta factories and patisseries.
He also often used to tell me about the Italian Signor Panetti, a good friend of his, who after a lot of hard work succeeded in opening a bakery and as per Italian tradition, he used to make and sell panettone every year. Today panettone has become the typical Christmas dessert in Peru, served with hot chocolate. Similarly many other recipes have become typical of Peruvian cuisine like “tallerines en verde” (spaghetti with pesto) and “mondonguito a la italiana” (intestines cooked Italian style). During my visits to Lima I developed a ritual; calling in to el italiano in San Borja, an Italian bakery that serves the best cheese empanadas ever, where it is a pleasure to stop by because one could breathe the biculturalism of two countries. Elderly people go there to have a quick bite to eat but end up staying there chatting for hours, in typical Italian style. The owner loves talking in Italian; he arrived in Lima when he was very young. So each time I go there (almost every day of my trip) I speak Italian with him. After a few minutes I would be surrounded by people, all of Italian origin, who tell me about their experiences, whereabouts in Italy they came from, what they have done in Peru. Listening to those tales is enchanting for me.
Gastón today recreates these tales with a sophisticated representation of cultures and tastes, creatively acknowledging the harmonious integration of two populations so physically far apart but which, since the 1800s, will forever be close. And I am so grateful for this. Gracias Gastón and thank you to the Fototeca de la Inmigración Italiana en Perú for documenting with images this piece of history.