Wednesday, May 22, 2024 May 22, 2024
79° F Dallas, TX

Peru on the Plate in Dallas

A DMA lecture and dinner stirs my hunger for the foods of Peru.

Last night, the Dallas Museum of Art hosted a lecture on Inca cuisine that plunged the audience into the food traditions of Peru. Dr. Tamara L. Bray, a professor of anthropology from Wayne State University, has made extensive study of Inca cooking vessels, among other things, and the intersections of cooking, cuisine, and power relations under the Inca empire, which at its height, covered a territory extending from modern-day Ecuador to Chile, with biomes that ran from the coast to the Andean heights.

This meant access to diverse ingredients, though the Inca diet consisted primarily of maize, potatoes, quinoa, beans, aji peppers, and guinea pig (yes, guinea pig, or cooey. “Look!” Bray said, pointing to an image of meat grilling, barbecue-style: “Cooey on a stick!” Meat, a small part of the Andean diet, was also stewed and dried—jerky comes from the Quechua word ch’arki). And of course there was talk of chicha, the ubiquitous corn beer that was—and is—so central to Andean culture and was, under the Inca, drunk in ceremonies that sometimes included obligatory ritual drunkenness. There were more vessels for making and storing chicha than for any other purpose, Bray said.

We learned of the 14 types of culinary vessels that were part of the highly codified Inca imperial pottery. (I loved the shallow plates shaped like birds.)

In the meal that followed the lecture, there was no guinea pig. But there was a tender ceviche of Pacific halibut with cubes of sweet potato, and a dish of Peruvian potatoes and prawns bathed in a custardy, bright-yellow Huancaina sauce. The dish reminded me of the gorgeous causa limeña that Stephan Pyles served at San Salvaje. And I mourned again that restaurant’s closing.

causa limena
Causa limena from San Salvaje. (Photo by Kevin Marple.)

Peruvian food isn’t so easy to come by in Dallas. Joyce and Gigi’s is one place that soulfully renders South American classics. As I type, I’m thinking of their corn cake and majadito (duck confit risotto) and chicken-skin-laced quinoa grits and anticuchos. There are even more specifically Peruvian places in Irving, Carrollton, Addison. (Cuzco Cuisine, El Tesoro Del Inca, Chico’s Peruvian—places I haven’t been, but that are on my list.)

Where do you go for Peruvian food?

Meanwhile, I might go home and make a warm potato salad with purple potatoes.