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Zesty ceviche, hair-raising pisco sour cocktails, panpipes and animal-skin-drum bands – if there’s one thing we know for sure, it’s that Peru knows how to get the party started. From dressing your dinner table to preparing the perfect Peruvian menu, here’s how to bring the smells, sounds and flavors of this South American gem to your dining room.
Like every South American country, music and dance are a huge part of Peruvian culture. While styles and sounds vary depending on which region you’re in, the most recognizable come from the Andes, which uses panpipes, flutes and animal-skin drums to create its mystic sounds. While you may not be able to muster up a panpipe musician for the night, Spotify has a decent Andean playlist called ‘Andean/Incan Traditional.’ Put it on shuffle and you’re ready to go.
When it comes to dressing the dinner table, think bold. Peru is known for its vibrant colors, so cover your table in a bright, patterned tablecloth, or get some flowers in the classic yellow, dark pink, red and orange commonly seen in Andean textiles. If you’ve been to Peru, now is the time to show off that knitted hat and fluffy alpaca toy you bought as souvenirs; they’ll make for the perfect table centerpiece.
The pisco sour – a citrusy cocktail made from distilled wine, syrup, egg whites and a few drops of Angostura bitters – is Peru’s national alcoholic drink. It’s easy to make and even easier to drink, making it the perfect welcome cocktail for your guests. In Peruvian bars, it’s practically illegal to serve the cocktail without a side order of canchitas (roasted corn kernels with a sprinkling of salt). To make them, you’ll have to hunt down maiz chulpe – a kind of corn that doesn’t pop, but instead swells a little and softens inside – from either a Latin market or online.
When it comes to Peruvian starters, there’s only one thing you can serve up – and that’s ceviche. The raw-fish dish – cooked in lime juice and seasoned with habanero chili, red onion and generous handfuls of cilantro – helped Lima earn its fame as a world capital of food. It may sound a little advanced, but it’s actually pretty easy to prepare, and looks super professional served up on a flat-plate cocktail glass. The secret is to have the freshest ingredients; the rest is all about presentation and balance of flavors. If you need some inspiration, check out this easy, traditional Peruvian ceviche recipe.
Now that you’ve impressed your guests with a knockout ceviche starter, it’s time to follow up with another of Peru’s favorite dishes: ají de gallina (chicken stew). At first glance, ají de gallina looks like a korma curry, but, thanks to Peru’s native ají amarillo chilies and ground walnut paste, it’s got a distinctive creamy, lightly spiced flavor that you won’t find in any other dish. As is tradition, serve the ají with some white rice, a couple of slices of boiled yellow potato, two hard-boiled egg slices, a couple of black olives and a sprig of coriander and you’re ready to go.
Originating from 19th-century Lima, suspiro de limeña is one of Peru’s most iconic desserts. Made from dulce de leche (a thick, caramel-like cream made with condensed milk and sugar) and topped with a port wine meringue, it’s probably Peru’s sweetest, too. Serve it up in individual cocktail glasses or small terrines and sprinkle with cinnamon to finish. Just go easy on the portions; this dessert is a challenge for even the sweetest sweet tooth.
When it comes to coffee from Latin America, Colombia and Guatemala steal the show. However, Peru has some top-quality coffee beans that are well worth serving up as an after-dinner pick-me-up. For an aromatic, mild-acidity and flavorful brew, look out for Chanchamayo or Urubamba coffee. Just in case your guests were in need of yet another sweet bite, serve with alfajores (cloud-light, sugar-dusted biscuits filled with dulce de leche).
It wouldn’t be a dinner party without a little surprise, would it? As a memento from your Peruvian dinner party, give out a little jar of habanero or ají peppers as a party favor. This way, your guests can go home and cook a traditional Peruvian dish of their own. If you can’t get hold of the chilies, llama key rings (they’re just a couple of bucks and can be ordered online) go down as a fun treat, too.