Sampling national dishes and local delicacies is one of my absolute favourite ways to experience a new destination— the smells and tastes of Peru, the customs surrounding food preparation, and various mealtime traditions will tell you more about this country than any city tour every could. It may not have the international renown of Italian or French food, but Peruvian cuisine also features some of the best and most inventive flavour combinations I’ve ever tasted.
On my third trip to Lima, I wanted to go beyond just shovelling Peruvian food into my mouth (my preferred method of food delivery), so I joined an excellent cooking class with SkyKitchen Peru and learned how to prepare several incredible dishes that I’ll now hopefully be able to take back to Australia with me!
All the details: Lima cooking class
Cost: The Peruvian Standard class with traveller-favourite SkyKitchen is $70USD, payable at the end of the class (11am-2.15pm).
Getting there: SkyKitchen is located at 470 Calle Enrique Palacios in Miraflores, a short walk from most hostel/hotels in this part of Lima. It’s actually on the top floor of an apartment building, so the doorman will buzz you up and help you find the correct door.
Where to stay: Hostel Kokopelli Miraflores is one of the absolute best hostels in Peru! I love their pod-style dorm beds that make it feel like you’re in a private room, the awesome on-site bar and restaurant, the excellent free breakfast, and all the planned activities to join in on. Dorm beds start at S/30.
Top tips: Come hungry to the class— you’ll prepare a selection of dishes and there are often seconds to be had, so don’t miss out because you ate a large breakfast!
Arriving at what appears to be a family apartment on the top level of a unit block in downtown Miraflores, I am led up the stairs by apron-clad Pepe and introduced to the Californian family I’ll be cooking with. The upper level of the apartment has been fully converted into a cooking studio, complete with an induction-stove island and large preparation spaces on the decking. Although it may not have looked like much from the outside, the kitchen is undeniably well-appointed and very professional from my seat around the table.
I’ve joined a Peruvian Standard class today, which means I’ll be preparing 4 classic Peruvian dishes: Papa a la Huancaína, Ají de Gallina, Ceviche, and Pastel de Choclo, plus a Pisco Sour, the national cocktail of Peru. Aside from ceviche, it will be my first time trying all of these dishes as well as cooking them, so I truly can’t wait to discover some new flavours and test out my (somewhat questionable) skills in the kitchen.
Over the next several hours, Pepe expertly instructs me and the Californians on the preparation of these incredible Peruvian meals, which all turn out surprisingly well even at my untrained hands. Our first dish is Papa a la Huancaína, amazing silky-smooth potatoes drizzled in a yellow chilli pepper and garlic sauce that is good enough to lick off the plate, all topped with a salty Andean cheese reminiscent of haloumi. It’s alarmingly easy to make and becomes something I order off inexpensive menus all around the country over the next month, comforted by its simplicity even when my stomach is in knots during my first days at altitude.
Using a similar chili-based sauce, next we prepare Ají de Gallina. If I thought our Papa a la Huancaína was amazing, I am positively doubled over by the flavours in this saucy pulled-chicken stew laid over a bed of garlic rice.
My major contribution to the dish is actually just cooking the arroz, but it’s still a proud accomplishment for someone who has never successfully boiled rice without burning half the pot and who now exclusively buys microwave rice pouches. My Asian classmates are unimpressed by this admission and visibly relieved when the rice emerges unburnt from the pot— if nothing else, I’ve learned to cook rice today.
Over a delicious glass of Pisco Sour, a citrusy cocktail made from fermented and distilled grape juice, we begin preparing our final main dish, ceviche. Although also typical in Mexico and Chile, ceviche originated in Peru and is one of the most popular dishes along the Pacific Coast. I actually had ceviche at a Mexican restaurant on my last night in Melbourne, so I’m very keen to see how the flavours compare (if not in a side-by-side taste test, in sort of a day-to-day taste test).
In anticipation of today’s class, Pepe froze a large hunk of white fish and then pulled it out to partially defrost while we were making our Papa a la Huancaína— the result is a firm, slightly chilled strip of fish that is delightfully easy to chop into cubes for our ceviche.
Even though sushi doesn’t seem to arouse much concern amongst diners, heaps of people are put off by the idea of eating large bites of raw fish or mixed seafood in ceviche.
To those people I would say: don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. The acidity of the lime juice sort of cures the fish and the addition of chillies, garlic, cilantro, and red onion creates an incredible flavour that is 1000x better than anything you’d ever find in a seaweed wrap. Finally, fish stock and evaporated milk balance out the intensity of the citrus and cancha (corn nuts) and choclo (boiled white corn) offer some texture. Even my clumsy preparation returns an insanely tasty ceviche that I all but inhale off the plate.
We wrap up the class with Pastel de Choclo, a sweet corn cake not dissimilar to southern-style corn bread. I enjoy the cake, but the highlight of desert for me is the adorable little aguaymanto we use as a garnish— I am totally fascinated by its delicate moth-wing leaves and even more so by its sweet cherry-like taste. In addition to great cuisine, it appears that Peru is home to some fascinating and delightful fruits that I’ve never even heard of.
After polishing off every bit of food on my plate (and even returning for seconds of the group’s Ají de Gallina), I am positively bursting at the seams with some of the best food I’ve eaten in a long time. As the class concludes and my classmates shuffle off to catch their flight to Cusco, I profusely thank our wonderful teacher, Pepe, for what has been an incredibly fun and delicious afternoon.
I typically prepare the same half-dozen dishes on rotation at home (basically just Indian curries, nachos, and pasta), so I really hope I can incorporate some of these simple but delicious meals into my repertoire. And I definitely know I’ll be looking out for some of these dishes as I continue my travels around Peru!
Thank you to SkyKitchen Peru, who sponsored my participation in this class—still, all opinions and experiences within this post are entirely my own. If you are interested in joining a cooking class in Lima, definitely check out their website, or if you just want to try some of these dishes at home, links to the SkyKitchen recipes have been provided throughout. Buen Apetito!