The phrase “meat and potatoes” brings to mind a stereotypical middle-American diet, the sort you might associate with football players, deer hunters, and civil servants like policemen, firemen and the various branches of the military. Few Americans, however, are aware of the fact that the second part of that combo are not only truly of the Western Hemisphere in their provenance, but that the part of the Americas that they originated in is below the Equator – Peru, in fact. After being domesticated some 7,000-10,000 years ago, the potato has truly become an international food staple, having been introduced to regions outside the Andean origins of cultivation four centuries ago. Today, Peru still boasts a staggering variety of the edible tubers, some 3,000 of which (of approximately 5,000 varieties worldwide) are found there alone.
It’s no surprise that such a hospitable environment for diversity in edible plants is also something of a cornucopia for many other foods – and thus a combination of Peruvian concerns have united to present an array of these at the 2013 Unica: Peruvian Tourist Gastronomic Fair/PERU To The WORLD Expo, to be held on July 13th & 14th at the Altman Building, 135 West 18th Street in Manhattan. This will be the second annual staging of the event (the inaugural Fair was held in Newark, New Jersey last Summer), and will allow guests to partake not only a great selection of foods, but will also feature Peruvian beverage sponsors, including Cusquena beer, Inca Kola, and Macchu Pisco, the versatile brandy which is the primary alcoholic spirit fashioned from grapes in Peru.
The Peruvian landmass contains quite a bit of climate and environmental diversity. Dry tropical weather creates natural greenhouses in the 11% of the nation comprising the coastal region, which facilitates crop diversity, high yields and succulence. In the 32% of the country within the Andean highlands one finds what could be considered the Peruvian ‘breadbasket’, as it is here that potatoes, quinoa, macas, canihua and other ‘super foods’ are cultivated. (2013 has been designated as International Year of The Quinoa.) The majority of Peru, some 60% of the landmass, lies in the region east of the Andes – the Amazonian jungle territory home to a wealth of biodiversity, much of which has still yet to be discovered and fully understood for its bounty and uses.
As far as exports, coffee and chocolate are the leading products. Coffee, produced in a larger region in Peru then anywhere else in the world (85,000 Ha. Out of 400,000 Ha.), has surpassed US $1 billion for two consecutive years in exports; the social impact of this is that 3 million Peruvians are beneficiaries. Cacao exports rose to US $103 million in 2012 – thus furthering the supplanting of coca fields in agricultural terms (and in fact many coca plantations themselves replaced existing cacao fields). Other key export items include avocados, grapes, and a variety of fruits such as mangos, organic bananas, clementines and other citrus fruits.
Of course, such a favorable environment has also proven a suitable place for the cultivation of non-native vegetables, such as asparagus, artichokes, peppers and olives, each of which have in turn become significant export products from Peru to the rest of the world; last year for example Peru exported US $240 million of asparagus to the United States.
One of the results of such cross-cultural exchange is the growth in Peruvian-themed cuisine and restaurants in the US. It is estimated that there are nearly 500 Peruvian restaurants throughout the US – with three distinct categories: fusion, classic, and rotisserie chicken establishments – and the greatest concentration being located in New York (109 restaurants), California (100), New Jersey (83) and Florida (61). Two local standouts can be found in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, not very far from the Altman Building site of Unica 2013: La Mar at 11 Madison Avenue, and Raymi at 43 West 24th. Tickets for Unica are $25 in advance and $30 at the door; more information can be found online at www.perutotheworldexpo.com.