American cuisine

How Peru Became the Center of South American Cuisine

Moray was probably a site of agricultural experimentation, making it a suitable stopover for Mil. Only one arm of Mil is the restaurant; the rest is devoted to a distillery, and – perhaps more surprisingly – to a laboratory. Indeed, the site is also the base of Mater Iniciativa, Martínez’s research institute. They study new types of ingredients and experiment with them, guided by local specialists.

The project that everyone was excited about when I visited was a new type of potato. It’s purple, beautiful, and full of more antioxidants than a blueberry. The science doesn’t stop there. An anthropologist lives with one of the Quechua farming communities that supply the restaurant. He is dedicated to making locals understand the value of Quechua agricultural know-how and to getting farmers to trust Mil after centuries of colonial waste.

Farmers still do not seem totally convinced. I asked some of them if they felt the terms with Mil were fair (50% of the yield goes to the restaurant, 50% to their own villages), and “perfect” was the answer, but with a good reserve dose.

They like the anthropologist, though, and I think that’s why he’s there. Much more than an anthropologist, he is a diplomat, and much more than a research institute, Mil is an embassy. Mil’s restaurant serves an abbreviated version of Central’s menu, and the experience is similar, with one major difference. Mil is at 12,000 feet, so it’s cold even in the summer, and you get drunk real quick.

Like in Central, it’s easy to misunderstand why you’re paying so much for perfectly preserved potatoes, but again, this is a cultural experience so much more than a meal. The advantage is to be able to ask the multilingual servers about the products or to say hello to the farmers. If you’re lucky, they might show you how they say a traditional Quechua grace before drinking shisha – complete with tiny offerings to the mountains, which they say are alive.

Although the food is the focus of the tour, there are also opportunities to see other aspects of the destinations. On my last day, I got to meet a Quechua shaman – a real one, which is a lot like being allowed to have tea with a Vatican cardinal. I felt uncomfortable wasting his time with an atheist tourist when he had other people to see, but he made me feel so welcome that I started to understand why so many people, even in Lima, are now turning away from Catholicism, towards the much older gods of the highlands.

I think that’s really the cornerstone of the whole experience. It’s not just about food, but about understanding why there’s this big cultural shift away from Europe, towards a more indigenous way of thinking that was lost under the conquistadors.

Everything is starting to blossom again and witnessing the growing appreciation of local heritage is uplifting. I may not have been full when I left Central, but I was fed.

Pepperharrow’s Lost Future by Natasha Pulley is out now (Bloomsbury; £8.99). Shop for £7.99 at books.telegraph.co.uk or call 0844 871 1514.

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Essential

Getting There

Natasha Pulley traveled before the pandemic as a guest of Black Tomato (020 7426 9888; blacktomato.com), who can arrange a 10-night trip to Peru staying at Sol y Luna, Belmond Palacio Nazarenas and the Hotel B Lima from £6,900 pp. including private tours and transfers, but excluding flights. Black Tomato will arrange reservations (subject to availability) but meal costs are paid locally.

Eat there Central (0051 1 242 8515; centralrestaurante.com.pe) Av. Pedro de Osma 301, Barranco 15063, Lima, Peru • Urban Kitchen (0051 1 637 5397; urbankitchen.pe) Av Javier Prado Oeste 285, Magdalena del Mar 15076, Lima, Peru • Mil Centro (0051 926 948 088; milcentro.pe/) Via a Moray, Maras 08655, Peru.

For more inspiration, check out our comprehensive guide to the best hotels in Lima.