If there’s one thing that Chef José Luis would want us to not forget from our culinary experience at Marcelo Batata Cooking Class, it would be to remember that Peruvian cuisine is heavily influenced by the country’s history and geography. This was a theme that would be prevelent during the next three hours, and throughout the rest of our travels in Peru.
We signed up for Marcelo Batata Cooking Class on our first full day in Cusco, Peru. I was expecting a cooking class but was instead pleasantly surprised with a captivating history and cultural lesson, a food and drink tasting, with a little bit of cooking.
I’ve taken cooking classes before in Indonesia and Vietnam, but it makes such a difference for your instructor to have restaurant standards and a culinary education. Cooking school co-owner Chef José was once a tour guide and then became a chef 10 years ago. So, in the Marcelo Batata cooking class, you get the knowledge and charisma of a tour guide, combined with the passion of a chef.
From a geography perspective, Peru is made up of many different elevations: the mountainous region, the Pacific coast, and the Amazon, all providing unique terrain and conditions for produce and agriculture. From a history and cultural perspective, Peru is influenced by the cultures of the Incas, Spanish, African, Chinese, Japanese, and Italian, countries with completely different gastronomy styles and culinary techniques, jumbled in a small country.
It is these two elements — the history and the geography — that makes Peruvian cuisine so unique with the mixing of flavours and textures.
Our 3-hour cooking class and culinary experience was divided into these sections:
- Peruvian Fruit Tasting
- “Market” Tour – more comfortable clean and less noisy
- Cooking Ceviche
- Pisco Tasting and Pisco Sour Making
- Cooking Lomo Saltado
As we went through the three-hour culinary experience with Marcelo Batata Cooking Class, we would periodically be treated to fresh and delicious bite-sized appetizers to try from their restaurants.
Part I: Peruvian Fruit Tasting
Our culinary experience began with a Peruvian fruit tasting. Having already been on a Colombian Fruit Tour in Medellin, it was interesting to do another tasting from a Peruvian angle. We tried Gooseberry, which originated in Peru. We also tried Locoma, a fruit that looks like avocado with a squash colour and texture, it’s creamy texture is well complimented mixed into smoothies. We also tasted four different types of Passionfruit. Although you can get most of these fruits in other countries, it’s the terroir of Peru which gives its fruits certain characteristics not found in other regions. For example, Peruvian Mango, is known to be very sweet and clean with no stringy fibres.
Part II: “Market” Tour
Next, we did a faux-market tour. Within the cooking school, there is a mock market set up. We learned about Peru’s four most important crops: corn, potatoes, peppers, and quinoa. Did you know there are over 3,000 varieties of potatoes in Peru, and over 60 colours of quinoa?
Why a fake market? It’s a cleaner, safer, and less hectic environment to learn about Peruvian produce. If you’re staying in Cusco for a few days, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to check out the local markets in your own time.
Part III: Cooking Ceviche
The first dish we cooked in the kitchen was ceviche, Peru’s most famous dish. Have you ever noticed that ceviche kind of reminds you of Japanese cuisine?
Historically, ceviche was marinated with Peruvian passionfruit. But when the Spaniards brought limes with them to Peru, the fish was cooked for hours in lime instead. When the Japanese (fish experts) arrived, they were horrified to see fish sitting in lime juice for hours and ‘taught’ the country that fish only needs to be in lime juice for no more than five minutes to stay fresh.
The class made a trout ceviche. I made a zucchini alternative, as no como pescado (I don’t eat fish).
Part IV: Pisco Tasting and Pisco Sour Making
Pisco is a grape-based alcoholic beverage that was founded in Peru. You’ll see Pisco Sour (inspired by the Whisky Sour) on many restaurant menus in Cusco. We learned about two qualities you should look for to ensure your pisco is authentic:
- How’s the viscosity? Check viscosity — the pisco tears (similar to wine legs) should go down slowly meaning water wasn’t added. If the tears go down fast, you will be “crying” that you didn’t get real Pisco.
- Can you hold it in your mouth? Pisco is 40% alcohol but even then you can hold it in your mouth, and there’s less of a burning feeling as it goes down your chest, it’s much smoother. (“if you do the same with tequila, you will die,” informed Chef Jose.)
After our Pisco lesson, we made our own drinks with a Pisco infusion (ie. ginger, lemongrass, cinnamon, anise, cherry, etc.). Be sure to shake your drink vigorously, but keep your hand on the lid at all times so you don’t have a Pisco shower!
Part V: Cooking Lomo Saltado
The second most famous peruvian dish is Lomo Saltado, which is a meat dish (usually made with beef or alpaca) stir-fried with vegetables in a WOK, eaten with a side of rice and potatoes. Yes, a WOK, with ginger, green onion and soy sauce…doesn’t this dish sound Chinese to you?!
Lomo Saltado is the perfect example of Peru being a jumble of cultures and culinary technique. When the Chinese arrived in Peru, restaurants were opened, and now you can see “Chifa” (translated as: “Eat Rice”) restaurants all over town and Lomo Saltado being one of the most popular dishes in the country.
Taking the Marcelo Batla cooking class, especially with Chef Jose’s knowledge and passion, got us so excited about Peruvian cuisine. We were very glad we scheduled this for our first day in Peru, because it allowed us to understand and enjoy everything else we were eating for the rest of our trip. After spending nearly three weeks in Peru, this was still one of our favourite activities. If you’re considering a cooking class in Peru, and you have a genuine interest in learning about the history and culture of the country’s cuisine, I definitely recommend Marcelo Batata Cooking Class.