Peru is a captivating country. It invites travelers to visit its regions and to indulge in its past and present. Ancient civilizations, a different world view, customs which have survived over time, and a very particular geography are awaiting the visitor. But its territory is vast, and Lima, its capital, is a good gateway. In the “City of Kings”, visitors can discover the historic center, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO thanks to its colonial architecture and traces of Inca culture and pre-Inca sites. However, these aspects are only part of the picture. Lima, with immigrants from within Peru and from anywhere in the world, also invites you to enjoy flavors from different parts of the country. One of them is chocolate, the protagonist of this journey I am proposing.
The traveler can get to know part of the richness of Peruvian cocoas and the variety of chocolates and chocolate-based products on markets and fairs, in cafés and restaurants and in chocolate shops. The memory of these special treats will be long and intense, one more reason to come to Lima and Peru.
To visit Lima in search of a good chocolate, I choose a special guide, Astrid Gutsche, also known as “Señora Chocolate”.
This blonde German woman from Hamburg, slim but strong and passionate, is one of the great confectioners of Peru. She studied at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, where she met Peruvian chef Gastón Acurio, her future husband, and adopted Peru as her own country. She learnt Spanish on her own, to be able to communicate with her new Peruvian friends. She lives in Peru, a country she loves for both its good and flawed characteristics; and one of its best aspects is its chocolate.
Today, one of the goals she has set for herself is that Peruvian cocoa and its producers receive the recognition they deserve, and that this chocolate is known and consumed in and outside of her adoptive country. To reach this goal, she studies the varietals in the only possible way: on long travels to coast, highlands and jungle, by raft, hiking, and even by helicopter.
When she tastes a piece of chocolate, she knows that behind this bite, there is a farmer, a plot of land, a peculiar profile of the cocoa bean, something that makes each of them unique. “Many of these cocoa producers weren’t even aware of what they had. Cocoa doesn’t like monoculture, it’s a social plant. It is always grown together with other species. You can feel this communication with their surroundings in each bite, that’s why each of them is unique. And chocolate production is also unique in each respective place, because for example, in very hot regions like Piura, the drying process is different than in other areas, where it must be slow,” says Astrid.
Astrid is aware that Peruvian cacao is one of the keys to promoting social development in the cacao-growing regions, replacing cocaine and the violence that came with this crop. Teaching the farmers adequate techniques and means of production, the promoters of cacao achieved outstanding progress. Every time she travels, she contacts buyers with companies, fighting for fair prices for the producers. Her other desire is that this good chocolate will also be consumed in Peru, as so far, Peruvians have only eaten 300 grams of chocolate a year, and not always of good quality. Five years ago, Astrid remembers, nobody talked about Peruvian cacao, and the only product you could get was bonbons. Now there are also chocolate bars, which is a great achievement. In the last edition of Chocoexpo, on the Mistura gastronomy fair, chocolatiers from all over the world – French, Belgian, Japanese – recognized the peculiarity of the Peruvian cacao species and the products derived from them. Once again, the often mentioned Peruvian biodiversity has turned into a great potential.
The other aspect of the promotion of Peruvian cacao is the opening of good chocolate shops. The kick-start was the founding of the Melate chocolate boutique little more than a year ago. “I find a good cacao and I’d like to buy it all to produce heaps of chocolate, but I can’t. So I have to find buyers from outside the country, because there aren’t so many here. This is why we need more chocolate shops in the country. Now let’s try the best ones!"
Melate: Astrid Gutsche’s boutique entirely dedicated to chocolate. There are no doors, no exotic display cabinets, each bite is right there, and there are no barriers to temptation. In a controlled atmosphere, you will find simple bonbons, chocolate bars or combined creations for all tastes and preferences, and all are delicious. Try chocolate with yellow chilli, muña, sacha inchi, passion fruit, sesame or a shot of Pisco, or coca or carob truffles, among many other options.
Eggo de Renato Peralta: You can’t miss his Chancay de chocolate (a classic sweet bread with pieces of chocolate) or his artisanal peasant bread with chocolate and Maras salt. Also try the big chocochip cookie, chocolate ice-cream, chocolate milk shake, chocolate and banana muffins, chocolate croissants, Cronuts filled with chocolate and Nutella cream.
Cacaosuyo: Manufactured by Theobroma, Iván Murrugarra’s company, using white cacao from Piura and the famous Fortunato chocolate, among others. There are pure chocolates and chocolates combined with native ingredients such as quinua or camu camu.
Xocolatl: Giovanna Maggiolo’s house. Maggiolo makes products whose protagonist is Peruvian chocolate. He neither uses preservatives nor artificial ingredients. At this chocolate shop, you will find cakes, cookies, bonbons, chocolate bars, Chocotejas, chocolate liquor and chocolate-coated dried fruit. Xocolatl also offers chocolate tasting and pairing.
La Ibérica Chocolatier: La Ibérica has been manufacturing chocolate in the city of Arequipa for 104 years. The company’s third generation of chocolatiers are using organic chocolate for their entire production process. They offer a variety of products, from chocolate bars to bonbons.
Roselen: Chocolate bars, bonbons and truffles made from different Peruvian cacaos. There are combinations with Pisco, Maras salt, pistachio, lucuma or limo chilli peppers, among others. This shop also offers chocolate tasting kits with Peruvian cacaos and kits for chocolate pairings with different beverages.
Casa del chocolate: Museum, a subsidiary of the museum in Cusco. Offers workshops, interactive rooms telling the history of cacao, the stages of cacao growing and the production of chocolate, a cafeteria and a shop.
Helena: Chocotejas. You will find them in supermarkets and independent stores.
Mistura: The great festival dedicated to Peruvian cuisine. Every year in Lima, on the first days of September. Hosts the cacao Salon.
Tanta: Chocolúcuma, Chocolate sphere, Fortunato chocolate truffle, Chocotejas, Chocobrownie, Little chocolate cups. Address: Larcomar shopping center and subsidiaries.
Must Stop to Try
Astrid & Gastón Casa Moreyra, Gastón Acurio and Astrid Gutsche: Chocolate (from the Virú menu). Address: Av. Paz Soldan 290, San Isidro. Tel: +511 4443979.
Central, Virgilio Martínez: Tocache cacao, carob and lemon verbena or Forest of cacao and coca. Address: Santa Isabel 376, Miraflores. Tel: +242-8515.
Malabar, desserts created by Iván Murrugarra: Variation of native chocolates from Gran Pajatén, Shunte and Lamas. Address: Camino Real 101, San Isidro. Tel: + 4405200.
Maido, Mitsuharu Tsumura: cacao 100%, Chocolate Hot-and-Cold or Maido brittle. Address: San Martín 339, Miraflores, +444-2568.
Maras Restaurante Bar, Rafael Piqueras: Choco toffee or Little lucuma sandwiches. Address: Esquina Las Begonias con Amador Merino Reyna. Tel: 201-5023 / 201-5000 Ext: 6564.
Ik, Franco Kisic: Broken bonbon and warm chocolate cake. Address: Elías Aguirre 179, Miraflores. Tel: +51 6521692.
La Mar: Fortunato chocolate mousse. Address: Av La Mar 770, Tel: + 4213365.
The following is a selection of useful links for the relevant Chocolate shops mentioned above:
Melate Chocolate Peru: facebook.com/chocolateMELATE
Eggo bed and Breakfast: Calle Tahití 175, La Planicie. Tel: +352-9915.
La Ibérica Chocolatier: www.laiberica.com.pe