LIMA, Peru – Luisa Mendoza and her husband share a plastic dish loaded with starchy mix of rice and chicken accompanied by a half-eaten plantain, among about 300 people at one of Peru’s 16,000 soup kitchens.
While the couple spends less than 50 cents a day for their meal, across town high-priced dishes reflecting the country’s African, Asian, European and indigenous roots are being featured at some 200 pop-up restaurants during Latin America’s largest culinary festival.
It’s a study of contrasts unique to Peru, a country with one of the world’s richest culinary traditions but whose haute cuisine is off limits to an estimated six million like Mendoza who get by on less than $3 a day.
The Mistura foodie fair now under way annually attracts about half a million people over nine days, including 35,000 foreigners.
President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski kicked off this year’s edition on a solemn note reminding his compatriots that not everyone can savor Peru’s culinary richness.
“We have to think that in Peru there are hundreds of thousands of children who are malnourished and several million with anemia,” he said.
The food festival organizers did include, as they did last year, one restaurant in which women workers from soup kitchens prepare dishes made with fish and beans.
But for the most part, more humble Peruvians are unseen at Mistura except working in the kitchen and cleaning the dishes left by better-off patrons.
Entry fees to the festival are around $8 for adults and $3 for children, which is expensive for a lot of people in Peru.
Because Peru doesn’t have special facilities for such fairs, about $5 million had to be invested to hold this one, said Mariano Valderrama, one of the festival organizers and a member of Apega, a nonprofit group that supports the research and promotion of the country’s food as an important part of Peruvian identity.
“Nobody who is poor can go to Mistura, it’s impossible, beginning with the bus fare,” said Mendoza, a street vendor who earns about $40 a month. “A poor person can’t even pay the entrance fee yet alone afford a plate of food.”