Eating Peru 

Twenty-five years ago, Bob Bradley looked out at the Andes from the window of a Fokker turboprop bound for the north highland Peruvian town of Cajamarca. As he contemplated the huge Andean range below, he became concerned about his nonexistent Spanish and finding a driver willing to negotiate the twelve hours of dirt road switchbacks through the Marañón River canyon. This was the inauspicious beginning of Professor Bradley’s transition from a wholesale wine merchant to a pre-Columbian scholar specializing in the cloud forest Chachapoya people.

As a graduate student at Columbia University, Bradley spent each summer in northeastern Peru. This cloud forest landscape is a particularly draining environment of verticality and foot-deep mud. So, when he finished his work in the cordillera, he would head to the coast for a few weeks of much-needed rest and relaxation. There, he discovered that the food in the coastal Peruvian towns and villages was outstanding. Ceviche became Bradley’s daily repast, and after meeting a Peruvian woman from the North Coast town of Ferreñafe, ceviche became the opening dish at their wedding ceremony. Bradley earned his Ph.D. in 2005, and he went on to teach pre-Columbian art history at the New School, University of North Carolina, Charlotte, and University of North Texas before landing a tenure-track position at the University of Texas Pan-American, which is now the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.

As a tenure-track and then tenured faculty member, he would lead a study abroad program in Peru each summer, which introduced students to pre-Columbian architecture and the history of Peru. In addition to visits to the ever-popular Machu Picchu, Professor Bradley has led students to the remote ‘sister city’ of Machu Picchu, Choquequirao, across the fifteen-thousand-foot pass at Salkantay and on the high-altitude trek around the mountain Ausangate. These trips also provided access to Peru, which enabled the research required for Bradley’s academic articles and his monograph on Peruvian Food and History, Eating Peru: A Gastronomic Journey. Oklahoma University Press published this book in September 2023, and Dr. Can Saygin’s Division of Research at UTRGV has provided important support to promote this research.

Eating Peru begins with a chapter on Bradley’s transition from wholesale wine merchant to scholar, then quickly moves on to a discussion of fish, fishing, and ceviche. An elaborate dialogue focuses on four unique Peruvian peppers or ajíes: Capsicum chinense, frutescens, pubescens, and baccatum. The use of these peppers in food preparations is thoroughly analyzed, as is the history of these fruits. The next chapter explores the use of alcohol from the pre-Columbian era to the present day, with a particular focus on the Peruvian brandy Pisco and the pre-Hispanic corn beer chicha. The discussion then moves to well-known Peruvian crops like potatoes and quinoa, the lesser-known cushuro, blue-green lake algae, and tarwi, a nutritious legume. Different waves of foreign incursions are then assessed, beginning with the upheaval of the 16th-century Spanish conquest, then the influx of Chinese workers at the end of the 19th century, and finally, the immigration of Italians and Japanese. All these foreign influences profoundly affected Peruvian gastronomy, and Bradley has thoroughly examined each of them.

Although Eating Peru is a meticulously researched work with hundreds of endnotes and a comprehensive bibliography, Professor Bradley had a large audience in mind when he wrote the book. He says the text would interest both the first-time Peruvian traveler and the seasoned aficionado of Peru. Since its publication, Bradley has been interviewed on numerous radio programs and podcasts. One of them is New Worlder, an excellent Substack venue that highlights new happenings in Latin America. Professor Bradley’s book also received an Editor’s Choice award from the NEWPAGES blog this past December. Eating Peru: A Gastronomic Journey is available nationwide at Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and other good bookstores. You can follow Professor Bradley’s posts about Peruvian food, mountain trekking, and pre-Columbian architecture on his Instagram: @precolumbianbob77. Finally, Professor Bradley relayed that the book would not have come to fruition without the help of Katherine McAllen, Director of UTRGV’s Center for Latin American Arts, Mark Andersen, Dean of Honors College, Jeffrey Ward, Dean of the College of Fine Arts and Ed Pogue, Director of the School of Art and Design, and Can Saygin, Senior Vice President for Research and Dean of the Graduate College. For more information, visit utrgv.edu/research.

The UTRGV Center for Latin American Arts