South American Chefs Celebrate Amazon Cuisine by Cooking with Ingredients from Indigenous Communities

One of the dishes created by Bolivian chef Marsia Taha and Peruvian chef Virgilio Martinez with ingredients from the Amazon, gets served at Gustu restaurant, in La Paz, Bolivia, on March 31.

In the high altitudes of Bolivia’s La Paz, some of South America’s top chefs are paying homage to regional Amazonian culinary ingredients including gusanillo, or worm chili, tree bark that tastes like garlic, and honey from stingless bees.

The new collaboration between Bolivian chef Marsia Taha and Peruvian chef Virgilio Martinez is seeking to raise awareness of the region’s incredible — and at times unusual — foods, and the indigenous communities at the forefront of collecting them.

At Taha’s restaurant Gustu in La Paz, a feast of colors and flavors was carefully spread out on wooden tables decorated with large leaves to celebrate the gastronomic diversity of the Peruvian and Bolivian Amazon.

“This is not only a celebration of the Amazon and its biodiversity but of our producers as well. They are the ones who make it possible for these products to arrive to our homes or our restaurants,” said Taha.

Indigenous communities in the countries’ huge areas of tropical rainforest capture feet-long fish, use bows and arrows to hunt, and harvest green and yellow peppers, and maize, transporting the products often hundreds of miles to big cities.

Martinez said there had been a growing movement to preserve regional culinary products and flavors.

“Over the last five years, we have seen a strong Latin American culture that wants to preserve its identity, that wants to preserve its ancestral culture,” he told Reuters.

“As Latin-Americans and South Americans, we have understood that our advantage is that we have the capacity to translate this environment, these products and flavors into something simple. We can bring it to the table with simplicity and grace.”

The chefs sourced ingredients from almost 200 indigenous communities in the Amazon through Gustu’s project Sabores Silvestres, or Wild Flavors, which has collected information on hundreds of ingredients through 15 years of research.

“We have worked with close to 200 indigenous communities and over 600 registered products — we have also used them at our restaurant. This brings us great pride,” Taha said.