By Maria Cervantes
LIMA (Reuters) - Lima's famous Central restaurant, home to some of Peru's most succulent cuisine and an earthy aroma that includes more than one hundred Andean spices and varieties of corn, recently closed its doors to the public amid a fierce second wave of COVID-19 infections.
Coronavirus cases have spiked in Peru this year, bringing hospitals and the country's ailing healthcare system to the brink of collapse, forcing fresh lockdowns in the culinary capital of Lima.
Peruvian chefs and restaurant owners say a months-long quarantine in 2020, combined with lingering border closures and curfews are strangling the flow of tourists they need to prosper, threatening the country's famed gastronomic heritage.
"A very long quarantine is going to leave us in the red," Central owner Virgilio Martínez told Reuters, as his chefs sliced olluco, oca and mashua, medicinal plants from the Andes mountains.Martínez was already forced to shutter another of his restaurants, Mil, in Cuzco, alongside the archaeological remains of Moray, an Incan agricultural research center more than 500 years old. He has also put off the opening of restaurants in Moscow and Tokyo, he said.
Gastronomy is an integral facet of the Peruvian identity and a long-time source of national pride. Signature dishes, from lemon-kissed fish ceviche to "jumping lomo," a beef recipe with Asian flair, have traveled the world for decades.
Many top chefs say the government must act now to save this legacy and help the industry bounce back.
"If the government doesn't give some kind of bailout, I believe half the [remaining] restaurants will go bankrupt in the next 30 days, and the other half in the next six months," said chef Alfredo Aramburú, owner of the Cala restaurant, which overlooks the Pacific Ocean in Barranco.
Some now peddle their cuisine at home by delivery, but the effect is not the same - nor is the bottom line, they say. To-go orders represent just 15% of their income, they said.
According to the Union of Restaurant Guilds of Peru, the pandemic has shuttered 70,000 of Peru's 200,000 restaurants, taking 350,000 jobs with them.
"The restaurants that have still been able to survive are in tough shape and need the government to act," a spokesman for the private restaurant union told Reuters.
(Reporting by Maria Cervantes; Writing by Dave Sherwood; Editing by Marguerita Choy)