Czech Republic and Peru have more in common than beer and potatoes


This week, people in Prague have a unique opportunity to try traditional dishes and delicacies from faraway Peru - the motherland of the potato. A weeklong Peruvian gastronomy festival in one of Prague's hotels offers a taste of a cuisine blending ancestral Inca flavours with European and Asian influences. But there are more links between Czechs and Peruvians than the prominent status of the potato in their cuisines.

In 1693 a Czech-born Jesuit Samuel Fritz arrived at Lake Lauricocha in the western Peruvian Andes and proclaimed the Maranon River flowing from it as the headwater of the Amazon. Just over three centuries later, a Czech expedition determined that the longest feeding source of the Amazon was actually the Carhuasanta River. That is just one of many connections between the Czech Republic and Peru.

At the launch of the Peruvian food festival I spoke to the deputy chief of mission at Peru's Embassy in Prague, Louis Enrique Suarez-Palacios, and he told me that another Czech-Peruvian connection was related to gastronomy.

"When you are thirsty you ask for a 'Pilsen' please, instead of asking for a beer, and that is commonly accepted because the best beer in the world, for the Peruvians at least, is the 'Plzenske pivo'."

Over history, Czechs have left more marks in Peru than the reputation of Pilsner beer.

"When I was a little boy, my first pair of shoes was probably purchased in a Bata shop. We call it Bata Rimac - Rimac being the river that crosses Lima. We thought it was a Peruvian enterprise but in the end we found out it was a Czech multinational."

To this day, the descendants of Czech immigrants live scattered around Peru, mingled with the other ethnic groups that make up the diverse population. And interestingly, some Czech surnames have come to be associated with certain regions of Peru. Louis Enrique Suarez-Palacios.

"I know for sure that there is a small but very active community of Czechs living in Peru. But from my own experience I can tell you I spent my first years of school in a city called Jauja. And I shared my games with people whose surnames were as follows: Mucha, Landa, Kotera and Balbin. Balbin is a very 'jaujino' name but here I realised that those are real Czech names."

As Mr Suarez-Palacios from the Peruvian Embassy says, the Czech Republic and Peru have much more than beer and food to offer to each other - above all, they can trade experiences from their recent economic and political transitions.