Peru is quite the culinary paradise and we fell in love with it within days. Food in Peru is seasoned generously and tastes scrumptious to say the least. Peruvians love corn, maize, and potatoes. Did you that there are over 3000 varieties of potatoes in Peru. You’ll find everything from wild potatoes and sweet potatoes (camote) to white potatoes (papa blanca) and purple potatoes (papa purpura). No wonder Peruvians have potatoes with every meal. Egg and potatoes, sausages and potatoes, bread and potatoes…. the list goes on! 😉
But that’s not all – there’s so much more to Peruvian cuisine than potatoes and corn. Here’s are some foods you should try while you are in Peru.
Foods to try in Peru
- Quinoa might be the fashionable grain in the western world these days but it’s a staple in Peru. You’ll see it being sold by the kilo in giant piles. Don’t come back from Peru without trying a Quinoa Burger and Quinoa Timbale, a fresh salad where quinoa, cooked al dente, is tossed with with diced cucumbers, tomatoes, chives, yogurt, and spearmint vinegar. Nom!
- Andean cheese: Andean cheese tastes nothing like supermarket bought cheeses back home. It tastes extremely fresh and can be bought at most local markets in Peru. Just make sure its pasteurised. Unpasteurised cheese made in unhygienic surroundings can cause serious tummy trouble.
- Picarones: These indulgent pumpkin and sweet potato fritters resemble donuts and can be found almost everywhere in Peru. The classic Peruvian dessert is served with a warm sauce. Let me warn you, it’s very hard to say no to a plate full of calorie-laden Picarones.
- Chifa: Chifa isn’t just a dish – it’s an entire cuisine based on the intermingling of Chinese and Peruvian ingredients. Chifa cuisine was made popular by Chinese immigrants in Peru. Today the alleys of Lima are dotted with ‘Chifa’ shacks – drop by for a meal.
- Lomo Saltado: Lomo Saltado is undoubtedly one of the most popular dishes in Peru. It’s essentially a beer stir-fry – strips of beef, marinated in soy sauce and vinegar, are cooked with a variety of vegetables including onions and peppers. The Chinese influence is obvious but in true Peruvian style, Lomo Saltado is served with fried sweet potatoes or potato wedges 🙂
- Guinea Pig (Cuy) : Now I know munching on a rodent doesn’t exactly sound like a covetable culinary experience, but if you enjoy sampling local foods while travelling, then you must try guinea pig in Peru. Try to avoid the overpriced restaurants of Lima and Cusco and head to Lamay (pronounced laa-my), a village specialising in BBQd guinea pigs, just 30 minutes from Cusco.
- Aji de Gallina: Literally ‘Chilli pepper chicken’, Aji de Gallina is a typical Peruvian curry. The curry is made with ground nuts, bread crumbs, Aji peppers, and a variety of spices. The result is a creamy yet mildly spicy gravy with a distinctive yellow colour. Have it with white rice, just like the Peruvians!
- Chancho de Adobo: A Peruvian pork curry, this spicy dish is a must for meat lovers.
- Salsa de cocona: A chunky and spicy Peruvian dip made with white tomatoes. Nom!
- Chimichurri: Chimichurri is an Argentinian marinade made from chilli flakes, finely-chopped parsley, garlic, vinegar, and oregano. But Peruvians seem to love it and frequently use it as a dip with breads and meat-based dishes. It works perfectly with the varied flavours of Peruvian food.
Drinks to try in Peru
Cusqueña Beer: The Peruvian beverage of choice, Cusqueña can be spotted on most menus in the country. It’s not a particularly memorable beer, but it’s refreshing – the perfect accompaniment to warm summer days in Peru.
- Pisco Sour: Peru and Chile still squabble over who invented the legendary Pisco Sour. Such noise over a cocktail might seem unmitigated but the drink in question deserves every bit of it. Pisco Sour is quite the cocktail, one you’ll definitely miss on getting back home from your holiday in Peru. The base liquor is Pisco, a South America grape brandy. Lime juice, syrup, ice, and bitters are added to Pisco to make this dreamy concoction – have a few glasses for us will ya?! 🙂
- Chincha Morada: Bright purple corn-based drink with a dash of lime.
Fruits and vegetables to try in Peru
I’ve said this before – Peruvian fruits and vegetable taste like nothing you’ve had before. They’re all kinds of sumptuous. Most fresh produce in the country is organic. It’s also extremely affordable. Buy it by the kilo and dig in – it’s the best kind of fast food possible! Here’s some fruits and vegetables you MUST try in Peru:
- The smoothest Avocados ever! They’re practically velvet!
- Chirimoya aka custard apple. The sweet and grainy flesh of the fruit makes for a perfect pick-me-up. Chirimoya is also a popular ice-cream flavour in Peru.
- Grenadilla is probably the sweetest passion-fruit you’ll ever have. It’s also an alleged laxative. Cut it into half and just suck the black seeds and surrounding flesh out with your mouth. It might not be the daintiest way of consuming fruit but that’s how the locals do it!
- Maracuja: If sweet fruits aren’t your thing, try this tangy passion-fruit.
- Guamo: This unique fruit resembles a runner bean. No wonder it’s sold by the bundle. Inside little pods of fruits are all lined up symmetrically. It tastes a bit like vanilla ice-cream. Nom!
- Pink Guavas: Guavas are one of my favourite fruits and Peruvian pink guavas are amongst the yummiest in the world.
- Lucuma is probably one of the most unique fruits we tasted in Peru. It’s green on the outside and bright yellow on the inside. It tastes a bit like sweet potato or butternut squash but it’s technically a fruit. Lucuma is absolutely perfect to lend creaminess to ice-creams and smoothies.
- Mangoes: What do I tell you about Peruvian mangoes? They’re luscious and I wanted to pack a box-full of them in my suitcase before hopping on the flight back to London.
- Cocona: A cross between a lemon and tomato, cocona is perfect for a chunky salsa.
- Pitaya: Bright-pink dragon fruit that is laden with nutrients and is considered a bit of a superfood in the Western world can be found at most local markets in Peru.
- Pepino Dulce: I can only describe this as a cross between a peach and melon. This intriguing fruit is best consumed ripe. I promise you, you won’t be able to stop at one! 🙂
Culinary Experiences to try in Peru
It’s not an overestimation to say that most of our meals in Peru made for unforgettable culinary experiences. From roadside pollerias to luxury ranches, Peru offers some truly memorable meals. No wonder gourmet tourism is on the rise in this part of South America. Here are a couple of experiences that must be on your itinerary of Peru:
La Parada in Lima
If you want a cheap and rustic dining experience, head to La Parada in Lima. This tiny restaurant, recommended by locals, serves Peruvian fast food: Burgers, sandwiches, and sausages. The calorie-busting meals at La Parada will set you back just by £5. It goes without saying that most dishes come with potato chips, eggs, and a variety of dips.
A traditional Polleria in Cusco
Pollerias are traditional establishments frequented by locals. As the name suggests, rotisserie chicken is often the only thing on the menu. Most pollerias have a set menu that includes grilled chicken, fries, salad, and a soup for less than 10 soles (£2).
A Peruvian Cooking Class in the Sacred Valley
This is a perfect mid-range option that gives tourists a chance to acquaint oneself with local food and come home with recipes to recreate Peruvian cuisine. There are plenty of cooking classes available in the Sacred Valley. We chose one based on locals’ recommendations. Ricardo, the chef at a small restaurant called Tres Keros, is a bit of a legend in the Urubamba area. I knew we were going to have fun the second we met Ricardo. He took both of us for a gander in the local market, through stalls laden with fresh fruits and vegetables. He bunched up some fresh mint, tore it roughly and made us inhale the intoxicating aroma. This passion for Peru’s bounteous produce continued through the day. Ricardo lovingly stroked the fresh fish we picked at a trout farm and spoke about fruits and vegetables like his life depended on it. We cooked up a storm together as we sipped on glass after glass of Chincha Morata. An afternoon well spent.
A meal in the Amazon Rainforest
This experience is not as much about the food as the ambience. After all, how often can you boast about having a meal in the middle of the Amazon Rainforest, over 3 hours away from the nearest motorable road. I remember Peruvian specialities being on the menu in every meal. I can’t forget the dessert I had on the first night and every night after that – Mango Carpaccio, slices of fresh Peruvian mango sprinkled with dessicated coconut and almonds. But most of all, I remember dining under thousands of twinkling stars far far away from civilization. For more details, read our article on our adventure in the Peruvian Rainforest (opens in new tap)
An indulgent meal at Sol y luna Lodge and Spa
Sol y luna Lodge and Spa is a luxury hotel in the Sacred Valley and offers an exceptional culinary experience. Here it is possible to have an elaborate buffet lunch in a restaurant overlooking the ranch with mountains and glaciers in the distance. Expect empanadas, fresh Peruvian corn, roast potatoes, salad, and tamale (steamed maize) for starters along with half a dozen dips made from local chillies, peanuts, Peruvian spices, and olive oil. My favourite? Pico de gallo, a chunky salsa dip made from onions, tomatoes, garlic, and lime juice. Main course is cooked in front of guests and there was a choice of salmon, baby chicken, and pork the day we visited. As for dessert, we devoured Picarones (pumpkin donuts), fresh fruit, and caramelised berries. The pièce de résistance of this experience is a salsa performance and a dance of Peruvian paso horses that starts at dessert and continues long after the meal is over. An Andean experience like no other!
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