Peruvian food is famous all over the world, and for good reason. In 2019, Peru was crowned the World’s Best Culinary Destination for the eighth year running, so you know that the Peru food scene is bursting with incredible dishes. Immigrants from Europe, Asia and Africa all came to Peru with their own style of cooking and blended it with traditional Peruvian flavours to create the very best examples of ‘fusion’ cuisine. From street food to Michelin starred restaurants there is a huge range of Peruvian dishes to choose from, so deciding what to eat in Peru can be challenging. To help you navigate the dizzying array of Peruvian food available I’ve created this list of typical Peruvian dishes you must eat in Peru!
What do People Eat in Peru?
Traditional Peruvian cuisine is based on potatoes, corn, quinoa and legumes, with the spicy yellow ají and rocoto peppers adding heat and colour to many dishes. There are over 4000 types of potato grown in Peru, including colourful purple and red potatoes, and any kind of potato you can imagine!
Restaurants often have a daily ‘menu del día’ available for lunch – a cheap 3-course meal including a soup, main course and a dessert or juice. Prices can vary from 7 soles up to 25 or 30 soles in more touristy areas like Cusco, but the menu is always a great way to sample local dishes for rock-bottom prices. In the evenings, the à la carte menu is more expensive but of course, you get more choice.
Peruvian food can vary wildly according to the region where you are, and dishes you find in the North are very different to those found along the coast or in the Andes. You are sure to find delicious food in Peru no matter where you go, but these are my favourite must-try Peruvian dishes, desserts and drinks that you simply have to eat while you are here!
Traditional Food in Peru
What To Eat in Peru: Ceviche
This classic Peruvian dish is made of pieces of raw fish marinated in lime juice and chilli to ‘cook’ the fish. Ceviche is usually served with sliced raw onion, choclo (corn), a slice or two of sweet potato, and perhaps some lettuce for a bit of colour. More popular (and fresher) around the coast, this delectable dish has just the right amount of spice to mix with the tart lime and fresh fish. Generally, ceviche is made with a white fish such as sea bass or sole, although you will also find mixed ceviche including cooked prawns, a ceviche of concha negra (black blood clams) in Lima and the North of Peru, or trout ceviche around Lake Titicaca where the lake provides an abundance of the freshwater fish.
Cuy (Guinea Pig)
Vegetarians look away now! You can’t have a list of must-try Peruvian dishes, and not include our furry friend the guinea pig. Viewed by many of us in Europe and the US as a cute family pet, in Peru, guinea pigs are a sustainable, easily reared, and tasty source of meat. They take up much less space than other
Andean families keep cuy in their homes to add warmth in the winter, entertain the kids, and even diagnose illnesses, but they simply love to eat them! Usually roasted on a spit and served whole (including the head, teeth and feet) this dish may be a step too far for the squeamish, although you can ask for it to be served without the head. With a flavour somewhere between chicken and rabbit, the meat is surprisingly tasty if cooked well, so be sure to seek out a restaurant with a good reputation to get the best guinea pig!
While we’re talking about cute animals, let’s move on to llamas. Llamas are members of the Camelid family and are used as pack animals as well as for meat and for their coat fibres to make blankets and other material. In Peruvian food, you can find llama served as a steak with a rich sauce, or sometimes in a stew. It tastes lighter than beef, kind of a cross between pork and beef I would say, and it is delicious. There aren’t many countries in the world where you can eat llama, so you have to try it in Peru!
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What to Eat in Peru: Anticucho
Not for the faint-hearted, this is street food at its best. Anticuchos are marinated slices of beef heart, threaded onto skewers and barbecued over an open flame. It makes a delicious, iron-rich snack for the meat lovers out there, but if you’re not sold on the beef heart, you can also find anticuchos of normal chicken or beef meat, although the beef heart is the most traditional.
Palta a la Reina
Avocado is king in Peru, or should I say queen? There are many simple starters made with sliced or halved avocado, the creamy pale green flesh needing little to compliment it. Palta a la Reina, is ‘Avocado, Queen Style’ and usually includes one, or even two, large avocados stuffed with a mixture of shredded chicken, carrot, potato, green beans and mayonnaise. It makes great light lunch or starter for your main meal, and has lots of healthy vitamins too!
Papa a la Huancaina
Of course, the potato is the real king in Peru. This dish originating from Huancayo in the central highlands of Peru, uses the yellow potato as its main ingredient. The potatoes are boiled whole, then sliced and served smothered in a creamy, spicy, cheesy ‘Huancaina’ sauce. Accompanied by lettuce, boiled eggs and black olives, this is a great dish for veggies too.
Aji de Gallina
A scrumptious dish made from shredded chicken in a creamy yellow sauce served with rice, boiled potatoes, and black olives. At first glance, this is very similar to Papa a la Huancaina with chicken – but the secret is in the sauce. The famous aji amarillo (yellow spicy peppers) give the sauce its unique flavour, together with mixed walnuts, milk and cheese. A Peruvian classic and definitely one of the must-try dishes in Peru!
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Arroz Chaufa (Chifa Style)
A whole style of cooking evolved from the mix of Chinese immigrants who came to Peru in the 19th century and started serving up their traditional dishes. Chifa comes from the Mandarin word meaning ‘to eat rice’, and the fusion came from the lack of availability of Chinese ingredients in Peru and the immigrants used what they could find in their dishes. Chaufa is stir-fried rice which combines Chinese and Peruvian flavours, and can be made with beef, chicken, hot dog sausages or a mix of all three!
What to Eat in Peru: Lomo Saltado
This fabulous dish showcases the blend of traditional cuisine with the Chinese stir fry style of cooking. Slices of juicy steak are stir-fried with onions, tomatoes, fresh coriander and aji peppers, and served with chunky chips (fries) and rice on the side, or sometimes all mixed in together. This dish truly has everything and was one of my favourite things to eat in Peru!
Another classic Peruvian food where the potato reigns supreme. In this traditional dish, mashed yellow potato is layered with tuna or chicken, avocado, sometimes other vegetables, and plenty of mayonnaise. Served as a starter or a snack, the key is in its pretty presentation and combination of layers.
Peruvians are definitely fans of stuffing things. Palta (avocado), papa (potato) and rocoto (a kind of spicy bell pepper) are often served stuffed with various delicious fillings. My favourite of these is the rocoto relleno. Traditionally from Arequipa, though also common in Cusco and the rest of Southern Peru, these spicy peppers are served stuffed with a tasty minced meat mixture, and usually deep-fried in batter. Served with rice, potatoes, or perhaps a bit of salad, this is comfort food at its best!
Peruvian Desserts to Eat in Peru
Picarones are rather like Peruvian donuts; round circles of deep-fried deliciousness! The ‘dough’ is actually made with sweet potato and squash before being fried then drizzled with sugarcane syrup. They are often flavoured with orange peel and cinnamon and are easily available in restaurants as well as at street vendors throughout Peru.
Mazamorra Morada is a warm Peruvian gelatin-like dessert, made with purple corn, cinnamon and cloves, and thickened with sweet potato flour. The result is a comforting sweet and warming dessert, perfect for cold weather in Lima. It had a strange consistency for me, but served with arroz con leche (rice pudding) it was delicious.
What to Eat in Peru: Peruvian Chocolate
God knows I don’t need an excuse to eat chocolate, but Peruvian chocolate is some of the best in the world. In fact, it is now thought that the Amazon region between Peru and Ecuador is the origin of cacao, not Mexico as previously believed. Cacaosuyo is a relatively new Peruvian chocolate maker, who won the “Best Origin Milk Chocolate” prize at the Chocolate Week in London in 2015, the Oscars equivalent in the chocolate industry. I tried some and loved it!
Traditional Peruvian Drinks to Try in Peru
Inka Cola is a Peruvian national institution. More popular in Peru than Coca Cola, the American giant bought shares in Inka Cola, as they were worried about the competition! This freakishly yellow, ridiculously sweet fizzy drink is sure to rot your teeth if you drink too much, but to Peruvians, it is sweet, sweet nectar and they drink it like water. If the yellow colour doesn’t put you off, prepare for a taste like bubblegum or cream soda. Be sure to give it a try to get a ‘real’ taste of Peru!
Chicha Morada is a soft drink made with purple corn (like the Mazamorra Morada dessert) which gives it a beautiful blackberry colour. Traditionally made by boiling the corn in water with other fruits, then cooled, it is a refreshing summery drink which you can enjoy any time of year in Peru.
I really wasn’t keen on the idea of a cocktail with egg white in it, but after my first Pisco Sour I was hooked! Pisco is the national Peruvian spirit, made from distilling fermented grape juice. It is rather like a clear brandy, but has a unique flavour, and is quite potent on its on! I had a pisco tasting in Ica, close to the town of Pisco, where the spirit originates, and I definitely prefer it in cocktails! Pisco Sour is made with Pisco, lime juice, sugar syrup, egg white and angostura bitters. They are popular all over Peru, and a Peruvian drink you definitely have to try.
Coca tea is as common in the Andes of Peru as regular tea is in Britain. Coca leaves are completely legal and are often chewed or boiled to make a tea to help relieve altitude sickness in Cusco and the Andes. Drinking the warm leafy tea is extremely comforting on a cold day in Cusco or on the trek to Machu Picchu, or anywhere where you might suffer the effects of altitude in Peru. Don’t worry, coca leaves are completely legal here, as long as you don’t cross international borders with it.
I hope you enjoyed this culinary adventure through the delicious food in Peru. Have you tried other Peruvian foods? Have I missed anything essential out of this Peru food guide? I’d love to hear your thoughts, please leave your comments below.
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