Peru’s eclectic cuisine has recently been earning acknowledgement as one of the worlds finest. Between 2010 and 2012 London went from having just one solitary Peruvian restaurant, to five, with more to come… and as recently as December 2012 Peru won “Best Culinary Destination” at The World Travel Awards. Suddenly, and deservedly, everyone is talking about Peruvian food.
Criolla is the name given to the traditional Peruvian style of cooking (which usually involve meats, particularly chicken or sea food, blended with Peruvian aji chillies, lime juice and red onions and served over rice or potato), however that just skims the surface as the variety, beauty and complexity of the food and flavours any traveller to Peru will be able to experience. At Go Andes we believe the food you eat contributes just as much to any travel experience as the beautiful places you visit, and Peruvian food is as rich and diverse as its wildlife and archaeology.
As a guide to Peruvian food the Go Andes team have summarised our favourite Peruvian dishes and drinks that you will be able to try on any Go Andes Peru holiday experience en route to Machu Picchu.
The icy Humboldt Current that flows through the Pacific Ocean just off Peru’s coast supports one of the world’s most bountiful sources of seafood. If Peru had an official national dish, it would probably be this preparation of raw fish marinated in citrus juice, sliced red onions, chilli, herbs, and served with sweet potato, choclo – large Andean corn similar to sweet corn, or cancha – roasted kernel. Simple ingredients, perfectly blended, producing a dish far greater than the sum of its parts. Don’t be put off by the raw fish – the acid in the citrus juice cooks the fish.
Although we see them as fluffy pets and call them Guinea Pigs, Cuy is a popular protein in Peru, particularly in the rural highland areas where it is an important part of the diet and has been so for hundreds of years. Although most modern travellers try the meat out of curiosity more than anything else, it does in fact have a pleasant mild game flavour and we recommend you give it a try, even if only the once! Various recipes are available, from whole roasted to various casseroles. Our favourite is Picante de Cuy, where the meat is marinated with chillies and spices and barbequed. When you get to Cusco try to spot the replica of Da Vinci’s Last Supper, which shows Jesus and his disciples sitting around a plate cuy.
“Chifa” restaurants serve up a bizarre but incredibly tasty blend of Chinese and Peruvian food. When Chinese immigrants arrived in South America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries they found that they could not find many traditional Chinese ingredients for their cooking, so rather than change their diet they experimented and substituted missing ingredients with similar ingredients from Peru, creating a fusion style of cooking in the process. Incredibly popular now for all Peruvians, particularly in Lima, this may not be fine dining, but Chifa restaurants are ubiquitous, good value for money, tasty, and definitely worth trying out. By far the most popular dish is arroz chaufa, which is a blend of fried rice, vegetables, onions, herbs and often meat.
Possibly Go Andes’ and very probably our traveller’s favourite Peruvian meal. This dish is pretty much a stock item available on nearly every menu in every restaurant throughout Peru. Its origins date back to the “Chifa” style of experimentation, but so popular is this dish (and so tasty) we thought it deserved a section of its own. A blend of sliced beef, onions, fried potatoes, red peppers, tomatoes, soy sauce and a hint of chilli… all served piled high over rice. Irresistible.
Another simple dish, and another that delivers outstanding flavour, impact, and value for money. Chicharrón is loosely translated as fried pork, and although Chicharrón de pollo (chicken variant) and Chicharrón de pescado (fish variant) are available, it is the pork version, simply referred to as Chicharrón, that rightly steals the headlines. Pork is slowly cooked until it becomes juicy and soft, before being fried at a higher temperature until the outside becomes crispy and golden. These gorgeous pork pieces are usually served in a sandwich with sliced sweet potato and red onion, nothing more – why spoil perfection?! So special is this dish that some restaurants keep their recipe secret and serve nothing else.
Lucuma is a native fruit of Peru that has been harvested in the Andean valleys for many hundreds of years. If you visit parts of Northern Peru previously inhabited by the pre-Incan Moche culture, or visit the fabulous Larco Herrera Museum in Lima, you will be able to see examples of lucuma fruit incorporated into ancient pottery and art. The fruit is practically unknown outside of the Andean region due to the precise climate conditions the fruits require to grow, which makes it practically impossible to cultivate anywhere else on Earth (something which Peruvians are very proud about!). The fruit is still incredibly popular throughout Peru today, particularly as an ice cream flavour, giving ice cream a wonderfully fruity yet toffee / custard flavour. It is certainly a dessert delicacy that we highly recommend you try.
Peru is the home of the potato – potatoes have been cultivated in the Peruvian region of the Andes for up to 10,000 years, and it was the Spanish who introduced the potato to the rest of the world after their conquest of the Inca Empire in the 16th century. Even today more than 3000 varieties of potatoes are grown across Peru. Causa is a cold criolla dish, beautiful on the eye, combining pureed yellow Andean potatoes with avocado, a hint of chilli, sliced onions and lime juice. It is also often served with tuna or protein filling.
Originally from the Andean city of Huancayo, papa huancaina is another very traditional potato-based criolla dish. It is very simple and cheap to make yet has delicate flavours and is favoured by Peruvian chefs, a combination that has made this dish incredibly popular across all classes of Peruvian society. The dish consists of boiled potatoes which are sliced and served cold then covered with huancaina sauce, a blend of mild Peruvian aji chillies, milk, cheese, garlic and onion. You will find papa huancaina as a starter in many restaurants on your travels.
Yet another traditional criolla dish featuring Andean potato as its star, papa rellena consists of mashed potato rolled into a ball with spiced minced beef and onions stuffed into the centre then fried. From the outside this appears like a crispy roast potato, but when cut open it has the meaty centre you would expect from a pie! Normally served with a fresh red chilli sauce this is one dish not to be missed.
Probably the most ubiquitous of all Peruvian “street food”, on cold evenings in the highlands of Peru you’ll be hard pushed not to find many people crowded round street-corner barbeque stands that grill these meaty morsels for hungry customers. Anticuchos are essentially kebabs – little pieces of marinated meat grilled over coals – and although many variations are now available it is the traditional beef heart kebabs that are the tastiest and most traditional. Why beef heart…? This is believed to trace back to the days of the Spanish conquests when the Spanish would consume the best cuts of meat and leave the Inca slaves to live off the organs.
Originally from Arequipa, a heavy-weight city of Peruvian cuisine, rocoto relleno is a very popular dish with travellers. Fried minced beef is blended with spices, onion and hard-boiled egg and this whole mixture is then stuffed inside Peruvian rocoto chillies, covered with cheese, and baked whole. Wow! The rocoto chilli is very popular, and used in many Peruvians recipes, but beware... it may resemble a harmless red pepper but it is in fact an incredibly hot chilli (although the heat does diminish upon cooking).
Pollo a la Brasa
Okay, maybe not the most traditional Peruvian dish on our list, and certainly not the healthiest, but we simply had to include this sumptuous feast as our guilty pleasure. Pollo a la Brasa essentially means rotisserie chicken, but that short description doesn’t really do it justice… there’s something so special about the way that Peruvians have mastered the art of cooking a chicken that it will leave you coming back for more. The chickens are marinated and cooked whole on rotating spits over naked charcoal flames so the juices from the chickens constantly baste the ones below it. However it is the marinade that is the key, and the many chain rotisserie chicken restaurants across Lima will not let their recipe slip – trust us, we’ve asked! Thought to be a blend of ingredients including soy sauce, garlic, salt, pepper, cumin, paprika, fresh herbs, wine (and possibly even Coca-Cola!) these delicious chickens are served with fried potatoes, salad, and an equally delicious array of Peruvian sauces, usually including aji amarillo (a delicious mild yellow chilli sauce) and rocoto (a fiery red chilli sauce). If you visit Lima then the best chain restaurants to try are: Norky’s, Roky’s, Pardo’s, La Leña and Hikari, although there are many carbon copy places all across Lima and the rest of Peru. For a true modern-Peruvian family meal experience wash it all down with a bottle of “Inca Kola”, the nuclear-yellow fizzy drink loved across the whole country.
A pre-Incan treat, this ancient drink is still enjoyed through Peru today. Purple Peruvian corn is dried then boiled in water, along with some fruits, sugar, cinnamon and clove, producing a dark purple refreshing and very tasty non-alcoholic traditional drink.
Pisco is a grape-brandy spirit developed by Spanish settlers in the 16th century. Although Chile and Peru both lay claim to being the founding country of the popular traditional drink, it is Peru who have the stronger argument (“Pisco” is a coastal city in Southern Peru), and Peruvians who have adopted the “Pisco Sour” cocktail as their national drink and even celebrate a national public holiday in honour of the cocktail! Pisco Sours are a gorgeous blend of pisco, lime juice, egg white, sugar, Angostura bitters and ice. Although available all across Peru we recommend Hotel Bolivar in central Lima (thought to have the best Pisco Sour in the world!), or one of the bars overlooking Parque Kennedy in the Miraflores district of Lima, to slowly sip, relax, and enjoy. Also worth trying is the Maracuya Sour, a pisco sour made with passion fruit juice instead of lime juice.