There is one thing everyone who comes back from Peru agrees on: the Peruvian cuisine is one of the greatest in the world! But the fact is that somehow it is not very widely known. When I mentioned how delicious the food was, many of my friends couldn’t name any Peruvian dish. Well, perhaps, ceviche, but that was it…
So I’d like to introduce you to my top ten traditional (and unique!) Peruvian foods, so if you visit this beautiful country in the future, you know exactly what to try!
Ceviche is the most known Peruvian dish around the world (though many people who eat it don’t even know it comes from Peru!) Typically, ceviche is made out of raw fish that is cured in a lemon-based marinade called Leche de Tigre (Tiger’s Milk). Even though the fish is raw, it’s not like sushi at all. When you prepare it this way, the fish becomes white as if it were cooked. Surprisingly, it also tastes like it’s cooked! It is mixed with chopped onions, peppers and spices. In Peru, it usually comes with a slice of sweet potato and giant corn.
Even though traditional ceviche is made with fish, there are some delicious varieties with sea food. They say, in some regions the locals even prepare chicken ceviche! I don’t think I would want to try it, though. Fish ceviche is, however, one of my most favorite things in the whole world and we had it almost every day in Lima!
9. Rocoto Relleno
Another Peruvian specialty, Rocoto Relleno, originates in Arequipa. We found it to be a perfect dish for lunch. Rocoto Relleno is basically a stuffed Rocoto pepper, which looks like a bell pepper, but is a lot spicier! The locals have to cook the peppers first to remove as much heat as possible. Then they stuff them with beef, chopped veggies and melted cheese and bake. It’s typically served with potatoes au gratin. When we tried Rocoto Relleno for the first time, we didn’t know that Rocoto peppers were ten times spicier than jalapeños! Our peppers were prepared the way that they had just a touch of heat, just the right amount. So don’t be afraid to taste this amazing culinary delight, the locals do know how to cook it!
8. Cancha (Peruvian Toasted Corn Snack)
Whenever you go out to eat, your server will put this on your table first. Cancha is large-kernel “Chulpe” corn, slightly salted and toasted to perfection. It is also a great accompaniment to Peruvian beers! This crunchy snack is so addictive, you will find it difficult to put down!
7. Anticuchos de Corazon (Peruvian Beef Hearts)
Peruvian beef hearts skewers are generally offered as an appetizer, but the dish was big enough for the whole meal! For both of us! It’s a popular Peruvian dish and I have never had a beef heart that was tastier!
Generously marinated and then grilled to perfection, these kebobs are not only delicious, but also incredibly nutritious and healthy. Even if you don’t generally like organ meat, please keep an open mind and try Anticuchos de Corazon. They are awesome.
Anticuchos de Corazon are typically served with French fries, corn, potatoes and Peruvian sauces such as aji amarillo or aji panca paste.
6. Stuffed Avocado
Right next to Rocoto Relleno, this simple, but delicious and healthy appetizer is very popular in Peru. You will need a good size avocado, cut in half. On top of each half, Peruvians place a scoop of savory salad. I have seen several varieties, from quinoa and shrimp salad to chicken and potato salad. Whatever the stuffing is, this dish is light, but highly satisfying!
5. Arroz Chaufa
Chaufa is Peruvian fried rice, inspired by Chinese immigrants and you will find it in pretty much every restaurant. Chaufa may contain any kind of meat (chicken, pork, seafood…), chopped veggies and hard-boiled or scrambled eggs. It’s a perfect way to use leftovers and I can imagine chaufa gets cooked a lot at home! Add some Peruvian spices and sauces and you’ll get an authentic dish that is very inexpensive, but very filling and utterly delicious!
4. Lomo Saltado
Lomo Saltado is popular not only in South America, but it is also widely spread in Central America, including Mexico and Guatemala (I tried their versions as well!) It is a Peruvian stir-fry that consists of marinated sirloin pieces with strips of onions, peppers, tomatoes, herbs and optional French fries with rice on the side. It’s a classic dish you can’t go wrong with.
Once you move inland, you won’t see so much ceviche in the restaurants. “Fruits of the sea” are getting replaced by “fruits of the land”. It was in Arequipa where we first saw llama and alpaca on the menu. At first Michael was not sure if he wanted to eat a “cutie animal” (imagine him when we finally decided to have guinea pig! haha). However we do love and eat lamb, so how much different can it be? The meat did taste a bit like lamb, but I found it a lot leaner.
Our alpaca dish came with multicolored quinoa and purple corn jelly, so the sweetness of the jelly paired really well with the alpaca tenderloin. It was very, very good.
2. Queso Helado
Even though the name suggests it, Queso Helado has nothing to do with frozen cheese! It is actually a Peruvian soft-serve ice cream. With hints of almond, coconut and vanilla, this creamy and buttery delight is simply yellowish in color, hence the comparison with cheese. Before ordering it, I thought: “well, it’s just ice cream”. But after putting the first spoon into my mouth, I realized that this ice cream has one of the most divine flavors I’ve ever tasted. No wonder it became so popular among the locals and tourists alike!
1. Cuy (Roasted Guinea Pig)
And the winner of our top 10 is… of course… the guinea pig! I always want to try all kinds of exotic foods, but I had to do some work on Michael, trying to convince him to “eat a hamster”😁! But how can you come back from Peru without having tried their national dish that goes back as far as 5000 BC? Even Peruvian version of the famous “Last Supper” painting in Cusco features a roasted guinea pig on Jesus’ table!
A guinea pig, or “cuy” as it is called locally, is served whole and considered an extreme delicacy. Peruvians normally eat it during special occasions and celebrations. Typically, they deep-fry cuy in Arequipa and roast it in Cusco, although nowadays you can order it either way anywhere.
We chose to have it roasted and had to order it at least an hour in advance. When we finally sat at the table, the server brought us the whole animal, with eyes, teeth and all, wearing a small Peruvian hat! Thankfully, after we had some photos, the server took it back and cut it into pieces, so it was easy to eat.
Surprisingly, the meat was very tasty, although a bit too fat for my liking. It reminded me a little bit of duck meat, somewhat dark and gamy and a bit sweet at the same time. There was not too much of it on the bones, so very soon only a small skeleton was left on the plate. Even though we probably won’t be eating it again soon, we don’t regret having tried it at all. It was an authentic Peruvian experience and I recommend everyone to do it at least once!
All in all, the food in Peru was awesome. And even though a regular tourist might not be too familiar with the Peruvian cuisine, there is no wonder the country received the World Travel Award as the World’s Leading Culinary Destination for eight years in a row since 2012! Their spices and unique sauces, smart use of hot peppers and different sorts of potatoes and corn, variety of seafood and exotic meats won’t leave your taste buds unsatisfied.
However, now it needs to be said that that good food always requires an equally good drink! So, stay with me to get acquainted with some traditional Peruvian drinks!
Some of the Restaurants Whose Food is Featured in this Article:
El Parquetito, Lima
Karamba Restobar, Paracas
Victoria – Picanteria Democratica, Arequipa
Limbus Restobar, Cusco
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