In our last post we introduced you to some of the traditional dishes you must try while in Peru. But every delicious dish has to be accompanied by an equally awesome drink! Once again, you are in for a treat. Peru offers a variety of drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, which are unique to this area and are definitely a must-try. Here is my personal list of traditional Peruvian drinks:
We’ll start with a drink that is not only a healthy one, but it will help you against one of the most unpleasant feelings you will experience in Peru: altitude sickness.
Yes, coca leaves have been used to combat the symptoms of the altitude sickness for centuries. To chew coca leaves became so deeply engraved in the Peruvian culture, it became a sacred ritual, not merely a tradition. No meeting, no negotiation takes place without coca leaves.
To chew coca leaves correctly, you must take a healthy bunch of them and clean them from their stems. Then roll them around a piece of raw stevia. In raw form, this natural sweetener looks like a black piece of licorice. Its sugar helps release the alkaloids and strengthen the healing properties of coca. Lastly, put it all behind your cheek. Do not actually chew it, just suck on it. In about five minutes your cheek will go numb: this is the sign that the leaves are working.
To make it easier for tourists, Peruvians make coca leaves into coca candy and sell it on the streets. I didn’t really feel any effect from coca candy, but I did like its herbal flavor. However, if you are in La Paz, Bolivia, you should go to the Museo de Coca and try the coca candy they sell there. Your cheek will go numb, so it’s the real deal!
And of course, coca leaves are used to make coca tea. Pretty much every hotel in the Andes offers it free of charge. Just stuff your cup with dried coca leaves, pour some hot water over them and let the mixture sit for a while. You can add stevia or sugar to taste. The result is a soothing aromatic beverage similar to green tea. You won’t get high from drinking it. But it definitely helps against altitude sickness, calms your nerves and just makes you feel great! Also, it is frequently cold and rainy in the mountains, so a cup of hot coca tea will most surely be just right to warm you up and make you happy.
On a cold and rainy day, there is another non-alcoholic drink that will instantly make you feel warm and cozy. Have a glass of emoliente. This is a truly unique concoction of herbs, such as barley, flax seed, horsetail, aloe vera and others, brewed into hot deliciousness. The taste is fruity and slightly spicy, and the texture is rather thick, almost like liquid jelly! Because of all the herbs, Emoliente has medicinal powers, so if you feel that you are starting to catch a cold, it will be perfect for you!
When you want to party in Peru, nothing is better than the No. 1 Peruvian cocktail: Pisco Sour. The base liquor in this refreshing beverage is Pisco: a sort of brandy, distilled out of muscat grapes. The main thing to remember for making Pisco Sour is the relationship of its ingridients: 3-1-1-1. For three shots of Pisco in a shaker, add one shot of simple syrup, one shot of lime juice and one egg white. Of course, you can adjust these ingredients to taste, especially if three shots of liquor seems too much.
Then shake vigorously! This step is very important because it creates delicious egg foam on top. At the end, throw three dashes of Angostura bitters. I usually add more, because I love bitters!
If you become bored with drinking Pisco Sour every day (and you WILL drink it a lot, haha!), try some varieties, such as Maracuja Sour, with passion fruit juice instead of lime. And if you visit Colca Canyon, do not miss a chance to try Colca Sour, with the juice of a local cactus fruit called Zancallo.
Remember cream soda? This is what came to mind when I first tried Inca Kola. What gives this golden-colored drink its sweet and fruity taste is its main ingredient: lemon verbena. It also contains some caffeine and yes… a lot of sugar!
Despite being rather sweet, it’s very refreshing and goes great with snacks, for example, Peruvian toasted corn called Cancha.
Peruvians love their purple corn. They use it to make numerous things, like sauces, jellies, and, of course, beverages. One of the popular drinks in Peru is chicha morada. It is a non-alcoholic drink, so purple corn (maiz morado) is not fermented, but simply boiled with spices, such as cinnamon or cloves. Some people add lemon or lime juice, sugar and small pieces of apple or pineapple on top, as garnish.
Chicha morada reminded me a little bit of hibiscus tea, but a lot richer and thicker. It’s highly satisfying and refreshing, rich in vitamins and antioxidants. Definitely great for your health!
Chicha de Jora
Want to try something cool instead of regular beer? Chicha de jora is a traditional Peruvian alcoholic drink, made out of fermented jora corn. It is yellowish in color and reminded me of unfiltered beer. In Peru, it has been around for centuries. Inca used chicha de jora for rituals and celebrations.
Interesting fact: traditionally, only women are allowed to make chicha and they learn this skill in special schools.
Even now, native communities make their own chicha de jora and sell it in so-called “chicherias”, small family-run taverns. You can typically recognize them by a red flag on a stick, placed near the door. Even though they say that the best chicha can only be found in remote mountain villages, tourists still have a chance to try it in cities. For example, Cusco has several chicherias. They are mostly unmarked, so they do not have a traditional red flag, but you can easily find them online!
If you are in the mood for a delicious “liquid dessert”, search no more. Skip a chocolate martini and order an Algarrobina cocktail instead. Algarrobina is a syrup that is extracted out of the Black Carob (Algarrobo) tree. It resembles molasses or “chocolate with a hint of caramel”. Mix it with Pisco, evaporated milk, an egg yolk and some ground cinnamon, and you will end up with a wonderful dessert cocktail that can satisfy any sweet tooth: rich, creamy, smooth… and oh so yummy!
These are not the only traditional drinks available in Peru. I could probably write a separate article about Peruvian beers, for example! But I thought that the above choices really reflect that uniqueness and variety of Peruvian beverages, from hot to cold, from alcoholic to non-alcoholic…
You don’t have to travel to Peru to try traditional Peruvian drinks. Nowadays, with a lot of international stores all over the world and online ordering opportunities, you will probably be able to buy them, no matter where you are in the world. But even though you can find them if you make an effort, you will not see them readily available in restaurants and stores.
The most perfect place to enjoy them is in their native country, where they were created and perfected for centuries. You will not find this experience anywhere else in the world… So if you are in Peru, don’t miss this chance and try them all!
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