Over the last decade Peru has established itself as an equal among the world’s gastronomic superpowers, becoming world-renowned for its proud history of culinary traditions whose richness and diversity are unparalleled virtually anywhere on the globe. It came as no big surprise when three Peruvian restaurants featured on the 2015 list of the world’s 50 best restaurants.
This article is organized according to Peru’s highly distinct cultural regions: Lima, the highlands, the north and south coasts, and the Amazon.
Also Read: 7 Amazing Beaches Near Lima, Peru
One of the things you love most about Peruvian food, and therefore all the places, is its tradition of “popular cookery” – food created by the people, for the people. There is nothing exclusive or fancy about Peru’s culinary traditions, and although the country’s many world-class fine dining chefs have developed the concepts with great results, some of the most rewarding experiences (for those with a stronger stomach) are to be found in the markets and backstreet eateries that only the locals know about.
Peru is getting more and more press for the quality of its cuisine. Although the gastronomic publicity tends to focus on the capital, Lima, culinary adventures await the traveler wherever they go in this country.
It’s not surprising, really. The diverse geographical regions that Peru is known for has led to varied plant and animal life which in turn has led to, not surprisingly, just as much diversity in the cuisine. Each region has its own specialties and, while you can find them elsewhere in the country, there’s nothing like trying a dish in the place that gave birth to it.
Best Dishes to Try
1. Aji de Gallina (Lima)
Chicken in a creamy, slightly spicy and nutty sauce . Served over potatoes, topped by hard boiled egg and with a side of rice.
2. Anticuchos (Lima)
Marinated meat roasted and served on skewers, traditionally made from beef heart (anticuchos de corazon).
3. Arroz con Pato or Pollo (North Coast)
Succulent duck or chicken accompanied by rice and infused with fresh coriander. Originated in the town of Chiclayo.
4. Carapulcra (Highlands/Lima)
Originating in the Andes, this earthy pre-Columbian stew combines pork and sun-dried potatoes with peanuts, aji panca (chilli) and other spices.
5. Causa (Lima)
A dish served cold, often as an appetizer, causa features either tuna fish or chicken (usually) sandwiched in between layers of mashed yellow potato. Typically includes a vegetable layer as well, frequently avocado.
6. Cebiche/Ceviche (Lima/North Coast)
You can’t leave Peru without trying cebiche. Made with fish, shellfish, or a combination of the two, the raw seafood is “cooked” by marinating with lime and mixed with spicy pepper and red onion. Served with choclo (a variety of corn) and sweet potato. This is the quintessential Limeño dish, and considered best eaten at lunchtime.
7. Chicharron (South Coast/Lima)
Unless it specifically says chicken or fish, chicharron is made from pork and typically, at least in a local countryside type of place, is going to be akin to pork rinds. You can find it other places, though, where there is a fair amount of juicy meat left on.
8. Choclo/con Queso (Highlands)
Choclo is a type of corn that looks a bit like sweet corn on steroids. Although not as sweet, it is tasty when served fresh. You will often find it outside tourist areas or sold on buses, usually offered with queso (a slice of Andean cheese).
9. Chupe de Camarones (Lima/Arequipa)
A rich and creamy soup made with large crayfish. Often flavored with huacatay herb from the Andes.
10. Lechon (Highlands/Lima)
Made with suckling pig, this succulent dish is traditionally served with tamales. It is the dish of choice for some holidays, such as the Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, on November 1.
11. Lomo Saltado (Lima)
Think of this as the Peruvian take on Chinese stir-fry with beef, tomatoes, and onions. Served with rice and French fries.
12. Pachamanca (Highlands/South Coast)
Popular in the highlands, this is a style of cooking where meats and vegetables are cooked over pre-heated stones in a hole in the ground. Some restaurants serve this but may need advance notice.
13. Rocoto Relleno (Arequipa)
Spicy red chilli pepper (rocoto) stuffed with ground beef and onion and then baked with cheese on top. A specialty of the Arequipa region.
14. Seco de Cordero or Cabrito (Lima/Arequipa)
Beer-braised lamb or kid stew seasoned with plentiful fresh coriander, chilli and cumin, and accompanied by either yellow potatoes or white beans.
15. Tacu Tacu Lima
A combination of rice and beans mashed together into a thick and creamy paste. Can be accompanied by a steak, fried plantains, seafood sauce, or even a fried egg.
Best Desserts to Try
More typically associated with Argentina, the Peruvian version consists of two soft and crumbly cookies filled with manjar blanco.
17. Arroz con Leche
This is basically a rice pudding (rice with milk) that is frequently served with mazamorra. In San Blas Plaza, in Cusco, you can find this on the street at night.
A pudding made from purple corn, and seasoned with cinnamon, it is especially delicious paired with arroz con leche.
Fried dough, by any other name. Usually from a sweet potato dough and served with miel de chancaca (molasses).
20. Pie de Limon
Peruvian key lime pie, a version of lemon meringue pie.
21. Suspiro Limeño
A type of dulce de leche or caramel pudding, topped by fluffy meringue.
22. Tres Leches
A decadently rich sponge cake, soaked in three types of milk.
23. Turrón de Doña Pepa
This is a sweet, sticky, chewy and crunchy cake made from layers of anise cookie sticks that have been soaked in molasses and topped with colorful candies and sprinkles. Traditionally prepared around the month of October, to coincide with the Señor de Milagros festival in Lima.
Best Beverages to Try
Peru is one of the few countries in the world where the best selling fizzy drink is not Coca Cola.
24. Chicha Morada
A non-alcoholic sweet and refreshing drink made from purple corn.
25. Coca Tea
Made from coca leaves, it really does help adjust to the altitude and is highly recommended for those arriving in the highlands.
26. Craft Beers
The craft beer scene in Peru has exploded, particularly in Lima where there are now about 20 different microbreweries. Barbarian and Sierra Andina are well established brands with different styles from IPA to porter.
Served at practically every other street corner, this is a gloopy herbal tea that Peruvians swear by to warm themselves up during colder months.
The country’s national liquor, pisco is a brandy made from grapes, enjoyed straight or used in cocktails.
29. Pisco Sour
Although there are other classic drinks made from pisco, this is the Peruvian national drink and, therefore, a musttry. You will be offered free ones everywhere but try one at a place that’s known for them so you know you’ve had the real deal.
30. Chicha de Jora
A slightly alcoholic drink made from germinated, fermented corn. It is definitely an acquired taste but worth trying, if only to say you have done so.
Simple and popular cocktail combining pisco with ginger ale, key lime juice and ice. Topped with a dash of Angostura bitters and garnished with a slice of key lime. There are dozens of variations that can be made by macerating different ingredients in the pisco used as a base for the Chilcano, such as fruits, herbs or even spicy chillies.