Is there nothing trendier right now than Peruvian food? There seems to be a new, hip Peruvian restaurant everywhere I turn and a travel show covering the cuisine on every channel. After backpacking my way around the South American country for nearly a month (including home-cooked meals from my host family), I grew to love the bold and interesting flavors of the Andes. Most travelers come to Peru knowing about Pisco Sours, Lomo Saltado, and even the fried guinea pig, but these dishes are not to be missed when visiting the land of the Incas.
Choclo is a large, starchy cousin of corn that is a Peruvian staple. Whether it’s eaten off the cob, steamed, or toasted, many Peruvian meals with include some variation of choclo. It’s also a popular street food, straight off the cob!
Did you know ceviche is the unofficial national dish of Peru? Many other countries claim ceviche as their own (my Mexican friends would hotly debate its origins), but no one is denying that Peru makes an awesome variation. The seafood in Peru is excellent due to the cold currents that flow from the Northern Pacific ocean and when the fish is mixed with a lime juice marinade, the proteins are “cooked” without heat. It’s science! (No, for real, it is. Check it out.)
Arroz con Mariscos
Probably my absolute favorite food find when I was in Lima was Arroz con Moriscos, or rice with seafood. One could say it was basically a rice and seafood stirfry, but it’s honestly so much more. The spices–including lime, cumin, and chili paste–are what gives this dish a serious kick and cause you to sweat (always a goal of mine when eating, honestly).
Potatoes and Peru are synonymous, there’s just no way around it. The spuds originated in the civilizations that lived in the Peruvian Andes Mountain range many moons ago and the people of Peru today are still getting creative with the potato. Causo is a layered dish of potato, avocado, egg, mayo, tuna, and chopped veggies that’s served cold and often sold by street food hawkers in Lima and Cusco. Who said potatoes were boring?!
Empanadas may not hail from South America (Europe holds that title), it has been improved upon in Peru. The meat-filled puff pastry is a common street food offering and the usual go-to afternoon snack. Most empanadas in Peru are filled with chicken or beef, but can even be stuffed with alpaca (llama) meat.
Did you know that many Asians immigrated to Peru in the early 1900’s? Chinese and Japanese immigrants found their way to the South American country and brought along their amazing cuisine, which became an immediate hit in large cities like Lima. The Chinese flavors mixed with traditional Peruvian cooking styles and the end result is called Chifa, or a Chinese-Peruvian fusion. Chifa restaurants are so popular that some people have totaled their numbers at 6000 in Lima alone, and they are spreading to other countries like Ecuador and Chile.
Choritos a la Chaluca
Choritos a la chalaca, or steamed mussels with vegetables. These quick bites are served as an appetizer and have a spicy kick due to the rococo pepper on top. The liquid is also sometimes mixed with liquor and drank as a shot.
Aji de Gallina
If you are served a meal in a Peruvian home then changes are it will be this dish. The sauce is the main event here and is usually made with cheese, condensed milk, bread crumbs, and an aji pepper that gives it its yellow color. Usually added to chicken and rice, this is the quintessential Peruvian meal.
Mate de Coca (Coca Tea)
The controversial mate de coca, or coca tea. This traditional tea is made from the coca leaves–yes, the same plant that cocaine is made from. The mate is popular in Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Argentina and is commonly pushed as a cure for altitude sickness in the Andes. The mate is a mild stimulant and can be ‘decoca-nized’, similar to how traditional tea is decaffeinated but it continues to be a source of much debate in the countries where it is popular. And don’t try to bring it back on the plane–many countries have outlawed the drink because of the plant’s other uses.
All. The. Desserts.
How could I choose just one dessert? The bakeries of Peru are filled with beautiful-looking breads and pastries, and featured cakes that blew my mind (seriously, I once saw a beer can baked into a cake. I’m not kidding.).