Culinary Peru: 7 Peruvian Specialties You should Try

Category: Peru, Travel Tips & Guides, Food & Drink

The land of the Incas is not only known for its ancient ruins, breathtaking landscapes and fascinating indigenous culture, but also for its fabulous food that is regarded by many as one of best on earth. Peruvian cuisine is getting increasingly popular, so popular that you can even find Peruvian dishes in restaurants across the world. However, to enjoy the most authentic culinary experience, you've got to go to Peru. So here I've picked some of the best Peruvian specialties you surely can't miss on your trip, from the world-famous raw fish ceviche to the Asian fusion of lomo saltado and more.

 

1. Ceviche

A perfect example of fusion food (with indigenous, Hispanic, and Japanese culinary influences), this cool lime-marinated fish is no doubt the most famous Peruvian dish. Taking full advantage of Peru's rich source of seafood brought by the cold Humboldt Current, Peruvian cooks marinade fresh seafood like sea bass, tuna, octopus, and sea urchin in lime juice. The acid in the juice slowly "cooks" the fish, resulting in a delicate flavor. The marinated fish is usually spiced with red onion and aji pepper and served with a wedge of boiled corn and sweet potato. The best way to eat ceviche is to use a spoon as it allows you to keep all the lime marinade in each spoonful of ceviche so that you can get the full flavor of the dish.

CevicheCeviche

Although it is going global, this delicious dish is best enjoyed in its home country as it is rarely exported with authenticity because it requires a special lime that has the perfect acidity. It must lose some of its meaning if tried somewhere else.

Where to try ceviche

This flagship dish is available everywhere in the country from street carts to fancy restaurants, but the best city to find the most delicious ceviche is Lima. There are many amazing cevicherías (ceviche restaurants) in this culinary capital. At Chez Wong in Enrique León García 114, Lima,you can order tailor-made ceviche based on your personal tastes and preferences. If you are traveling on a budget and still want to try quality ceviche, head to Mercado de Surquillo where you'll find colorful stalls that offer cheap and cheerful ceviche.

Tip: Eat ceviche in the morning or afternoon when it's freshest just like the Peruvians do.

 

2. Tiradito

Similar to ceviche, tiradito is also a dish of raw fish. Unlike ceviche, tiradito is fish sliced into thin strips like sashimi (while ceviche consists of cubes of fish) and simply doused with a piquant salsa made from citrus juice and Peruvian yellow pepper before being served (while ceviche is lightly marinated beforehand). The dish is usually garnished with sweet potato and boiled corn.

Lightly marinated, cubed, raw fish could be found in Peru in the 16th century when Spaniards brought lemons. Before that, the Incas marinated fish in salt and fermented corn. The Japanese immigrants who arrived in the 19th century turned the dish into an art form: Fish was cut into sashimi-style slices and a spicy dressing was added.

Where to try tiradito

The best place to try tiradito is Lima where you can find many seafood restaurants that offer this cool mouthwatering dish.

 

3. Lomo saltado (Stir-fried beef)

A classic Chinese-Peruvian dish, lomo saltado is where Chinese cooking techniques meet Peruvian ingredients. Strips of soy-marinated beef, onions, tomatoes, aji peppers and other spices are stir-fried properly in a wok. It's then served with steamed rice and French fries, a perfect mix of East and West, making a hearty meal with different colors, tastes, textures, and flavors.

Almost as popular as ceviche, lomo saltado is an outstanding example of Chinese influenced cuisine which is called chifa in Peru. The Chinese immigrants who arrived in Peru in the late 19th century created this unique style of cuisine using the cooking techniques such as stir-frying they brought from China and the locally available ingredients. Lomo saltado literally means "jumped loin", with "lomo" referring to the cut of meat, and "saltado" referring to the cooking technique stir-frying which involves making the ingredients jump around the wok.

Where to eat lomo saltado

Lomo saltado is such a popular Peruvian dish that you can find it on most menus in Peru.

Read MorePeru, a Foodie's Dream: What You Need to Know About Peruvian Food

 

4. Pachamanca

What do you eat on celebrations? Perhaps cake, turkey, etc. But for the Peruvians, it's all about pachamanca, which is a Quechua word (the language of the indigenous people of Peru) for earth pot. Marinated meat (lamb, mutton, guinea pig, alpaca, etc.), potatoes, and corn are cooked in a big hole dug underground with the aid of heated stones for several hours. The result is a satisfying big meal that can serve up to dozens of people, perfect for a highly social experience, bringing people to enjoy good food together. The meat is a little charred on the outside but moist on the inside and the vegetables are moist and smoky.

Pachamanca is an ancient dish that dates back to the Incas Empire (1438–1533). The preparation of pachamanca has a ritual element. More than just preparing a meal, it's a celebration of life, the food giving fertility and rejuvenation. The Incas believed cooking food underground pays respect to pachamanca, the Incan "Mother Earth" because the food was returned to the earth before being eaten.

Where to try pachamanca

You can find upscale versions of pachamanca at restaurants in Lima. But I highly recommend you try it in the restaurants in Cusco and Sacred Valley for the best experience.

How pachamanca is made

First, dig a hole in the earth and put the blazing hot rocks that have been grilled over fire for about an hour at the bottom of the pit, thus an oven is made. Volcanic rocks are used as a heat source as they can withstand the burning heat without breaking.

Then add the first layer of food that takes longer cooking times such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, Peruvian tubers, and yucca.

The second layer is the meat that has been marinated with garlic, salt and herb.

Next, another layer of rocks is added, and then it's vegetables that need the least time to cook, like corn and fava beans.

Now that all the food is in the pit, it's time to cover. Banana leaves go first, then craft paper, polyester fabric and some cotton fabric. Finally, put soil on top. After one to two hours, all the food is cooked to perfection in this underground oven, and it's time to open the oven and get the food out to enjoy.

7-Day Inca Culture and Machu Picchu Lima - Cusco - Sacred Valley - Ollantaytambo - Aguas Calientes - Cusco - Lima
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5. Quinoa

Long before it was known worldwide as a superfood, quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) played an important part in the diet of the Andean peoples in Peru. Containing all nine essential amino acids, it's amazingly healthy, packed with loads of vitamins and minerals, high in protein and low in carbon hydrate. What's more, it's entirely gluten-free, so it's a tasty substitute for wheat for people with celiac disease. Today, over half of the world's quinoa is grown and produced in Peru. The United Nations even declared 2013 as the "International Year of Quinoa", recognizing the ancestral practices of the Andean people.

There are three types of quinoa — white, red, and black, all cooked the same way. It is highly versatile, perfect for making soup, stews, salad and porridge.

Where to try quinoa

If you visit Lake Titicaca, you can sample a variety of quinoa dishes in the restaurants in Puno.

 

6. Causa (Potato casserole)

Another dish that dates back to pre-Hispanic times, causa is an excellent example of how Peru makes the most of its 4,000+ varieties of potatoes. Denser, waxier yellow potatoes are routinely used to make causa though.

One of Peru's most celebrated potato-based dishes, causa is basically a layered potato cake with fillings that can take on various forms. Generally speaking, it consists of a top and bottom layer of meaty mashed potatoes which are seasoned with lime juice, oil, salt and pepper. It can be layered with many fillings including avocado, hardboiled eggs, shredded tuna, shellfish or chicken that is mixed with mayonnaise. Served cold as an excellent side dish, this bright dish is very appetizing.

Where to try causa

Causa is a famous Peruvian food, so it will be easy for you to find it on the menu of restaurants in Lima or Cusco.

 

7. Cuy (Guinea pig)

Neither pigs nor from Guinea, guinea pigs are native to the Andean highlands of South America where they are called cuy (pronounced "kwee") and were domesticated in Peru as far back as 2500 B.C. according to archeologists. The meat, stuffed with herbs, is usually baked or barbecued on a spit and served whole with the head on. It has spicy, crispy skin and pleasant gamey meat that tastes like rabbit or wild fowl. It's low in fat and cholesterol and higher in protein than chicken, pork, or beef. To eat cuy, simply use your hands just like eating a chicken drumstick. It will be easier to maneuver the tiny bones with your hands.

In the Western world, these little furry rodents are commonly regarded as pocket pets, but in Peru, they are an important source of nutritious food for the indigenous communities of the Andes and have been so for thousands of years, long before they were introduced to Europe and the United States and raised as pets. Guinea pigs were once only eaten on special occasions for ceremonial meals and religious festivals. Folk doctors also used them to diagnose disease. To better understand the importance of cuy in the Peruvian diet, visit Cusco Cathedral. There you can find a replica of Da Vinci's Last Supper that shows Christ and the twelve disciples are dining on cuy.

Cusco CathedralCusco Cathedral

Where to try cuy

Cuy is can be easily found in many restaurants in the Cusco region.

These are just 7 of the best Peruvian dishes you can expect to have on your trip. They may not be your cup of tea, but still, they're worth trying as they are so essential to the Peruvian culinary culture and could be part of your memorable travel experience. Remember that anytime you want to explore Peru or other popular destinations in South America, Asia, Africa and the Middle East, Odynovo can help you create a personalized trip, meeting all your needs and requirements. For any inquiries, please write to .

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