In the past decade, Peru has solidified its ranking as one of the top foodie destinations in the world. And it’s no one-hit wonder. So numerous and varied are the flavorful dishes of the Andean nation, that a guide to Peruvian food is necessary for first-time visitors. After all, this is a land that not only has coast, mountains, and jungle but a country that pulls influences from ancient indigenous cultures as well as the talented touch of African and Chinese immigrants.
From the national dish of ceviche to lesser-known Nikkei specialties, here’s a round-up of some of the most common dishes you’ll want to try during your private Peru holiday:
Guide to Peruvian Cuisine
– History & Influence of Peruvian Food
There is not a unanimous culture in Peru; instead, the South American country is made up of many customs and traditions. No doubt the variety of past civilizations and even the contemporary lifestyles of Peru have greatly affected Peruvian cuisine. Take a look at the following most common Peruvian food types:
- Andean Cuisine: The Andes mountains are the spine of Peru, stretching from northern Cajamarca to southern Puno. Andean cuisine is characterized by iconic highland ingredients such as potatoes, corn, legumes, salty cheese, and animal meat (especially alpaca and guinea pig, called cuy in Spanish). Traditionally, earthen pots over an open fire were used to cook up hearty stews and soups to warm up on a cold night spent in the high-altitude. Many highland communities continue to preserve this aspect of Peru’s culinary history.
- Chifa: In the late 19th and early 20th century, a wave of Chinese immigrants came to Peru to work plantations and mines. Along with the influx of foreign workers came a new style of cooking and ingredients (mainly ginger and soy sauce). Chifa is a hybrid between Chinese cooking techniques and Peruvian ingredients. Think stir-fried veggies and meats in a wok (try the famed lomo saltado, which features steak strips) and fried rice (known as chaufa). The word chifa actually comes from the Cantonese expression meaning “to eat rice”or “have you eaten yet.” Chifa restaurants are prolific in Lima and are especially popular with families on Sundays.
- Nikkei: Similar to Chifa, Nikkei is a combination of Japanese and Peruvian culinary prowess. According to NACLA (North American Congress on Latin America), people of Japanese descent form one of Peru’s largest immigrant-descended ethnic groups, as the nation saw an influx of Japanese immigrants arrive in the late 19th century. Traditional and delicate Japanese preparations of fresh fish are combined with Peruvian ingredients, such as aji peppers and limes. Today, one of the world’s top 10 restaurants is the nikkei stand-out, Maido, located in Lima.
- Amazonian: The biodiversity of eastern Peru is owed to the lush Amazon rainforest. Staples of Amazonian cuisine include salted pork (cecina), fish, plantains, palm heart (chonta), and countless varieties of exotic fruit. Juanes are sold throughout the jungle and are convenient packages of rice and chicken wrapped and steamed in banana leaves (the fish version is called patarashca). A guide to Peruvian food wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Amazonian fruits such as aguaje, camu camu and cocona.
- Novo-Andean: It’s no secret that Peruvian restaurants have taken a handful of spots in the international ranking of top restaurants. Quite a few of the top chefs are reclaiming Peru’s pre-Hispanic culinary traditions, and in pursuit of doing so have brought to the forefront once-overlooked indigenous ingredients (think quinoa, colorful tubers, and superfood roots like maca). Such edible recovery, combined with techniques of international kitchens, has resulted in the Novo-Andean cuisine that critics and foodies alike crave.
– Popular Peruvian Dishes by Region
Peru’s diverse geography greatly influences the crops that grow in each region and, consequently, the menu of regional dishes. From the breezy coast to high-altitude mountains and the lush rainforest, Peru is a playground for creative chefs. This section of our guide to Peru cuisine includes some of the top dishes found in each region of Peru.
- Ceviche: raw fish soaked in copious amounts of lime juice – the citric acid acting in much the same manner as applying heat would, turning the flesh opaque and firm – along with sliced onion and aji pepper. With a glass of cold beer of chicha morada (the purple corn drink), ceviche is the quintessential summertime dish!
- Tiradito: A staple of Nikkei gastronomy, tiradito is sometimes referred to as “Japanese ceviche,” though locals will tell you they are quite distinct. Thin, sashimi-style slices of fish are laid out in a single layer and swathed in a spicy citrus sauce immediately before it is served (as opposed to the brief marination that takes place with ceviche). A simplified and lighter version of ceviche, tiradito makes for a great starter to a sunny day’s lunch.
- Parihuela: Originating from the fishing villages of Peru, parihuela is a hearty seafood stew that shows off the variety of marine life found along the nation’s coast. Shellfish like clams, mussels, and shrimp are simmered in a savory broth alongside cuts of squid and firm white fish. Aji panca, a Peruvian chili pepper, gives this soup its signature spice and comfort food factor. Don’t forget to top your steaming bowl of parihuela with a handful of cilantro and a squeeze of lime!
- Papa rellena: Featuring papa amarilla (yellow potato), one of the 4,000 potato varieties found in Peru, this is a great savory snack. The potato is first boiled then mashed and formed into a sphere. Stuffed with meat and veggies, the potato is then fried so as to create a crispy outside protecting a soft center.
- Pachamanca: An experiential dish that dates back to the Incas, Pachamanca is a hearty meal cooked under the earth’s surface. In the Quechua language “pacha” means earth and “manca” pot. A variety of meats, potatoes, and herbs are cooked for several hours upon hot stones buried underground.
- Cuy chactado: A literal taste of culture shock, this dish features cooked guinea pig, a source of protein in the Peruvian Andes for over 5,000 years. In the case of cuy chactado, the South American rodent is flattened and fried before it is plated next to rice, potatoes, and corn. Some describe the taste of guinea pig as similar to that of rabbit or duck.
- Choclo con queso: Peru’s Sacred Valley is synonymous with the large-kernelled corn that finds its way into many of the nation’s most popular stews, soups, and even rice dishes. In its simplest form, boiled under tender, the corn pairs perfectly with salty Andean cheese.
- Chicha de jora: An alcoholic beverage beloved by locals and preserved since the time of the Incas, chicha de jora is made from fermented corn. Served in huge glasses, just be sure to pour out a splash for pachamama (Mother Earth) as the locals do!
- Tacacho con cecina: Fried plantain balls often with bits of smoked pork for added salt, tacachos make for a handy snack and are often served on the side of main dishes in the jungle.
- Juane: One of the most typical dishes of Peru’s jungle, juane is a leaf-wrapped parcel of steamed rice, egg, sliced chicken, and olives. This tradition likely dates back to pre-Hispanic times.
Savor Peru’s Culinary Treasures With Kuoda
These dishes are a must-try on your personalized trip to Peru. Combining the best of luxury travel in Peru with the country’s most tantalizing flavors, our culinary tours are an engaging experience. Be whisked away to one of the world’s top 50 restaurants to savor the plates and stories that have wowed international critics and will surely be a highlight of your Peru adventure. As well, you can have your gastronomic experiences tailor-made to your taste and preference.
Contact a Kuoda travel designer today to discuss this trip and other exclusive tours of Peru.