The cuisine of Peru is very diverse. So much so, that some books have cited up to more than 450 typical dishes. Obviously, here we will not talk about all those dishes, but we will talk a little about the roots and some of the dishes that, from my humble experience, what I have been informed by my Peruvian friends and what I have investigated may be the most popular ones.
Peruvian cuisine, in addition to the Creole mix that it is nowadays – mostly indigenous and Spanish contributions, but also African (slaves), French (fleeing the revolution in their country), and Chinese and Japanese (who immigrated in the second half of the XIX century) –, is fashionable and is gaining more and more followers at the international level. So much so that in recent years it has received several international awards. Today it is considered one of the best cuisines in the world, especially for that variety that characterizes it. The multiple cultural contributions – flavors from the four continents in a single country – and the particularity of the geography of Peru – three different geographical regions: coast, mountains and jungle – have contributed different dishes to the cuisine of the country of the Incas. On the coast, fish and seafood are widely used, while tubers and meats (beef, pork, guinea pig, chicken) are very popular in the Andes. As for the jungle, they also eat wildlife such as tapirs, armadillos and even some monkey species.
However, in each of these three Peruvian worlds the flavors are infinite. I ate this delicious fish in the jungle (north)
As in other neighboring countries, it is very common to eat on the street, because it is so good and because it is for all budgets. Bueno, bonito y barato (delicious, nice and cheap). In the street people usually order the menu of the day, which includes soup and a second dish (usually, a piece of meat, rice and salad), plus the drink and sometimes the dessert. But if you go to a restaurant you can try more varied and elaborate recipes, some of which I will now describe. Let's start with the drinks.
Note: the videos shown in this post are in Spanish.
(GOOD) MORNING DRINKS
Peruvians have breakfast in the best possible way: strong and healthy. The avocado sandwich or egg and the bowl of fruit, is usually taken along with a powerful and energetic drink, whose base food comes fresh from the Peruvian mountains. Among these foods include maca (root), kiwicha (amaranth), and quinoa.
These drinks give you strength for the whole morning. You can also see on the right a box with the typical “sandwichitos”, which can be made of cheese, avocado, egg...
Quinua is possibly the most popular in the mornings. It is a cereal native to the Peruvian and Bolivian Andes with many properties both in terms of nutrition and medicine and which is widely used in the gastronomy of both countries. Do not miss out how they prepare it as a breakfast drink:
JUICES AND SMOOTHIES
There is a lot of variety of fruits (and vegetables) and its quality is amazing, so some juices and smoothies are mandatory in your visit to Peru. Also, they are cheap and you can try as many as you want.
This mythical drink of the Andean people, which is made from fermented corn, has different versions. In Peru, the most popular are:
Chicha de jora: it is the traditional way, prepared since the time of the Incas. It is made through the fermentation of germinated corn. It is alcoholic.
Chicha morada (purple): prepared with boiled purple corn, which once cold, you can add drops of lemon, sugar, ice, pieces of pineapple, quince or cinnamon (to the consumer’s taste). It is a refreshing drink (not alcoholic), very popular among adults and children to accompany meals, socially, at parties... Although the best is to try a homemade one in any food stall (or from any lady who prepares it in any corner, square or mountain), there are also commercialized versions. Watch the video of the recipe:
Other forms of chicha existing in the country are chicha arequipeña, chicha de maní (peanut), chicha de qiwicha (amaranth) and chicha loretana.
MATE DE COCA (COCA MATE/TEA)
Infusion or tea of coca leaves that is highly consumed in the Andean regions, especially in Peru and Bolivia. This plant, which has a symbolic value and is deeply rooted in this culture (it is a millenary drink that many native groups have been using for centuries for medicinal and religious purposes, among others) has several effects. As a good tea it is, it has stimulating properties, but also serves to combat hunger, provide strength and cure the soroche or altitude sickness (mountain sickness). The latter is a good remedy for all travelers who have just arrived in such an elevated area (many times higher than 4500 and 5000 meters). Despite its stigmatization abroad, especially in the US, the plant itself is neither toxic nor harmful (quite the opposite as we just said), and the sale and consumption of coca leaves is legal in Peru, Colombia, Bolivia and the North of Argentina.
PISCO (AND PISCO SOUR)
Although it is a liquor also claimed by Chileans, pisco is neither more nor less than the national drink of Peru. Regardless of the origin, the truth is that this drink, a grape brandy, is very popular in both countries and in each of them is prepared with different varieties of grapes. In Peru there are the following eight local grape varieties: Quebranta, Uvina, Mollar, Negra Criolla, Italy, Albilla, Moscatel and Torontel. There are four varieties of Peruvian Pisco: Pure, Green Mosto, Acholado and Aromatic. And if in Chile they mixed it with coca cola to make Piscola, in Peru they were not going to stand idly by... But in this case the mixture is with lime, resulting in the Pisco Sour!
It is an ancestral alcoholic beverage in the Peruvian jungle, and South American jungle in general. It is made of the fermentation of yucca, previously chewed.
TAMALES AND HUMITAS
These typical dishes of the Andean countries (especially Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador, but we can also find them in the north of Argentina and Chile) consist of masses of corn lightly seasoned, wrapped and cooked in the own leaves of corn. Some differences 1) While the humita is usually fresh corn, grated and crushed in the mortar, the tamale is usually made with corn flour. 2) Tamales may contain other ingredients (including meats), and may be wrapped in leaves of other plants (such as banana, avocado, bijao or maguey) during cooking. Learn to cook humitas with this video:
The juane is one of the main typical dishes of the Peruvian jungle gastronomy, especially in Tarapoto and Moyobamba. It is very consumed during the festival of San Juan that is celebrated on June 24. Basically, they are a series of foods - rice, chicken meat, olives, boiled egg, spices - wrapped in a leaf of bijao (a plant that grows in the American tropics) and ready to boil. There are different types of juanes, some of which have yucca, beans... Before wrapping in the leaves, you must mix the mixture with a mixture of beaten eggs to be able to achieve the union of the food.
A juane that I ate near Boca Manu
CHOCLO CON QUESO (CORN WITH CHEESE)
One of my favorites for its taste and authenticity. The corn is boiled in water with sugar and anise, then eaten with cheese. But real cheese, 100 x 100 homemade (usually using alpaca or sheep's milk).
ROCOTO RELLENO (STUFFED HOT PEPPER)
It was created in Arequipa, where you can find it in any restaurant. It is prepared using a rocoto, a chili-like fruit, as a base, and a filling of minced meat is placed inside it along with other ingredients. It has a flavor between spicy and sweet.
PAPA A LA HUANCAÍNA (POTATOES HUANCAYO STYLE)
Without a doubt, one of the most delicious and easy to prepare dishes. This classic Peruvian starter, typical of the coast and the central highlands, is very popular during the holidays. It consists of a base of sliced yellow potatoes covered with a mixture of chili, milk and bread. The original dish is prepared with a batán (a lytic utensil to grind food used in Peru and Bolivia), but now has been replaced by the blender. It is presented with boiled egg and olive on the top. Here is the recipe:
Skewers of meat (the original is beef hearts) seasoned in a special way in ají panca (a type of chile). It is part of the family barbecue accompanied by corn, potatoes, hot peppers and chicha morada or chicha de jora.
The South American palm weevil, Rhynchophorus palmarum, is a species of snout beetle which, in its larval or worm phase, is found in some species of palms and coconut trees, such as Maximiliana maripa (cucurito), Jessenia bataua (seje) and Mauritia flexuosa (moriche or aguaje) causing real havoc in these plantations. The inhabitants of the Amazon feed on them who, in addition to obtaining a wonderful source of nutrients (proteins, vitamins A and E and minerals), they help alleviate these pests with their search and intake. It is usually eaten as an anticucho or brocheta.
Slimy, yet satisfying!
This dish of fish (or seafood) macerated in lemon is part of the culinary of various Latin American countries with access to the Pacific Ocean, although only in Peru is considered a Cultural Heritage. In each place it is prepared in a different way, but only one thing is true: they all are very good. In Peru, fish usually comes with onions, yucca, potatoes, corn, canchita (toasted corn), cilantro and chili. You can order a fish ceviche, a seafood ceviche (shrimp, octopus…) or a mixed one.
One of the most delicious dishes of Peruvian cuisine
TROUT (Lake Titicaca)
A delicious fish that abounds in the highest navigable lake in the world.
OLLUQUITO CON CHARQUI
This recipe contains several exclusively Peruvian ingredients: olluco (a type of potato that grows in the Andes) and charqui (dry llama or alpaca meat).
CUY (GUINEA PIG)
The first time I saw it I was surprised: a guinea pig inserted in a stick rotating on its own axis over the embers. But, although some may be surprised that they eat it ("but how come? It is a domestic animal!"), this rodent was already part of the diet of the men and women who inhabited these lands more than 7000 years ago, when it was domesticated (to eat it, among other things).This rodent from the Andes is considered a delicacy in the region and is given a very important nutritional value (it contains many proteins, omega 3 and is fat-free). There are several ways to prepare it. Two of them are: Picante de cuy (in which the juicy and aromatic homemade sauce stands out) and Cuy chactao or chactado (typical in the region of Arequipa, fried under a stone with plenty of oil and presented the entire animal in the plate). The guinea pig is usually accompanied with boiled potatoes and corn.
POLLO A LA BRASA (GRILLED CHICKEN)
The fact that everyone likes it and that it is cheap makes it the most popular dish in Peru. The marinated chicken meat rotates on its own axis while baking in the heat of the coals in a furnace.
AJÍ DE GALLINA
Chicken meat crumbled into strips and mixed with a preparation based on broth, green chili, milk and bread (looks like a puree). It is served on yellow potatoes and rice and, finally, it is decorated with boiled egg and olive on top. This dish is very common also in Bolivia. Learn how to make it!
PICANTE DE POLLO
Elaborate recipe using chicken thighs, pepper, onion, oil, condiments, peas, chicken broth… Served with rice.
PACHAMANCA O CHULAMANCA
Beef, pork, chicken and guinea pig meat previously seasoned with ingredients such as chincho (andean plant), huacatay (or Peruvian mint), chili, cumin, pepper and other spices. The uniqueness of this native dish lies in the way of cooking it: the meats are cooked with the warmth of preheated stones, along with other Andean products, such as potatoes, sweet potato, corn, pod bean and cassava. Beyond a meal, it is a community ritual in the Andes. The term "Pachamanca" comes from the Quechua pacha, "earth" and manka, "pot"; so it would come to mean "pot of earth"; but it should be specified that in the Aymara language the term manca means "food", so an alternative meaning is "food of the earth".
It is not a dish as such, but a term used in Peru to refer to the cuisine that emerged from the fusion between Peruvian food and that of Chinese immigrants, mainly from the Canton area. There are many Chifa restaurants in major cities. Some of the best known dishes are: chaufa rice, sopa wantán (wonton soup), tallarín saltado (noodles), aeropuerto (airport), chicken chijaukai and (the most popular) lomo saltado.
Typically combines marinated strips of sirloin (or other beef steak) with salt, pepper, cumin, onion, garlic, green chili, red or white vinegar, tomato, parsley, french fries, oil. It is served with rice.
And now let's go to the kitchen to make these and other recipes! You can start with this website to learn a bit of Peruvian cuisine: http://acomer.pe/
Or with a YouTube channel, like this one: