Food in Peru
Peruvian cuisine is one of the most varied in the world. Not only does the country grow a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, but it does so all year round. Peru’s geography offers at least 8 different climates (coastal desert, steep and high mountains, Amazon basin). In Lima, because of its history as an important Spanish colonial port, the dishes are a mixture of Amerindian, Spanish, African, Asian and even Italian influences that contribute to the constant evolution of platos criollos (Creole dishes). Rice is the staple food, and it can be assumed that many dishes contain it; in the Siera it is corn and potatoes, and in the jungle it is yuca. Meat is traditionally included in most Peruvian dishes. Chicken (pollo), pork, mutton and beef are common. Alpacas are actually bred for wool, not meat. Most of the time you will find that alpaca meat is quite tough. Guinea pig (cuy) is an Andean delicacy. Peruvian cuisine offers dishes based on different organs, including anticuchos, a skewer of heavily marinated and spiced beef heart, and cau-cau (which looks like a cow), made from beef stomach, served in a yellow sauce with potatoes. Anticuchos are a standard meal in street stalls, but be careful with them.
Fish can be found on the coast (of course), but also in the jungle area, as the rivers provide fresh fish (but beware of pollution in the area known as the high jungle or selva alta, where most of the cocaine is produced and strong chemicals are dumped in the rivers; mining is a small source of pollution in this area). Trout (truchas) are cultivated in several places in the Sierra. A very common fish dish is ceviche, a raw fish prepared by marinating it in lime juice. Popular variations of this dish can also include shellfish and even sea urchins. The exact recipe and method of preparation of ceviche varies from region to region. It is definitely worth trying, especially in summer, but cleanliness and hygiene make all the difference. Be careful when buying from street vendors and remember that it is often served spicy.
Throughout Peru there is a wide variety of dishes made with potatoes (papas as in Spain), the traditional vegetable of the Andes. Papa a la Huancaina is a tasty dish of sliced potatoes and diced hard-boiled eggs, topped with a thin, creamy yellow sauce that usually includes a lettuce leaf and an olive or two. (A similar green sauce, called ocopa, can be served over potatoes or yuca.) Papa rellena is mashed potatoes shaped like potatoes, but with meat, vegetables and another spicy filling in the middle. Aji de gallina is chicken shredded in a thick, spicy cheese sauce over sliced potatoes, often with an olive and a slice of hard-boiled egg. Causa is mashed potatoes topped with tuna or chicken salad with mayonnaise and hot peppers.
Many Peruvian dishes can contain strong spices and be heavy, so if you have a weak stomach, be careful.
Today, the transport routes from the flat areas of the jungle are good enough to supply the whole country with vegetables and fruit. Nevertheless, vegetables still have the status of a side dish to meat. Vegetarian restaurants can be found in all cities, but they are relatively rare. In most areas there is an abundant supply of tropical fruits and freshly squeezed fruit juices.
Locals usually eat in small restaurants or Chinese restaurants (“chifas”) where a menu costs 5-8 soles and includes soup, a selection of main courses and a drink.
Peruvians are quite proud of their desserts, especially in Lima. Try them with caution, as they tend to be extremely sweet and loaded with sugar, egg yolks and similar ingredients. Try mazamorra morada, or purple pudding, made from the same purple corn used in the chicha morada drink; together with arroz con leche (sweetened rice pudding), it is called combinado (combination). Picarones are a type of doughnut, made from fried sweet potato dough and served with chancaca, a very sweet sugarcane syrup. And the sweetest dessert, suspiro a la limeña, is perfect when you need a high-calorie glucose fix. Panetón is a type of sweet bread with dried fruit. It is usually served around Christmas time for breakfast with a cup of hot chocolate. It used to be sold only in large boxes containing giant panetons, but now they sell individual portions. Chocotón is a variant of panetón where the fruit is replaced by chocolate chips. The bread is very light and sweet. As Christmas is the hottest time of the year, people often replace hot chocolate with coffee or a cold drink.
Drinks in Peru
The Pisco-Nazca region is famous for its viticulture. Their most expensive vintages compare favourably with Chilean imports. The beer is good, stronger than American brands but less full-bodied than European ones. Most Peruvian beers are made by Backus, currently owned by SAB Miller.
When drinking in bars and/or restaurants, be aware that Peruvian happy hour is a little different from most countries. Drink prices are usually posted on the walls and are a little cheaper than normal. The real difference is that you get two drinks instead of one at the posted price, which gives new meaning to the phrase “half price”. This can be a great way to save money (if you’re travelling in a group) or to meet locals (if you’re travelling solo). You can also end up accidentally getting completely drunk, so be careful.
- Caliente is a hot alcoholic drink served at celebrations in Andean towns like Tarma. It is actually a herbal tea with white rum to give a boost.
- Chicha de Jora, a cheap traditional alcoholic drink made from corn that is fermented and has a fairly high alcohol content for a non-distilled drink. They are not usually found in formal restaurants and are quite rare in Lima outside the residential areas. Places that sell chicha have a long stick with a coloured plastic bag outside their door.
- Chicha morada, not to be confused with the previous one, is a non-alcoholic drink made from boiled purple corn with added sugar and spices (not lemonade). Quite refreshing, it is widely available and highly recommended. Restaurants serving Peruvian cuisine usually have their fresh broth on the menu; it is also available from street vendors or in restaurants, but be careful with the water. Bottled or canned chicha morada is made from concentrates and is not as pleasant as freshly made chicha.
- Coca tea or Mate de Coca, a tea made from the leaves of the coca plant. It is legal to drink this tea in Peru. It is good for coping with altitude or after a heavy meal. It can be found cold, but is usually served hot.
- You can find many places that serve fresh fruit drinks. Peru has a wide variety of fruits due to its natural diversity, so if you find a good “jugueria”, you have many options to choose from.
- The cities of the Peruvian Amazon also offer typical drinks such as: masato, chuchuhuasi, hidromiel and others.
- Coffee. Peru is the world’s leading producer of organic coffee. Ask for “Cafe Pasado”, the essence obtained by pouring boiling hot water over freshly ground coffee in places like Chanchamayo.
- All Peruvian wines are good value for money. Wines from the Tacama, Ocucaje and Santiago Queirolo brands are the most reliable.
- Emoliente. Another popular drink in Peru, often sold by vendors for 50 cents on the street. It is served hot and tastes like a thick, slimy, but surprisingly refreshing tea – depending, of course, on the herbal and fruit extracts you want to put in. The mixture offered by the seller is usually sufficient, but you are free to choose it yourself. It is usually sold hot and is the usual drink after a party, as a “reconstituyente”, but it can also be drunk cold.
- Inka Kola. The Peruvian equivalent of Coca Cola in the rest of the world, recently bought out by Coca Cola but retaining its unique taste. It is bright yellow and has a unique flavour. It tastes like Hierba Luisa.
- Pisco Sour. An alcoholic drink with an interesting list of ingredients, such as egg whites, which is the main drink in Peru and available in most places. It is made from pisco, a type of Peruvian brandy that is worth trying; it is a strong drink as pisco is a 40+ proof spirit (about 70-80 proof), and the sweet taste can be deceiving. As Chile has registered the Chilean Pisco brand for commercial purposes in some countries, Peruvian producers have decided to defend the designation of origin (Pisco is a very old town in Peru) by being very strict about quality standards. You can be sure that in any brand of pisco produced in Peru, you will find a very high quality product.
Some major cities have their own brand of beer that is difficult to find elsewhere in the country. Cusqueña is one of the most popular beers, while Cristal is known as the beer of Peru, both of which can be found throughout the country.
- Pilsen Callao
- Pilsen Trujillo