When the Spanish came to Peru in the 16th century, two very different cooking styles were introduced to one another. The Peruvians had ample Andean ingredients, including potatoes, sweet corn, seafood, avocados, tomatoes, peanuts, and pepper; the Spanish brought along garlic, olive oil, lime, and livestock — including beef, pork, and lamb. This laid the foundation for truly mouthwatering meals.
Peru’s culinary scene continued to develop as other foreigners began to show up, including African, Chinese, Japanese, and Italian immigrants. Each of these cultures brought something to the table and created entire subcategories of Peruvian cuisine — a good example is chifa, a mixture of local criollo and Cantonese cooking. Peruvian food continues to evolve today, as the country’s chefs become well versed in international culinary styles.
Regional cuisine largely depends on what kind of foods are immediately available, so what you eat in Peru will largely depend upon where you are. Here’s a rundown of what you might find on your plate while traveling in Peru.
Peru’s Andean food is known for high-altitude grains like quinoa and a range of meats and tubers (there are over 200 edible types). Restaurants in the Andes often serve cuy (guinea pig) in a variety of styles — it can be roasted, fried, or stewed. You’ll also see mountain trout known as trucha on many menus. Soups are popular in the highlands and may be eaten for breakfast. Vegetarians should note, however, that many broths do contain animal parts. A good choice for vegetarians is sopa de quinoa, which is made from quinoa and potatoes.
The Peruvian coast is known for creole cuisine, or comida criolla. Comida criolla incorporates all sorts of seafood, including lenguado (sole), calamar (squid), corvina (sea bass), camarones (shrimp), and cangrejo (crab). You’ll find lots of ceviche here too—in this dish, raw fish is covered with lime juice, sprinkled with garlic, and served with sweet potato and red onions. Other favorites of this region include sopa a la criolla (a spicy, creamy soup made with noodles, beef, milk, and fried eggs), papa rellena (fried mashed potatoes with meat, vegetables, boiled eggs, raisins, and olives), and anticuchos (grilled beef-heart chunks served with spicy sauces).
Food in the Amazon jungle is very different. Most meals involve fish fillets, including dorado, paiche, and doncella. The fish is often wrapped in banana leaves, spiced, and cooked over coals. Iquitos is known for juanes, tamales stuffed with chicken, rice, and spices. You might even come across a type of meat called majá or picuro, which is a gamey, mid-size rodent that is usually grilled or stewed.
Arequipa is known for its heaping portions of spicy food. Rocoto relleno is popular here. This dish consists of a chili pepper stuffed with meat, olives, onions and raisins, topped with cheese and then baked. Chupe de camarones is a creamy soup with eggs, potatoes, lima beans, and shrimp. Another tasty option here is ocopa, which is a spicy peanut/mint sauce served over boiled potatoes.
Peruvian food also has delectable desserts. There are all sorts of tropical fruits that go well with desserts. Lúcuma (eggfruit) and maracuyá (passionfruit) are often used in ice creams and pies, while other fruits—including guayaba (guava) and grandilla (a type of passion fruit)—are used in juices. While traveling on the coast, try suspiro a la limeña, custard covered with meringue and vanilla.
You may have tried a pisco sour at some point in your life, but it won’t compare to what’s served in Peru. Pisco sours are an alcoholic drink often served as a welcome drink at hotels or at the start of a meal. It has pisco (a type of brandy), lime juice, egg white, and sugar syrup. Peru also produces a variety of good red wine and all sorts of beers. In rural areas, like the Andes or in the Amazon, you might try chicha, a type of corn beer that can be served fresh or fermented. In the Amazon, chicha is made from yucca and known as masato.