In case you haven’t heard, Peruvian Food has been taking the gastronomic scene by storm in recent years – and it’s about time the rest of the world took notice. This South American country has long held an impressive culinary tradition, its uniquely varied landscapes providing a plethora of pantry ingredients both wild and exotic, and its fusion of Andean and Asian cooking styles creating inexplicably delicious results.
Voted the World’s Best Culinary Destination for the past four years in a row, it’s no surprise that many tourists are now arriving with the names of typical dishes to try on their lists of things to do in Peru. For those of you ready to see what all the fuss is about, we’ve narrowed it down to ten of our absolute favorite dishes in Peru to get you started. Read on for the best Peruvian dishes, where in the country you’ll find them, and plenty of delicious details on this rich and exotic cuisine.
Peru’s national dish and an easy front-runner amongst locals and tourists alike, no trip to Peru is complete without a plate of fresh ceviche. Cool, refreshing, and simply flavorful, this dish is made with just a few ingredients: pieces of raw white fish (usually sea bass), lime juice, slivered red onions, salt, and sliced chili peppers. The salt and lime cook the fish just barely, leaving it delicate and tender (and absolutely addicting). You’ll find this dish served up everywhere along the coast, from little streetside carts on the beach to on the tables of Lima’s finest restaurants.
One of Peru’s best dishes, causas come in every shape and size. Imagine a small cake made of various layers. The top and bottom layers (and usually several in the middle) are made of potato mashed with lime, salt, and mild chili sauce, and between these potato layers, you’ll find a plethora of other ingredients. One layer may be avocado, another shredded crab meat or chicken, another hard-boiled egg and mayonnaise…No two causas are just the same. You’ll find this dish as a dainty appetizer on most menus, sometimes served up in heartier portions at markets or in family homes.
Most easily translated as “creamy chicken”, aji de gallina is the comfort food of Peru with subtle sophistication in its flavor. Shredded chicken is cooked down with a rich sauce of cream, cheese, walnuts, and chili served alongside a generous ladling of rice, a hard-boiled egg, and an olive. Make sure to try the original for a cozy meal, and experiment later with the endless aji de gallina-flavored spinoff dishes later (empanadas filled with aji de gallina are a delicious re-creation).
Peru has a distinct Asian influence, and you’ll see it beautifully seeping into many of the country’s dishes. Lomo Saltado (“stir-fried beef”) is an ever-present staple on Peruvian menus, made of soy-marinated beef wok-fried with thick slices of onions, tomatoes, and aji chilies. It’s always served with multiple starches to soak up the thick sauce (often a side of rice and French fries), and is available at just about any time of day.
Once you’ve had ceviche, you’re ready for the next step in any addict’s journey: Leche de Tigre. Made with the leftover juice from ceviche, this can be served either as just a shot or as an appetizer. As a shot, you’ll throw back just the juice, but as an appetizer, you’ll be served a thicker version with fish, a version of ceviche that’s more of a soup. Anyone who likes ceviche will love leche de tigre.
One of Peru’s culinary claims to fame is that the country has an incredible wealth of ingredients to choose from (and as you’ll quickly see, they use most of them). Over 4,000 varieties of potatoes grow in the highlands of Peru, so it’s no surprise they’re present in many of the most popular dishes. Papa a la huancaina is a simple classic: sliced boiled potatoes are drenched in rich huancaina sauce, a blend of chilies and cheese, topped with a halved hard-boiled egg and olive to balance it all out. You’ll find papa a la huancaina on the menu of any home-style restaurant throughout the country, with several regional variations in different mountain towns.
No part of the animal is wasted in carnivorous Peru, but don’t let some of the more intimidating cuts of meat scare you off- they’re some of the best dishes you’ll find. Ease into it all with anticuchos, delicious barbecued cow heart skewers being grilled up all over the country. Locals claim the intoxicating secret is the marinade, a delicate combination of garlic, vinegar and chili. Served alongside a plate of the smoky skewers you’ll find a baked potato and some extra chili sauce. Some of the very best anticuchos are sold on the streets of Lima.
Representing the exotic and flavorful cuisine of the Amazon, Juane is a classic dish that Peruvians from all over the country long for. Rice is mixed with bits of meat, eggs, olives, and fragrant Amazonian herbs and spices, then wrapped in bijao leaves (a plant from the jungle) and boiled in a clay pot. When you unwrap your Juane from the leaves you’ll find the perfect balance of flavors and textures in your steamy rice, always best accompanied by a cool fresh fruit juice (you’ll find plenty of that in the Amazon, too). Read on to learn about the Amazon Rainforest Food and you’ll be impressed just how powerful food from the Amazon rainforest really is!
Like potatoes, Peru has a huge variety of peppers, and rocoto is one of the most popular in Peruvian cooking. Hailing from the southern Andean city of Arequipa, rocoto relleno is a large pepper stuffed with oozing melted cheese and ground beef, served bubbling and hot straight out of the oven. It may look just like a bell pepper, but be warned- it’s a whole lot spicier. Those traveling to Arequipa will find rocoto relleno aplenty, but you can also find it in Arequipa-style restaurants in other parts of the country.
What would an adventurous trip to South America be without one truly adventurous dish? Cuy, better known as guinea pig, is a traditional dish in the highlands of Peru and one you certainly won’t forget. Often served whole and baked or fried on a platter (sometimes even with an apple or orange in it’s mouth, much like a very small suckling pig), the taste is milder than the presentation. Travel to Cusco to find this dish!
With a culinary tradition to keep this list going into the triple digits, Peru’s best dishes are far more than just these ten. If you fancy making some for yourself, check out these quick minute-long instruction videos. Make sure to explore the different regions of the country and notice the variety of flavors, unlike those you’ll find anywhere else. From the sophisticated seafood of the coast to the hearty flavors of the highlands to the exotic tastes of the Amazon rainforest, make room in your trip to Peru for plenty of these captivating dishes.
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