Over the last few years, Peruvian cuisine has gained widespread recognition and acclaim—and with good reason. The diverse dishes and cooking techniques have been influenced by Spain, Asia, West Africa, and indigenous Incas. Food has always been an integral part of Peruvian culture, and with its bold flavors and liberal use of spices, it was only a matter of time before the rest of the world caught on. Key ingredients include quinoa, potatoes (of which the country has an abundance), corn, soups, rice, and various kinds of meat, from alpaca to pork. Lima is considered the culinary capital of South America, but no matter where you go in Peru, your taste buds won’t be disappointed! This country is a foodie’s paradise, but the endless options can be overwhelming. Here are 10 classic dishes you must try on your Peruvian adventure.
When one thinks of Peruvian cuisine, ceviche is often the first dish that comes to mind. It’s made of raw fish—usually white fish, such as sea bass or tilapia—marinated in lime juice, Andean chili peppers, and onions and served with corn and sweet potatoes on the side. The leftover marinade is known as leche de tigre, or “tiger’s milk,” and saved for the truly adventurous to drink as a shot either with the meal or the next morning—locals swear it’s the perfect hangover cure. This refreshing dish is found throughout the country but considered best in Lima and other coastal towns.
Pollo a la Brasa
Peru’s famous blackened chicken is what first drew attention to the country’s cuisine. This smoky dish is one of the more commonly found meals in the U.S., but it’s worth trying in its native Peru. The chicken is marinated in soy sauce with red peppers, garlic, and cumin before being roasted. It’s generally served with fried yucca or French fries paired with spicy dipping sauces, such as green huacatay—a black mint sauce. This dish is so beloved in the country that it has its own national holiday, Pollo a la Brasa Day.
Anticuchos are skewers of grilled, marinated meat. You can find this beloved dish everywhere, from street carts to high-end restaurants. It originated in the pre-Colombian era using llama meat and was adapted by Spanish conquerors during the 16th century. Although the meal can be made with any kind of meat, beef heart is ideal.
A staple in Peru, this comfort food was influenced by Chinese immigrants. Beef, onion, and tomato are stir-fried in soy sauce and served over French fries with rice on the side. The savory juices soak into the fries, and just the thought of this delectable delight is enough to make your mouth water!
Aji de Gallina
This creamy recipe calls for chicken, potatoes, and a curry-like sauce that gets its yellow color from aji amarillo. The sauce has different ways of being made, but common ingredients include cream or condensed milk, cheese, ground walnuts, and de-crusted white bread to thicken the texture.
Pachamanca is a traditional Andean dish dating back to the Incas that’s prepared using the earth as an oven. The meal is known as a pit roast and incorporates marinated meats wrapped in banana leaves and vegetables, such as potatoes, fava beans, and corn on the cob seasoned with fragrant herbs. The food is placed on hot stones at the bottom of a pit to cook underground. This unique cuisine can only be made by skilled cooks and is a definite must-try if you have the opportunity!
Peru is known for its potatoes—the country is home to over 4,000 kinds of spuds! Causa is a yellow potato casserole with many style variations. The potatoes are mashed with lime, oil, and spicy aji amarillo sauce and topped with shredded salmon, tuna, or chicken. Next comes avocado, olives, and hard-boiled eggs before another layer of potatoes. The number of exact layers differs, but the dish is constructed in a manner similar to lasagna. Causa is lighter than most dishes, going easy on the spice, and is served during the salad course or as a side dish.
When those not native to Peru learn what cuy is, it tends to leave a negative impression. Cuy is guinea pig, and although many in the U.S. view these critters as pets, it’s one of the most common sources of meat in Peru. This tender meat is rich in protein and comparable to other small game, such as rabbit. Traditional recipes call for stuffing the guinea pig with herbs and roasting it over an open fire, à la roast pig. Served with potatoes and hot pepper sauce and eaten by hand, this delicious delicacy is a local favorite.
Papas a la Huancaina
This appetizer is another potato dish—this time with a spicy cheese sauce. A mixture of queso fresco, aji amarillo, garlic, lime juice, evaporated milk, and crackers is poured over sliced yellow potatoes, which are then topped with a hard-boiled egg and served on a bed of lettuce. This recipe has its roots in Huancayo, a mountainous region in central Peru, but it’s become so popular it’s easy to find anywhere in the country.
This mouthwatering meal translates to “filled pepper,” but it’s not your average stuffed pepper. A rocoto is a kind of pepper, similar to a red bell pepper only much spicier; a raw rocoto is 10x as spicy as a jalapeño, but boiling it takes the heat down a few notches. The pepper is stuffed with savory meat and veggies and baked in a sweet egg and milk sauce, which helps cool the burn. Served with French fries on the side, this dish isn’t commonly found outside of Peru—many Peruvians consider it the meal they miss the most when abroad!