Peruvian Cuisine: A Mouthwatering Introduction

Renowned for its fusion of culinary traditions, Peruvian cuisine is rightly celebrated as one of the most dynamic of the Americas and the world. I adore Machu Picchu and the myriad ruins of pre-Colombian culture which decorate the valleys and mountains of Peru. I am captivated by the austere towering volcanoes and the verdant jungles, teeming with wildlife. Be that as it may, whenever I think of Peru, my most reverent adoration is reserved for her sumptuous food. The glorious, delicious, gluttony-inducing splendour which is Peruvian cuisine.

Let me take you on a gastronomic tour of Peru and introduce you to a few of my favourites.

Pacific Coast

Ceviche is a dish of uncooked fish (or seafood) cured in lemon juice with shards of red onion and finely sliced rocoto pepper. Served cold, it is a zesty dish lauded for its freshness. Often served as an appetizer, Leche de Tigre, Tiger’s Milk, is an acidic distillation of lemon juice, chilli, chunks of cured fish and corn served in a shot glass. Its ferocious sister, Leche de Pantera, Panther’s Milk, replaces fish with black clams, providing the signature dark grey colour.

Jalea or chicharron de pescados y mariscos, is a Peruvian version of fried battered fish and chips. Served with salted fried corn kernels and slices of red onion and aji chilis.

Causa is a dish from Lima which is presented as a cylindrical tower of layered mashed yellow potato, tuna, mayonnaise and other vegetables.

Southern Peruvian Cuisine

Adobo is slow-cooked stew of marinated pork, onion, rocoto pepper, oregano and chicha beer. The meat and vegetables are immersed in a generous quantity of broth which should be soaked up with thick slices of corn bread and savoured until the last drop. Devastatingly good.

Chupe de camarones is another great southern dish made famous in Arequipa. A mouth-watering shrimp soup with chunks of corn, yellow potatoes and boiled egg spiced with local aji chilis.

Lomo Saltado, delicious Peruvian Cuisine

Andean Delicacies

Among the varieties of Peruvian cuisine, Cuy, (Guinea Pigs or hamsters) are perhaps the most idiosyncratic. As they tend to be kept as pets in other parts of the world, cuy, many visitors prefer to abstain. The meat is quite fatty and the hind legs are the most flavoursome part of the animal with the most meat. Many restaurants in Cusco offer modern variations on the cuy theme of which Peking Cuy and Curried Cuy are examples. So beloved is cuy that even painters from the 1500s?? chose to immortalise the animal by combining the dish with religious tradition. Hanging in Cusco Cathedral is a painting of “The Last Supper” which depicts Jesus and Apostles dining on cuy.

Strips of succulent beef, onions, peppers and thickly sliced potato chips sautéed in a rich dark soy sauce, served with steamed white rice, Lomo Saltado is a savoury delight.

Aji de Gallina is another delicious classic which is easily imagined as a Peruvian version of Chicken Korma. Chunks of chicken are cooked in a sauce of cream, pulverised water crackers and the signature yellow aji – a locally grown spicy pepper which lends the dish its zing and its name. Served on steamed rice.

A spicy main meal common to Andean restaurant menus is Rocoto Relleno. The indigenous rocoto bell pepper is significantly spicier than the typical capsicum bell pepper. The pepper is hollowed out and stuffed with minced beef, cheese, chili and spices. Yum.

Peruvian Snack Food

You don’t have to walk far in Cusco before you come across a steaming street-side cauldron of corn cobs. Served in their husks with pieces of queso fresco – an unpasteurised soft white cheese, Choclo con Queso (corn with cheese) is a popular Andean snack. Economic and delicious. Easy to eat on the go between sites and sights!

On street corners throughout Peru, from the biggest cities to the smallest villages you are likely to sense the billowing aromatic smoke which accompanies Peru’s most beloved barbecue food: Anticuchos, skewers of barbecued meat. Originally, sliced beef hearts, the meat skewers served now can be beef, chicken pork, vegetarian or fish, all smothered in a delicious spicy marinade.

Delicious Fruits of Peru

Peru is home to some unique varieties of fruit which can be purchased at local markets throughout the country. Cherimoya is the local variety of custard apple which features a deliciously sweet and juicy pulp. Maracuya are local passionfruit which vary from the tart dark-skinned variety to sweet green/yellow-skinned variety, GranadillaLucuma is a small egg-shaped fruit with green skin which conceals pumpkin-orange coloured flesh. Lucuma is usually not eaten raw as its flesh is unusually dry and starchy, but rather used to flavour desserts and smoothies.

Pisco Sour, Peruvian National Cocktail

Peruvian Beverages

The Peruvian national drink is Pisco, an aromatic, potent liquor distilled from grapes. It is principally produced in the southern vineyards and distilleries of the Ica. While often sipped neat or served on ice, most visitors to Peru enjoy the popular mixed-drink, Pisco Sour – a combination of pisco, lime juice, sugar syrup, egg white and garnished with Angostura Bitters.

A common beverage for the workers in the fields is the homemade fermented corn beer, Chicha de Jarra. The beer can appear pale brown, yellow or even purple, depending on the variety of corn used in the fermentation process. Left to ferment in an earthenware jar, jarra, the beverage is served at room temperature and is comparable in consistency to an English Real Ale. The beverage is usually a sour flavour and varies in its alcohol content depending on the length of fermentation.

Chicha Morada is a blue corn beverage which is mixed with cinnamon and sugar and can be tangy or sweet. It is commonly served in pitchers with ice and makes for a refreshing summer beverage. The traditional homemade variety is generally a lot more tangy than the ready-made bottled varieties available at the local stores and supermarkets.

The ubiquitous and fluorescent yellow Inca Kola is a Peruvian oddity. This arrestingly-coloured carbonated liquid must be one of the sweetest beverages known to the modern palate. The overwhelming flavour is of traditional bubble-gum. Your sugar intake quota for the millennium.

Peruvian cuisine is an entire world of unforgettable flavours, textures and aromas of which the above selection is but a tiny fragment of the map. I wish you well on your culinary travels throughout Peru!