We had actually expected the food on our trip to be good. Peruvian Cuisine has a growing reputation around the world and Lima is often mentioned as the gastronomic capital of South America. Nevertheless, we still managed to be surprised at just how delicious everything actually was. We never had a bad meal the whole time we were in Peru.
Here are 13 things we tried –
In Lima we tried plates of sea bass and mackerel ceviche. The fresh fish had been marinated for just a few minutes in lime juice, onion, salt and chilies. Boiled sweet potato and roasted corn kernels (cancha) completed the dish. There was something almost magical about the way all the ingredients (tender fish, crisp onion, starchy potato and crispy corn) came together and balanced each other.
2) New Wave
The recent growth in the popularity of Peruvian cuisine around the world can probably be traced to the opening of Gaston Acurio’s “Gaston y Astrid” restaurant in Miraflores in 1994. Since then Gaston has opened many more restaurants in Peru and around the world and he has also inspired a new generation of Peruvian chefs.
We dined at Panchita, one of Acurio’s eateries in the capital, and enjoyed some lovely beef-based dishes in a relaxed atmosphere.
The delicate nature of the presentation actually reminded me of Japan and it is perhaps not surprising that there is a lot of fusion cooking featuring the cuisine of both countries.
3) Guinea Pig
“Cuy”, as the locals refer to it, is one of the most popular meats in the Andean region. We enjoyed the oven baked version in Aguas Calientes. Once you get over any feelings of squeamishness, and I actually did have a pet guinea pig when I was a child, it is surprisingly good. Cuy is eaten with the hands and the taste is not dissimilar to duck or rabbit. Underneath the crispy skin there is plenty of tasty herb-infused dark meat.
Alpaca meat is also eaten all over the Andean region. We enjoyed steak and potatoes in Ollantaytambo. I found it to be tender and almost quite sweet. The best way I can describe it is a cross between beef and lamb.
5) Chicken and Chips
Pollo a la Brasa – was developed in Lima in the 1950s and is a specific Peruvian way of preparing blackened rotisserie chicken. There are now chains offering the same basic dish all over the country. We dined at Pardos, acknowledged to be one of the best, and found it to be superb. We had wonderful succulent chicken accompanied by an interesting array of dipping sauces including one containing black mint. Peruvian style pollo is now spreading out of Peru too, Pardos have already opened in the USA.
The potato was first domesticated in Peru over 8,000 years ago and the country is now home to more than 4,000 varieties. The vegetable is naturally included on most Peruvian menus and is presented in many different forms.
We enjoyed amazing potato soups, boiled “native potatoes” for breakfast and a superb main course of “Papa Rellena” or stuffed potatoes. The potatoes we had in Peru were by far the best we have ever tasted anywhere.
One of the first things I noticed when we were walking through Miraflores on our first evening were the Peruvian-style sandwich chain shops. There seemed to be one on every corner and they were all crowded with people waiting patiently in line to be served.
Later on in the trip we went to one of the largest chains, La Lucha Sangucheria Criolla, to find out what all the fuss was about.
The butifarra, a crispy roll filled with slices of country ham, was good enough but the other sandwich we tried was on another level altogether. Often eaten for breakfast, the chicharron sandwich features slow-braised pork, slices of sweet potato, mint and salsa criolla. It just “works” and it was the best single thing we ate on the whole trip.
8) Lomo Saltado / Tacu Tacu
This is the local version of “stir fried beef” and it is one of Peru’s most famous and exported dishes. It was influenced by Chinese cuisine but is based on local ingredients including potatoes and aji chilies.
We enjoyed our lomo saltado with a helping of tacu tacu, the delicious Peruvian version of beans and rice, at a lovely old dining room in downtown Lima. We enjoyed more tacu tacu a few mornings later for breakfast with bacon.
9) Ox Hearts
Lima’s most famous street food is the anticucho; one or two inch cubes of ox heart marinated and grilled. We enjoyed it with corn and potatoes on the side at Panchita restaurant in Miraflores. The combination of flavour and texture was magnificent.
We stopped for boiled corn on the cob in the Sacred Valley. It only cost a few soles but it was one of the best things we ate. The kernels of Peruvian corn are larger than I have encountered before and taste is a lot better too. Corn features a lot in Peruvian cuisine; we also snacked on bags of inca corn and nibbled on cancha corn with our drinks.
11) Quinoa Soup
Peru is the world’s largest supplier of quinoa and the plant tends to thrive in the high altitudes of the Andes. It is therefore not surprising that it features in some of the region’s dishes. We encountered it most during our visit to Puno where we had two different helpings of delicious quinoa soup.
12) Soft Drinks
Mate de coca is tea made from coca leaves and is reputed to be a good way of dealing with altitude sickness. We tried it a few times and we liked it. Whether it helped with the elevation or not, I can’t really say.
Inca Cola is actually marketed by the US Coca-Cola company and it is everywhere in Peru. It is bright yellow and it tastes of bubble gum. I couldn’t really see the attraction, but most shops seemed to stock more of it than its red-labelled brother.
13) Alcoholic Drinks
Made by distilling fermented grape juice, Pisco is Peru’s most popular brandy. It features in two of its most famous cocktails too. The pisco sour is made with egg whites and the Chilcano is made with ginger ale. We tried both but preferred the second one.
Peru also has a growing craft beer industry. Candelaria is one of the most popular brands and I managed to try some of the delicious pale ale they produce.
….and you can “try this at home”
Gaston Acurio’s wonderful “Peru – a cookbook” has been translated into English and is available everywhere.
Anglo-Peruvian chef and restauranter Martin Morales has also published a couple of excellent books, including “Ceviche”.