Updated March 5th, 2020.
A foodies paradise! Peru is celebrated as having one of the most exciting gastronomical scenes in the world. And the best news for backpackers is that it’s cheap, not restricted to fancy restaurants and there is a huge variety of healthy, delicious dishes that could having you trying something new every day of your trip!
From incredible seafood, to inventive potato dishes to the fascinating fusion of Japanese, Chinese, Spanish and Andean cuisines – you won’t believe the explosion of flavors and colors on your plate. We suggest you try EVERY one of these foods as well as finding some new gastronomical delights of your own!
Check out our Lima page for information about specific restaurants.
1. Raw Fish – Ceviche
Probably the most famous Peruvian dish in the world, that is now popular all over South America. Ceviche is made with fresh, raw seafood, either prawns, squid or white fish. The fish is cured by marinating it in lime or lemon juice and spiced with ‘aji’ and chili peppers. Ceviche is served with diced onions, coriander and crunchy corn. Some travelers may be worried about trying this ‘raw fish dish’ anywhere but a decent restaurant, but the truth is that due to the fast turnover of ingredients in busy street carts – it could be the freshest and most delicious you’ll eat!
2. Lomo Saltado – Stir Fry Peruvian Style
You’ll see this dish on ‘set menus’ all over Peru. It’s basically a stir fry made with marinated strips of beef, red peppers, tomatoes and onions – mixed with fried potatoes or french fries! Que rico! The sauce is made with vinegar, soy sauce, spices, red onions and parsley and has certainly derived by Chinese style cooking in Peru. Served with white rice, it’s the perfect fill-me-up Peruvian comfort food that can be found all over the country. It can also be eaten with chicken – pollo saltado.
3. You say Potato, I say Peru! Causas and more…
Did you know that Peru invented the potato? (How do you invent a vegetable – right? No, we don’t know either!) Apparently, the Europeans brought it over from Peru in the 18th century to cultivate in western soils after discovering the potato in Peru – and there are over 4,000 different varieties! Not only are there different types but they are served in different ways. Try ‘Papas Rellenas’ – mashed potato that is then stuffed with anything from vegetables to minced beef and fish and then fried. Then there’s the not-to-be-missed ‘Causitas’ (see cover photo) – mashed potatoes served in a variety of different ways with different toppings and fillings. Can be eaten in fancy restaurants or right from a street stand! Peru can do more things with potatoes than you can imagine!
4. Papa a la Huancaina
Sliced potatoes covered with a tangy, cheesy, delicious sauce served with boiled eggs, black olives and lettuce. You’ll see this as an ‘entrada’ on set menu’s all over the country – a must try! The dish originates from Huancayo, a city in the Peruvian Andes. The sauce is made from queso fresco (fresh cream cheese), oil, aji amarillo (yellow pepper) evaporated milk and salt – a unique taste that will have you craving it again and again!
5. Fusion sushi
Japanese restaurants are a favorite in Peru, but as with every other style of food that has entered the country, Peru have made it their own! Imagine nori rolls topped with lomo saltado, Huancaina sauce or Peruvian style stir fry seafood – the fusion flavors are almost too much for your backpacker tongue to handle! Check out Japanese fusion restaurants in Lima and Cusco for a unique twist on your favourite Californian rolls!
6. Super Food – Quinoa
This super-grain, regarded as one of the healthiest foods in the world, can only be found at middle-class farm stores in Europe and the USA. Yet in Peru, quinoa is a staple of the diet that is used in a variety of dishes. Originating in the Andean regin of Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and Bolivia, the name derives from the spanish spelling of the name ‘kinwa’. This light and nutritious grain is high in protein and can be found in salads, risottos, in soups, juices (try the morning drink of quinoa and apple in a porridge-type drink!) and can be used in fusion dishes such as burritos and veggie burgers! Versatile and good for you!
7. Chaufa – Chinese Influenced Food
Did you know that Lima has the oldest (and largest) China Town in the world? With 4% of the population Chinese origin and around 20% believed to be of Chinese heritage, Chinese food influences Peruvian cuisine enormously. And the result? Cheap, delicious Chifas (chinese restaurants) on every corner… serving delicious, huge portions of chaufita (fried rice) tallarin (noodles) and wanton soup.
8. Aji de Gallina – Creamy Chicken
The Peruvian version of Spanish creamed chicken, Aji de Gallina (literally meaning ‘chili pepper chicken’) is a fusion dish of Spanish origin. Spicy and made with Peruvian ‘aji amarillo’ yellow peppers and soft shredded chicken flaboured with cheese, garlic nuts and chili peppers, the dish is traditionally served with boiled eggs and black olives. A favourite to eat in the mountains or on cold days.
9. Stuffed Stuff – Paltas / Tomatoes Rellenas
Why don’t they stuff avocados more? It’s delicious! Avocados are the most popular fruit in Peru and many other parts of South America. Cheap, ripe and delicious – they can be used in salads, smoothies and also stuffed with delicious ingredients! Usually a type of chicken mayonnaise salad served in an avocado sprinkled with parmesan cheese is a a popular ‘entrada’ (starter) across Peru. Tomatoes are also stuffed as a starter dish.
Tiradito is a traditional Peruvian dish made with raw fish (not the same as ceviche due to the way the fish it cut) and served in a spicy sauce, once again it is influenced by Japanese style cooking. Can be served with sweet potato, boiled corn and salad.
Other must try foods:
- Cuy – Guinea Pig: For the adventurous foodies, (and those who’ve never had a guinea pig as a pet!) cuy is a popular meat eaten mainly in the Andean regions of Peru. Roasted or barbecued on a spit and served whole – the meat is quite bony, similar to rabbit or other game.
- Caldo de Gallina: Comforting, warming chicken soup – a clear broth served with vegetables, noodles and boiled eggs.
- Humitas: A starter or a snack – made with masa harina and corn. In Bolivia they are known as humintas.
And to Drink? Pisco Sour of Course!
The most famous drink of Peru has to be the Pisco Sour – every backpacker’s favourite cocktail! It is made from the local alcohol Pisco and mixed with lemon or lime juice, syrup, ice, egg white and Angostura bitters. It’s a popular day out to pay a visit to a Pisco factory to see how the licquor is made – oh and get a little bit tipsy at the same time!