Almost every time I speak to my Yiayia [Greek grandmother] on the phone, she asks about what we’re eating, and you can hear in her voice that she can’t imagine it would be any good. While no food in the world compares with hers, Peruvian food does come pretty close.
Peruvian food is pretty famous for being pretty much the best in South America. The number one chef in the world is Peruvian, so you kind of can’t argue, you just need to accept the [delicious] facts.
But we have met a lot of people who haven’t really worked out what it’s all about. And who can blame them when the translations Google churns out are so woefully inadequate.
So we wanted to help the world out. You know, at a humanitarian level, by offering some descriptions of the food we love that do slightly more to explain the dishes than Google does.
If you are also traveling in Peru and have a Greek grandmother, send her this post to ease her anxiety. If you’re a non-Greek who doesn’t live for food, try some of these dishes and find your purpose, even if that means you have to fly to Lima. If you’re Peruvian, send us all the dishes we’ve missed, we’re not wizards and couldn’t list of all of them. Vegetarians and vegans, well, you should probably stop reading here.
An important note: Peruvian food is all about regions and ingredients. Certain regions are famous for certain dishes, and you guessed it, that’s where they’ll be the best. Don’t be searching for the best Ceviche in Cusco, for example. Just don’t be that gringo.
A GUIDE TO PERUVIAN FOOD FOR DUMMIES
Seco de Frejoles con Cabrito [Dry Beans with Kid]
One of the worst offenders from Google translate. No, Peruvians don’t eat children, you racists. They eat tender goat/lamb/cow/chicken children in a juicy coriander sauce. With tasty AF stewed beans and a mountain of rice.
It’s everything you need: slow cooked, hearty, tasty, juicy, green, and Mao’s favourite.
Umm yaaas, where?! Head to Chepita Royal (Lima), or La Glorieta, Tacna
Arroz con Mariscos [Rice with Seafood]
While Google may have translated this one accurately, it does not do anything to describe how this is so. much. more.
This is where Peruvians enlist the work of magicians. They take [super fresh] seafood, and mix it with rice, ají [a super tasty but not super spicy chilli], a bit of tomato magic, and a bunch of unknown ingredients to create the best damn rice in the world. Move over fried rice, this is your sexier, fresher, less oily, and so much more tasty cousin.
Umm yaaas, where? La Glorieta, Tacna, Mi Barrunto, Lima, anywhere near the ocean.
Tacu Tacu [No translation]
Google won’t help you here. Tacu Tacu is a blend of mashed beans and rice, except sexy. It is crazy filling, but every bite is crazy delicious because again, magicians. It is normally served with seafood, Lomo Saltado [description below], or even Seco [you know what that is now!].
Umm… yaaas, where?! Go to Barranca outside the north of Lima, or anywhere in the far north of Peru.
Aji de Gallina [Chilli with [the mum of the] chicken]
Mao’s favourite way of describing Gallina is that it’s the mum of the chicken. Move that morbid image out of your mind, and enter, Aji de Gallina.
It’s a creamy creamy chicken stew made with yellow chilli. Not the spicy kind, the ‘this is a new flavour’ kind. The ingredients list also include bread, milk [not cream] and nuts, which does even less to explain this dish. But who doesn’t love [the mum of the] chicken, and creaminess?!
Basically the comforting hug from your favourite Aunty that you’ve always needed.
Umm… yaaas, where?! Basically all over Peru, try and get someone’s mum to make it for you.
Olluquito de Carne [No translation, with meat]
Try and suggest Olliquito is a type of potato and you will be lynched. It’s a kind of yellow root vegetable [NOT POTATO]. It’s thinly sliced and made into a stew, with meat. This dish has an earthy flavour, and the Olluquito bring a soft texture. It’s a traditional indigenous dish, so if you’re into social justice try this pre-colonial goodness.
Umm… yaaas, where?! Any menus del día in the highlands.
Rocoto Relleno con Pastel de Papa [Rocoto stuffed with cake of potato]
We’ve all tried stuffed peppers. But have you tried the Peruvian version?! Often stuffed with mince, olives, sultanas, you can choose from tears-running-down-your face spicy, or regular. I’d recommend the former, and this is where the ‘cake of potato’ swoops in to save your mouth.
It’s a creamy, cheesy potato bake made with what are probably the tastiest potatoes in the whole world. A creamy cheesy mouth saviour. These two together are unstoppable.
Umm yaaas, where? Arequipa
Tallarines Verde [Green noodles]
It’s tempting to explain no further. Basically, this is badass Peruvian pesto pasta. They use fetta cheese to make it creamier, and serve it with a steak. It’s just really, really good.
Umm… yaaas, where?! Pretty much anywhere.
Tallarines Rojos [Red Noodles]
Also fairly self explanatory. Pasta in red sauce often with chicken, except it’s not just tomato, it includes a bunch of tasty red peppers. It’s pretty fail safe in terms of tastiness.
Umm… yaaas, where?! Pretty much anywhere.
Chupe de Camarones [Shrimp Soup]
If I’d ever had seafood chowder, I’d say this dish was pretty close. One time I nearly cried while eating it. It was that good. If you love seafood, for the love of god, go now and find this. That is all there is to say.
Ummm… yaaas, where?! Arequipa baby.
Ceviche [… you should not need to Google this one]
Basically the god of food. Fresh fish cooked in lime juice served with sweet potato and roasted corn kernels. This is probably the simplest, most magic food of them all. And yes, Peruvian Ceviche is the best. Don’t be fucking around with ketchup and mayonnaise [soz Ecuador].
Umm yaaas, where? Northern Peru. Piura is the home of ceviche. It’s also permissible to try it in Trujillo, and Mancora.
Nope. This couldn’t be further from jelly. This is a deep-fried-to-perfection pile of fresh mixed seafood. Maybe the Japanese Peruvians added a little of their tempura magic to the batter, I’m not sure. But there’s some type of magic there.
Umm… yaaas, where?! Northern Peru, anywhere close to the ocean. Don’t be seeking this out in the highlands.
Cuy [Guinea Pig]
Guinea Pigs are not pets, they’re food here. If you live outside South America this might be hard to try as it’s probably both frowned upon and illegal to take one from the pet shop and deep fry it.
If you can get past the graphic horror of its tiny hands and face staring back at you, the meat is surprisingly tasty and incredibly healthy.
Umm… yaaas, where?! Cusco, Puno, the highlands.
Lomo Saltado [Loin salt]
Another Google fail. This is basically the stir fry of your South American dreams. Good quality beef strips stir fried with soy sauce, cumin, Peruvian chilli, tomato and home made potato chips. Very tasty. Served with a mountain of white fluffy rice.
Umm… yaaas, where?! This is crazy popular everywhere, but originated from the Chinese influence… so it’s best in Lima.
Papa la Huancaína [Pope the Huancaína]
This dish does not involve eating a pope, but if that’s what you’re into, go for it. Basically, potatoes served with Huancaína sauce… a cheesy, chilli, nutty tasting sauce that is crazy addictive and basically makes anything taste like heaven.
Umm… yaaas, where?! This one you can find in most places.
Well, aren’t potatoes a worthy cause?! This is basically the best mashed potato ever, filled with basically anything yummy. Sometimes with chicken or tuna with mayo, or even crab, octopus, and avocado. Served cold/at room temperature. Basically like a sandwich, but it’s mashed potato for the bread.
Umm… yaaas, where?! Lima and all over.
Conchitas a la parmesana [Shells with Parmesan]
Scallops in their shell covered with Parmesan and baked. So simple, so good.
Umm… yaaas, where?! Anywhere near the ocean.
Choritos a la chalaca [No translation]
These bad boys are mussels cooked in the shell, covered with a salsa – a mix of chopped fresh tomato, red onion, coriander, and local corn. Fresh, and so tasty.
Umm… yaaas, where?! Again, think ocean not mountains.
Well, yes this is chicken or fish in a simple but yummy marinade made from ají [you know what this is now!] and tomato. Usually served with an army of finely chopped red onions. One of those I just want something basic but satisfying options. You know, like a Tuesday lunch thing.
Umm… yaaas, where?! This is a menu del día type of thing.
Carapulcra [No translation]
Yeah, this one sounds [and looks] weird. Basically, it involves stewing a special type of dried potato [yes that’s a thing], peanuts, and spices like cloves, normally with pork. It’s like a potato stew, only earthier and more filling and more Incan.
Umm… yaaas, where?! Apparently this was a favourite of the Incas. So to get the real deal, first enter a time machine and just basically go from there.
Ocopa [No translation]
Even if you Google Image searched this bad boy you’d probably be confused. It’s basically a thick greenish sauce made from chillies feta, nuts and huacatay [black mint]. It’s creamy, nutty, a tiny bit minty, and very intriguing. Normally poured over potatoes and boiled eggs.
Umm… yaaas, where?! Arequipa is famous for this one.
Yes, this one is BBQ… barbecued hearts. It’s pretty simple, take a bunch of hearts, put ’em on a skewer, BBQ ’em with salt, and serve them to very drunk people on a Saturday night. These are crazy delicious when you’ve had more than a few too many Pisco Sours and are craving that salty, meaty, tender BBQ flavour.
Umm… yaaas, where?! The streets of Lima, or outside clubs [where literally anything you eat will taste delicious].
Pollo a la Brasa [Grilled chicken]
This is Peru’s answer to charcoal chicken, but infer that it’s the same as regular charcoal chicken and YOU WILL BE KILLED. This one’s not the mum of the chicken, just the chicken, marinaded in secret magic, and slowly cooked. The result? The most tender and flavourful chicken, ever. There’s a reason it’s the only thing Americans know about Peru.
Umm.. yaaas, where?! Lima.
Lima has a big population of Chinese people, and therefore a lot of Chinese food. There are way too many dishes to list. But imagine all your favourite Chinese dishes, with a Peruvian twist. Chifa is good. Go on a Sunday afternoon with a group of friends and order a banquet. Don’t be a peasant.
Umm… yaaas, where?! Lima’s Chinatown area.
You guessed it, Lima also has a Japanese population. This food is so bloody good. Again, take all the things you love about Japanese food and add Peruvian magic. There’s way too much to list. But for example makis are sushi rolls, filled with Ají de Gallina, Lomo Saltado or Ceviche. Basically a food lover’s wet dream.
Umm… yaaas, where?! Lima, Trujillo.
Like a thinner deep fried donut, only made with a pumpkin batter and served with a syrup made with cloves and cinnamon. Made from a vegetable, so basically a super food.
Umm… yaaas, where?! Street stalls in Lima
A pudding made from purple corn, fruit and spices. Basically the pudding form of the god of all that is good in the world, Chicha Morada [below]. Sometimes served with arroz con leche [rice pudding].
Ummm… yaaas, where?! Mao’s grandpa’s restaurant.
Chica Morada [Chica house]
The god of [non-alcoholic] drinks. They even grow purple corn especially to make this [AND NO YOU CANNOT EAT THE PURPLE CORN]. It’s a drink made from boiling purple corn, pineapple, and cloves. Lime and sugar are added at the end. It has a flavour like no other, and THEY EVEN MAKE AN ICE-BLOCK VERSION!
Umm… yaaas, where? Everywhere. And Donofrio make the ice block version.
But in all seriousness, Peruvian food is amazing, and Peruvians are very proud about their unique flavours and ingredients. We hope you get to try something new after reading this. Let us know how you go.
And if you’re already a Peruvian food pro, what’s your favourite?? What did we miss??