Peruvian Cuisine – One of the World’s Best Foods?


Peruvian food is acclaimed as South America’s best or one of the world’s finest. Truth be said, we still haven’t figured out why that is. The average lunch consists of a soup and a main dish of rice, (dry) potatoes with fried trout or pork.

Okay, I exaggerate, there is more than that, but as far as we are concerned a Peruvian almuerzo is by no means of any higher standard than the average Bolivian meal, which receives no acclamation whatsoever.

Having said that, we did enjoy eating in Peru and tried our share of local dishes in the highlands as well as along the coast. Here are some impressions.

Markets are a common place to eat. Having running water, let alone soap is not something you can count on. Sometimes the owner has improvised so you can wash your hands, like this photo shows.

Peruvian Cuisine – Typical Dishes

A selection of typical dishes we ate at markets or in roadside restaurants:

Bistec a la pobre.
Huancaina is often served as appetizer: boiled eggs and potatoes with a cheese sauce.
Arroz a la cubana works for vegetarians.
Sold along the side of the road, or in restaurants as appetizer: corn with young cheese (©photocoen)

Ceviche: Raw Fish ‘Cooked’ in Lemon

Or local favorite treat was ceviche, which is raw fish (sometimes combined with crab) that is marinated in lemon (which ‘cooks’ the fish) and spiced with aji (chili peppers). Ceviche is often served with sweet potatoes, manioc and/or fried corn. Of the liquid they make a spicy soup called leche de tigre.

During my first try, I found the ceviche way too spicy and it took me a while to figure out I could ask for a ceviche sin aji (without peppers). After that discovery, it became my favorite Peruvian dish.

Leche de Tigre


Maybe you need to eat in expensive restaurants to truly appreciate Peruvian food? We generally don’t spend that much money on meals, but I have to say that the one time we did (El Albergue in Ollantaytambo; read about it here), it was splendid. Apart from typical Peruvian food like alpaca, we tried a bit of international cuisine as well, like a crêpes and sushi in Cusco.

Cusco, Crepería La Boheme
Unsurprisingly, run by a French.
Tasty Breton gallettes (made from buckwheat with savory toppings) and crêpes (with flour and sweet toppings).
Where: Carmen Alto 269, San Blas.

Cusco, Japanese Restaurant Kintaro
For some 15 soles you have a wholesome noodle soup or a teriyaki chicken with rice. Sushi plates with eight pieces are 25-35 soles. Where: 2nd floor 334, Plateros (near Plaza de Armas).
Open for lunch and dinner Mon-Sat.

Peruvian Snacks

Always and everywhere and always – it seems – people are selling food and drinks. Street stalls are great places to try new foods, we find. I wrote about it here.

Chocho is a cooked grain which is served with tomato, cilantro, lemon and/or aji.
Ice cream and fried pork are popular everywhere.
Skewers with meat.
Rocoto is a kind of pepper which is stuffed with vegetables and served with potatoes.

Peruvian Drinks

Arguably the most common drink, at least in cities, is Inca Cola. It looks poisonous, and it probably is. We didn’t try more than one sip – it was just too disgusting.

Traditionally Peruvians drink a lot of milk for breakfast, often mixed with a grain.

Street stalls often sell chicha (kind of beer made of corn) or juice made of quinoa, a local grain. Fruit juice stalls are part of pretty much every market.

Chicha, made of corn.
In every city you’ll find a place to drink a fresh orange juice.
Pisco Sour.

Peruvian Produce in Markets & Road Stalls

Okay, so maybe we missed the “one-of the-world’s best-food-claim” but we do appreciate the vast variety that Peru offers in terms of fresh produce. Many of the so-called superfoods originate or grow in Peru, such as maca powder, chia seeds, lucuma fruits, algarobina (also called carob or mesquite), quinoa and amaranth. And since in Peru we cooked more than we had in years I started looking at fruit and vegetable markets with a new eye. Here is more on Peru’s organic markets.

We tried different kinds of flour to bake bread and cookies (read about it), experiment making veggie burgers using beans & other legumes, and started sprouting as well. More about all that in this blog post on flexcooking.

In the middle of nowhere we encountered a pig-in-the-oven dish, called pachamanca.

We stopped eating meat (and dairy) a year ago, but even before that I was never tempted to buy meat at a market. I had no idea how judge quality. The section just never looks appetizing, which doesn’t mean it isn’t fascinating and does make for some intriguing (or disgusting, if you like) pictures.

Ubiquitous Foods

Let’s finish with a couple of very local items we came across everywhere:

Aji, or Chili Pepper. If I liked them, I would write a post on the subject, as there is so much variety in color, size, and level of spiciness. Apparently, there are some 300 varieties! But I don’t, so I won’t. It’s just too hot! I never liked the hot food in Asia, and I still don’t like it. Coen does though, he loves it. The big difference between Asia and Peru is that in Asia they put it in the food while cooking. In Peru, on the other hand, the food is served rather blandly, but you will always find aji, generally as a sauce, on the table so you can add it yourself.

Pisco Sour is Peru’s National Drink. The cocktail is made of pisco, a liquor, with lemon juice, egg white, a bitter and a syrup. Chile also has a pisco sour as its national drink (albeit it’s a bit different but does have the pisco liquor as its base). Both countries fervently claim they are the pisco sour’s country of origin.

Stevia: the white processed version in the small containers, and the green leaves that have been dried.

Stevia appears to become an increasingly controversial product. Is it natural, is it healthy? Well, the common white version sold in containers definitely is processed to the point that it no longer resembles stevia so I would give that a big berth. The plant grows in South America of which the leaves are dried. They are often added when chewing coca leaves to enhance the flavor of the latter.

Coca leaves and products made of them such as sweets are legal in Peru and for sale especially in the highlands. In the production area there are strict rules though: farmers are allowed to only sell them to certain companies by which law the government tries to reduce the production of cocaine. Before taking the picture below, Coen had to explain to the farmer why he wanted to take it, fearing he was a journalist or spy for the government.

And with that I will end my babbling about food in Peru. Let’s move on to Ecuador!

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11 thoughts on “Peruvian Cuisine – One of the World’s Best Foods?”

  1. Tasty and informative!
    I’m keen to taste the Guineapigs. When we get to where they are available without the local SPCA interfering!
    Can understand you having gone off meat- it does indeed not look too appeticing for our western eyes.
    Which is the obvious glaring difference between a underdeveloped country like Peru and the southern American countries and the more developed countries. Where food and hygiene laws are driven by the need to provide sterile and intensly farmed tasteless foods for the ever more hygiene aware buyer.

    Hamba kahle and tot siens from South Africa
    Thomas & Jessie

  2. Hello, your article was interesting, however, it was obviously missing information that a non-native would logically miss. The main Peruvian dishes were not even brought up like Lomo Saltado or Arroz con Pollo or even Arroz Chaufa which is a very important part of the Peruvian cuisine. How about Aji de Gallina or Seco de Carnero? What about the Chupes? Who knows where you stayed or which cities you went to, but you should have asked someone for help instead of just trying some of the dishes that you mentioned above that are not even popular. I could go on and on about what you forgot to mention, but I do not want to add to your ignorance.

    • Jessica, Sorry to disappoint you. This is our summary of one-year travel in Peru. You can’t expect to get a complete overview with every single dish that is popular in Peru. There is just too much. This has nothing to do with ignorance, nor with forgetting things.
      None of the meals you mention are unfamiliar to us. But either they didn’t impress us in particular (tastes do differ, you know) or we didn’t take a photo, or we chose to feature another meal on our blog.

      • dear guys great blog!!!!
        I have to admit that jessicas post has something on it. peruvian cuisine is mainly happening in lima. lima is the melting pot where european, chinese, japanese and african cuisine fuse together. you can get one of best sushis and sashimis here. also when you go in to chinatown you will be thrilled of the excellent quality of the restaurants.
        because of a unbelievable boom of the peruvian cuisine, manly created by famous peruvian chef gaston acurio (to name one) peruvian food is not anymore cheap. to enjoy a good diner you have to spend some money, but still in compare to european prices its reasonable.
        Also seafood is stunning in lima. you mentioned ceviche but there are hundreds of other dishes.
        Peru is not an easy country to explore as it is its food. It takes time to find the best “hole”. also its worth it to spend some money(when you have it) as you can find some amazing stuff. my personal opinion one of the world best definitely….but not the cheapest…!

  3. you need more than 3 years in mexico and discover all kinds of food and technics, flavor, meats, sea food, sauces, ceviches, climates, vegetables, fruits, bugs, anything you imagine, from street food to gourmet food, from sweet to savory, every region is different.
    With more than 5 cultures fusions or alone with the most rich and extend country with all different climates, just be open to try be open with your taste. And I’m not getting in to drinks like tequilas, mezcales, beers, and liquors.

  4. You totally missed out on the best food. who guided your tour? Next time try first: aji de gallina, seco con frejoles/ tacu tacu, locro de pecho (make sure its not the one with the squash but the one with the meat!), arroz con mariscos, chifa! (you need to try chifa its chinese peruvian and part of the culture as seen in almost every block and city of peru! kanlu wantan is good, there are some soups that are amazing I recomend going to a nicer restaurant for this), anticuchos, pachamanca (food from the mountains its awesome to see how they make it too), juanes and tacacho con sesina, paiche (all foods from the rainforests).. from what you had the huancaina dish is good and ceviche.. everything else you did kind of wrongish

    I just want to leave this here.. It had been declared that pisco is original from peru and chile can no longer use that name for their liquior

    • I forgot to say that you must try fruits like lucuma, cocona(we drink it instead of lemonade its pink and delicious) and desserts like queso helado (no, it does no have cheese on it.. its just a name like cheesecake)

  5. As a peruvian i think you were not informed enough to do an article like this to the point its almost offensive. Our average lunch is nothing like you described before maybe on rural areas but not in cities. Your tour guide is clueless if he or she told you that. You have to search for restaurants with pacience sometimes they will be expensive but believe me its worth it. Ask for advice from someone who knows about good restaurants dont just go to the markets its obvious many restaurants will have a better quality since people in the markets are focused on the masses. you should have tried pisco sour, algarrobina,
    Maracuya sour, camu camu, aguaje, etc as peruvian drinks not only about inca kola, come on! You should have tried ceviche in different places, every restaurant has a different style to prepare this really special dish, if you dont like spice its obvious you wont enjoy our food as much but there are many soft dishe like arroz con pollo or causa that you may like (once again i repeat in recommended restaurants and by this i dont mean expensive just good). Asian influenced peruvian food like chifa is delicious and the maki acevichado in sushi bars like EDO is excellent. Desserts like picarones, arroz con leche y mazamorra morada, cocona, lucuma and aguaje ice cream are worth trying. Dishes like cecina con tacacho o patacones, ensalada de chonta, seco con arroz y frejoles, chicharron de mariscos con leche de tigre, arroz con mariscos, sudado de pescado, pan con chicharron, arroz con pato, ceviche de chinguirito even pure con asado y arroz are delicious its just a question of time and dedication to find good food its almost like a sport! I hope that in your next visit to Peru you try more dishes and get a better tour guide who shows you good restaurants. Please dont be harsh on something you dont even know if more peruvians read this article they would be really sad since gastronomy is a great part of our culture. And People out there come to Peru and try new exeriences be open and take risks with our peculiar food i promise that a least one dish will be worth it. you wont have a proper idea of what Peru is until you go to every region of our country and live your life as a real Peruvian! We love you tourists. Please come and visit!

    • Hi Celeste, thanks for taking the time and effort to give a much more complete picture about Peruvian food. Mind you, this is just a blog post, not a book on food and I never pretend it to be a complete guide to Peru’s cuisine. If you had looked a bit into our background you would have discovered we didn’t visit Peru with a guide but that we travel independently, stayed about a year in Peru, stayed mostly in the countryside and no longer eat meat. Hence upscale restaurants with varying menus that fit a (mostly) vegan lifestyle make the culinary experience a different one than for many other visitors. I don’t think my judgement is harsh, these are just our experiences. A large part of Peru consists of countryside with markets or street food stalls; not of good restaurants with varying menus. That’s the part we got to know and appreciate for many reasons.
      We do hope to return to Peru one day and will be happy to meet up with you so you can show us some of the places you are talking about.


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