Menú: An Easy Way to Eat Like A Local

 

In this post, I will share the easiest and cheapest way to eat like a local in Peru. You can use this tip anywhere you go in Peru. This will help you get away from the throngs of other tourists and  can help you save a lot of money. You just need to know what to look for and be willing to go slightly out of your comfort zone.

Introducing Menú

Menú signs around Cusco’s city center

As you’re walking through virtually any neighborhood in Peru, you may notice chalkboards outside of restaurants. Some of these may be even outside places that look more like a house than a restaurant. These signs advertise a type of restaurant specializing in menú, daily specials for a bargain price.

Where Locals Eat

Peru does not have nearly as big of a street food scene as in Asia. Instead, Menú restaurants are neighborhood restaurants are where locals gather. You won’t find these restaurants on TripAdvisor. Peruvians generally go to the restaurants that are closest to their home or work. It is not uncommon for people to eat the same restaurant every day especially since the restaurants change their menu every day.

How to Order

A sample selection from Qori Sara's Menú: Trigo soup (wheat), soltero (traditional salad), and fried trout with beets and potatoes. Not pictured: Chicha Morada
A sample selection from Qori Sara’s Menú: Trigo soup (wheat), soltero (traditional salad), and fried trout with beets and potatoes. Not pictured: Chicha Morada
The way menú work is that you have a choice of one soup/starter and one entree. Sometimes, a drink (juice or chicha morada) and/or a small dessert. There are generally 2-4 choices for each category. All of the choices are advertised on the board and change every day. You get all of this food for a set price. The price varies between restaurants, but the price for menú is the same every day at a given restaurant.
Another Menú selection at Qori Sara: Chicken soup and Locro with beef (we didn't even know it came with meat). Not pictured: chicken soup and aji de calabaza (squash puree)
Another Menú selection at Qori Sara: Chicken soup and Locro with beef (we didn’t even know it came with meat). Not pictured: chicken soup and aji de calabaza (squash puree).
The cost for this set menu ranges from about 4-15 soles. The higher end is usually in more touristic areas or for Meńu Marino which include ceviche and other seafood dishes. Some restaurants have touristic versions of the menú which are slightly more expensive (15 soles and up) and may not change daily.
How are these places so cheap? Don’t underestimate the economies of scale. By serving offering only a few options a day, menú places can make dishes in large quantities and cut down on the number of ingredients they need to buy.

Tips

  • Don’t come too late. One of the best things about Menú is that all of the food is fresh. However, quantities are limited. If you come after 1:30 pm, you can expect that some of the choices will be sold out. Lunch is the principle meal in Peru and most places will close by 5 or 6 pm. You don’t want to be eating the dregs of that day’s cooking.
  • Stick to the daily specials. Many menú restaurants will also offer you a printed menu with a la carte options. These items will be a lot less fresh and quite a bit more expensive. They will also take longer to prepare (a lot of times they’ll have to wait to defrost something!). You should know what you want to order before sitting down in a Menú restaurant.
  • Get started slowly. I wouldn’t advise heading to a Menú place straight off a plane or long bus ride. Ease your way out of your comfort zone little by little.
  • Trust your instincts. Menú places generally have open doors and windows. Look inside. If it looks dodgy or something looks off, move on. There’s usually many places to pick from. A crowd is a good sign, but keep in mind locals might be used to a different type of food than you are.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Menú restaurants are generally small family restaurants. Don’t be afraid to ask if you don’t know what an item is. If you don’t know Spanish, the signs make it easy to point. Oftentimes, the waiter can show you what something looks like before you order it.
  • From my experience, Menú Marino typically isn’t as good as a bargain as the typical menú. They often use second-tier seafood as well. If you’re looking for ceviche, I would recommend going to a place where you can order a ceviche combo instead.

Where to Start

We recommend Qori Sara (which we feature in the video above) in Cusco as a great place to start. It’s located right off of Plaza San Francisco and offers fresh food at large quantities. mid-range for a menú place (10 soles).  You’ll be eating cheap, high-quality food among locals-the best of all worlds.

There’s also a row of menú restaurants with colorful signs along Calle Plateros in Cusco, but these are aimed more at tourists.

Conclusion 

Once you know about Menú, you’ll see it everywhere you go. It is a simple way of eating and is especially useful if you’re staying in Peru for longer. And don’t be surprised if you’re the only tourist at the restaurant. You’ll know that you’re having a true, Peruvian experience.

14 Comments Add yours

  1. I’m salivating over this!

  2. Meg says:

    I did this every day when I was in Peru and didn’t even know it! I just looked for the place crowded with locals 🙂

  3. “And don’t be surprised if you’re the only tourist at the restaurant. You’ll know that you’re having a true, Peruvian experience.”, that’s always true 🙂 We never come to busy, fancy restaurants, always try the new, special, surprising ones! 🙂

  4. Great tips – will most definitely use when I head to Peru later in the year!

  5. Cali says:

    Great post and video! I am currently in Colombia and eating at places with the menu del dia. It’s is so cheap with so much food, just like you said!

  6. Erica - The Manini Experience says:

    Good tips! Loved my time in Peru!

  7. Pete says:

    What a fabulous way to eat like a local! Thanks for the yummy video!

  8. We always eat like a local when we visit a destinations. These are some great times. A lot of them can be applied to Spain too.

  9. PAT says:

    sometimes local food is the best!

  10. Monica says:

    Loving the layout of your blog! I have a friend visiting Peru soon and can’t wait to show her this! How helpful! It all looks delicious!

  11. Elena says:

    Great tips. I am definitely saving this article and using it as a guide this summer when I visit Peru. Thanks

  12. jessica says:

    i love seeing how different parts of the world eat…thanks for sharing and thanks for the tips–i’ll be there as doors open for the freshest choices!

  13. As a traveler that has yet to make it to Peru, I appreciate this!

    Bookmarking.

  14. I’ve always loved Peruvian food in NY so I can imagine how great it tastes in Peru!!!

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