How to Eat at Mistura, Peru’s Largest Food Event

Mistura, Costa Verde, 2016
Mistura, Costa Verde, 2016

The basics

What is Mistura?

Mistura is an annual food festival held in Lima. Vendors and restaurants from all over Peru gather at Mistura to share their products and creations. The focus is on Peruvian food, but in the last few years it has incorporated other cuisines. This year, there are special exhibits for Mexican and Indian foods.

The word Mistura means “mix.” Fittingly, the purpose of Mistura is to bring food from all over Peru and beyond in one place. It is also the place where Peruvians from all walks of life and tourists from all of the world can intermingle for the purpose of celebrating Peru’s rich culinary heritage.

Mistura is probably the best place in the world to try a wide range of Peruvian food in a short period of time.

The Food

There are about 50 restaurants, 70 trucks, plus dozens of bars at Mistura. Everything is divided into convenient categories including anticuchos (meat on sticks), food trucks (caminoncitos), sweets (dulces), beer (cerveceros), sanguches (sandwiches),  seafood (cocinas del mar), and regional food (cocinas regionales). You can find many versions of all of the most popular Peruvian dishes plus some vendors that sell regional dishes that you might not normally come across.

What to expect

Typical Mistura portion
Typical Mistura portion (full size)

It’s important to go to an event like this with the right expectations. At Mistura, you’ll get to sample a lot of Peru’s best food. Sample is the key word. The portion size are on the small side and expensive relative to local costs.

Also, while Mistura has hundred of options, keep in mind it’s only a tiny sample of the food you’ll find in each region. For example, I had just returned from a trip to Arequipa . In Arequipa, there were dozens of picanterias serving traditional dishes such as recoto relleno. At Mistura, I only saw two plus one restaurant in Lima serving food from Arequipa.

It’s really impressive what they are able to cook along the beach in temporary structures, but in the end, Mistura is a fair and the crowds, prices, and ambience is part of the package. If you feed off the energy of crowd and enjoy trying a lot of good food along the beach, then Mistura is perfect for you. If you enjoy the ambience and service of restaurants and want to enjoy food in a leisurely setting, you may not find what you’re looking for at Mistura.

When to go

Mistura takes place during the first two weeks of September every year.

The biggest advice I can give is to go on a weekday and avoid really long lines.  If you go right at opening time (10:30 am), the lines are short and some of the booths are just setting up and there is just not the same energy as later in the day. The crowds start building at 5 pm on weekdays. I personally think the sweet spot is around 2-3 pm, but in general the lines are much more tolerable on weekdays.

Things to do at Mistura

Get your bearings. Take a look at the map at the fair to help you plan (there’s a big map by the entrance and maps available at the Information booths). Also, take a look at the regional maps of Peru to get an overview for the food that each region is known for.

Map showing regional specialties in Peru
Map showing regional specialties in Peru

Shop and sample the Gran Mercado. Try new ingredients and buy edible souvenirs to take home with you at the Gran Mercado which has vendors from all over Peru.

One of the many products you can pick up as a souvenir
One of the many products you can pick up as a souvenir

Watch food being cooked especially meat. Almost all of the cooking  at Mistura is out in the open. You can watch  ceviche being mixed and pisco sours being shaken, but the most dramatic displays are of giant slabs of meat being cooked. If you want to take pictures, go to the side of the booths so that you don’t block the lines. You also will get better pictures!

Chancho al paloc
Chancho al palo

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Feel free to ask questions about something before buying. Also, if you have questions about where something is from or how something is made, ask away. Mistura is as much about learning as eating. Most of the vendors speak some English, and they are happy to talk to you especially when things are quiet.

The guys at Tradicion Wanka let me "backstage" because I asked questions and was interested
The guys at Tradicion Wanka let me “backstage” because I asked questions and was interested

View live cooking demonstrations.  There are demonstrations throughout the day at the Grand Auditorium (Gran Auditorio) where you can watch cooks prepare food live. Also, one of the best bargains is the plate served at the Gran Mercado following the demonstration (5 soles!)

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Enjoy the nightlife. There is live music at no additional cost every night at the Grand Auditorium plus impromptu music and dancing at the Pisco Salon.

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Go with a local (if possible). Even after studying Peruvian food for a few months, there’s a ton of things I would have not noticed if I hadn’t spend a day with Peruvians. Also, a lot of the demonstrations and signs are in Spanish so it’s easy to miss out on some amazing food opportunities. But if you can’t go with a local, do some research on Peruvian food ahead of time and trust your senses. If something looks or smells amazing, give it a shot!

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Highlights 2016

Try fresh ceviche. The main area for ceviche is at the “Nuestras Cocinas de Mar.” The “Pescadores” area also has ceviche and teaches you about the life of fishermen. Finally, this year, there’s a section dedicated to Callao, a neighborhood in Lima known for its ceviche. Basically if you want ceviche look for blue.  Go in the morning or around noon when the fish is the freshest.

The ceviche at Mistura ranks with some of the best I tried throughout Lima
The ceviche at Mistura ranks with some of the best I tried throughout Lima

Enjoy a carnivore’s paradise. My first impression of Mistura was how much meat there was.

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Try some cuy at  Cuyassic Park.

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Bread basket at El Buen Horno. You can pick up a bag of a variety of breads made from different grains at Buen Horno to take home or snack on while waiting in line for other food.

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Check out the colorful Papas Nativas at the Gran Mercado and consider taking some home to cook with.

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Try a cecina-flavored macarone at Taller in the Dulces tent

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Try some artesenal beers.

More to come …

Practical Matters

How to buy tickets

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The official web site says you can buy advanced tickets online via Teleticket, but it’s virtually impossible to buy tickets online especially if you’re a not a Peruvian.  If you want to buy tickets ahead of time, you can buy them at most supermarkets at a Teleticket booth. The lines for tickets is not too long on weekdays but buying tickets ahead time will save you a lot of time on weekends.

Buying tickets ahead of time, saves you time and money. Otherwise, you’ll need to wait in line to buy a ticket, then another line to enter, and a third line to buy exchange money into Mistura Money. Advanced tickets are also a little cheaper.

Mistura money matters

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In order to enjoy the food and drinks at Mistura, you’ll need to exchange cash for Mistura Money. It is available in different denominations: 1,3, 5, 8, and 14 soles. The denominations may seem a bit odd but they make sense because most dishes are 14 soles and half portions are usually 8 soles.

Getting the most of Mistura (more tips)

Go hungry but not too hungry

You should definitely go to Mistura with an appetite, but don’t go starving. The best thing about Mistura is the options. You should allow some time to make a trip around the entire fair some before committing to a venue and a specific line.

Try things that you won’t come across on your trip

Do a little research ahead of time and try things from regions you won’t be going to. I’m amazed at how long the lines are for some food that is available for cheaper in Lima, only a few kilometers away.

If you’re hungry, go for the sandwiches and salchipapas

Since the 14 soles for a full portion and 8 soles for a half portion is the standard price for every type of food at Mistura, the dishes with a lot of seafood and meat will usually be smaller or will have a lot of potatoes or rice to balance it out. If you are really hungry, go for dishes from one of the trucks or something like chaufa (fried rice) or sandwiches. The salchipapas looked like the biggest bang for your buck at Mistura.

Outthink the crowds 

With a little planning, you can minimize waiting in lines. Think about where most people will be at a certain time of day and do the opposite. Go early and eat before the crowds arrive. Then, spend an hour or so and walk around the market while everyone is eating lunch. Get drinks and dessert a little early while people are eating dinner. Or take it even further. Who is going to stop you from having pisco and alfajores for breakfast?

Thanks to Soraya Pastor, Paúl Perea, and Lorenzo and Isabel Dieterich for the great conversation and pointing things out Mistura that I would’ve missed otherwise. Thanks to Roger and Jorge who I met in line for their Mistura tips. They are the Mistura pros, having been multiple times. 

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