What to Eat in Peru
Peruvian Food to try (“the big five”)
With apologies to vegetarians …
Ceviche-forget everything you know about this dish. You must try this while in Peru (especially in Lima or along the northern coast). The seafood off the coast of Peru is incredibly diverse and delicious. Peruvian limes are different and have a stronger, distinctive flavor. Try ceviche in different forms and see the creative ways cevicherias can alter taste, texture, and presentation.
Lomo Saltado is a fusion dish that is at the heart of Peruvian cuisine. It has clear, Chinese influence but is so much part of Peruvian Cuisine that it’s consider part of Criolla (traditional Peruvian) Cuisine. Beef stir-fried with soy sauce, tomatoes, red onions, ají amarillo (yellow pepper). Served with french fries. I personally think that vinegar is essential for a good lomo saltado.
Anticuchos consists of cow heart marinated and grilled. Served with a special sauce. If organ meat makes you squeamish, try to put aside your fear. Heart is more like a muscle and doesn’t have the same taste that liver or other organ has.
Aji de Gallina is a creamy stew of nuts, ají amarillo, and chicken. The pepper provides more flavor than heat and spiciness tends to be of a gentle, comforting type.
Cuy (Guineau pig)-There are many ways to try Cuy-roasted (al horno), on a stick (al palo), chactado (flattened and fried), and filleted and incorporated into other dishes in novoandina restaurants. Start with the way you’re most comfortable with first to see if you like it. In touristic restaurants, you can choose between dishes where see the entire animal is served on a plate or dishes where it’s cooked like chicken or other meats.
- Ceviche in the north is different than ceviche in Lima. It is served with while beans, generally is spicier and juicier (eat it with a spoon). One of the joys of traveling Peru is seeing how the ceviche is different in each part of Peru. Side note: Chifles (fried plantains) are also more prominent in northern ceviche. They make great standalone snacks.
- In Arequipa, Rocoto Relleno is rocoto pepper stuffed with beef and paired with Pastel de Papa a rich, layered potato dish.
- Cabrito, hearty lamb stew in the north especially Chiclayo and Cajamarca
- Chicharones-fried pork, found all over Peru but especially well known in Cusco
- The Chiriuchu is a festive dish in Cusco which combines ingredients from all over Peru-gallina (hen), cuy (guinea pig), chorizo, cecina (see next line), corn, torrejas, and seaweed
- Juanes (rice, meat, and spices wrapped in a bijao leaf which is similiar to a banana leaf), Cecina (smoked and dried meat), and Tacacho (plantains mashed into a alls) are traditional dishes in the jungle that are worth trying.
- Suspiro consists of manjar blanco (dulce de leche) topped with meringue and cinnamon. It’s too sweet for my tastes but a favorite among locals and visitors. They are now available in different flavors. You can even find samplers with three or four flavors.
- Picarones are Peru’s answer to donuts. Made of a dough made from squash, fried, and served with syrup. Best eaten freshly fried.
- Alfajores are delicate cookies with a gooey filling in the center. They filling is typically dulce de leche but now you can find a variety of flavors.
- King Kong is a giant cookie sandwich that is famous in Northern Peru. It has layers of blancmange, marmalade or sweetened pineapple, and peanuts. It is typically sold by the half kilogram or kilogram.
- Doña Pepe is a snack found in just about any store
What to drink (alcoholic)
- Pisco Sour-Classic Peruvian drink for a reason. Can be infused with a variety of flavors from maracuya (passion fruit), coca leaf, and more. Try the classic one first, preferably right after you check into your hotel or Airbnb.
- Chilcano-Ginger ale with pisco. Can also be infused with a variety of flavors.
- Mosta Verde Pisco-small batch pisco, best enjoyed straight.
What to drink (soft drinks)
- Chicha Morada is a purple corn punch flavored with fruit. Doesn’t taste as weird as it might sounds. It’s sweet but less sweet than soda. It’s a fixture at cevicherias and local restaurants.
- Inka Kola-Super sweet soda. Foreigners say it tastes like bubble gum. Locals say it tastes like Hierba Luisa (a local herb). Pairs well with meat like anticucho.
Other Things to Try
- Papa la Huancaina, Leche de Tigre, Tacu Tacu, Chaufa, Chupe de Camarones, Butifaras, Tiradito, Pollo a la Brasa, Arroz con Pato, Caldo de Gallina, Causa, Chicharones, Conchitas a la Parmesana, Choclo, Soltero, Chancho al Palo, Papa Rellena, … the list is truly endless.
Eating Your Way Around Peru
- My personal opinion of Lima is that there are lots of restaurants to try but not so much to do between meals.
- Start by hang out in Barranco and Miraflores which have the largest concentration of restaurants.
- I was surprised by how many restaurants now in San Isidro; sample old and new (old: Antigua Taberna Queirolo, new: 1038 Bistro).
Fast food/cheap eateries
- Don Cevichero is located inside Surquillo market and is one of the best ceviche I had featuring super fresh seafood. Surprising quality since there’s several people standing outside trying to get you to come, making it feel like a tourist trap
- La Lucha is a chain found in various locations around Lima (plus one in Arequipa) offering criolla sandwiches
Traditional places (relatively inexpensive)
- Canta Rana offers a good selection of traditional hot and cold plates in a cozy setting. Get tacu tacu or ceviche. Get both if you’re sharing.
- Cafe Tostado try the rabbit in orange sauce.
- Bam Bam Ceviche near Surquillo Market offers delicious ceviche platters.
- San Lao Joy is a great place to try Chifa in Chinatown (go for lunch not at night), order the guineau pig.
A bit expensive
- El Mercado is famous for ceviche but I actually prefer the other plates.
- Rosa Nautica has great cocktails and food with view of water
- AmaZ offers dishes focused on Amazonian flavors. The dishes incorporate many exotic ingredients (there’s even a glossary on their web site). The end result is simply delicious.
- Maido serves beautiful, playful tasting menu representing Nikkei, the combination of Japanese and Peruvian flavors. Seafood plays a large role in Japan and Peru’s gastronomic identity so expect a lot of seafood and concepts borrowed from Peruvian and Japanese food.
- Astrid y Gaston is Gaston Acurio’s flagship restaurant and has a tasting menu that takes you through a tour of all of Peru. Set in a beautiful colonial house.
- Central is ranked #1 restaurant in Latin American and features a stunningly beautiful tasting menu that showcases the biodiversity of Peru. Each course features an ecosystem at a specific altitude. Each dish is so beautiful that you won’t want to disturb it. Once you dig in, you’ll experience flavors and textures that you’ve encountered before. Make reservations about four months ahead of time.
My List of Things to Try Next Time
- El Rincón que no Conoces
- Ik Tasting menu (I only can handle one per visit!)
- Barra Mar
- Cevicheria Richard`s
- El Ceviche De Ronald
Mistura (“mixture in Spanish) is an annual gastronomic fair that celebrates Peruvian food. Now it has expanded to include other cuisines as well. It is the largest food in Latin America and takes place during the first two weeks of September every year.
If you can arrange your trip to coincide with this festival, it’s a good opportunity to try a wide variety of Peruvian food in a short period of time. Despite the crowds and high prices (relative to local standards), it’s worth checking out.
- Inka Grill is a good place to sample traditional dishes such as Lomo Saltado
- Uchu is a Peruvian steakhouse serving modern versions of Peruvian dishes like Causa and steak served on volcanic stones
- Cusqueñita offers Cusco fare with a live show. If you want to try an epic dish, order the Chiriuchu.
- Republica de Pisco makes good pisco cocktails but questionable music taste;)
- Chicha, one of Gaston’s restaurants, has a nice menu divided by land, sea, …
- Limbus offers beautiful view of city and good drink specials
- Jack’s serves Western favorites, especially good for breakfast
- El Ecuentro offers vegetarian version of Peruvian classics
- Markets-I prefer Wanchaq market over the more touristy San Pedro Market which is more central and is known for the spectacles of their butchery section. It is better lit and has a more authentic feel. I also feel like San Pedro is a little less safe since there may be pickpockets targeting tourists
To try next time:
- La Quinta Eulalia
- Salinas de Maras-one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen
- Food recommendations coming … avoid touristy buffets if you can. They do provide an opportunity to try a lot of traditional dishes but none of the dishes will be a standout version.
- At Indio Feliz, you can find French food (along with some fusion) in a funky, pirate-themed atmosphere. It’s a diamond in the rough, in the midst of generic tourist traps that populate the main streets of Aguas Calientes.
- Zig Zag is a tourist favorite and is a good way to sample a variety of meat including alpaca and fish cooked on volcanic rocks.
- La Benita de Claustros is a great way to sample traditional Arequipan food in a beautiful setting. It is the only picantería in the city center.
- La Capitana, is a local favorite, feature food cooked over traditional wood fire and a typical Arequipian dishes. Favorites include costillar (ribs), chupe de camarones, and pastel de tallarin.
- Go to Hatunpa and taste firsthand why Peruvians are so proud of their potatoes. Their plates let you sample different types of potatoes along with your favorite Peruvian dishes.
- Sol de Mayo is great for a leisurely lunch whee you can sit in a beautiful courtyard and enjoy decadant versions of traditional food (try Chupe de Camarones).
- Tradicion Arequipa offers modern versions of traditional, picantería food in large portions. It’s visitor-tourist but is also frequented by locals as well.
- Try the Queso helado at Yuanahura. Despite its name, queso helado doesn’t have any cheese. Instead, it is an icy treat of coconut, cloves, and cinnamon.
- Casona Pisco is beautifully set pisco bar with simple menu that eschews complicated cocktails and instead highlights the pisco. They have many different bottles of pisco. Chat with the bartender to get recommendations.
- Salamanto offers a creative tasting menu using local ingredients and riffs on traditional dishes. If you’re staying in Arequipa for a few days, I personally recommend making recommendations and trying Salamanto on your last day, after you’ve sampled the traditional version of dishes listed above. Then, you can really appreciate the creativity that goes into the food here.
- El Pescador serves large portions of tasty ceviche for a low price. It’s also a good place to eat alongside locals.
- Fiesta serves refined versions of Chiclayo favorites. Specialties include hot ceviche, duck and rice with the delicious crispy rice at the bottom of the pot that everyone fights for, and a delicious fancy version of King Kong. We went to the one in Lima.
- El Ajicito serves delicious ceviche and specializes in ceviche smothered in ají (pepper) sauce.
- Señorío Cajamarquino serves Cajamarcan food near plaza de armas, good place to try Cuy frito con Pepián de papas, Cajamarca’s signature dish
- Restaurante Castope is a little out of the way but highly worth it for traditional food. I ordered the Cabrito with tacu tacu which became one of the top five meals I’ve had in Peru. Word of warning: it is really, really filling.
- Chez Paz is only a couple blocks from the main square but offers great menu of modern twists on Peruvian food. The prices are also significantly cheaper than restaurants on the main square. This is a restaurant that warrants multiple times.
- Take a boat to Al Frio y Al Fuego, a floating restaurant. Menu is a little pricey but features fusion and refined version of classic dishes from the selva.
- The Yellow Rose of Texas is a Texas-themed bar where you least expect it. Try the fried gator bites. Traditional dishes like Patarashca (fish steamed in bijao leaves) are also perfectly cooked but a little more expensive than in other places.
- Musmuqui Bar, or “monkey bar,” offers cocktails made from a local, sugar liqueur infused with all sorts of things from jungle fruit to snakes.
When people say that Piura is nice they mean the region not the town. The town is a transportation hub so you may end up passing through, but it is a headache of a city with the incessant honking and dilapidated buildings.
- El Pedrito prepares delicious ceviche with conchitas negras. There are two restaurants next to each other that are part of El Pedrito. Pick the one where you can watch the owner and cevichero, Pedro, work his craft.
- Tayanti, Tao, and a couple other restaurants share a large, courtyard area in an up and coming neighborhood. A nice area to have dinner and drinks.
- El Local offers great coffee and sandwiches packed with beautiful, organic lettuce and other vegetables.
- Donde Teresa is run by the son of one of first celebrity chefs in Peru. Their ceviche is delicious and features fried seafood on top of ceviche. They also offer twists on dishes such as smoked Ají de Gallina.
- El Faro offers the best “menú” (daily special consisting of starter, entree, and sometimes beverage or dessert at a bargain price). I’ve had in all of the time I spent in Peru. I had ceviche, fried fish, and a drink for a only a few dollars.
- The restaurant options are fairly limited especially at night. If you’re staying somewhere with a kitchen, I recommend waking up early in the morning and buying fresh fish. Also, check out the Muelle (pier), a great place to watch fisherman and locals work and hang out.
- Eduardo El Brujo serves delicious ceviche and seafood dishes. It’s the best place to find Tumbesian cuisine. I ate here three times in two days… Make sure you look for “Eduardo El Brujo.” There’s another restaurant with the “El Brujo” name.