Traditional Peruvian Food: 12 Must-Try Dishes Of Peru
Peruvian food (or comida Peruana) is one of the most underrated cuisines in the world in my opinion. There is just so much to explore and try!
Rich in history and culture, authentic Peruvian dishes all have amazingly interesting backgrounds that make them what they are. Throughout the 20th century, various different cultures brought over their cooking styles, which made Peruvian food the melting pot that it is today.
All across Peru the styles of dishes change from region to region. Climate plays a big role as it determines what foods are available. Without a doubt the best way to experience Peruvian cuisine is with a local food tour. We took this food tour in Lima and it was an unbelievable experience that I would recommend to anyone visiting Peru.
This list is my absolute must-try collection of dishes to eat when visiting Peru and exploring the famous cuisine. There are so many to try but the below are the most famous, authentic, traditional Peruvian dishes that I recommend on your next trip to Peru.
Cuy (guinea pig)
One of the more unique delicacies in Peruvian food is Cuy, a baked or fried guinea pig served with potatoes.
It’s not a regular meal for Peruvians but is often served on special occasions such as holidays and birthdays.
In fact, Peru loves cuy so much that they even have a national holiday to celebrate the guinea pig! It happens every year on the second Friday of October (put it in your calendar!).
However, despite cuy not being eaten regularly by Peruvians, many canny restaurants have it as a permanent fixture on their menus to take advantage of the influx of tourists looking to try the delicacy. So cuy is easy to find if you are ever in Peru.
Cuy as a meal originated in the Andes region of Peru and has reportedly been around for over 5,000 years!
Guinea pigs are an indigenous animal and an easy source of protein for locals.
There are two main cuy dishes popular in Peru:
- Cuy al horno – (sometimes also called Cuy al palo) – baked guinea pig, cooked over a spit served whole and stuffed with herbs
- Cuy Chactado – fried guinea pig, often squashed under stones before frying
Before cooking they are often doused in salt and garlic to make the skin crisp.
Cuy is then served with either potatoes, salad, fries, rice, corn, Salsa Criolla (a red onion relish), or Salsa Huacatay (a spicy, green, herb-based sauce).
What’s great about Lomo Saltado is that it’s a celebration of the multi-cultural cooking techniques that make up Peruvian cuisine.
The dish is hugely popular across Peru and is eaten by young, old, rich and poor alike.
Lomo Saltado is a stir fry dish that consists of marinated beef, onions, tomatoes, soy sauce, chili’s, vinegar, spices, cilantro and french fries; usually served with rice.
There are many variants of Lomo Saltado that you can try depending on where you go in Peru. But beef steak with fries, chilies and soy sauce is the most common and is the base for most variations.
You can follow this Lomo Saltado recipe if you’d like to try it yourself.
Ceviche is the most famous dish that comes to mind when you talk of Peruvian food. It is very much a traditional staple of Peru.
Peruvian Ceviche has many variations but typically consists of chunks of raw marinated white fish cured in lemon or lime juices, spiced with chili and seasoned with salt. It is then served with sliced onions, cilantro, and sometimes tomato.
Traditional-style ceviche was marinated for about three hours. Modern-style ceviche, created by Peruvian chef Dario Matsufuji in the 1970s, usually has a very short marinating period.
With the appropriate fish, it can marinate in the time it takes to mix the ingredients, serve, and carry the ceviche to the table.
Typical sides for Ceviche include camote (creamy sweet potato), cancha (dry-roasted corn kernels), vegetables, lettuce, tamales, avocado or plantain.
The dish is served cold which presents risks of food poisoning so it’s important that the dish is served fresh!
What type of fish is used to make Ceviche?
Peruvians use a range of fish to make Ceviche, the most common ones being:
- Sea Bass
Other seafood used to make ceviche can include shrimp, scallops, squid or octopus.
Causa limeña roughly translates as ‘the cause of Lima’ and refers to the war between Peru and Chile over 100 years ago where it is said that the only ingredient left was potatoes, and so inventing dishes to utilize potatoes was ‘for the cause’!
Traditionally Causa limeña was prepared using the yellow potato along with lemon, boiled egg, lemon pepper and olives. Over time there have been numerous additions and variations, most notably the avocado and lettuce salad but in more recent times fillings such as tuna, chicken and seafood have been added along with mayonnaise.
Pachamanca is actually more of a cooking method than a single dish, but it has huge cultural relevance in Peru. It is used across all regions but with many different variations.
The traditional Peruvian pachamanca dates back to pre-Hispanic times, during the Inca Empire but has since evolved and spread throughout Peru.
Pachamanca means “earth oven” and is a baking technique using hot stones to cook a range of marinated meats such as cuy, chicken, lamb, mutton, pork and alpaca.
You then add in a range of vegetables such as potatoes, cassava, yuca, sweet potato, lima beans, corn, tamale, humitas… the list is endless!
Making and using a pachamanca:
The traditional Peruvian Pachamanca is made by placing hot rocks into a fire in order to heat them, and then putting them into a hole in the ground in order the create an “earth oven”.
Meat is then covered in herbs and spices, and then sometimes wrapped in leaves or just placed directly onto the hot stones. Often layering on stones between the meat to disperse the heat for better cooking.
A variety of vegetables are also included, such as potatoes, corn, cassava, lima beans and, of course, chili’s. Potatoes usually go towards the bottom whereas lighter vegetables go towards the top, or are placed on top of the hot stones.
The fire is then covered with grass, leaves and earth, and covered for a period of 2 – 4 hours whilst it cooks. After several hours the food will have finished cooking and the Pachamanca is ready to be opened up.
The result is a deliciously smoky flavour with a rich array of tastes to sample, with all the ingredients flavouring one another.
Pachamanca is usually prepared for a large group of people, using a large quantity of food, sometimes even whole animals.
It is a popular dish for family gatherings or fiestas, and is hugely popular across all regions of Peru.
If you’d like to really get into Pachamanca yourself, this is a fantastic recipe to follow.
Tacu Tacu is a delicious, traditional Peruvian breakfast dish that was invented by slaves during Colonial times. Their goal was to make a hearty and filling meal using only leftovers.
Tacu Tacu is essentially a patty made up of mashed canary beans and rice, and also sometimes onions and spices, fried in a skillet until crispy.
It can be served as a meal on its own or with a fried egg, steak, salsa criolla, or even fried banana.
As with most Peruvian dishes, there are many variations of Tacu Tacu. Meat or spices are sometimes added depending on the availability and region of Peru.
Aji de Gallina
Aji de gallina is a delicious spicy creamed chicken stew dish named after the aji amarillo chili peppers used in its preparation.
The dish has an interesting history, with its roots being traceable back to Roman and Arabic cuisine. Specifically a dish called Manjar Blanco which was to become Aji de Gallina once it was adopted and evolved by the Peruvians.
Cooking techniques used in Manjar Blanco were brought to Peru by French chefs who lost their jobs during the French Revolution. The wealthy families they worked for were killed or imprisoned leading them to Peru for opportunities.
The result is Aji de Gallina; a stunning cultural infusion of European and Peruvian traditions and methods.
Aji de Gallina is chicken in a creamy sauce made from ground walnuts, onion, garlic, cumin and, of course, aji amarillo chili peppers, served with rice.
Pollo a la brasa
The dish was originally eaten by the upper class Peruvians due to the cost and scarcity of chicken throughout Peru. However, today it is much cheaper and can be found in many restaurants throughout Peru, Colombia and Brazil.
An immeasurably simple dish, the chicken is marinated in soy sauce, garlic, lime juice, paprika, pepper and paprika for 8 hours before being cooked on a wood fire or coal grill.
A sauce is then made from either the yellow aji chili (aji amarillo) or the green aji chile (aji verde), which is placed on the side of the dish.
Tiradito is similar to ceviche in that the main ingredient is raw fish, however it is much more delicate and is served with a spicy sauce marinade made with tiger’s milk.
Tiradito is another notable Peruvian dish because it is influenced by Japanese cuisine, and is a very similar dish to sashimi as the fish is very thinly sliced. It is then typically garnished with sweet potato, boiled corn and additional ingredients such as scallops.
Anticuchos (Beef Heart Skewers)
Anticuchos are beef heart skewers that are found all over Peru from street food stalls to typical family homes where it is eaten as a meal with delicious sides. Aji panca sauce is what makes the anticuchos so delicious, with a marinade so authentically Peruvian in taste!
The aji panca marinade creates earthy flavors and anticuchos is traditionally also served with a yellow pepper sauce made from scotch bonnet peppers. The end result is a tangy, spicy flavor that is absolutely adored throughout Peru.
You can also check out our authentic anticuchos beef heart skewer recipe.
Papas a la Huancaina
Papas a la Huancaina is a dish of sliced potatoes in a creamy, spicy cheese sauce. In order to make this dish so authentically Peruvian, of course, Aji panca is used along with fresh cheese, garlic, lime juice, milk and saltine crackers. The ingredients give Papas a la Huancaina its distinctive bright yellow sauce which is then served with salad and boiled eggs.
Peruvians often eat Papas a la Huancaina as a side dish to another main meal, such as anticuchos, or as an appetiser. It packs a bit of a spicy kick but it’s a very warming, homely meal that is well-loved throughout Peru.
Rocoto Relleno are exquisite Peruvian stuffed spicy peppers, originating in Southern Peru but now widely enjoyed throughout the country. The aji red peppers are stuffed with a mixture of ground beef, onions, garlic and other spices. Queso fresco is added on top and the peppers are baked in a sauce of egg and milk.
The aji red peppers are of course chilli peppers meaning that this dish packs an incredibly spicy punch! However, the ingredients somewhat calm down the initial kick and, together, the flavors combine to create a stunningly delicious flavor that only could have come from Peru!
Eating Traditional Peruvian Food In Lima
Of course, the best way to try Peruvian food is to get out there and wander the beautiful towns of Lima or Cuzco and try the food for yourself! A food tour of Lima was one of the best things we did on our trip so I would highly recommend doing it this way if you have time.
Enjoying the sights and smells of real, authentic Peruvian food is the recommended way to really immerse yourself in the cuisine.