Peruvian cuisine: what food do they eat in Peru?
Peruvian cuisine and the typical foods eaten in Peru are distinctively varied and influenced by a range of factors including different ethnicities who settled there mostly during the 20th century, the cooking methods they brought with them, the availability of different meats and crops, and regional cultures.
From the indigenous Inca’s to the Spanish, Germans, Italians, Chinese, Japanese and West Africans; Peruvian food is inspired by different cooking techniques and ideas brought over by immigrants to South America.
Furthermore, a variety of climates across the country mean that local Peruvian dishes differ from region to region depending on the local resources available to them.
What is typical Peruvian food? Traditional Peruvian cuisine and dishes
There are a lot of incredible foods to discover in Peru as well as lot of styles of cooking that are unique to certain regions.
We’ll take a look at some of the most typical dishes as well as some lesser-known delicacies eaten by locals in Peru.
Broadly speaking, examples of typical Peruvian dishes include:
- Cuy (guinea pig)
- Lomo Saltado
- Ceviche (marinated raw fish)
- Tacu Tacu
- Aji de Gallina
- Pollo a la Brasa
Cuy (guinea pig)
One of the more unique delicacies in Peruvian food is Cuy, which is Peruvian for guinea pig. It’s not a regular meal for Peruvians but is often served on special occasions such as holidays and birthdays. In fact, Peru even has a national holiday to celebrate the guinea pig which happens every year on the second Friday of October.
However, despite it 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 it 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, with guinea pigs being 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 and 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 really make up Peruvian cuisine. There are clear influences from Asia, South America and the West, making this dish a real melting pot of cultures.
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, chilies, 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.
Ceviche is the popular Peruvian 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, 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:
Other seafood used to make ceviche can include shrimp, scallops, squid or octopus.
Pachamanca is actually more of a cooking method than a single dish, but it has huge cultural relevance in Peru and is used across all regions but with many different variations. The traditional Peruvian dish 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:
As well as vegetables such as:
- Sweet potato
- Lima beans
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.
A variety of vegetables are also included, such as potatoes, corn, cassava, lima beans and, of course, chilies. 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.
Tacu Tacu is a delicious, traditional Peruvian breakfast dish that was invented by slaves during Colonial times, making a hearty and filling meal using leftovers.
Tacu Tacu is a patty made up of mashed canary beans and rice, and also sometimes onions and spices, fried in a skillet until crispy. It is 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, and 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 and 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 when the wealthy families they worked for were killed or imprisoned. The result is 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.