Peru has sprung into the food industry these past years and has seen an explosion of appreciation for its ethnic cuisine. Peruvian food is, without a doubt, a tempting menu– something that Peruvians have known all along.
Peruvian food is seriously an all-time favorite of mine. The robust flavors and multi-cultural influence has created a diverse menu that is suitable for everyone.
Whether you’re looking to get inspired for a trip to Peru or want some inspiration for dinner tonight, I have a list of Peruvian foods you have to try!
What Is Peruvian Food?
Maybe the more appropriate question is what Peruvian food is not. It’s not boring, that’s for sure! Peruvian food is a must-try cuisine, for several reasons. Long ago, when Peru was the epicenter of the Inca Empire, a unique gastronomic culture arose. The people of Peru gained influences from all around the world, including Spain, Africa, China, and Italy, enabling the dishes of the country to evolve and flourish and gain a lot of character.
Not only does the food look good, it has layers of flavor. Sweet, spicy, acidic, sour…it’s the full spectrum of umami. The use of wholesome ingredients also makes Peruvian food incredibly healthy, such as lightly stir-fried meats and vegetables, partnered w. It’s everything you could want.
Common Ingredients In Peruvian Food
People often wonder if Peruvian food is spicy or if it is healthy. Are there vegetarian options? My answer is yes—to all of that. Peruvian food is a rainbow cuisine that has so many flavors and textures and spices for every single palate. I complied a list of typical ingredients in Peruvian food, along with some of the Spanish words for these ingredients, so you know what you are ordering when you travel to Peru or find yourself in a very authentic restaurant:
- Chicken – at the heart of Peruvian cuisine is pollo, or chicken.
- Pork – a main ingredient in the Peruvian highlands, near Cusco, where you can see chicarron de chancho everywhere. In the jungle, you will see cecina, or cured pork, and chorizo often.
- Fish – you cannot leave Peru without trying fish ceviche, and with more than 2,000 species of fish available in the country, you will find unique fish dishes from coast to coast.
- Potato – namely, the humble yellow potato, or papa amarilla.
- Red onion
- Ají amarillo – yellow chilies; has a very mild flavor and is often used in classic dishes like causa rellana, papa a la huancaina, tiraditos, and escabeches.
- Ají rocoto – whenever the red chili is involved, the mild flavors typically found in Peruvian food gets kicked up. If you can’t handle spicy food, don’t worry. Ají rocoto is usually served on the side rather than in the dishes.
- Maize – corn
- Kiwicha – also known as amaranth and love-lies-bleeding
- Queso fresco
- Evaporated milk
- Plantains and bananas
How and Where To Order Food In Peru
If you are in Peru and planning to go to a restaurant or street food vendor, there are a couple of things you should anticipate. First, at restaurants, you are going to be served soup all the time as a way to start to meal. The soup (sopa) usually contains some kind of grain, like corn or quinoa, a mixture of vegetables, and some sort of meat (unless it’s vegetarian).
The main course follows. The meal ends with a small dessert. Some restaurants also provide a free appetizer of roasted corn kernels that are salty, crunchy, and addicting. Three sauces—Peruvian green sauce, red, and white—join the kernels. One sauce is typically hot, or picante.
Don’t forget to ask for some recommendations by saying, “¿Qué me recomienda?”
My Favorite Peruvian Foods (and Drinks)
1. Pollo A La Brasa (Peruvian Chicken)
One of the most beloved staples of Peruvian food would be blackened or rotisserie chicken, also known as pollo a la brasa. This dish hasn’t been around as long as some other mentions on this list, having originated in Lima during the 1950s, but it is widely celebrated and consumed.
You will find pollo a la brasa at restaurants throughout the country and even in Peruvian eateries throughout the world. A plate of pollo a la brasa is usually a quarter of the chicken with french fries and salad. A creamy sauce called aji is on the side.
Ah, ceviche. It is one of the popular and renowned foods from Peru that even gets attention from world-famous chefs. Ceviche is typically made with a raw fish that has been marinated in lime juice. There are regional examples of ceviche that you shouldn’t miss. What is served in Cusco is different from what you get in Lima, but neither disappoint!
For authentic ceviche in Peru, head to cevicheria. Most are closed after lunchtime, however, because ceviche is considered too acidic for dinner. Some recipes of ceviche can be extremely spicy, especially if aji limo is added. If you don’t want your ceviche made with peppers, ask for it sin aji, or “without chili.”
I love this easy ceviche recipe from Spend With Pennies, it’s a great summer patio food and SO fresh!
3. Papa a la Huancaína
Peru is a country that hundreds of different potatoes, and it is the country where tubers were domesticated for eating. No wonder Peruvian cuisine has several dishes where the humble spud takes the main role, such as Papa a la Huancaína.
This is quintessential comfort food derived from boiled potatoes heaped with a spicy yet creamy sauce. Sometimes, the dish is served with a hard boiled egg as well.
4. Grilled Piranha
Care for some Amazonian fare? Even if you order grilled piranha simply for the thrill of tasting some exotic, it is something to consider. That said, piranha is an acquired taste, since it does have a fishy smell. Most of the time, piranha is grilled lightly and served with rice.
The other option is cuy, or guinea pig. Some people says it tastes like pork.
5. Suspiro Limeña
The translation of suspiro limeña, which is sometimes also called suspiro limeño, is “sigh of Lima.” Anyone with a sweet tooth will love suspiro limeña, because it is an exquisite dessert that pairs well with pisco, tea, or even water.
Suspiro limeña is the Peruvian version of dulce de leche and was inspired by manjarblanco. The dessert uses condensed and evaporated milk, egg yolks, meringue mixed with Port wine, and some ground cinnamon.
6. Sopa de Quinoa
Although quinoa is now being touted as a superfood throughout the world, it has been at the heart of Peruvian cuisine for ages. The Incas used to call quinoa the “mother of all grains.”
If you are headed to the Andes, you will undoubtedly find variants of sopa de quinoa, a rich and hearty soup with quinoa as the base.
It can come in vegetarian varieties or contain different kinds of meat. Either way, when you go to Peru, don’t pass up the chance to taste quinoa in the country that domesticated the crop.
You don’t want to miss one of the cheapest and tastiest Peruvian treats! Head to the local street food stalls, called anticucheras, and order yourself up some anticuchos, or meat skewers.
Chunks of meat are marinated in spices, like cumin and pepper, and vinegar then grilled.
The most popular is made with anticuchos de corazón, or beef heart. When you order your skewers, it often comes paired with boiled potato.
Hungry for something a little less healthy but just as satisfying? Grab some patacones—a sweet and savory treat. Patacones are smashed slices of plantain that are fried to a perfect golden crunch.
If you are vegetarian, patacones make for a wonderful treat, unless they are fried in animal fat. You will often find patacones paired with many dishes, including tacacho, a different side dish containing plantains and pork rinds.
9. Lomo Saltado
Also known as saltadito, this dish is one of the few that makes generous use of beef and is a local staple. Sliced beef tenderloin (“lomo” in Spanish) is stir-fried alongside garlic, tomato, cumin powder, and red onions then mixed into fried potatos, some coriander, and parsley. Salt and pepper is added to taste. The dish is served with a side of white rice.
Lomo saltado was introduced to Peru during the 19th century, when there was heavy Chinese-Cantonese influence from abroad. Chifa dishes like lomo saltado have been popular in Peru ever since.
10. Ají de Gallina
A simple yet flavorful dish that incorporates chicken, potatoes, and a sauce similar to yellow curry. Ají de Gallina is often served with fluffy white rice.
The yellow sauce is, you guessed it, made from Peruvian yellow chilis (ají amarillo) along with cheese, milk, and bread. Sometimes, walnuts are added to the recipe, but that is often for a special occasion.
Aji amarillo makes a mean green sauce too. Make sure you try some aji verde during your next meal!
11. Pisco Sour
This isn’t for children. A pisco sour is a famous Peruvian alcoholic beverage that should be on every South American bucket list.
Pisco is a type of alcohol made from grapes that is mixed with fresh lime, bitters, sugar syrup, ice, and some egg whites to make the drink foamy and light. If sours aren’t you thing, consider ordering a “Cusqueña” or “chicha de Jora,” two kinds of famous beers in Peru.
Making it at home? Try my authentic Peruvian pisco sour recipe here!
12. Sopa de Habas
Sometimes, the most basic recipes can be the most delicious. Case in point: Sopa de habas, or chupe de habas. Regional versions exist, but most recipes rely on beans, onion, garlic, tomato, and sometimes yellow potatoes.
13. Ensalada de Pallares
Looking for something light to snack on in between the meals? Ensalada de pallares is a zesty salad that makes for the perfect picnic food, especially if you plan on hiking up to Macchu Picchu.
Pallares is the Spanish word for lima beans, which takes front and center of the recipe. The beans are often paired with lime juice, parsley, onion, and tomato.
The alfajor is THE snacking sensation of Peru. Alfajores are available in hundreds of flavors, but the basic set up consists of two thin cookies (thickness varies depending on who makes it), and a smear of dulce de leche between the cookies, and a topping of coconut flakes or powdered sugar (or both).
15. Inca Kola
Looking for something that you can only get within the country of Peru? Inca Kola is a bright yellow and happens to be a favorite among the locals. It is so popular, in fact, that since 1910, it has been called things like La bedida del sabor nacional (“The drink of national flavor”) and El sabor del Peru (The taste of Peru). The soda is flavored with lemon verbena, giving it a slight bubblegum essence that is also light, sweet, and fruity. It pairs well with a lot of sauces, Chifa (Chinese food), and even with ceviche. Don’t be surprised if you head to a cevicherias (ceviche restaurant) and see Inca Kola on every single table!