Peru has a long and storied history. As home to one of the world’s great ancient civilizations, they’ve got majestic ruins up the wazoo and centuries of colonial Spanish history that informs all aspects of daily life. One of those aspects is food. Peru’s culinary palette is rich, diverse and – most importantly – flavourful. Here, blogger Brendan Lee dives into Peru’s edible legacy and serves up a chef’s selection of five signature dishes you simply gotta try when you’re there. Dig in and disfrutar!
Every year on June 28th, Peruvians celebrate Día del Ceviche, a national holiday in honour of this classic seafood dish. It is prepared by marinating raw chunks of fish in lemon or lime juice and then leaving it to sit, allowing the citric acid to slowly ‘cook’ the fish before it is served. Onions, chilli peppers and coriander are all added as popular seasonings.
Cooking fish in this way is not an entirely unique concept, as you will find the dish shares striking similarities to both the Filipino ‘Kilawin’ and the Fijian ‘Kokoda’. However, the Peruvians are quite different in that they typically serve the dish with sweet potatoes or corn, and will sometimes enjoy a small glass of the leftover marinade as an appetizer (this has quite a zing, so be warned!).
2. Inca Kola
Inca Kola is a locally-made soda that has long been considered a national icon in Peru. Instantly recognizable due to its fluorescent yellow colour, the drink has a very sweet ‘tutti frutti’ flavour, and if you drink it blindfolded you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a can of cream soda.
Deeply loved throughout the country, Peruvians will be quick to tell you that even Coca Cola is unable to compete with the drink, as Inca Kola still outsells it to this very day. In that sense, the drink is very much a symbol of national pride and is likely to remain the country’s drink of choice for many years to come.
Interestingly, I wasn’t impressed at all when I first tried it, yet somehow I found myself enjoying it several times throughout my visit. A slowly acquired taste, perhaps.
3. Pollo a la brasa
One of the first things I noticed about Peru was the insane number of chicken restaurants, or pollerías there were – there’s literally one on every corner. They say that Peruvian roast chicken, or pollo a la brasa is the most consumed dish in the country, and once you taste it you’ll understand why – it’s simply delicious. Apparently the secret is in the marinade, which traditionally consists of garlic, peppers, cumin and soy sauce, all combining perfectly to give it a distinct barbecue flavour.
This will all become clear as you walk through the streets of Peru at night; you can smell the unmistakeable aroma of chickens roasting over hot coals and spot the countless pollerías filled to the brim, packed with locals tearing apart their grilled birds with a beer or Inca Kola by their side. As you’ll quickly see, Peruvians really do love their chicken.
4. Lomo saltado
When the Chinese migrated to Peru many years ago, they fused their traditional cooking skills with the local Peruvian ingredients, creating the cuisine known today as ‘chifa’. While originally confined to the Chinese community, chifa has since grown into one of the most popular styles of cooking in Peru today. One particular favourite is lomo saltado, a Chinese style stirfry of beef, potatoes, onions and tomatoes, all served on a bed of white rice. Potatoes, while popular in Peru, are rarely found in traditional Chinese stirfries, so their inclusion in this dish is a clear representation of the fusion and adaptation that has been made to local ingredients. If you’re after a nice hearty dish and a bit of a carb overload, this one’s for you.
If you had a guinea pig as a pet growing up, you’ll probably want to steer clear of this one. Guinea pig, or cuy as it’s known in Peru, is a common part of the Peruvian diet and is eaten throughout the country. As you might expect, it’s a very bony animal with little fat, and the gamey meat is often described as tasting similar to rabbit or chicken. Usually the animal is roasted or fried, and then served whole from head to foot. While it might appear a little distasteful to some, eating cuy can actually be quite a pleasant experience, and due to its bony nature one might liken it to eating a plate of chicken wings or a bucket of KFC (as you pull the animal apart with your hands and nibble the chicken-like meat off the bones).
G Adventures runs a number of departures to Peru encompassing a wide range of dates and activities to cater for different tastes. We’re thrilled at the prospect of showing you the Inca Trail as you’ve never seen it — check out our small group trips to Peru here.