Peruvian cuisine has received a lot of attention lately. The country was recently named the best culinary destination in the world for the seventh year in a row. I spent more than a month eating my way through the country to see what all the fuss was about.
Peruvian cuisine is most famous for its wonderful and exciting blends of spices and bold flavors. Peru is an amalgamation of many food cultures. Corn, quinoa, and the incredibly diverse range of potatoes are all grown in the Andes mountains and have been for thousands of years. These staples have formed the basis for dishes and recipes dating back to the Incan Empire.
To be honest, while there were many Peruvian dishes I really loved, overall I didn’t find it amazing enough to warrant being named the best in the world for nearly a decade. I still find myself craving some dishes after my visit: the ceviches, causa, and of course pisco sours. Others were really good, but the best in the world? After my month in Peru, I still lean towards dishes from Thailand, Italy, Vietnam, and India.
A Brief History of Influences on Peruvian Cuisine
When the Spanish arrived in 1522, they brought their own Old World staples, like wheat and rice, and also domestic livestock such as chicken, beef, and pork. These ingredients are integrated with traditional Incan cooking methods and indigenous ingredients to create an entirely unparalleled, world-renown cuisine.
When Chinese immigrants arrived between 1848-1874, they brought with them ginger, soy sauce, and scallions. Many Chinese cooking methods were also applied to local ingredients such as bananas, potatoes, and pineapples. This new and unique combination also contributed to the development of the Peruvian cuisine we can taste today.
When the Japanese arrived on the scene in 1899, they brought their love of seafood and the art with which they prepare it. To them, presentation is just as important as taste, and some of these ideas were adopted within the Peruvian culinary world.
13 Must-Try Peruvian Dishes
No visit to Peru is complete without this national staple. Ceviche is so well known and loved in Peru that the dish is considered an indispensable part of Peruvian national heritage.
To make this classic traditional Peruvian food, you cure raw fish in citrus juices before spicing it up with chili and serving it with sweet potatoes, onion, and corn. This simple dish has countless variations. It often includes shellfish, either as a substitute or companion.
Ceviche, like most Peruvian seafood, is typically served only for lunch. We learned that Peruvians are very particular when it comes to seafood, and they are used to having it very fresh. Many locals consider fish caught in the morning not fresh enough to be served at dinner.
Lomo Saltado combines the cooking styles and tastes of both Chinese and Peruvian cuisine. This combo is known as chifa.
Chifa cooking was created when the Chinese immigrants experimented with the local ingredients. While completely separate from Chinese cuisine, some chifa techniques remain distinctly Chinese.
Chifa cooking offers many dishes. But, the most famous and well-loved is lomo saltado. This dish consists of beef stir-fried with tomatoes and onions and then served with rice and French fries.
Aji de Gallina
Aji de Gallina is a delicious, slow-cooked masterpiece. Shredded chicken smothered in a sauce made of walnuts, cheese, and milk. The sauce, which has aji Amarillo chili pepper, gives the dish its signature flavor and pepper color.
This bold, bright sauce is topped with black olives and served alongside traditional Peruvian food favorites – rice and potatoes.
This dish perfectly represents Peru’s love of sauces and spices, as the creamy, nutty sauce softens the bite of the chili pepper.
Arroz con Mariscos (Peruvian paella)
This popular dish translates to “rice with seafood”. Several different Latin American countries claim to have invented it. But, whether it’s an original Peruvian dish or not, you can find it all anywhere in Peru.
Similar to Spanish paella, but without a crusty bottom, arroz con mariscos loads flavorful rice with fresh seafood. You’ll typically find some combination of squid, fish, lobster, scallops, or shrimp.
This hearty, filling dish was one of my favorites, and I enjoyed it several times during my visit.
Cuy (Guinea Pig)
Cuy or cooked guinea pig may be a point of concern for some pet-loving Westerners. But nonetheless, it is one of the most popular Peruvian dishes and a common source of meat (along with the alpaca).
When cooked right, the meat is smoky and tender with crisp, golden skin. One could compare it to a cross between suckling pig and duck, as the meat is oily.
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In traditional Peruvian cuisine, the entire animal is stuffed with local herbs, roasted over an open wood fire, and served with potatoes. When prepared this way, it tastes best dipped in aji sauce and then eaten by hand – much like fried chicken. While this traditional way is most popular, some of Peru’s more refined restaurant-style recipes instead involve braising and deep-frying the meat.
Pescado a Lo Macho
A feast for seafood lovers found predominantly along Peru’s coastal region, Pescado a lo Macho is an eye-catching dish known for its vibrant colors and complex flavors.
Its name, which translates to “Fish in Macho Style,” doesn’t just describe the dish—it’s a testament to its hearty, flavor-packed character.
Typically, this dish features a white fish fillet, such as flounder or sole, that’s lightly fried until golden. What sets it apart is its accompanying sauce—a rich concoction brimming with an assortment of seafood like squid, shrimp, and sometimes scallops.
The sauce itself is a complex blend of aji amarillo, garlic, onions, and tomatoes, often accentuated with a touch of white wine or fish stock for added depth.
During my culinary adventures in Peru, this dish stood out not just for its flavor but for its versatility.
Pescado a lo Macho is often served with white rice to soak up the delicious sauce, making it a hearty and fulfilling meal that should not be missed when exploring Peruvian cuisine.
Pan con Chicharron
Pan con chicharron is perhaps the most iconic sandwich in Peruvian cuisine. Bread stuffed with slow-braised pork, topped with boiled sweet potato, and finished with salsa criolla, a topping of red onions, citrus juice, and a bit of heat from some peppers.
As a sandwich, this may sound like a lunch or dinner dish. But it’s most commonly eaten for breakfast. Many locals enjoy it as a traditional Sunday breakfast.
You can find it on menus all over Peru, but my favorite versions were sold as street food dishes.
This dish is a specialty from the city of Arequipa, Peru’s second-largest. Essentially Peru’s version of stuffed pepper, Rocoto Relleno comes with a signature taste: a spicy kick and a whole lot of bold flavor!
Peruvians stuff a mix of pork, onions, minced beef, and pecans into their rocoto. They then top the pepper with delicious cheese and grill it. The dish is most commonly served with a side of pastel de papa, a thinly layered potato covered in cheese.
I found Causa quite possibly my favorite Peruvian dish, likely because of the variety of ways I tried it. As this dish has adopted many forms, Causa can be served as a cake roll, casserole, terrine, or even individual servings.
However presented, the dish is prepared the same way. It begins with meaty, yellow mashed Peruvian potatoes blended with oil, lime, and a spicy aji Amarillo sauce. Next, they add several layers of avocado, olives, and hard-boiled eggs. The surface is then topped with more potato mix, and many layers are made (creating a lasagna-like effect).
This dish is bright, not very spicy, and great served as a salad or side dish.
As you traverse the culinary landscape of Peru, particularly in the coastal regions, you’re likely to encounter Parihuela—a soul-warming seafood soup that locals swear by!
Parihuela is essentially a rich, spicy broth teeming with a medley of seafood. At its core, Parihuela features a firm-fleshed white fish, typically a fresh cut of sea bass or red snapper, which provides the foundation for this luscious soup.
Other mainstays like Dungeness crabs and green prawns are then added, contributing additional layers of flavor and texture.
The broth itself is a masterpiece, crafted from a combination of fish stock, aji amarillo, aji panca, rocoto pepper, and various herbs and spices like garlic and cumin.
When I sampled this dish in Peru, it struck me as more than just a soup; it felt like a culinary journey. Each spoonful offered a new texture or flavor, making it impossible to grow tired of.
Typically served with a wedge of lime and a slice of crusty bread, Parihuela is not just a meal—it’s an experience. It encapsulates the spirit of Peruvian coastal cuisine, where the sea’s bounty is celebrated and transformed into comfort food for the soul!
Papas a la Huancaina
This dish takes a Peruvian staple food – the potato – and smothers it in a creamy, spicy cheese sauce. To prepare it, Peruvians slice yellow potatoes and drench them in a puree of garlic, aji Amarillo, lime juice, evaporated milk, queso fresco, and saltine crackers.
Finally, the chef adds a sprinkling of olives, eggs, and more crackers as garnish. It can be served as a side dish or commonly as a Peruvian appetizer. Though the dish originated in the city of Huancayo, it has now become a staple throughout Peru.
Many proclaim this ubiquitous dish their favorite. But, I never had a version I was crazy about. Still, I feel like there must be a better version out there, based on how much people love it. I would be happy to try it again.
Anticuchos de Corazón
Anticuchos de corazón translates to “grilled heart.” Although that sounds off-putting, it’s one of the best dishes I had in Peru. The grilled heart is a popular appetizer in Peruvian cuisine and is also quite commonly sold as street food.
In traditional Peruvian cuisine, the dish consists of either alpaca or beef heart. The heart is marinated in cumin, aji, garlic, and vinegar and then grilled over charcoal until medium rare with ever so slightly singed edges. The meat is then cut into small cubes, usually around one to two inches, and served on a skewer with sliced potato or onion.
Finally, it is drizzled with lime. Today, some cooks make this dish with other cuts of beef (and even chicken), but nothing tastes better than making it with a heart as intended.
In the tapestry of Peruvian cuisine, diverse cultural threads weave together to create a gastronomic mosaic, and Cau Cau is a prime example of this beautiful blend. Rooted in African culinary traditions that have seeped into Peruvian home cooking, this dish is a flavorful revelation that adventurous food enthusiasts won’t want to miss.
At its core, Cau Cau is a stew featuring beef tripe, a less commonly used but richly flavorful ingredient that’s found its devoted following in Peru. Modern spins on this classic have incorporated alternatives like chicken and seafood, offering something for every palate.
Regardless of the main ingredient, the stew is a fragrant medley, thanks to the incorporation of turmeric, onions, and cumin. One whiff of its aromatic bouquet, and you’ll find family members flocking to the dinner table as if drawn by a culinary magnet.
Though hearty enough to stand alone, Cau Cau often shares the plate with a serving of rice, creating a satisfying and filling meal that captures the essence of fusion cooking in Peru.
Looking for the ultimate Peruvian comfort food? Look no further than Papa Rellena—a savory ensemble of mashed potatoes and ground beef, sculpted into a delectable deep-fried treat. Imagine a casing of creamy potatoes, enveloping a core of seasoned beef, all fried to crispy perfection.
But what gives Papa Rellena its quintessentially Peruvian flair? It’s the subtle yet unmistakable presence of aji pepper in the beef filling.
This key ingredient introduces not only a touch of spice but also a nuanced fruitiness that sets it apart.
And don’t be surprised if you discover hidden treasures like raisins, olives, or even hard-boiled eggs tucked within—their inclusion adds an extra layer of authenticity and complexity to the dish.
Whether it’s crafted from leftover mash or prepared from scratch, this dish never disappoints, standing as a testament to the culinary ingenuity of Peru.
Asado de Res
In the world of Peruvian home cooking, Asado de Res occupies a cherished space, a testament to the enduring allure of simplicity done right. This isn’t some ephemeral culinary trend; it’s a steadfast family favorite that’s been perfected over generations.
The genius of Asado de Res lies in its minimalism. At its most basic, it’s a saucy beef dish served with rice that capitalizes on simple ingredients—meat, spices, and time.
However, don’t mistake its simplicity for a lack of depth. The “sauce” in this dish isn’t just a side note; it’s a star player. Abundant and rich, it serves a dual purpose, melding flavors while providing ample liquid to lavish over accompanying rice and potatoes.
The preparation requires a watchful eye and unhurried demeanor, giving the beef the time it needs to soak up flavors and achieve melt-in-the-mouth tenderness.
And remember, skimping on the sauce is a cardinal sin; this dish thrives on its generous, pourable essence that enlivens every grain of rice and chunk of potato it touches.
Pollo al Sillao
When global influences coalesce in a single pot, the result can be nothing short of magical. Enter Pollo al Sillao, a sumptuous chicken dish that encapsulates the rich tapestry of Peruvian cuisine, from its native roots to its far-reaching international inspirations.
Picture this: chicken thighs soaking up a marinade as vibrant as Peru itself—a meld of soy sauce, garlic, lime juice, and a smattering of spices. Once these ingredients come together, the kitchen is filled with a mouthwatering aroma that serves as an irresistible prelude to the meal ahead.
Thanks to the soy sauce, a nod to Peru’s Asian culinary influence, the dish acquires a complex trifecta of salty, tangy, and umami flavors.
But Pollo al Sillao doesn’t just stop at the chicken; it creates an ensemble by pairing with sides as diverse as its flavor profile. Steamed rice, a staple heavily influenced by Chinese cuisine, provides a soft textural contrast.
Potatoes, the tuber so deeply engrained in Peruvian food culture, add another layer of earthy satisfaction to the meal.
Pollo al Sillao showcases what happens when the culinary strands of different cultures are interwoven with the traditional flavors of Peru.
Another dish that may sound exotic to the rest of the world, the piranha is a common food in some parts of Peru. The fish has a very distinct taste that will not sit well with some. The meat gives off a noticeably fishy smell that can make it difficult to eat. If you do plan to be adventurous and try devouring this famous, flesh-eating fish, I recommend it when grilled lightly. Many other cooking methods tend to exaggerate its “fishiness.” When done right, the fish has a fairly mild taste, despite its vicious nature when alive!
Imagine a culinary ritual so sacred, it’s both a cooking technique and a communal celebration. Welcome to the world of Pachamanca, a Quechua term meaning “earth oven,” epitomizing the essence of Andean gastronomy.
This is no quick stovetop dish; it’s an event that can take hours. Volcanic stones are heated and layered in a dug hole, creating an underground oven.
Various marinated meats—perhaps lamb, pork, or even guinea pig—and root vegetables like sweet potatoes and yucca claim the bottom layer, enveloped by aromatic banana leaves.
Above, you’ll find fava beans, corn, and sweet humitas. Covered with soil and more leaves, this edible treasure chest slow-cooks, blending flavors and textures in a smoky, earthy harmony.
The unveiling is a celebratory moment, filling the air with an aroma as enchanting as the Andean landscape itself. Pachamanca is more than a meal; it’s a cultural cornerstone that turns dining into a festive occasion.
Suspiro de Limena
Anyone with a sweet tooth will find themselves overwhelmed with options in Peru. One particularly popular choice is the suspiro de limena, or “sigh of a lady from Lima.” It already sounds so lovely and romantic!
This dessert dates all the way back to nineteenth-century Lima. That city serves it most often, but the dessert is well-known and loved in the rest of Peru as well. The dish combines meringue topping with blancmange.
Ok, I know a pisco sour isn’t technically a dish. But the drink is such a local icon that I felt it deserved a spot on the list. This drink just legitimately tastes better in the country – I’ve never had a pisco sour that I liked nearly as much as those I enjoyed in Peru.
Pisco, a type of Peruvian brandy, serves as the base for the drink. To that, you’ll add lime juice, simple syrup, and bitters. But what makes this cocktail truly unique? The added egg white creates the drink’s foamy, frothy top layer. I know adding egg white to a cocktail may sound off-putting, but trust me – a well-made pisco sour is something you won’t forget!
Peru has a long and interesting history inspired by years of tradition and many cultures from around the world. These influences have melded together to create a cuisine unique to Peru without sacrificing the recognizable pieces of each contributing region.
From the strong Spanish influence imposed after the invasion of the Incan Empire to Chinese methods and flavors and the introduction of Japanese style, Peru is a culinary adventure that never ends. The food here is diverse and plentiful, and there will always be something new to try.
Which Peruvian dish do you most want to try? Let me know in the comments section below!
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Travel writer and owner of the blog. My work has been featured on Fodors, Eater.com, International Living, and Great Escape Publishing, among many others. My story? Nearly six years ago, I left my job at an Oklahoma City law firm and embarked on a journey around the world. At the time, I thought I would only be gone for 6 months, but the more I traveled, the longer my bucket list became. Flashpacker describes how I travel. Rather than traveling as the normal world wise backpacker and staying in hostel dorms, I prefer a more comfortable experience, and typically stay in private rooms, take Ubers instead of taxis, and now use a suitcase instead of a backpack. Foodie, on the other hand, describes one of the key reasons why I travel. I love to pick a central “base camp” and then explore the surrounding area, really immersing myself in the culture and interacting with the people, and enjoying and exploring the food of an area is an essential part of this experience.