One of the make-or-break aspects of traveling abroad is whether or not you like the food. It's true! Lucky for me, the food in Peru was absolutely delicious. My friend at work gave me a list of must-try dishes, so I made sure to sample them throughout the week. In general, you can eat and drink for a song in Peru, with quick eats as low as $1-5 a meal. In the nicer restaurants we ate in, even the highest end dishes maxed out around $20, so it was very reasonable overall. We even had a bottle of wine one night that cost us $7US, because there really wasn't much markup!
One dish you will see everywhere in various forms is lomo saltado. Lomo saltado is a stir fry with strips of steak, onions, tomatoes, and other ingredients, served with French fries and rice. We really liked it, so we had it a few times during the week. Throughout Peru's history, there was an influx of Chinese immigrants who influenced Peruvian cuisine, creating "chifa" foods that became mainstream like this dish. We had this dish at our hotel restaurant at San Agustin Monasterio de la Recoleta, as well as in Cusco.
Tallarin saltado is created in the same spirit. It is a chicken stir-fry dish with noodles. I had a delicious tallarin saltado at Pachapapa in Cusco.
The last Chinese-inspired fusion dish I had was at our hotel, cerdo en salsa de naranja, a pork chop with orange sauce, served with vegetables and sweet potatoes. The potatoes were as sweet as a dessert. In fact, the potatoes we had throughout the trip were amazing, because Peru grows thousands of varieties.
|Cerdo en salsa de naranja|
We had a fantastic tasting menu lunch at 3 Keros, a wonderful restaurant in Urubamba with inspired flavors. This included quinoa, which originated in the Andean region, as well as papas a la Huancaína, a Peruvian appetizer of boiled yellow potatoes in a spicy, creamy sauce. You will also see a lot of fresh vegetables and types of corn (like giant, white corn kernels!) in dishes. Delicious. I highly recommend 3 Keros; the dessert was a key lime pie, and even though I don't like key lime pie I ate the entire thing. So good!
In Cusco at Inka Grill, I ate anticuchos, marinated beef heart kebabs. They were very chewy and flavorful. I'm not sure if I would try them again, but I am glad I had them as a specialty in Peru. The waiter seemed surprised when I ordered them, in a good way.
Another common dish to see is aji de gallina, which is shredded chicken in a spicy cream sauce, very similar to the sauce in papas a la Huancaína. Both sauces use a yellow spicy pepper. It often comes garnished with olives and hard-boiled egg. It was tasty, and super filling. I had this at Inka Grill as well.
|Aji de gallina|
At Limo in Cusco, I took the plunge into a true Peruvian delicacy: cuy. Yes, guinea pig. This is something that weirds people out about Peru, but for many years it was a ceremonial meal. It is an important part of the culture. According to Wikipedia, "Peruvians consume an estimated 65 million guinea pigs each year, and the animal is so entrenched in the culture that one famous painting of the Last Supper in the main cathedral in Cusco shows Christ and the 12 disciples dining on guinea pig."
I would say guinea pig reminded me of rabbit. It was prepared beautifully at Limo, served over delicious au gratin potatoes. The best way to eat guinea pig is with your hands; they give you a dish of water and towel to wash up, much like eating BBQ ribs. The crispy skin was tasty. I'm not sure if I would eat it again (all those little bones!) but I don't think you should leave Peru without trying it.
Throughout our trip, we were frequently offered coca tea, mate de coca. This tea is made from coca leaves, the same leaves that in enormous quantities make cocaine. The tea, however, is not potent like the drug, and it is recommended to help travelers prevent altitude sickness and other medicinal purposes. It can cause you to come up positive on drug tests due to the alkaloids, so try to find a tea bag that has them removed if you want to try it.
|Mate de coca|
I would be remiss not to mention ceviche, which we consumed mostly during our cooking class. If you've never had ceviche, it's typically made from fresh raw fish cured in citrus juices, with spices added. It's well-known in Peru, and you can get some really fresh and delicious ceviche of shrimp and mahi mahi and other fishes in the area.
Lastly, we definitely drank delicious beverages in Peru. From Cusqueña Beer to sangria to pisco sours to chilcanos, you can enjoy refreshing sips throughout the trip. Pisco is a big part of the alcohol scene. Pisco sour is the most famous cocktail, with pisco, egg white, simple syrup, and citrus juice. Chilcano is another cocktail you'll often see, which reminds me of a mojito; it has pisco, lime, ginger ale, and bitters. YUM!
|Beer, Sangria, Pisco Sour, Chilcano|
Which of these would you most like to try?
Would you eat guinea pig???