Peruvian Food Glossary: The Ultimate Guide from A to Z

Discover the unique Peruvian cuisines, ingredients, and dishes in this Peruvian food glossary. Find out what the world's top culinary destination cooks and eats!
Assorted fruits in baskets at a Peruvian market. Many markets in Peru sell the ingredients in this Peruvian food glossary.
Peruvian fruits. Photo by Renzo Vallejo on Flickr.

Peruvian food is undoubtedly some of the best food in the world. For the last 8 years (2012-2019), the World Travel Awards has named Peru the World’s Leading Culinary Destination. There are plenty of great dishes and ingredients to choose from, but sometimes names can be confusing or get lost in translation on local menus. Lomo saltado…jumped beef? That can’t be right! 

This Peruvian food glossary is the ultimate guide to traditional and popular foods in Peru. It will also give you an idea of what to expect in Peruvian restaurants. With so much variety, there’s something delicious on the menu to suit everyone’s tastebuds. Dive into Peru’s culinary scene and you won’t regret one bite!

Table of Contents

Popular Peruvian Cuisines

Peru has several distinct cuisine types, all using their own ingredients and cooking methods. The country is a melting pot of different cultures and flavors. With so much diversity, try everything you can! 

Here are the three most popular Peruvian cuisines

Chifa

Chifa cuisine arrived when Chinese immigrants came to Peru in the early 1900’s. Today, chifa restaurants serving Chinese-Peruvian fusion dishes are all over the country. Large portions mean you can share one dish with several people. Lima has its own Chinatown, filled with restaurants and shops selling Asian products. The most popular chifa dishes include lomo saltado, arroz chaufa, and tallarín saltado. Peruvians typically drink Inca Kola, a sweet soda, with their chifa. 

Criolla

Comida criolla translates as Creole food in English. It is a fusion of European, African, and native South American cooking techniques and ingredients. Popular dishes include anticuchos, tacu tacu, and papa a la huancaína. We recommend Calle del Medio in Cusco for tasty criolla food. 

Anticuchos on a grill are a delicious Peruvian street food.

Anticuchos on a grill. Photo by Ricardo Diaz on Flickr.

Nikkei

Nikkei cuisine is a Peruvian-Japanese fusion that mixes Japanese cooking techniques with Peru’s unique ingredients. The first Japanese immigrants arrived in Peru in 1899 at the Callao Port just outside Lima. Most worked as farmers on two-year work contracts to escape poor economic conditions back home. Now, there are an estimated half a million Peruvians with Japanese heritage. Staple ingredients of Nikkei food include ginger, soy sauce, and both raw and cooked fish. The most famous Nikkei dishes include tiradito and sushi with Peruvian flavors, like makis acevichados (ceviche makis). One Nikkei restaurant in Lima, Maido, is currently ranked 10th in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. 

Unique Peruvian Ingredients 

The incredible variety of food in Peru comes from Peru’s status as a mega-diverse country. The three main regions of Peru – the coast, the mountains, and the jungle – provide an abundance of unique flavors and textures.

If you’re planning on hitting up a local market while in Peru, make the most of it! Below are some translations and simple explanations for common ingredients and food items to help you out. 

Aguaje

A mild-flavored fruit found in the crown of palm trees. Amazon natives use the fruit’s oil as natural sun protection, as well as in ice creams and wines. 

Aguaymanto

Goldenberry. While native to Peru, England and South Africa also grow this berry today.

Several aguaymantos, or goldenberries, a native fruit to Peru

Aguaymanto. Photo by Alexas_Fotos on Pixabay.

Ají

Peruvian chili pepper. There are several varieties of ají but ají amarillo (yellow) and ají panca (smokey and mild) are the most common. Don’t confuse this with ajo (garlic)!

Ajonjolí

Sesame seeds. Sometimes also called sésamo

Alpaca

You can find alpaca steaks in many restaurants in Cusco. Alpaca meat tastes like semi-sweet lamb or venison.

Arracacha

A root vegetable that is like a cross between a carrot and a celery root. Arracacha cooks similarly to potatoes. 

Arveja Partida

Split peas. Normally served with rice. 

Bistec

Steak. The name came from the mispronunciation of “beef steak” which sounded like bistec to Spanish speakers. 

Cabrilla

Comber fish. Typically found in soups or stews.

Cacao

The bean that is made into chocolate. Try out the chocolate-making workshop at ChocoMuseo in Cusco

Caigua

A triangle-shaped green vegetable native to South America. Caigua rellena (stuffed caigua) typically has meat, raisins, onions, and garlic. 

Camarones

Shrimp. Chupe de camarones uses sweet-flavored river shrimp as the highlight of the dish. 

Camote

Sweet potato. The classic accompaniment to ceviche. Peruvian sweet potatoes come in all shapes, colors, and sizes. 

Camu Camu

A close relative of the guavaberry. This berry is native to the riverside of the Amazon in Peru and Brazil. It has lots of vitamin C – more than 30 times the amount in oranges!

A bowl of the red and green Peruvian fruit camu camu

Camu Camu. Photo by Alan Levine on pxhere.

Cebolla

Onion. In addition, cebolla china is what we know as green onion. 

Cecina

Dried, smoked pork. Commonly prepared in the jungle. 

Cerveza

Beer. Peru has several national brands and craft breweries, such as BarBarian and Barranco Beer Company

Chapo

A sweet beverage prepared by the Matses and Shipibo tribes in the Amazon jungle. The tribes make chapo by boiling plantains, water, and spices. 

Chicha de Jora

A fermented corn drink with a light yellow color. Chicha de jora has a low alcohol content of 1-3%. The Andean people have consumed this drink for hundreds of years. On the Inca Trail, you might see the porters or guides drinking chicha de jora. Some cooks also use it to add flavor to their stews or rice dishes. Historically, people consumed the beverage during religious ceremonies and prepared it at home rather than commercially. 

Chicha Morada

A vibrant, sweet, purple fruit punch. It is made by boiling purple corn, apples, pineapple skin, quince, cinnamon, and cloves, and then adding lime and sugar for sweetness. Most people drink it cold, but it’s great when hot, too! 

Chicharrón

Deep-fried pork belly. It is a popular breakfast treat or in sandwiches. 

Chifles

Thinly sliced fried banana chips. Mainly produced in the northern coastal areas of Peru. 

Chirimoya / Cherimoya

Custard apple. Delicious in milkshakes and desserts.

Slices of chirimoya, also known as custard apple.

Chirimoya. Photo by Monique Loayza of Peru for Less.

Choclo / Maiz

Choclo is giant Peruvian corn. Maiz morado looks just like sweetcorn but is purple! It’s used as the main ingredient in chicha morada and mazamorra morada

Coca

A plant grown in the Andes. The leaves, which are often used to make tea and candy, are said to help alleviate altitude sickness

Cocona

Cocona is a native Peruvian fruit high in vitamin C and iron. The fruit grows in the Amazon and makes delicious, and often spicy, sauces or jams. Tomato is the most similar flavor. 

Cuy

Guinea pig! Believe it or not, it is widely eaten in Cusco and Arequipa and considered a Peruvian delicacy

Emoliente

Emoliente is a warm drink commonly thought to have medicinal properties. There are many variations, each with its own medicinal use, but most have boiled barley as the base. Other common ingredients are various grains, herbs, fruits, as well as lime and sugar. You can find it at small carts on street corners or in emolienterías (emoliente shops). People typically drink emoliente early in the morning or late at night.

Frejoles

Beans. Often served with rice and sausage or pork, or in tacu tacu

Frutos Secos

Frutos secos literally translates as “dried fruits,” but actually means “nuts.” This can be confusing in the market!

Granadilla

Similar to passion fruit, but the flesh is much sweeter and gray.

The inside of granadilla, a fruit similar to passionfruit found in Peru.

Granadilla. Photo by Monique Loayza of Peru for Less.

Hierba Buena

Spearmint. Used in mint teas and to flavor chewing gum.

Hierba Luisa

Lemon verbena. Native to South America, it was first brought back to Europe in the 1700s. 

Huacatay

An herb native to South America. It tastes a bit like a cross between basil and mint. It’s a key ingredient in ocopa and used to garnish other dishes. 

Huevo de Codorniz

Quail eggs. These are a very popular street food in Peru. You can find vendors selling them in bags on many street corners. They pair well with ají (chili pepper) sauces.

Inca Kola

Inca Kola is a sweet, fizzy soft drink that, in Peru, might be even more popular than Coca-Cola! Some people say it tastes like bubblegum. 

Kion

Ginger. Used in many Nikkei dishes. In other Spanish speaking countries, it’s called jengibre

Kiwicha

A small, gluten-free grain that looks similar to quinoa. Kiwicha has lots of amino acids, fiber, potassium, phosphorus, and zinc. 

Lúcuma

Native to Peru, lúcuma is used in fruit juices, milkshakes, and ice cream. It has a slightly sweet and creamy taste.

Several lucuma on a plate. The lucuma have soft green shells and yellow flesh.

Lucuma. Photo by MI PERÚ on Flickr.

Maca

Peruvian ginseng. Maca grows at high altitudes in the Andes mountain range. This superfood is exported in its powder form all over the world.

Mango

Keep an eye out for these in your local supermarket. Peruvian mangos are some of the best in the world! 

Manjar blanco

Dulce de leche. A sweet, caramelized cream used in a range of desserts, such as churros and chocolate cake. 

Maracuyá

Passion fruit. In Peru, it has yellow skin. It is bigger and more sour than the passion fruit with purple skin.

Muña

A plant that grows at high altitude and belongs to the mint family. Muña tea can help with altitude sickness. 

Naranja

Orange. Peru has amazing oranges! Try freshly squeezed orange juice in the markets. 

Olluco

A small, nutritious potato with a very earthy taste.

A pile of small olluco potatoes, one of thousands of native potatoes in Peru.

Olluco potatoes. Photo by Thomas Quine on Flickr.

Paiche

A freshwater fish native to the Amazon River. It is the second-largest freshwater fish in the world after sturgeon. 

Palta

Avocado. You can find a few different types of avocado grown and sold in Peru. Try them all!

Panetón

A sweet bread with dried fruits. Commonly eaten on Christmas with hot chocolate (despite it being summer in the Southern Hemisphere). 

Papa

Potato. Peru has over 3,000 varieties, all of different colors and shapes. White, yellow, pink, and even purple potatoes are some of the most common.

Pimiento

Bell pepper. Used in many rice dishes such as arroz con pollo and chifa cuisine. 

Piraña

Piranha is in abundance in the lakes and rivers of the Amazon jungle. For this reason, the locals eat it regularly. Locals consider piranha fishing an art.

Pisco

The national alcohol of Peru and the key ingredient in the Pisco sour cocktail! Pisco is a brandy from Pisco, a small coastal town in the region of Ica. Peru and Chile still argue about where the drink originated and both countries consider it their national spirit.

Plátano

Banana. Plátano de seda is similar to the bananas found internationally. The larger plátano de la isla is less sweet and used to make tacacho (fried banana) commonly eaten in the jungle. 

Pulpo

Octopus. Pulpo al olivo is a Peruvian appetizer of octopus and a creamy black olive sauce. 

Queso Fresco

A mild white cheese that is made simply by heating milk with lime juice or vinegar until curdled. Often served in salads or with choclo.

Stacks of queso fresco, or fresh cheese, sold in a Peruvian market.

Queso fresco at the market. Photo by Alejandra Izquierdo of Peru for Less.

Queso Paria

A mild cheese, mainly produced in southern Peru around Puno and Arequipa. Queso paria is the cheese of choice for choclo con queso and in chupe de camarones.  

Quinoa

The Quechua word quinoa not only made it into Spanish, but languages all around the world! Quinoa is one of Peru’s biggest food exports, as well as a superfood

Rocoto

A spicy pepper that looks a lot like a bell pepper. It is sometimes ground up to make a spicy sauce. One rocoto might be mild and the next very hot, so be cautious!

Sacha Inchi

A superfood similar to a peanut grown on the sacha inchi tree. Sacha inchi can be pressed into an oil or roasted and eaten whole.

Sauco

Elderberry. These small, purple berries are very sour on their own but make delicious jams, wines, drinks, and desserts like sauco cheesecake!

Suri

A type of worm eaten in the Amazon. Tribes from the Amazon have considered this a delicacy for many generations. This is by far one of the most adventurous things to try while exploring Peru’s Amazon

Trucha

Trout. Very popular in Peru, especially around Puno & Lake Titicaca.

Tuna

Prickly pear. Not to be confused with atún which is the fish “tuna” in English! If you’re lucky enough to hike the Inca Trail, you’ll see these growing throughout the trek. The porters eat them to stay hydrated. However, be careful as they should only be peeled with gloves to avoid getting pricked by their tiny spines.

A pile of the prickly cactus fruit known as tunas.

Tuna cactus fruit. Photo by 16:9clue on Flickr.

Uvas

Grapes. Peru grows lots of grapes, especially in the Ica region, which produces Pisco. 

Yuca

Cassava. Generally served fried or boiled into a soup.

Yuzu

A type of Japanese lemon. Distinct from Peruvian limón, which are internationally known as key limes. 

Zapallo

Pumpkin. Often used in soups and the main ingredient of locro de zapallo.

A stack of zapallo loche, a pumpkin commonly used in Peruvian foods.

Zapallo loche, a type of Peruvian pumpkin. Photo by Miguel Alan Córdova Silva

Top Peruvian Dishes

Alongside traditional Peruvian food, there are many contemporary dishes whose recipes have evolved over time. Peruvians have been experimenting with food for ages and have come up with many delicious dishes to share with the world. Diversity and innovation are definitely the foundation of Peruvian cooking. Learn more about the best Peruvian dishes and gastronomic highlights below.  

Ají de Gallina

Shredded chicken in a spicy, creamy sauce served over rice. The sauce includes chicken stock, ají amarillo (yellow chili pepper), onion, garlic, turmeric, evaporated milk, and white bread. The bread helps thicken the sauce. Some chefs also add walnuts for extra flavor. It is thought that African slaves, brought by the Spanish in the 16th century, introduced ají de gallina to Peru.

Popular Peruvian dish, aji de gallina, served with white rice.

Ají de gallina. Photo by ta@keshi kimi on Flickr.

Ajiaco

A vegetarian stew with a base of ají amarillo (yellow chili pepper) and potatoes. Ajiaco gets its name from the use of ají (chili pepper) and the Quechua word hacu, meaning floury, which describes the texture of the dish. You can also find versions of this soup in Chile, Colombia, and Cuba. 

Adobo

Adobo is a meat stew from Arequipa. It typically consists of pork in a rich sauce flavored with ají panca (smoky chili pepper), chicha de jora (fermented corn beverage), and spices. This dish dates back to 1525 in the Cayma district of Arequipa, 15 years before the Spanish arrived. You can find adobo in every picantería (restaurants dedicated to Arequipeña food). Adobo is traditionally eaten with bread at breakfast.  

Aguadito

Aguadito is a cilantro-flavored soup usually served with chicken. Locals famously consider aguadito as a great hangover cure. Similar to arroz con pollo (chicken and rice), it contains peas, carrots, corn, red pepper, and rice. Many restaurants serve aguadito as the starter in their menú del día (menu of the day). 

Alfajor

Alfajores are a Peruvian shortbread cookie sandwich with a filling of manjar blanco (dulce de leche). The shortbread is soft and crumbly, and the manjar blanco is sweet and rich. Alfajores come in all sizes – they can be thick or thin, big or small. Some people replace birthday cakes with alfajores. Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina also have their own versions.

A popular Peruvian dessert, the alfajor, is a decorated cookie sandwich.

Alfajor cookie sandwich. Photo by La Casa del Alfajor on Facebook.

Anticuchos

Skewer of beef heart marinated in vinegar, cumin, garlic, and Peruvian pepper. A popular Peruvian street food, many locals love anticuchos for they are cheap, convenient, and flavorful. Some street vendors and restaurants also serve chicken heart anticuchos. During the Spanish colonization of Peru, organs were often given as unwanted leftovers to slaves, who then created the anticuchos we know today.

Arroz Chaufa

A popular chifa dish, arroz chaufa combines fried rice and a variety of vegetables and/or meats into a flavorful plate sure to fill you up. Almost every variation includes green onion, soy sauce, and fried egg strips.

Arroz con Leche

Arroz con leche is essentially rice pudding. Rice simmers with condensed milk, egg yolks, cinnamon, nutmeg, and a little butter until smooth and creamy. It is typically sold by street vendors and often served with mazamorra morada (a fruit jelly). Clients can have one, the other, or both in one bowl. 

Arroz con Mariscos

More rice? Yes! Peruvians love rice, and seafood is in abundance along the vast and fertile coastline. The rice in this dish gets its flavor from fish stock, aji amarillo (yellow chili pepper), white wine, onion, garlic, and tomato. Peas, carrots, and red bell pepper are added in with the rice during the cooking process. You can find various kinds of seafood in this dish. However, shrimp, scallops, and squid are the most common. A little parmesan cheese adds a touch of sharpness to cut through the other rich flavors. Portugal, Puerto Rico, and Cuba also have their own versions of arroz con mariscos.

A plate of arroz con mariscos, a Peruvian rice and seafood dish.

Arroz con mariscos, rice with seafood.

Arroz con Pollo

The translation ‘rice with chicken’ doesn’t do this dish justice! Derived from the Spanish dish paella, arroz con pollo gets its flavor from chicken stock, ground ají amarillo (yellow chili pepper) paste, and cilantro. It contains sliced red pepper, peas, diced carrots, and choclo (large grain Peruvian corn). Sometimes beer or chicha de jora (a fermented corn drink) are also used to flavor the rice. 

Arroz Tapado

Arroz tapado translates to covered rice. However, just like arroz con pollo, the dish is more complex than it sounds. This dish has a rice layer on the top and the bottom, with a rich ground beef mixture in between. It’s fairly simple to make. Just stack the ingredients on top of each other in a bowl or ramekin before flipping it onto a plate to serve. 

Caldo

Caldo simply translates as stock or broth in English. Across Peru, markets, restaurants, and households most often prepare caldo de gallina. Many people eat this rich soup to combat colds and even hangovers! Gallina means hen in English, and many believe the fattier hen meat adds to the soup’s flavor. This distinction marks the difference between caldo de pollo (chicken) and caldo de gallina (hen). Caldo de pescado (fish) or verduras (vegetables) are also common alternatives. 

Carapulcra

Carapulcra is a Creole stew made from dried potatoes and pork, flavored with ají panca (smoky chili pepper) and sometimes peanuts. This dish is almost always served with sopa seca, a pasta with a white wine sauce. The name comes from the Quechua qala phurk’a which means “to cook on hot stones.” Dried potatoes are a staple food in many Andean communities, especially around Lake Titicaca. The sun is very strong during the day at high altitudes, which helps to dry out the potatoes. The cold overnight temperatures then freeze the remaining water inside the potato, helping with preservation. 

Cau Cau

A stew made of tripe, potato, onion, garlic, ají amarillo (yellow chili pepper), and turmeric. In all likelihood, African slaves were the first to prepare the dish. Like the origins of anticuchos, the Spanish gave the slaves the leftover cuts of meat, like tripe. Nowadays, cau cau is sometimes served with chicken or beef instead to cater to all tastes. 

Causa

Served cold, causa is a colorful, tiered dish of mashed potatoes, avocado, and chicken or tuna. Legend has it that during the fight for Peruvian independence from Spain, Peruvians were called to support la causa (the cause) by providing food for their soldiers. At the time, one of the most common dishes happened to be this very same layered potato dish. From then on, the dish was called “causa.” A cold starter, causa is great for the summer and gatherings.

A appetizer, causa has layers of mashed potato, tuna or chicken, and avocado

A plate of causa. Photo by Monique Loayza of Peru for Less.

Ceviche

The national dish of Peru and its most famous culinary delight! Ceviche is white fish cured in lime juice. Chili pepper and red onions give the dish a spicy, tangy flavor. The fish mixture pairs well with toasted corn and sweet potatoes. Peru’s fertile coastline means fresh fish is available all year round. Ceviche has made a cultural impact in other countries as well. It is now a part of the national heritage in Chile, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Panama.

One of the top Peruvian foods, ceviche is white fish in lime juice, served with onions, corn, and sweet potato.

Ceviche, Peru’s national dish. Photo by Pirata Studio Film on Unsplash.

Cheesecake

A popular dessert in Peru. Cheesecakes are often topped with local fruits, jams, and preserves. Some common flavors include: sauco (elderberry), fresa (strawberry), maracuyá (passion fruit), chocolate, and vanilla.  

Choclo con Queso

Simply corn with cheese. Peruvian corn, or choclo, has much bigger kernels than the sweet corn we know and love. Queso paria is normally the cheese of choice for the pairing. You can find this dish on many street corners throughout Peru, loved for its cheap price and convenience. 

Chupe

Chupe is a dish from Arequipa in the south of Peru. It is a rich soup with a base of Peruvian peppers ají amarillo and ají panca, fish stock, milk, onion, and garlic. The most famous variety is chupe de camarones which uses shrimp. While cooking, corn, queso fresco (a mild white cheese), peas, potatoes, and rice are added to the mix. 

Arequipa is home to ‘picanterías’, lunchtime restaurants that serve a different set menu each day. The concept came from home cooks who advertised their food to local workers. The workers would place their lunchtime order in the morning. They would then all sit down together at lunchtime to enjoy their meals on long tables outside the cook’s home. To this day, many picanterías follow this tradition and seat customers together at communal tables.

A bowl of the Peruvian soup chupe de camarones with shrimp, an egg, and other foods inside.

Chupe de camarones, a Peruvian shrimp stew.

Conchitas a la Parmesana

Baked scallops, served in their shells topped with parmesan cheese. This appetizer is ready quickly – once the cheese melts and the scallops are barely cooked through. You can find fresh scallops cheaply and easily in Peru. 

Crema Volteada

Crema volteada, similar to vanilla flan, is a dessert the Spanish introduced to Peru. Rich, thick caramel tops the flan that is then cooked in a bain-marie. Once cooked and chilled, the flan is flipped upside down, or volteada in Spanish. 

Empanadas

A popular Peruvian breakfast snack, you can find empanadas almost everywhere. They are savory pastries filled with vegetables, meat, cheese, or all three at once. In Peru, there is even an ají de gallina (stewed chicken and peppers) empanada. Spain, Chile, Argentina, and the Philippines all have their own version of empanadas as well. 

Helado de…

Ice cream! Heladerías (ice cream shops) are all over Peru. The vast array of fruits that grow here means there are plenty of new ice cream flavors. A few great flavors to try are chirimoya, lucuma, and mango. You can find some of the best ice cream shops in Lima, especially in the districts of Barranco and Miraflores.

Humita

Similar to tamales, humitas are made from freshly ground corn and can be savory or sweet. Savory humitas normally include cheese and sweet humitas include raisins, cinnamon and manjar blanco (dulce de leche). Normally eaten at breakfast, humitas are also common in Bolivia, Chile, and Ecuador.

Jalea

Jalea is a mix of fried fish and seafood. Historically, during the Moche civilization, jalea was the word for sun-dried fish. Drying food in the sun was a common preservation method in Northern Peru. Once refrigeration improved, jalea became the name of the dish we know today. Fried yuca (cassava) and dipping sauces accompany the fried fish. 

Juane

Juane is from the Peruvian jungle. The dish has a base of rice mixed with olives, meat, eggs, and spices, all wrapped and cooked in bijao leaves. The wrapped mixture cooks in boiling water for around two hours before serving. Juane gets its name from traditionally being eaten during the feast of San Juan, or St. John the Baptist, on June 24th.

Leche de Tigre

Leche de tigre literally translates to “tiger’s milk” in English. It typically consists of fish, shrimp, and baked corn kernels soaked in the ceviche marinade. Peruvians swear by it as a hangover cure!

Lentejas

Peruvians commonly eat lentils for lunch on Mondays. Many Peruvians believe lentils attract wealth and prosperity for the rest of the week. Similarly, a popular New Year tradition is to fill one’s pockets or wallet with lentils. The lentils bring good luck for the year ahead. Their nutritional value and cheap price make lentils a staple in Peruvian cooking.

Locro de Zapallo

A vegetarian stew with a base of onion, garlic, ají amarillo (yellow chili pepper), and most importantly pumpkin. The stew also has potato, cheese, and corn, all served over rice. Many South American countries have their own version of this dish. 

Lomo Saltado

A favorite for Peruvians, lomo saltado literally translates as “jumped beef”. In reality, it is a stir-fry of beef, tomato, and onions with a rich juice of soy sauce, beef stock, and vinegar. The meat and veggies are commonly served with fries and white rice. Lomo saltado is a chifa dish, introduced to Peru by Chinese immigrants who arrived in Lima at the end of the 1800s. You can now find chifa food across Peru. Lima even has its own Chinatown!

A plate of popular Peruvian food, lomo saltado, a beef stir-fry chifa dish served with fries and rice.

Lomo saltado. Photo by Monique Loayza of Peru for Less.

Mazamorra Morada

Mazamorra morada is a jelly-like dessert made from fruit and flavored with spices. Pineapple, apple skin, quince, and purple corn boil in water with cinnamon and cloves. The strained liquid, along with sugar and lime, is chicha morada, a popular, fruity beverage. To make mazamorra morada, this liquid is heated again, adding cornstarch, dried prunes, apricots, and/or cherries. Mazamorra morada is one of the most common desserts found at street food carts and often served alongside arroz con leche (rice pudding).

Mazamorra morada, a purple fruit jelly served warm with cinnamon and other spices.

Mazamorra morada. Photo by Brian Snelson on Flickr.

Ocopa

A dish from Arequipa, ocopa is a sauce made from huacatay (an Andean herb), queso fresco (mild, white cheese), ají amarillo (yellow chili pepper), onion, and garlic and thickened with crackers. Most often, people pour the sauce over boiled potatoes accompanied with lettuce, olives, and a boiled egg.   

Pachamanca

Pachamanca is a Quechua term that means “earth pot” or “earth oven.” People in rural areas usually eat this dish in celebration of the harvest or religious festivals. The cooking process pays homage to mother earth (or “Pachamama”), recognizing that all food comes from the ground. The ingredients used depend on the season and region. However, chicken, lamb, potato, lima beans, sweet potato, and corn are the main staples. The meat and vegetables first marinate in herbs, such as huacatay (an Andean herb), parsley, cilantro, and mint. The marinated mixture is then cooked all together in an underground oven. Stones heat over a fire, and the ingredients go directly onto the stones to begin cooking. The hotter stones are placed on top, and the oven is sealed with grass and earth. 

Cooking times vary from 2-4 hours. A more modern style of preparation also exists, combining the same flavors but cooking them on a stovetop.

A plate of Pachamanca, a hearty Peruvian food from the Andes with potatoes, corn, and meat.

Pachamanca. Photo by KaMpErƎ & Le-tticia on Flickr.

Papa a la Huancaína

Boiled potato in a huancaína sauce, served cold over lettuce, and topped with an olive and boiled egg. There are over 3,000 varieties of potato that grow in Peru due to its diverse climate, but this dish makes use of papa amarilla, a yellow potato. The huancaína sauce is made from ají amarillo (yellow chili pepper), queso fresco (a mild, white cheese), evaporated milk, oil, and saltine crackers. 

Papa Rellena

Mashed potato stuffed with a mixture of ground beef, chopped eggs, olives, raisins, onion, and garlic. The stuffed potato is shaped and then fried to get a crispy texture on the outside. This preparation was born out of necessity in 1879 during the Pacific War. With no refrigeration available, by putting the meat mixture in a potato casing and then frying it, the food lasted longer. Also, soldiers could easily eat it with their hands while on the move. Papa rellena is often accompanied by sarza criolla, sliced red onions in lime juice with cilantro and salt. The sharpness of the onion cuts through the richness of the potato and meat mixture, adding a complementary freshness. Some choose to also add hot chili sauce made from the rocoto pepper. 

Picarones

Peruvian donuts made from pumpkin or sweet potato flour, sugar, and yeast. The dough takes a few hours to rise. A picaronero, a picarón maker, then forms the dough into donuts and fries them in oil until crispy. The picaronero then pours anise-flavored honey over the picarones. This dessert began as a poor-man’s version of buñuelos, fried dough balls brought to South America by the Spanish. Picarones were much cheaper to make but still garnered popularity from then on.

Picarones, sweet potato or pumpkin doughnuts served in Peru.

Picarones and honey. Photo by Kim on Flickr.

Pie de Limón

Similar to lemon meringue pie, this dessert has a base of crushed cookies and butter, a key lime filling, and meringue on top. Peru inherited pie de limón from the European dessert of the same name. The dessert is now very popular for birthdays and other celebrations. 

Pollo a la Brasa

A rotisserie chicken cooked over charcoal and served with creamy sauces, fries, and salad. The chicken is marinated overnight in soy sauce, garlic, beer, and smoky chili pepper to soak up all the flavor. The next day, the chicken cooks on a rotisserie-style barbecue. Pollo a la brasa is perfect for sharing and mainly eaten in pollerías, or specialized chicken restaurants, that you can find all throughout Peru. It is the meal of choice for many families who go out to eat on Sundays. It even has its own national holiday, the 3rd Sunday in July.

Popular Peruvian food, pollo a la brasa, a roasted chicken dish.

Pollo a la brasa. Photo by Krista on Flickr.

Queso Helado

Arequipa is famous for its queso helado, which translates as “frozen cheese.” However, this dessert is more like ice cream than cheese. Queso helado uses condensed, evaporated, and whole milk. For extra flavor, add a sprinkle of cinnamon on top.

Creamy queso helado, a Peruvian dish similar to ice cream commonly found in Arequipa.

Queso helado. Photo by Melissa Dreffs of Peru for Less.

Rocoto Relleno

Arequipa’s flagship dish, rocoto relleno, fills a spicy rocoto pepper with a ground beef mixture. The filling has onion, garlic, olives, hard-boiled egg, raisins, peanuts, herbs, and spices. Topped with a thick slice of melted queso paria, a mild local cheese, this dish packs a punch of heat and rich flavors. People from Arequipa often serve the stuffed pepper alongside pastel de papa, a layered, baked dish of thinly sliced potatoes and cheese.

Stuffed red rocoto pepper with a side of a potato and cheese casserole, a common Peruvian food pairing.

Rocoto relleno and a side of pastel de papa. Photo by Clotina on Pixabay.

Seco de Carne

Seco is Spanish for “dry,” but this dish is certainly not! Instead, seco de carne is a juicy, flavorful meat stew. It has a variety of vegetables and lots of cilantro! The stew pairs well with rice and beans. The accompanying meat is generally beef, but goat (seco de cabrita) is a common alternative, especially in Northern Peru. 

Sopa Seca

Sopa seca literally means “dry soup,” but it is neither dry nor a soup. It is spaghetti with a sauce of ají panca (smoky chili pepper), black pepper, garlic, onion, and sweet white wine. Often served with potato and pork stew, carapulcra, or crispy pork belly, chicharrón de cerdo. This dish originated in Chincha, a couple of hours south of Lima.

Suspiro a Limeña

Literally meaning “Lima woman’s sigh.” Suspiro a limeña consists of caramel pudding topped with a port-flavored meringue. This dish got its name because it is light and sweet like a woman’s sigh. This rich pudding consists of manjar blanco (dulce de leche), vanilla extract, and egg yolks.

A glass cup with the yolky Peruvian dessert suspiro a limeña, topped with whipped cream and cinnamon.

Suspiro a limeña. Photo by MI PERÚ on Flickr.

Tacu Tacu

Tacu Tacu is a unique and nutritious dish that makes the most of leftovers. Cooked lentils or beans combine with rice, onion, and ají amarillo (yellow chili pepper) to form a doughy mush. After the mixture is fried, toppings such as a fried egg, fried banana, steak, and/or sarza criolla (onion and lime garnish) can be added. Rumor has it that the name came from the Quechua word takuy, which means “to mix. The dish was first made by slaves brought by the Spanish, as a way of improving leftover food and supplementing their diet.

Tallarín Saltado

A chifa dish of egg noodles fried with meat and vegetables. Tallarín saltado uses Chinese ingredients such as soy sauce, ginger, Chinese cabbage, green onion, and sesame oil. All chifa restaurants serve tallarín saltado, most commonly with chicken. Sometimes, chifas serve tallarín saltado on the same plate as arroz chaufa (fried rice) in a combination dish known as an aeropuerto, or “airport” in English. 

Tamales

Tamales are a doughy corn mixture filled with meat, cheese, and/or vegetables steamed inside a corn husk. Inherited from Mexico and Guatemala, they are typically eaten for breakfast in Peru. Peruvian tamales pair well with spicy sauces or sarza criolla, a mixture of raw onions flavored with lime juice, salt, and cilantro. 

Tequeños

Fried, wonton wrapped cheese sticks. Originating in Venezuela, most tequeños use bread dough to wrap around the cheese filling. But Peruvian tequeños are a little different, using wonton wrappers instead. Popular fillings in Peru include cheese, ham and cheese, or pollo a la brasa. Tequeños pair well with guacamole and are a popular party food.

Tiradito

Tiradito is a raw fish dish with a spicy citrus sauce. A staple of Nikkei cuisine, some refer to it as “Japanese ceviche.” Tiradito was first introduced to Peru following the arrival of Japanese immigrants who came to work as farmers in 1899. In short, it blends the sashimi element of Japanese cuisine with Peruvian ingredients

Tres Leches Cake

Tres leches, or “three milks” cake, is a sponge cake soaked in evaporated milk, condensed milk, and cream. It originated in Central America, but the tres leches cake has become popular in many Latin American countries, each with slightly different recipes. It is quite heavy and rich, and absolutely delicious. Some restaurants or bakeries will add even more types of milk to make a cinco leches, or “five milks” cake. 

Turrón

Turrón is a layered dessert of cookies held together by sweet, spiced honey. The honey has a unique flavor of anise, cinnamon, cloves, and fruit. Crunchy, colorful candy decorate the top of the turrón. Each October, Peru celebrates the Señor de los Milagros (Lord of Miracles) festival. Both turrón and the color purple are closely associated with the celebrations. Legend says that Afro-Peruvian Josefa Marmanillo, who was a slave in the 18th century, first made the dessert. It was passed down through generations and is still sold to this day under the brand name Doña Pepa, Josefa’s nickname.

We hope this Peruvian food glossary was inspiring and helpful. To explore Peruvian cuisine further, why not take a trip to Peru? Alternatively, during your next trip to the supermarket, see what Peruvian ingredients you can find. However you are able, take the leap and discover the uniqueness of Peruvian foods for yourself!

For help planning a customized trip to explore Peruvian flavors, contact one of our expert Travel Advisors.