Peruvian food is gaining popularity worldwide. From 2012 to 2019, the Andean country’s culinary feats earned Peru the honor of World’s Leading Culinary Destination, according to the World Travel Awards. This country’s offerings are being touted in cities from New York to London to Tokyo, and the list keeps growing.
It’s hard to say exactly what makes Peru’s cuisine so sought after and revered. It could be the diversity of ingredients from various regions – from coast to mountain to jungle. It could also stem from the indigenous way of life living off the fertile land for thousands of years. Or maybe it’s the blend of flavors brought here by generations of immigrants from around the world. Regardless, the combination is a delectable and palate-pleasing cuisine for the world to enjoy. Here is our list of the top 20 Peruvian foods you should try.
Table of Contents
- Ceviche (citrus cured raw fish)
- Lomo Saltado (beef stir-fry)
- Aji de Gallina (chicken stew in spicy sauce)
- Pollo a la Brasa (roasted chicken)
- Causa Rellena (layered potato salad)
- Cuy Chactado (fried guinea pig)
- Rocoto Relleno (stuffed spicy pepper)
- Seco de Carne (cilantro beef stew)
- Tiradito de Pescado (Peruvian sashimi)
- Anticuchos (grilled beef heart kebabs)
- Pachamanca (meats and vegetables slow-cooked underground)
- Arroz con Mariscos (seafood paella)
- Adobo (spicy marinated pork stew)
- Papa a la Huancaina (potato with a spicy cheese sauce)
- Leche de Tigre (ceviche marinade)
- Tequeños (fried cheese sticks)
- Jalea (fried fish and seafood)
- Alfajores (shortbread cookie sandwich)
- Mazamorra Morada and Arroz con Leche (mixed-fruit jelly with rice pudding)
- Picarones (pumpkin and sweet potato doughnuts)
- Bonus: Pisco Sour (national cocktail)
- Bonus: Peruvian Food Glossary
Last updated by Melissa Dreffs in September 2020.
The national dish of Peru, ceviche is generally considered the best Peruvian food worldwide. On the surface, it’s a simple recipe of raw fish marinated in citrus juice. However, the spices in the marinade and accompaniments make the dish complete.
Raw white fish, such as sea bass, is cured in lime juice and mixed with thinly sliced red onion, chili peppers, and salt. Peruvian corn known as choclo and slices of sweet potato accompany the dish for even more flavor. The dish is fresh and acidic, with a spicy kick. Vegetarians and vegans in Peru can also appreciate the rich flavor in a mushroom variation.
Not everyone can master it, but some of the best restaurants in Lima certainly have. No trip to Peru is complete without trying ceviche, so be sure to test it out while you’re here or in your favorite local Peruvian restaurant!
2. Lomo Saltado
Chifa is a popular Peruvian cuisine that combines local and Chinese ingredients and techniques. This style of cooking dates back to the early 1900s, when a wave of Chinese immigrants came to Peru. The most popular chifa dish, lomo saltado, is a hearty crowd-pleaser packed full of flavor.
Lomo saltado is a robust stir-fry concoction of beef, tomatoes, peppers, and onions cooked together in a pan with a soy sauce mixture. Most variations are served over French fries (or even add them to the stir fry) and are accompanied by white rice. Today, you can find this dish not only in chifa restaurants, but in many Peruvian restaurants across the country.
Check out an authentic lomo saltado recipe here!
3. Aji de Gallina
Consisting of tender chicken stewed in a rich yellow chili pepper sauce, this dish is a Creole classic. Gallina actually means hen in Spanish, but most chefs use chicken in this dish. Besides the chicken, a key ingredient is the aji amarillo, or yellow chili pepper. This pepper gives the sauce its yellow color and adds an incredible kick of spice. Other ingredients like cheese and salted crackers tone down the spice and create a thick, creamy sauce. Like many other Peruvian dishes, aji de gallina pairs with potatoes and/or white rice.
This dish is cheesy, nutty, spicy, and absolutely delicious. It takes a while to prepare, but the results are well worth it. Check out our favorite aji de gallina recipe here.
4. Pollo a la Brasa
Peruvian style roasted chicken, known as pollo a la brasa, is incredibly popular in Peru. Combined with fries, salad, and delicious aji amarillo sauce, a pollo a la brasa meal is a family favorite.
The key is marinating the chicken in soy sauce with red peppers, garlic, and cumin in order to give the meat and skin a smoky, salty taste. Chefs then cook the marinated chicken over hot coals and serve the chicken whole. The signature Peruvian recipe is used across the country, and it’s even starting to catch on outside of Peru as well.
5. Causa Rellena
A typical food in Peru, causa rellena is similar to a potato salad. Layers of spicy, citrusy mashed potatoes, avocado, and chicken or tuna are topped with hard-boiled egg, tomatoes, or sauces. The dish is served cold, making it a great option for warm summer days.
Chefs often get creative with the ingredients and toppings, but what makes a causa truly a causa is the layered presentation and use of Peruvian potatoes. Peru is home to thousands of potato varieties that come in all sorts of colors, shapes, sizes, and even flavors. How many will you try?
Check out this delicious causa rellena recipe and try making it at home!
6. Cuy Chactado
Cuy chactado is a fried guinea pig dish common in the Andes. While you might not be able (or willing) to try making this at home, many restaurants in Peru, especially in the Cusco region, serve this delicacy. For many Peruvians, guinea pigs are a luxury that they only have on birthdays or holidays.
Although guinea pig is not a common source of meat globally, Peruvians have eaten cuy for hundreds of years. High in protein and low in fat and cholesterol, guinea pig meat is generally considered a healthy meat. Could this be the next big thing to hit the western world? Only time will tell.
7. Rocoto Relleno
This dish made famous in Arequipa, Peru is not your average stuffed pepper. Instead of bell peppers, the Peruvian recipe calls for a spicy rocoto pepper, truly giving it an extra kick. Rocoto peppers are 4 to 40 times hotter than jalapeños, so only those with a high spice tolerance should give this dish a go.
Filled with cheese, ground beef, and vegetables, the stuffing is a delight that cuts through the spicy pepper on the outside. Learn more about the rocoto relleno and other top foods in Arequipa here.
8. Seco de Carne
A favorite in Peruvian kitchens, seco de carne is a hearty beef stew. However, several ingredients differentiate it from other beef stews you might be more accustomed to. A fermented corn beverage, chicha de jora, and cilantro are two key ingredients in this Peruvian stew. Andean people have used chicha de jora for hundreds of years. Used similarly to cooking wine, the liquid adds a unique acidic twist to the stew.
This stew paired with beans and white rice is a real crowd-pleaser. To make this at home, check out this seco de carne recipe, replacing some of the local ingredients with items found internationally.
9. Tiradito de Pescado
Nikkei cuisine combines two of the world’s best cuisines, Peruvian and Japanese, into one. Tiradito de pescado, or simply tiradito, is the flagship dish of Nikkei cuisine in Peru. Raw fish is sliced into very thin strips, like Japanese sashimi. The type of fish varies, but with Peru’s vast coastline, there is no shortage of fresh fish year round.
A spicy, citrusy sauce brings out the flavor of the fish. Lime and the Peruvian aji amarillo chili pepper combine with garlic and cilantro for a simple, light sauce. Perfect for a warm summer day, be sure to order tiradito when you visit Lima. Or, for a taste of Peruvian summer, try to make this tiradito recipe at home!
These skewered meat kebabs are a typical Peruvian street food. Traditionally made with marinated beef hearts, some chefs now use more conventional cuts of beef or chicken. However, the standard and what you can find on many street corners are beef heart anticuchos.
While the meat itself is tender and delicious, what makes this dish stand out is the marinade and serving sauces. The marinade uses many ingredients, but the main flavors are garlic, aji panca smoky chili pepper, cumin, and sometimes lime juice. There might be several options for sauces, but you cannot go wrong with a spicy rocoto sauce on top.
Not to be confused with Pachamama, or mother earth in Quechua, pachamanca is a traditional Peruvian dish commonly found in the Andes. A variety of meats and vegetables can be used, but the spices and cooking method are what make this dish unique. Peruvian spices and local herbs like huacatay, or black mint, first marinate the meat and vegetables. Then, the entire mixture is cooked underground, in an “earth oven” or “earth pot,” the literal translation of pachamanca from Quechua.
Following the traditional preparation, you must dig a hole in the ground and heat plenty of stones over a fire. The marinated meat and vegetables will cook in between layers of hot stones in the hole in the ground. A cloth covers the food and then grass and earth go on top, insulating and sealing the oven. The food then takes several hours to cook.
Today, you can also achieve the same flavors on a stovetop, but the traditional method is an unforgettable experience. Consider participating in a traditional pachamanca experience in the Sacred Valley of Peru.
12. Arroz con Mariscos
One of the top Peruvian seafood dishes, arroz con mariscos literally translates to rice with seafood. However, this translation does not do this dish justice. Similar to the Spanish paella, arroz con mariscos is a complex explosion of flavors. Combining two of Peru’s favorite things, rice and seafood, this dish is popular year-round.
Shrimp, scallop, and squid are the most common seafood in this dish, but some recipes use clam, mussel, or octopus. Seasoned rice, combined with peas, carrots, and red bell pepper, complements the seafood, and a pinch of parmesan cheese on top adds even more flavor.
Seafood lovers can make this dish at home or try it out at some of the top restaurants along Peru’s coast.
Another favorite from Arequipa, adobo is a spicy, marinated pork stew. Many people eat this dish for breakfast, typically on Sundays. Traditionally, the marinated pork cooks in a clay pot until it is tender. When visiting Arequipa, head to the top restaurants to try authentic Peruvian adobo at its source.
The word adobo essentially translates to marinade. Many countries like the Philippines, Mexico, and Puerto Rico also have dishes known as adobo. However, the meat and the ingredients used in the marinade vary between countries. In Peru, the meat is always pork and the marinade uses chicha de jora (a fermented corn beverage), aji panca (a smoky chili pepper), and achiote (annatto seeds).
Check out a Peruvian adobo recipe here.
14. Papa a la Huancaina
As you may have noticed, many Peruvian recipes call for aji amarillo, a yellow chili pepper. This pepper has a decent level of spice, but is not overpowering. From sauces to stews, this pepper is a key flavor in Peruvian cuisine. One of the best Peruvian potato dishes, papa a la huancaina, also uses this chili as a key ingredient.
Boiled potatoes are covered in an aji amarillo and cheese sauce known as huancaina. A rather simple dish to make, papa a la huancaina is a favorite summertime snack or side dish with ceviche. Try making this sauce yourself with this simple recipe. Pour it over boiled potatoes and enjoy!
15. Leche de Tigre
One of the best parts about ceviche is the rich marinade that gives the fish its intense flavor. So why not take that marinade and turn it into a snack of its own? Chefs add shrimp, fish, and baked corn kernels to a cocktail glass and top it off with the liquid ceviche marinade to make a dish known as leche de tigre.
Literally translating to “tiger’s milk,” leche de tigre is white, but it is not milk. The color and intense flavor comes from lime juice. Chopped chili peppers, red onion, and cilantro also add to the taste of this Peruvian food.
A popular hangover cure, learn more about leche de tigre here.
Tequeños are among the most popular Peruvian appetizers. Different from the original Venezuelan tequeños, the Peruvian version uses wonton wrappers as the shell and fresh white cheese as the filling. Dip these in guacamole or spicy aji sauce and you will not be disappointed!
The Peruvian version of fish and chips, jalea is one of Peru’s favorite seafood dishes. Try the jalea mixta for a variety of fried fish and seafood or jalea de pescado for just fried fish. Instead of potatoes, most jaleas include fried yuca, also known as cassava.
Jalea typically has salsa criolla on top, a mix of red onion, chili peppers, and cilantro in lime juice. The citrusy, fresh flavor pairs well with the deep-fried fish. Popular along the Peruvian coast, especially in the north, fish and seafood lovers can find this at many restaurants. Alternatively, try this recipe for a rich taste of Peruvian cooking at home.
Alfajores are a rich dessert with manjar blanco, a caramelized cream, stuffed between two shortbread cookies. A sprinkling of powdered sugar on top adds even more sweetness to this delightful cookie.
While alfajores are popular across Latin America, each country adds its own twist that differentiates theirs. Even different cities and regions produce their own cookie sandwich known as alfajor. Dipped in chocolate, topped with shredded coconut, fried, or with a drizzle of honey, there are plenty of variations to discover while exploring South America and especially Peru.
Read more about alfajores here and try making these cookies at home!
19. Mazamorra Morada and Arroz con Leche
Purple corn, a superfood, combines with quince, pineapple, apple skin, cinnamon, cloves, lime juice, and sugar to create a popular beverage known as chicha morada. This liquid is warmed up again, adding cornstarch, dried prunes, apricots, and/or cherries to turn the liquid into a fruit jelly known as mazamorra morada.
Street vendors and restaurants often pair the fruity flavor with a rich, creamy arroz con leche, or rice pudding. Besides white rice, Peruvian rice pudding includes condensed milk, egg yolks, cinnamon, nutmeg, and a little butter. While you can have just one or the other, the combination of mazamorra morada and arroz con leche creates a delectable, unique flavor.
Who knew that a pumpkin and sweet potato could make such a delicious dessert? This Peruvian doughnut is another street-vendor staple that dates far back in Peruvian history. Originally created as a cheaper version of a classic doughnut, picarones have distinguished themselves and garnered popularity of their own.
Do you have a sweet tooth? Discover 15 tasty Peruvian dessert recipes here.
Bonus: Pisco Sour
Finally, every good Peruvian meal should be topped off with a Pisco sour. Pisco, a Peruvian grape brandy, is the key ingredient in this tasty concoction. Mixed with lime juice, egg whites, bitters, and ice cubes, this is the national cocktail of Peru.
Served at all bars and nearly all restaurants, you will have plenty of chances to try this on your next trip. Alternatively, take a look at this Pisco sour recipe and try making it yourself. This rich cocktail is sure to impress!
There are so many more incredible Peruvian foods to discover, from cau cau to chaufa, and juane to papa rellena. Keep reading to discover even more about food in Peru with our Peruvian food glossary, covering the common cuisines, local ingredients, and even more tasty dishes.
Peruvian Food Glossary
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!
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Goldenberry. While native to Peru, England and South Africa also grow this berry today.
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)!
Sesame seeds. Sometimes also called sésamo.
A root vegetable that is like a cross between a carrot and a celery root. Arracacha cooks similarly to potatoes.
Split peas. Normally served with rice.
Steak. The name came from the mispronunciation of “beef steak” which sounded like bistec to Spanish speakers.
Comber fish. Typically found in soups or stews.
A triangle-shaped green vegetable native to South America. Caigua rellena (stuffed caigua) typically has meat, raisins, onions, and garlic.
Shrimp. Chupe de camarones uses sweet-flavored river shrimp as the highlight of the dish.
Sweet potato. The classic accompaniment to ceviche. Peruvian sweet potatoes come in all shapes, colors, and sizes.
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!
Onion. In addition, cebolla china is what we know as green onion.
Dried, smoked pork. Commonly prepared in the jungle.
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.
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!
Deep-fried pork belly. It is a popular breakfast treat or in sandwiches.
Thinly sliced fried banana chips. Mainly produced in the northern coastal areas of Peru.
Chirimoya / Cherimoya
Custard apple. Delicious in milkshakes and desserts.
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.
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 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.
Guinea pig! Believe it or not, it is widely eaten in Cusco and Arequipa and considered a Peruvian delicacy.
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.
Beans. Often served with rice and sausage or pork, or in tacu tacu.
Frutos secos literally translates as “dried fruits,” but actually means “nuts.” This can be confusing in the market!
Similar to passion fruit, but the flesh is much sweeter and gray.
Spearmint. Used in mint teas and to flavor chewing gum.
Lemon verbena. Native to South America, it was first brought back to Europe in the 1700s.
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 is a sweet, fizzy soft drink that, in Peru, might be even more popular than Coca-Cola! Some people say it tastes like bubblegum.
Ginger. Used in many Nikkei dishes. In other Spanish speaking countries, it’s called jengibre.
A small, gluten-free grain that looks similar to quinoa. Kiwicha has lots of amino acids, fiber, potassium, phosphorus, and zinc.
Native to Peru, lúcuma is used in fruit juices, milkshakes, and ice cream. It has a slightly sweet and creamy taste.
Peruvian ginseng. Maca grows at high altitudes in the Andes mountain range. This superfood is exported in its powder form all over the world.
Keep an eye out for these in your local supermarket. Peruvian mangos are some of the best in the world!
Dulce de leche. A sweet, caramelized cream used in a range of desserts, such as churros and chocolate cake.
Passion fruit. In Peru, it has yellow skin. It is bigger and more sour than the passion fruit with purple skin.
A plant that grows at high altitude and belongs to the mint family. Muña tea can help with altitude sickness.
Orange. Peru has amazing oranges! Try freshly squeezed orange juice in the markets.
A small, nutritious potato with a very earthy taste.
A freshwater fish native to the Amazon River. It is the second-largest freshwater fish in the world after sturgeon.
Avocado. You can find a few different types of avocado grown and sold in Peru. Try them all!
A sweet bread with dried fruits. Commonly eaten on Christmas with hot chocolate (despite it being summer in the Southern Hemisphere).
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.
Bell pepper. Used in many rice dishes such as arroz con pollo and chifa cuisine.
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.
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.
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.
Octopus. Pulpo al olivo is a Peruvian appetizer of octopus and a creamy black olive sauce.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Elderberry. These small, purple berries are very sour on their own but make delicious jams, wines, drinks, and desserts like sauco cheesecake!
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!
Trout. Very popular in Peru, especially around Puno & Lake Titicaca.
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.
Grapes. Peru grows lots of grapes, especially in the Ica region, which produces Pisco.
Cassava. Generally served fried or boiled into a soup.
A type of Japanese lemon. Distinct from Peruvian limón, which are internationally known as key limes.
Pumpkin. Often used in soups and the main ingredient of locro de zapallo.
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.
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 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 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).
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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, 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.
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.
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.
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 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 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!
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.
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!
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).
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Several Peruvian dishes use tallarines, or noodles. A chifa dish, tallarín saltado, is egg noodles fried with meat and vegetables. It 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.
In addition, tallarines verdes, or green noodles, is a pasta dish with a sauce like pesto. However, the bright green sauce has more than the traditional pesto ingredients. In addition to basil, the sauce has spinach, milk, and fresh cheese, as these are ingredients available locally. Check out a mouthwatering recipe for tallarines verdes here.
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.
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 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 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.
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!
Ready to experience all that Peru has to offer and try these delicious Peruvian foods in their homeland? Chat with an expert Travel Advisor at Peru for Less and start planning your own dream vacation to Peru.
Born and raised in small town Michigan, Melissa began traveling at 15 and hasn’t stopped since. After calling Havana and Paris her temporary homes, she moved to Lima in 2018. Since then, she has traveled extensively in Peru and across the continent to Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands. She loves trying new foods, learning about history, and chasing waterfalls.