Beyond Ceviche: Top Peruvian foods you have to try
Peruvians use a variety of ingredients to construct their mouth-watering dishes, including jungle fruits and exotic spices.
Photo by Chang’r/Flickr
Peruvian cuisine is diverse and outright delicious. The people of Peru are in fact so proud of their food that they are applying for the UNESCO World Heritage Status to recognize it – they hope traditional Peruvian cuisine will be recognized on the landmark list as early as next year.
What makes Peruvian gastronomy so special? What are some of the dishes and beverages you should try during your travels in Peru? While ceviche has become extremely popular throughout the world in the past few years, Peru has a lot more to offer than just this! Here are my top foods and drinks from Peru, beyond ceviche.
The best of Peruvian cuisine
Start with a twist of flavors!
Papa a la Huancaína
Papa a la Huancaína literally translates to “Huancayo style potatoes.” This typical Peruvian salad consists of boiled yellow potatoes covered by a creamy spicy sauce named Huancaína sauce. The name of the dish is derived from Huancayo, a city in the highlands of Peru, and has now become a staple of everyday cuisine in the country.
Papa a la Huancaína – a traditional starter to begin your meal
Photo by Franzconde/Flickr
Typically, this dish is served cold, as a starter. The potatoes are places on top of lettuce, and garnished with black olives, white corn kernels and hard boiled egg. A creamy sauce is made with a fresh white cheese (similar in consistency to feta), vegetable oil, aji amarillo (a type of yellow pepper from Peru), evaporated milk, and salt. The ingredients are mixed, blended, and voila! Your hors d’oeuvre is ready to eat!
If you have never tried beef heart, here is your chance! Anticuchos is a skewered meat dish originating from Peru, traditionally made with beef heart. The anticuchos are usually seasoned (preferably overnight) with garlic, cumin, vinegar and aji panca (a mild red chile pepper that has a smoky flavor). The meat is then skewered and grilled to perfection. A dressing that often accompanies the anticuchos is made with garlic, onion, vinegar, lime juice, chopped cilantro and parsley.
Try some delicious beef heart anticuchos!
Photo by Jennifer Woodward Maderazo/flickr
Anticuchos are not generally a main course, but a starter or accompaniment to other grilled meats and side dishes. Varieties of the dish are made with beef and chicken, and this can be attributed to the arrival of the Spaniards in Peru which saw a move away from eating offal meats. Anticuchos are now considered as traditional Peruvian cuisine and eaten in the largest quantities during the celebration of Fiestas Patrias (Independence day) in July.
Causa Rellena is a versatile Peruvian potato dish that can be eaten as a light meal, or as a delicious addition on a buffet spread. The causa can be layered with whatever fillings you prefer, including vegetarian options – but tuna and chicken salads are favorites. This dish is served cold and usually topped with a variety of extravagant garnishes and sauces.
The name causa is derived from the Incan Quechuan word Kausaq, literally meaning “that which gives life.” During the colonial era in Peru, native dishes were adapted by the Spaniards and combined with foods brought from Europe. This marriage creates the distinctive Peruvian cuisine we eat today. The dish is refreshing, yet hearty and combines intriguing flavors.
Mouth-watering (sometimes unusual) main courses
Peruvians eat certain things that you may not be accustomed to eating! In the Northern Hemisphere the term ‘alpaca’ is usually linked to expensive wool used to make scarves and sweaters. However, in Peru alpacas are also eaten, and have been a source of protein for Peruvians for many centuries. Comparable in flavor profile to buffalo, the alpaca is a non-greasy meat, and can be used to make delicious jerky!
Alpaca can be prepared in an array of different manners, and can be accompanied by various starches and vegetables. One traditional alpaca dish is apanado de alpaca, made with breaded alpaca meat, rice, potatoes, and salad.
Eating cuy might seem extreme to the faint hearted! Cuy or guinea pig as we know it, is a traditional Peruvian dish and an important protein for people in the Andes. Peruvians have mastered the art of preparing this animal, and it is usually baked or barbecued. Most often, your cuy will be served whole, including its head. The meat has a gamy taste, similar to rabbit. To accompany your cuy, rice and corn are generally served on the side.
A vendor selling cuy
Photo by karlnorling/Flickr
An estimated 65 million guinea pigs are eaten in Peru annually. Eating these humble creatures has become a deep-rooted tradition and festivals are held to celebrate it, with contests for the largest, best dressed, and of course, the tastiest guinea pig.
Chicharrón de pescado
Peruvians love chicharrón de pescado – a fried fish fritter dish. Almost every cevicheria in the country serves this meal, and it can be customized to the personal taste preference of each person. You can either choose a specific fish you would like to eat, or you can go with calamari and other seafoods. My personal preference is Muro, a delicious tender white fish native to the coast of Peru. The fish is cut into cubes and seasoned with salt, pepper, and lemon juice. The cubes are then covered in flour and coriander, and fried.
In addition to a side-salad and potatoes, these fritters are generally served with salsa criolla, which is a bend of sliced red onions marinated in limón, salt and aji amarillo. The dish is also sometimes served with an array of other sauces, including aji amarillo, rocoto, or even tartare sauce. This is a rustic dish, but when the quality of the fish is good, it gets elevated.
Turron de Doña Pepa
If you love sweet layered cakes, you will surely love this Peruvian dessert! Turron de Doña Pepa is a sticky, sweet anise-flavored dessert. Anise cookie sticks are first layered and then bathed in a cane syrup called chancaca, and topped off with colorful candy sprinkles and caramels.
Turron de Doña Pepa is eaten mainly in the month of October, ‘El Mes Morado’ or the purple month, honoring el Señor de los Milagros (Lord of Miracles), but can be bought at all times of the year. Be prepared for a sweet mouth-full!
Mazamorra Morada is a typical Peruvian pudding or jelly prepared from Peru’s unique purple corn and various dried and fresh fruits. The dark colored corn gives the treat its color, and unique flavor. Mazamorra Morada is spiced with cinnamon and cloves and is served as a cold treat after a meal.
Chicha Morada is a popular drink in Peru, also made from the famous purple corn!
What should you drink?
Aside from Chicha Morada, make sure you also try Inca Kola! This sweet, yellow soda was created in 1935, and has become a standard grocery store item for Peruvians. It is made using lemon verbena, known locally as Hierba Luisa. Some have compared the soda in flavor to bubblegum.
Want something a little stronger? During your travels in Peru you may encounter Chicha de Jora, an alcoholic beverage originating in the Andes. The Incas traditionally made the drink by fermenting specific maize, the jora. This is a beer-like beverage that is pale yellow in color, with a hint of sour in the taste. “Chicha” is now used in the Andes to describe any home-made fermented beverage.
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