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9 dishes that you should try on your trip to Peru
Peru is known for its history, rich architecture and impressive landscapes. However, every time I hear about this country I can’t stop thinking about one thing: its food.
The fact is that Peruvian cuisine has an exquisite mix of cultures: the cuisine of the native people mixed with Spanish food and with the dishes brought by the African slaves. In the 19th century, that mix met the food of the Cantonese-Chinese and Japanese immigrants.
With so much to choose from, it’s difficult to make a list of what you definitely have to try when you visit Peru, but here is an attempt.
Yes, I’ll start with the weirdest thing, so leave your prejudices aside and try the guinea pig or cuy. It’s a dish with mild flavor, eaten since pre-Inca times and typical of the Arequipa Region. The charm of this dish is in how it’s cooked, since the guinea pig goes into boiling oil in a big frying pan, with a heavy stone on top , which helps keeping the animal flat and prevent the hot oil from curving it.
You can find it in fairs or typical markets, in their original presentation, which is whole on the plate (with the head and all) and garnished with potatoes or salad. But if this presentation causes you a big impression you can also have it sliced, hopefully in one of the restaurants of Chef Gastón Acurio, who took it out of the picanterías and put it on the tables of fancy restaurants.
Ají de Gallina
This dish is a reflection of the mix between Spanish and Quechua cuisine. Its preparation is very simple: shredded cooked chicken, mixed with evaporated milk, yellow chili pepper, onion and ground bread (added to give a creamy consistency), served with yellow potatoes, hard-boiled egg and olives.
Ají de gallina has been eaten in Peru since colonial times and its recipe has varied over the years. What doesn’t change is the yellow chili pepper, a flavor you will get used to during your trip to Peru.
This dish is so important in Peruvian cuisine that was declared as one of the country’s heritage and even has a national day (June 28). It consists of raw fish marinated in lemon, with purple onion, salt, limo chili pepper, cilantro and black pepper. The base of the dish is the same as that of the ceviche that is eaten in other parts of the Pacific coast of South America, but the difference is the garnish: sweet potato and fried corn, which gives it the traditional Andean touch.
If you are eating ceviche, don’t forget to order Leche de Tigre, which is the lemon juice after marinating the fish plus some oil from the fried corn. It’s the best you can have after a night out.
This preparation is originally from Arequipa and is based on a rocoto chilli pepper, which is something like a mixture between chilli peppers and capsicum. It’s quite spicy, but also a bit sweet and big enough to be stuffed. The recipe consists on hollowing out and stuffing the rocoto with ground meat, onion, olives, grated fresh cheese and hard-boiled egg. Before that everything is sautéed and seasoned with salt, cumin and other condiments.
If you dare to try this dish for the first time, have a large glass of milk at hand, to neutralize the spicy taste in your mouth, because it’s seriously hot.
Papa a la Huancaína
This dish is the most typical dish in Peru and unfortunately the only vegetarian option in the list. The preparation comes from the city of Huancayo (hence the name) located in the Andean region, in the center of Peru.
The recipe is very easy: any of the many varieties of potatoes grown in Peru (or a mixture of them), cooked and covered with a sauce made with soft cheese, evaporated milk, oil, salt and yellow chilli pepper. All this is served on a “bed” of lettuce leaves, with black olives and slices of hard-boiled egg. It sounds simple, but its very good.
When we talk about Nikkei, more than naming a dish we are going to talk about a style. By the end of the 19th century, Japanese people hired to work in sugar plantations, arrived massively to Peru and began to mix their dishes and cooking techniques with peruvian ingredients they had at hand. That’s how this new culinary style was born, one that has traveled the world with chefs born in Peru with Japanese roots, such as Humberto Sato, Rosita Yimura and Mitsuharu Tsumura.
Probably one of the recipes that most represents nikkei cuisine is tiradito de pescado, which is nothing more than raw fish, cut like sashimi, but seasoned with typical Peruvian ingredients, such as sweet potato, chilli pepper, lemon and corn. Other dishes from Nikkei cuisine are pulpo al olivo and tacu tacu nikkei.
Chifa comes from the Mandarin word “chī fàn”, which means “eating rice”. If we talk about gastronomic trends, Chifa food is undoubtedly the most widespread in Peru. As I told you in What to do in Lima for free (or almost free), many Chinese from Canton, came to Peru in the nineteenth century to work in very harsh conditions. Little by little the immigrants mixed with the Peruvian locals and with it their cooking. Thus was born this food that combines elements of Chinese cuisine, such as the use of wok and soy sauce, with Peruvian ingredients.
The most typical dishes of the Chifa cuisine are tallarín saltado (wheat noodles with beef, sautéed in soy sauce, with vegetables, pepper, ajinomoto and cumin), chaufa rice (fried rice in soy sauce, with vegetables, omelette and different types of meat) and aeropuerto. This last one is the perfect dish if you have trouble choosing, because it’s a mix of the first two. A marvel.
Another local dish with influences from Chifa food is lomo saltado, but it deserves a special space. It’s so important that was taken out of chifa restaurants and taken to those offering typical Peruvian food.
The recipe is quite simple, it uses a wok to cook pieces of beef tenderloin, vegetables and yellow chilli pepper with soy sauce. And then comes the best: once the meat is ready, french fries are added. Then everything is served garnished with rice. So if your traveling budget is limited, with only one plate you won’t need more food for the whole day.
And to close the list we have something sweet. Actually very sweet. Suspiro Limeño,or “Lima girl sigh”, is a dessert made with evaporated milk, condensed milk and egg yolks boiled over low heat, covered by a merengue infused with port wine or sweet wine and cinnamon.
It’s a delicious dessert, but quite cloying, so maybe you want to have it with a big glass of water or to share it.
If you are already planning your trip to Peru, enjoy its extraordinary gastronomic culture and forget about the weight, because your excess baggage can be handled by Airkeep. We are already in Peru.