There’s a lot to get excited about when it comes to a Machu Picchu trip, and of course much of it has to do with the ruins themselves. However, a visit to Machu Picchu doesn’t exist in a bubble. It also entails a trip to South America and a trip to Peru more specifically – an exciting experience in and of itself. In many ways, your trip to Machu Picchu will be an experience in cultural immersion, and of course one of the most accessible and enjoyable aspects of Peruvian culture is the Peruvian food!
Peruvian food has a long and storied history and has drawn influences from all over the world. Besides the cuisine’s strong indigenous influence, Peruvian food includes many aspects of Spanish, Chinese, and West African cuisines, among others. But enough talk! Let’s take a look…
Peruvian Food You Can’t Miss During Your Trip
Sometimes written as “cebiche” in Peru (the “v” and “b” sounds are essentially the same in Spanish), this seafood dish has its origins in the country and later spread in popularity throughout most of South and Central America. Though most prominent in the country’s coastal areas for obvious reasons, you’re sure to find ceviche in whatever part of Peru you’re exploring and we highly recommend it! The traditional Peruvian form of this dish begins with raw fish, generally corvina or sea bass, which is then marinated in the juice of freshly-squeezed limes or bitter oranges, essentially “cooking” the fish with its acidity. Mix in onions, chilli peppers, and spices, and then serve alongside chunks of corncob or sweet potatoes, and you’ve got yourself a meal! Though perhaps not the prettiest looking Peruvian food, ceviche is a delicious and integral part of Peruvian cuisine, so loved, in fact, that it has its own national holiday. You know you can’t miss it.
Remember when we discussed chifa – that is, Peruvian Chinese food – in another article? Well, this dish comes from the chifa tradition, though it’s fair to say that by now it might have outgrown it. Lomo saltado consists of marinated strips of beef, generally sirloin steak, combined with onions, tomatoes, peppers, and parsley in a delicious stir fry. The dish is then served over white rice with fried potato slices. It is the combination of Chinese elements, the rice and the soy sauce used in the marinade, with traditional Peruvian elements that make this such an interesting entry into the Peruvian food canon.
We admit it, this one is not for the faint of heart, at least for those who come from places where guinea pigs are more frequently kept as pets than raised for food. Yes, cuy is the regional Spanish word for guinea pig, and yes, in the Peruvian highlands it is a very popular dish. Guinea pigs were actually domesticated in what is now Peru over a 3,000-year-or-so process for the express purpose of eating them. They’re such a staple, you can think of them essentially as the chicken of the Peruvian highlands. Cuy Asado, specifically, is roasted guinea pig, and it’s generally taken off its spit and served whole. As tempting as it is to add that guinea pig also “tastes like chicken,” it doesn’t really, the taste of this truly traditional Peruvian food is more gamy, along the lines of rabbit or certain wild birds such as pheasant.
Ají de Gallina
Another delicious Peruvian food, ají de gallina is a thick and hearty chicken stew. The broth contains the traditional Peruvian yellow ají pepper, which gives this dish its distinct yellow color. Beyond these peppers, the broth generally contains condensed milk and is thickened with white bread, crust removed. Add boiled potatoes, black olives, and some hard-boiled egg, and you’ve got yourself a dish. Various varieties of the recipe make use of walnuts as well, though these are more frequently present in “upscale” variations than in traditional versions of the dish because their addition can prove somewhat cost-prohibitive to many Peruvians. But either way you eat it, ají de gallina is a delicious and traditional Peruvian food not to be missed during your time in the country!
Not technically a dish, and not even a food, we still couldn’t help but wrap up our list with Peru’s totally ubiquitous beverage of choice – Inca Kola! The soft drink has a very unique flavor due to its main ingredient, a flowering plant known as lemon verbena. It’s sometimes compared to the taste of bubblegum, but that isn’t quite right. You just have to try it and see. A true symbol of Peru, Inca Kola actually outsells Coca Cola in its home country, an incredible feat. Though it’s not a “Peruvian food,” we still think it’s a perfect ending to our list.