In recent years, Peru has earned its reputation as being one of the worlds best "kitchens". But while the quinoa and pisco sour cocktails are "exported" to become favourites in the world, the best Peruvian specialties have stayed in their homeland. Below you will find ten Peruvian dishes to taste on your way to Machu Picchu.
The Humboldt current flowing through the Pacific Ocean just off the coast of Peru is one of the world's richest sources of seafood. If Peru had an official national dish, it would probably be raw fish marinated in lemon juice. The acid in the lemon "cooks" the fish, giving it a delicate flavor and a slightly chewy texture. Accessories are usually red onions and chili pepper (aji), and the fish is served (usually lunch) with sweet potatoes or "choclo", a white andean corn. Gastronomes drink the leftover lemon marinade called "leche de tigre", tiger's milk.
A visitor at a food market in Peru can be sure to find two things - hundreds of varieties of potatoes, which have originated here , and piles of avocado, much bigger than those we are used to. A traditional causa consists of these two ingredients that can be mixed in layers with tuna, meat, seafood or vegetables.
Aji de Gallina
Yellow chili pepper lends its color - a bright yellow shade - and its gentle "kick" is present in many Peruvian dishes. A velvety stew with chicken and condensed milk.
A vegetarian option with similar tastes that you will find almost everywhere is "papa a la huancaina", boiled potatoes with creamy yellow sauce.
One hundred years before anyone had heard of Asian fusion dishes, boat-loads of Chinese immigrants arrived to Peru in search of work. The ingredients and techniques they added the Peruvian cuisine is probably best exemplified by this hearty hybrid of a meat dish. Mixed beef, tomatoes, peppers and onions in a pan with soy sauce and fried potatoes. Usually served with rice.
Pollo a la Brasa
This grilled chicken in a "Peru-manner" is so delicious - and popular - that it is now available in cities around the world. The secret is marinating the chicken in soy sauce seasoned with pepper, garlic and cumin, which gives the meat and the skin a smoky, salty flavor. Outside of Peru, it is usually served with French fries, but in Peru it is served traditionally with fried yuca, a waxy root vegetable that has a nice chewy cinsistency and tastes very good with the spicy dip sauces pollo a la brasa usually are served together with.
These skewers of grilled, marinated meats (like shish kebab) are served everywhere in Peru. Better restaurants offer them as part of a meal or appetizers. Street vendors sell them with garlic sauce. All meat can be cooked in this way, but the most traditional - and the best anticuchos are made of beef heart, an ingredient that can be traced back to the days when the Spanish conquerors of Peru took the "normal" meat for themselves and left the entrails to their slaves.
This dish is usually associated with Arequipa, Peru's second largest city, but it is served everywhere in the country. What looks to be a plain old red sweet pepper is actually a fiery chili, (at least ten times as strong as a jalapeno when it is raw but is boiled to reduce its thermonuclear characteristics), filled with seasoned, sautéed beef and hard-boiled eggs, topped with melted white cheese. Baked and served as a whole.
This dish usually arouses feelings to visitors in Peru, as the animal has another name in english: guinea pig. (An indication of how important the dish is in Peruvian rural population's diet: In a cathedral in Cusco is hanging a replica of Da Vinci's Last Supper, where Jesus and his disciples are seated around a dish of cuy.) The meat, which is quite bony, is usually baked or grilled on skewers and served as a whole of the animal - often with the head on it. It has a nice flavor, a bit like rabbit or wild fowl.
Peruvians love sweets, as is proved by the popularity of Inca Kola, a bubblegum-flavored soda. Lucuma is a fruit that looks like a mango, but it has a tast like maple syrup. It is often used as a flavoring in desserts or ice cream and is very sweet.
In the northern hemisphere alpaca makes you think of expensive alpaca wool that is used to make sweaters and socks. In the Andean highlands, this camelid (a smaller cousin to the llama) has been a source of meat for centuries. The taste is similar to meat from other grass-fed cattle, something more gamey flavor than beef and very lean.