You’re probably not visiting for the cuisine (Machu Picchu is calling!), but food and drink in Peru is some of the most varied in the world. Thanks to a range of climates, a colonial history, and its bordering countries, you’ll find old favourites served with a South American twist, animals (and parts of animals) you didn’t know you can eat, and incredibly fresh fruit and veg, all washed down with cheap (and strong) local liquors.
Eating in Peru is rarely boring. Here’s a quick overview of what to expect.
Food in Peru
Most meals in Peru are prepared with meat, with chicken, pork, beef, and lamb being the most common. Many dishes use organs such as the heart or stomach, so be a little careful when you’re ordering!
Alpaca meat is also available (though they are generally kept for their wool), as well as guinea pig, an Andean delicacy.
Traditional dishes to look out for include cau-cau (pronounced cow-cow), which is cow stomach served in a yellow sauce with potatoes, and anticuchos, a spicy beef heart kebab. Anticuchos is a staple of street food in Peru, but let your common sense lead you in which stalls you decide to buy from.
Fresh fish can be found throughout Peru, particularly along the coast (of course). In many jungle areas of the country the rivers supply fresh fish, but in the area known as the High Jungle some rivers are contaminated with chemicals, so be careful what you eat if visiting nearby.
A common fish dish in Peru is ceviche, raw fish marinated in lime juice. The recipe varies from region to region, some using shellfish or sea urchin and various levels of spice, making it an interesting dish to try around the country.
Most restaurants in Peru will serve main dishes with rice or potatoes, but the latter is prominent enough to earn a few dishes all of its own.
Papa a la Huancaina features potato slices in a yellow sauce and served with a hard boiled egg, while papa rellena is mashed potato filled with meat, vegetables, or other spicy fillings. These can be good options for vegetarians, but always check the menu, as many variants include meat.
Finding vegetarian food in Peru can be a little difficult. You’ll find fresh fruit and vegetables all over the country, but most restaurants and cafes in Peru will only serve them as a garnish to meat.
Most major cities have vegetarian restaurants, but you might have to ask around in order to find them.
Desserts in Peru are notorious for being incredibly sweet and sticky. For example, you could try picarones, a kind of doughnut made with fried yams and served with a sickly sugarcane called chancaca, or suspiro Limeno (literally ‘Sigh of Lima’), which is whole milk and sugar boiled together with a meringue top layer.
Don’t worry, the climb to Machu Picchu will burn it all off.
Drinks in Peru
If you’re up for a few drinks, Peru has you covered. Both wine and beer are made locally, and are not only strong but surprisingly good quality. There’s also a range of traditional liquors that pack a real punch.
Restaurants and bars in Peru observe happy hour a little differently to what you might be used to: drinks aren’t that much cheaper, but you’ll get two for the price of one. This is perfect for making new friends, or for getting disgustingly drunk by yourself!
The most common alcoholic beverage is Pisco sour, a kind of brandy that’s between 70-80 proof mixed with lemon juice, syrup, egg whites, and ice. It’s sweet enough that you might not realise just how strong it is.
If you’re interested in traditional drinks, try chicha de jora (made from fermented corn and rather strong) or caliente (a hot herbal tea with rum served during local celebrations).
You can also sample coca tea, which while not alcoholic is made from the leaves of the coca plant, the same one used to make cocaine. Don’t worry, it’s legal and doesn’t carry the same effects as the drug.
Peru is the world’s largest producer of organic coffee, and the taste when you’re actually there is as fresh as you’d expect, especially in some more rural areas.
The most common soft drink you’ll see in Peru is chicha morada, made from boiled purple corn with added sugar and spices. It’s available in bottles and cans, but is much tastier if you get it freshly boiled.
You should also try Inca Kola, a one-time alternative to Coca Cola now owned by the mega corporation, but still bright yellow and with its own unique flavour.