The best way to start a conversation with a Peruvian is to talk about the food, of which they are understandably proud. Chef Gaston Acurio helped put Peruvian cuisine on the gastronomic map, but the country’s biodiversity and unique mix of cultural influences are what really make its cuisine stand out.
Sampling Peru’s culinary spread is a little like taking a tour of the country’s three main environments: mountains, coast, and jungle. Peru has also had waves of immigrants from Spain, Africa, and Asia, who have all made their mark on the country’s culinary identity.
Peru is a great option for budget travelers, especially outside of big cities and major tourist destinations. Food, in particular, is both delicious and cheap, especially if you avoid touristy restaurants in neighborhoods like Miraflores. You can get a set lunch, called “menu”, for S/. 13-19 (US $4-6), and a meal in a nice restaurant for less than S/. 65 (US $20).
In general, Peruvian food is hearty. Many dishes contain meat and potatoes (there are over 4,000 varieties that grow in the Andes, according to the Lima-based International Potato Center) and Peruvians don’t consider a meal complete without a generous helping of rice. Although Peruvian food is not typically spicy, many dishes contain the flavors of aji chili and rocoto peppers, but not always the heat.
The most common—and arguably the most traditional—dishes are lomo saltado, marinated beef with onions and tomatoes, and pollo a la brasa, chicken typically roasted over a wood fire. Seafood lovers will also rejoice at the myriad of ceviche options—ranging from the classic lime-juice marinated fish with aji and red onions to more creative interpretations. A classic side dish is papa a la huancaína (potatoes with huancaína sauce). And for the adventurous, there’s cuy, roasted guinea pig.
Lima has a fantastic restaurant scene. You'll find options like Panchita, which will introduce you to classics such as anticuchos, adobo (an Arequipan speciality), aji de gallina, and pachamanca. Or Amaz, which offers a modern take on jungle dishes such as tacacho and cecina (a kind of bacon).
To check out Gaston Acurio’s food empire, book a table at internationally-renowned Astrid & Gaston or the slightly less expensive Tanta, which also has a location in Arequipa.
Don’t miss the most famous Peruvian drink – the Pisco sour. Or you can join the locals and sip a chilcano, which is typically made with Pisco, lime, and ginger ale. Like wine, there are enough varieties of Pisco to suit every palette and budget. For a classic Pisco bar, check out Antigua Taberna Queirolo in the residential Lima neighborhood of Pueblo Libre.
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