While traveling through Peru, it became evident that the diversity and quality of the food are exceptional. Peru is considered 5th in the world when it comes to gastronomy, and the Peruvian people take great pride in their culture and food. The passion for the food is contagious. I became addicted to Peruvian dishes like; Lomo Saltado, Juane, and Ceviche but Cuy (guinea pig), on the other hand, was a taste I could not acquire. With the food comes a desire of the Peruvian people to share and celebrate their culture through food and festivals. Peru is also known for a drink called the Pisco sour, an alcoholic cocktail that’s name comes from Pisco brandy, its base liquor, and the cocktail term sour citrus juice and sweetener components.
The first Peruvian dish I tried in Lima was Lomo Saltado, which consists of tender beef, red peppers (aji limo), yellow pepper (aji amarillo), onions, rice, and fried potatoes in a delicious sauce. This dish’s variation is Tallarines Saltado, which is similar but only pasta and exceptionally flavorful. I was instantly addicted to the food and was really excited about the variety of food and fresh local ingredients. One of the next dishes I believe, was Ceviche, which I was hesitant to try because the fish is raw and only dressed with lemon juice to kill bacteria. Still, I was assured that one bite and I would be addicted, and sure enough, once I had Ceviche it became a weekly dish for me, and not once did I ever get sick after eating it literally dozens of times. But a word of warning is best to eat Ceviche before noon, or your risk increases, and locals will look at you like you are loco. Traditional Ceviche consists of local fresh fish, corn, onion, sweet potato, red peppers, lemon juice, and cilantro, but there are many variations. One incredibly delicious variation is Ceviche from clam called “Choritos a la Chalaca” with a unique flavor profile compared to other Ceviche and a beautiful presentation.
I found that Shirley had a favorite dessert, which is especially popular in Lima Called “Picorones” a pumpkin-based batter similar to the funnel cakes you get at fairs in The United States but made in the shape of thin donuts and dressed with a syrup made from sugar cane. The cane juice is boiled for a long time until it becomes molasses and made into balls called “Chancaca” they cook that ball with orange peel, cinnamon, clove, fig leaves, and that becomes the syrup for the picarones. But other people make it by boiling water with sugar, cinnamon, cloves, or orange peel, and it is unique and compliments the picarones perfectly. During our time in Lima Shirley had a delicious meal called “Arroz con Pato” (rice with duck) which is green rice with liquefied coriander, carrots, peas, and duck breast. It also has black beer and a creole onion salad with parsley and sweet chili. Like with all meals in Peru, delicious and hearty. Another dish we had while waiting for our laundry to be cleaned while staying in Lima was at a lovely restaurant serving fresh fish of all kinds on display. We had A dish called “Sudado” in which they take the entire fish and fry half, make soup from half, and sauté the whole fish dressed with sauce, onions, and peppers. The main dish may look scary but is very flavorful and fresh.
While living in Puerto Maldonado, I had the pleasure of going fishing with Shirley’s friend Joaquinas husband Marcos see my blog “Learning to cast net with Marcos in the Amazon” After Marcos and I had fun catching much fish his wife Jaquina made a simply delicious soup made from devil fish or In Spanish “Carachama” and the soup called “Chilcano“. With the soup rice and yucca, wild cilantro, (Sachaculantrol) which gives a pleasant smell and perfect final touch to the Chilcano. To accompany the soup are delicious pickled onions and peppers. Very simple light soup with excellent flavor and perfect for hot weather.
Almost every morning Shirley and I would go to the Tres’ de Mayo market and have breakfast. Usually consisting of handmade “empanada” a pastry-filled pie comprised of egg, olive, beef, or cheese but comes in many variations, pickled onion and peppers, yucca ball, fresh juice, and coffee.
Shirley and her mom make another great dish called Tallarín de casa con estofado de gallina, a Chicken stew with homemade spaghetti, carrots, peas, and tomato. This dish reminds me a little bit of Italian food and is one of my favorites. Another dish that I grew fond of and Shirley and I often ate at a small family-owned place was Pollo canga. This is a Grilled chicken dish with rice, yucca, and roasted banana ball. It is prevalent in Peru to have multiple carbohydrates and starches in one dish, so if you are into the whole Keto thing, you will be in trouble. This dish’s variation is Tacacho con cecina, which is a roasted banana ball with dried (smoked) pig meat. I enjoyed a great salad called Ensalada mixta, which consisted of purple cabbage, fried ripe banana, fried sweet potato, cucumber, and tomato in a lemon vinaigrette.
Shirley and her mom also made many unique dishes for different celebrations in Peru, including Friday soup and Easter seafood soup. This soup is very good and filled with everything from the ocean, including; shrimp, eggs, and a delicious soup the eggs I gave to the dog. Also, a great dish I like has fried fish “paco” accompanied by corn “choclo” which I call “big corn” because the size of the Kernels accompanied with potato and salad called “soltero” all very delicious and unique to American taste buds.
A great dish from the Amazon is called Patarashca. Fish “paiche” wrapped in bijao leaf with a roasted banana ball with wild tomato chili and is a beautiful native dish with a flair. Another typical dish in this region is Chuleta de carne con tallarines verdes. Which is a variety of chopped meat with green spaghetti. (coriander and liquefied spinach) Similar to a pesto type past with seasoned grilled meat.
While in Cusco we had many great dishes, including Trucha al horno con puré de papá. Baked trout with mashed potatoes. And one of Shirley’s favorite soups Sopa de quinua Quinoa soup is made in many variations. A popular drink in Peru is Chicha, which a beer made from fermented sprouted corn and is quite refreshing and delicious depending on who and where it is made. It has a sour flavor profile, but some communities add puree=ed strawberry, which gives a sweeter taste. I was told that some communities have also used a type of pepper, increasing blood alcohol content.
During our time staying with Shirley’s family in Anancy, the Apurimac region of Peru, I had the opportunity to eat a fantastic soup made from duck, cilantro, tomato, onion, black beer, and rice. The soup was made by Shirley’s aunt Beba for her uncle Ramiro’s birthday, and the soup is called “Aguadito”. Perhaps one of the most delicious soups I have ever tasted. Ramiro’s birthday celebration was beautiful as all celebrations in Peru are, and everyone appreciated the soup Beba spent all day making. We ended the evening with many rounds of drinks, a soccer game between the US and Peru, which coincidently ended in a tie. Shirley’s Uncle Omar and Aunt Iza, who were the most amazing hosts took us to a local restaurant in Abancay called Araujos with a really unique atmosphere, mostly outside with various grilled meats, potatoes, and corn. I had Baked chicken with salad and corn “choclo” with chemichurri sauce which was very tender and juicy filled with flavor, and the small purple potatoes that are sweet are perfect compliments. For more on my experiences in Abancay, see previous blogs “Lima to Abancay” and “Choquequirao, Sayhuite, and back to Abancay.”
My blog would not be complete without mentioning “Hornitos Pizza.” I know what your thinking is really pizza, but it is one of the best pizzas, especially in Peru. Nothing says comfort like a good pizza, mostly when Italian and Hornitos always deliver a good pie. Shirley and I usually ordered half pineapple and the other half just cheese. Also some they have some of the best lemonade on the planet. A unique touch is that they serve delicious breadsticks served with a pepper sauce instead of tomato sauce, which was a nice change from the traditional.
One of the soups I had on last trips to Peru was at Shirley’s sister’s husband Beto’s grandmother’s restaurant, which was a house chicken soup with the chicken running around as you ate, so the soup is about as fresh as you can get and very hearty and delicious. The soup we had at Beto’s grandmother’s house in Spanish is Caldo de gallina.
I can say without a doubt that Peruvian food is some of the best food I have ever tasted, and I feel very blessed to have had so many beautiful experiences and been a part of such memorable celebrations. I am grateful I will have many more opportunities in the future to dive even deeper into Peruvian culture and cuisine with my Peruvian friends and family.