My first backpacking trip to Peru was when I was 20 years old and an idealistic vegetarian on a $20 per day budget. That’s $20 per day for everything – transportation, hostel, sightseeing entrances, and food. Being a vegetarian anywhere is South America is a challenge, but particularly when you are on a super tight budget.
This all being said, my first introduction to Peruvian cuisine was very lack-luster and involved mostly potatoes (of which there are some 4000 varieties), avocados, quinoa (ancient protein-rich super grain), corn, and runny eggs. Needless to say I did not return home after my first foray to South America and rave about Peruvian cuisine (though I did rave about almost everything else). Oh how times have changed.
I am no longer a vegetarian. I do not travel on a $20 per day budget. I have been to Peru at least a dozen times. Oh…and I love Peruvian cuisine. Over the past decade and a half my love affair with Peruvian cuisine has become very potent and apparently I am not the only one. Peruvian cuisine has recently received an immense amount of attention in the culinary world and is becoming increasingly popular worldwide. Modern day Peruvian cuisine is a melting pot indigenous dishes combined with nearly 500 years of Spanish and more recently African, Japanese, Chinese, and Italian influence. It’s varied in colour and texture, extremely fresh, and mildly spicy.
From the seafood-rich Pacific, to the fertile Andes where potatoes, corn and tomatoes grow prolifically, to the Amazon where an array of mysterious jungle fruits and herbs are sourced, inspiration is never far away.
I think of Peru often (an occupational bonus). My thoughts of Peru first drift towards Machu Picchu, then towards the majestic Andes, then to mouth-watering ceviche. Peruvian ceviche is unquestionably my most favourite dish on the planet and I spend extra days in Lima before leading a tour just so I can consume ceviche at least twice a day.
Though my favourite, ceviche is not the only dish worth the hype. Here are my top 5 picks for must-haves when you visit Peru (www.finisterra.ca).
Keri’s Top 5 Tasty Peruvian Picks
- Ceviche – Hands down my favourite of not only Peruvian dishes but of all dishes because of it’s citrusy, spicy, melts-in-mouthy deliciousness. Ceviche is so important to Peruvians that it has been declared part of Peru’s “national heritage” and has its own national day. The classic Peruvian ceviche is made of cubed chunks of raw white fish (usually corvina or sea bass), marinated in freshly squeezed limon
(key lime) or naranja agria (bitter orange), with thin slices of onions, chili peppers, salt and pepper. It is served with a chunk of corn on the cob and a piece of sweet potato. This dish is clean tasting, incredibly fresh, very healthy, and addictively delicious.
- Cuy (Guinea Pig) – You cannot visit the Andes without trying this delicacy as you likely won’t be finding cuy at home except in the pet stores. Once eaten only by the Incan elite, guinea pigs are now commercially raised and have become a nutritious protein staple in the Andean diet. There are few domesticated animals that are hearty enough to survive in the high altitudes of the Andes; llamas are generally raised as beasts of burden while alpacas are usually raised for their wool. Guinea pigs reproduce like crazy, need little space, are easy to raise, and are quite tasty. I would describe the taste as a succulent duck-rabbit love-child. If you are adventurous enough to order this little beast, I suggest that you get one between a few of you to try and that you also ask the kitchen to chop it up for you. If you don’t, you will end up with a gruesome looking roasted whole cuy staring up at you with beady eyes and all.
- Causa – So much better than a potato salad! This traditional Quechuan dish is made from bright yellow potatoes which are blended with oil, lime juice, and Peruvian aji amarillo (yellow pepper), and then layered with a variety of fillings like tuna, octopus, chicken, avocado, and corn, in countless combinations. It is filling, smooth tasting, and a must-eat when in Peru.
- Tiradito – I would say that tiradito is the ‘brother from another mother’ of ceviche. Thin slices of sashimi-quality white fish (or scallops) are served covered in a spicy aji amarillo sauce and like ceviche are served with corn and sweet potato. This dish is everything I love about Japanese cuisine combined with Peruvian spice and creativity.
- Pisco Sour – No, this isn’t a food but you cannot leave Peru without trying their national drink! The ubiquitous pisco sour will taste different everywhere you go and will have alarmingly different effects on your sobriety depending on the elevation. Peru’s fiery grape brandy, pisco, is combined with lime juice, cane sugar, egg white, ice, and topped with Angostura bitters to create one of my favourite cocktails. Perfect as an aperitif or a digestif or dessert.
Of course there are countless other delicious Peruvian dishes to try such as lomo saltado, anticuchos, tacu tacu, papa rellena, and empanadas but you will just have to come on a tour with me in order to try them all. Buen provecho amigos! Check our Peru Tour www.finisterra.ca