Brazilian and Argentine food are both good. Mexican restaurants dominate the dining scene, but Peruvian food is the best in Latin America.
Here’s the skinny on the signature dishes.
To make ceviche, marinate raw fish in lemon juice to kill the bacteria and serve raw. Who would try that? Whoever’s idea it was didn’t stop there. They thought it’d be good with sweet potato. Raw fish in lemon juice with sweet potato. But sweet and sour wasn’t enough. They created an-all out oral orgy by adding spicy to the mix, via fresh rocoto. Sour, sweet, and spicy. Add cancha for crunch. Also seaweed for … I don’t know what seaweed brings. But I eat it all.
Ceviche’s rarely served with creamy sauces and calamari as in the first pic. And if you skip the cancha, ceviche’s a super-healthy plate. Raw fish is loaded with Omega 3 fatty acids and protein. Lemon juice adds your RDI of Vitamin C. Sweet potatoes are so low on the glycemic index they’re not considered a starch. Seaweed is a common ingredient in fat burner pills. All that healthy goodness and it’s delicious!
I actually have a horrible case of acid reflux disease. Acid comes up from my stomach when I sleep. Five years ago it was so bad the acid ate away the enamel on four of my teeth, which I had to have capped. A doctor gave me a list of behaviors that aggravate acid reflux, and I noted that I was very guilty of 4 out of 7: spicy food, caffeine (especially coffee), alcohol, and eating before exercise.
Eating ceviche is worse than all of those. No food’s more acidic than lemon juice. Drinking the leche de tigre (Tiger Milk, the fishy lemon juice at the bottom of the bowl) after finishing all the food is like injecting acid into my gums. But I don’t care. I ALWAYS DRINK THE LECHE DE TIGRE. Sometimes I add it to beer.
I won’t live a life without ceviche, especially in Peru. I just spent a few months in Arequipa and Lima and I ate ceviche at least once a week, often two or three times. At one point my acid reflux got so bad the nerves in my front teeth inflamed and my gums swelled up. I have to take Ranitidina pills to eat ceviche so much, but it’s worth it. It’s nothing less than oral orgasm.
Arroz con Pollo / Pato
Every country has their own version of arroz con pollo – rice with chicken. Colombia’s version isn’t bad, but it’s inferior to Peru’s. To make Peruvian arroz con pollo, you need two different types of cilantro (there are two kinds) in enough quantity to turn the rice green. Saute chicken or duck thighs (duck tastes better). Cook peas and diced carrots with the cilantro-fied rice. Top the rice with chicken or duck, red pepper, tomato, and red onion. Add a ton of aji like me.
Sometimes Peruvian arroz con pollo is served with huancaína — a creamy, yellow sauce made from milk, cheese, oil, crackers, onion, and mirasol ají — as if it needed more flavor!
Ají de Gallina
Another perfect example of experimental cooking is seen in aji de gallina, a creamy chicken sauce served with rice. The sauce is made with evaporated milk, mild yellow peppers, Parmesan cheese, garlic, onion, and crushed peanuts.
Cook shredded chicken breast into the sauce. When thoroughly cooked, top the sauce with a boiled potato, hard boiled eggs, and black olives. Serve with rice.
Let’s do an ingredient roll call:
- Evaporated milk
- Yellow ají
- Parmesan cheese
- Garlic and onion
- Boiled eggs
- Black olives
Who would think to mix those?
Seco de Cordero
Seco de cordero receives little mention when people drool over Peruvian food. But it’s one of the best.
Sauteed lamb meat in another experimental sauce. Mix in a blender water, spinach, cilantro, yellow ají, a little onion and garlic. Seems strange, tastes great. Add peas and a boiled potato after making the sauce.
Seco de res is the same dish with beef in place of lamb.
Everybody raves for Lomo Saltado.
Fry potato strips (french fries). Then saute strips of steak with soy sauce, diced tomato and onion. Use enough oil and soy sauce for there to be a good amount of juice at the bottom. Once cooked, throw the fries in and toss it all so the juice mixes with everything. Top with fresh cilantro and serve with rice.
Some restaurants add the fries separately so they stay dry.
In my opinion lomo saltado doesn’t need rice because it already has a good amount of starch in the potatoes. I’m not as anti-rice as when I wrote My Rice Rant, but I still cut it whenever possible, and you can always cut it from Lomo Saltado. Below is a dinner I cooked for Milagros: Lomo Saltado sin arroz with Argentine Cabernet and Strawberries & Cream for dessert. Damn I’m good.
Another Lima specialty is the Afro-Peruvian creation, tacu tacu. Beans mixed with onion, garlic and yellow aji pepper are tossed in rice and formed into a ball, then fried. The mold is topped with fried egg and served with a fried plantain and a sirloin filet.
Ceviche is my favorite Peruvian dish, but my favorite plate in Lima is a tacu tacu variant served at El Rincon Que No Conoces in Lince. Their ‘Tacu Tere’, named for the late chef, Teresa Izquierdo, is tacu tacu stuffed with beef or pork tenderloin and served with fried tomato and onion with chorizo, fried egg and plantain. The flavor contrasts are guaranteed to please.
There was a giant influx of Chinese immigrants to Peru in the early 20th century. Chifa is Peruvian-Chinese fusion. In Barrio Chino and parts of Lince, you can find roasted ducks hanging in storefront windows. The best ones are in Lima’s Chinatown featured in the Downtown Lima Walking Tour. If you love Chinese food, you should try the Peruvian fusion.
Chaufa is fried rice. Pollo enrollado, a battered and fried tube of chicken breast served with steamed veggies and rice, is Colin’s favorite. Pollo chijuakai (sesame chicken), pollo tipakay (sweet and sour chicken), and chancho con tamarindo (pineapple pork) are other chifa staples.
Chicharrón de Cerdo
In Colombia, chicharrón means pork rind, but not like the salty snacks in the States. Colombian pork rinds are deep fried pig skin. Cuts can range from pure grease and fat to very lean and red. Most are pretty greasy with a skin so hard it could break a tooth. One of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s stories features a character who chipped a tooth eating chicharrón.
In Peru, chicharrón simply means deep-fried. So they have chicharron de pollo (deep-fried chicken), chicharron de cerdo (deep-fried pork), and even chicharron de camaron (deep-fried shrimp). I didn’t eat pork or shellfish for over three years to avoid heathen food. I resumed eating pork when I moved to Colombia because bandeja paisa, the national dish and one of my top 4 Colombian dishes, features three (four if it comes with morcilla) pork foods: a chicharrón pork rind, chorizo, and beans cooked in pork fat. I took pork back, but shellfish only rarely, and I’ll never eat truly heathen shit like dogs or snakes.
I never had Peruvian chicharrón until I went back. It’s delicious. Heathen eating at its finest. Generous with the ají. Served with lightly fried potatoes, onion, and mint leaves with lemon juice.
There’s no reason Colombians can’t serve this. There’s nothing difficult about it. Colombians already eat a lot of pork and a lot of deep-fried food. Why don’t they deep fry pork? Maybe it’s too tasty for the Colombian palate.
Here’s a shot of chicharrón de camaron, deep-fried shrimp. It’s fried so hard that people eat the shell. They can chew and digest the entire shrimp. Crunchy seafood, the swine of the sea.
Causa is an inventive wonder. It’s a mashed potato cake with chicken salad filling and avocado. Golden potatoes are why it’s yellow. Lemon juice is added to the mashed potato before laying with filling.
If chicken salad sandwich with avocado sounds good, it’s even better with mashed potato instead of bread. It’s very filling.
Causa’s not only made with chicken. It often has tuna salad inside. The first shot is chicken causa, the second is tuna.
Those are the two main variants, but there are others. Causa is limeña, as is ceviche. So it’s commonly served as an appetizer in small portions at cevicherias. In the third shot, you see chicken causa drizzled with mayo, octopus causa drizzled with black olive sauce, and shrimp causa drizzled with spicy aji sauce – in appetizer portions.
In addition to chicken and tuna, they make lobster causa, and all-other-kinds-of-shellfish-I-don’t-recognize-causa. Some are purple, some are green. That last shot is a spread from world-famous Peruvian chef, Gaston Acurio.
The best causas are found at Lima seafood restaurants. You can usually find a sampler with three or four variants like in the CesArts shot. Don’t miss that if visiting Lima!!!
My favorite is plain old chicken causa with a ton of ají.
Asado de Ternero con Pure de Papa
This is another one that won’t come recommended because there are so many other delicious plates to eat first. But this one’s definitely worth it.
Roasted veal in a beef gravy served with very thin mashed potatoes and rice.
The most revered plate of Arequipa, the source of their provincial pride, is Rocoto Relleno.
Rocoto is the spicy pepper in Peruvian cuisine. It’s the shape, color, and size of a red pepper. It’s de-seeded and de-stemmed, then stuffed with steak strips, cheese, boiled egg, black olives, peanuts, raisins (sometimes), and then baked. The cheese oozes out from the top. I’m not much of a stuffed peppers guy, but rocoto relleno is damn good. In fact I eat one at least once a week in Arequipa.
Rocoto Relleno is served with pastel de papa, or potato cake. Layers of thin sliced potato baked with cheese and eggs. If they skimp on the cheese and eggs, it’s too dry for me. But when they’re generous with cheese and eggs, pastel de papa is the perfect compliment to Rocoto Relleno.
Rocoto Relleno is a staple of Arequipeño cuisine, which deserves its own article in itself. See 10 Things to Eat in Arequipa.
Peru’s famous and strangely unique national soda, Inca Kola. It’s the color of plutonium and tastes like bubble gum. The brand was so successful it’s been bought out by Coca Cola. Read the interesting history of this soda on En Peru.
This article still doesn’t do Peruvian food justice. I’m STILL missing some good plates like Giro de Zapallo, Caigua Rellena, and over half of the Arequipa soups. If you have pics, send them in and I’ll put them in.
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