Hey folks – my apologies for the blog being so thin lately. I’ve been on the road – a lot – and I can’t seem to justify spending my days sitting in a hotel room blogging. We’ll return to daily posts next week, I promise. In the meantime, read on about Peruvian foods you must try. And for your own safety, do not consume this post on an empty stomach. 

As some of you may have noticed, I don’t really do much research on my travel destinations, except when it comes to cuisine. I left for Peru with a vague understanding of who created Machu Picchu, but I was able to rattle off the local desserts like an expert. This concerns me slightly. I have this fear that, should aliens ever abduct me (and let’s face it: this is a highly probable likelihood) they will ask me all sorts of questions about other parts of my planet. And most of the time, I WILL HAVE NO CLUE WHAT TO SAY right up until the topic of food comes up, at which point I will be some sort of savant. Governmental structure of Peru? No clue. But they have these fantastic dulce de leche sandwich cookies called alfajores (I’ve eaten enough in one sitting to risk diabetic shock). Iceland? I can’t remember anything about my trip there except for that yogurt dessert they kept feeding us. And my usually reply to when anyone mentions the U.K. is to drool and mumble “sticky toffee pudding” with a glazed look in my eye.

Gah. I will be so useless if the aliens are planning some sort of governmental takeover. How embarrassing. And completely likely, as I am sure you will agree.  But fortunately I’m more often asked questions that pertain to travel, and not the domination of the human race. So if you plan on staying earthbound, and make your way to Peru, here’s what you should munch on while you’re there.

  1. Alfajores. I first learned about these delightful sandwich cookies on a chilly day, sitting in a restaurant outside of Port Charles, New York. Rich dulce de leche sandwiched between buttery, not-too-sweet shortbread cookies, dusted with powdered sugar. Remember Oreos? Well, you won’t after you have one of these. Heck, you’ll barely remember your own name.
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    See those fingers in the background? Pretty sure I bit them in the frenzy of shoving this thing into my face.

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  2. Cuy. Yes, it’s guinea pig. It’s also a very traditional mainstay of Peruvian cuisine. If the idea of munching on one of these cute, furry fellows doesn’t horrify you, I suggest you try it. The meat is sweet, dark, and flavorful. And you can totally freak your friends out with the story.
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    I'm sure this will horrify a lot of you. But it was really, really yummy.

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  3. Mate de Coca. The coca plant has some really bad press stateside – yes, it is used to make cocaine. But that requires a lot of leaves (something like 600 kg of the coca plant make 1 kg of cocaine), processed with gasoline and numerous chemicals. In the Peruvian Andes, the leaves are chewed or brewed into a tea. It tastes like a grassy green tea, and no, it won’t give you the shakes or make you feel crazy, but it will help alleviate the nausea of high-altitude sickness.
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    Coca leaves stewing in a pot.

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  4. Llama. Alpacas are incredibly important in the Andes – they’re used to the rough terrain, and they produce wool which is used to make clothing and textiles. It’s not nearly as common as cuy or chicken, so my hubby jumped at the chance to order it when he saw it on a menu. The meat is tender and light – I described it as “white meat beef”. He enjoyed it a llot. (GET IT? I AM CLEVER.)
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    Rand's llama entree with some potato croquettes in the foreground.

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  5. Lomo Saltado. Peruvian cuisine is like a Benetton ad – a colorful mix of cultures and ethnicities. Lomo saltado (literally, “jumping beef”) is a great example of this. The dish is a Chinese-style stir-fry of vegetables and meats, seasoned with soy sauce and served over fried Peruvian potatoes. My husband craves it fortnightly.
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    Seriously, Rand asks for this all the time, but I don't know how to make it. OUR MARRIAGE IS A SHAM.

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  6. Chicha Morada. Note that is distinct from “chicha” – the alcoholic drink made from chewed up, fermented corn. Chica morada is a dark, sweet beverage made from purple maize. It tastes like grape juice, minus the refreshing tartness (so … raisin juice?). While I’m not a huge fan of the stuff, the frozen variant that I had was fun to try.
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    It really was pretty - I just wish it had been a bit more tart.

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  7. Anticuchos. While anticuchos can refer to any type of grilled meat on a skewer, you’ll commonly find beef hearts prepared in this way. The meat is rich and velvety. As delicious as they are, you likely won’t eat more than one before feeling your own heart clench.
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    Anticuchos of various meats with a rocoto relleno (stuffed pepper) in the background.

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  8. Pisco Sour. Pisco – a grape grappa that originated in Peru – is mixed with lemon, sugar, bitters, and an egg white (which is how any good sour is made). The alcohol goes down alarmingly easy, with very little bite. Combined with the high altitude (which increases the effects of alcohol and the time it takes to feel it), this drink can be very, very dangerous.
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    Photos of us taken AFTER the consumption of said sours have been diplomatically omitted from this post.

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  9. Cebiche (or ceviche). This dish is usually served as an appetizer. Fresh raw fish is cut up and tossed with lemon or lime juice – the acid of which “cooks” the fish, and is combined with onions and chili peppers. Peru has a substantial Japanese population, and you can often see modern twists on sushi involving cebiche.
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    And halfway through this post I realize: I am starving.

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  10. Picarones. Three words: fried pumpkin donuts. The crispy, golden crust of these fritters is usually softened by dipping them in a caramelized honey sauce. They taste like a fall carnival.
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    I refuse to admit how many of these I ate. It was many.

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  11. Pulpo. Octopus (“pulpo” in Spanish) is by no means unique to Peru, but you will see this cephalopod on menus throughout the country, either grilled or occasionally in cebiche. If you are a fan of squid (and really, who isn’t?) this dish is definitely worth trying.
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    Mmm ... tentacle-y.

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  12. Aji de Gallina. When this dish arrived at our table – consisting of tender chunks of chicken stewed in a rich yellow sauce, absolutely no one could tell us the ingredient list. Apparently it is long and varied (not unlike a mole recipe). The dish takes a while to prepare, too – but the result (a creamy concoction that is cheesy, nutty, and spicy all at once) is worth it.
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  13. Rocoto Relleno. The Peruvian take on the stuffed pepper is not kidding around. Forget the sweet bell variety that we’re used to – in Peru, they use a slightly spicy pepper that delivers a bit of a kick. Fillings variety, but it’s usually a mix of ground meats and vegetables.
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  14. Chifa. Owing to its large immigrant popultaion, Chinese food (known as “chifa”) is a specialty in Peru. Sadly, we didn’t get to try it, but we did enjoy a number of dishes that had Chinese influences (including the aforementioned Lomo Saltado).
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    So we didn't get chifa, but it's not like we starved.

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  15. Lucuma. This peculiar green fruit is not common in the U.S., but the flavor is so prevalent and delicious that in Peru, your ice cream choices will often be chocolate, vanilla, and lucuma. The fruit has a mild, caramel-flavored sweetness to it – try it in ice cream or (like we did) in a cake.
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    Two slices of cake (lucuma and chocolate) and my dorky husband. I've never been happier.

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  16. Inca Cola. Created in Peru in the 1930s, this drink is so popular it outsells all other soft drinks in its home country. The color is a quasi fluorescent yellow and the taste is like a less-sweet Mountain Dew. I didn’t really like the stuff (but then again, I’m not a big soda drinker) but a few people in our party were hooked.  
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    I call this color "electric pee."

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Peru offered some of the best cuisine I’ve encountered while traveling. It’s a unique mix of old and new, traditional and modern (not unlike the country itself). As long as you are open-minded, and go where the locals do, you’re likely to have a good meal. Especially if you finish it off with some alfajores. Or picarones. Or both. Heck, you could even start the meal that way …
Full list of categories:  Advice » Food » Somewhat Useful Info » Top Ten
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Comments (36)

  1. 1
    Lizzie says:

    Yay for alfajores! In Argentina, you can also find some that are dipped in a thin layer of chocolate.

  2. 2
    Liza says:

    Awesome post! I don’t think I comment often but I just had to today, this was great!! My whole family is Peruvian and I make most of those dishes, and yes my specialty is alfajores, so amazing!!! Definitely loved seeing the amazing pictures! There are a few more I hope you got to try like turrones (oohhh soooo goooood) Thanks for the great post can’t wait to read others!

  3. 3

    Awesome article. You know it’s good when I had to keep a sticky note of things to mention in my comment…

    I see I’ve already been beaten to the punch on this, but armed with a Latin American studies degree (I knew it would be useful someday!) and a year of living in S. America, I am qualified to tell you that Alfajores are distinctly and solely Argentinian. I suspect what happened was, lacking their own dessert, the Peruvians just co-opted the cookies and called them their own, and you’ve been buying in wholesale. Luckily I think this is not a big problem, because mostly it just means MORE COOKIES FOR EVERYONE.

    My second point: San Fernando Roast Chicken, at Rainier and Charles will solve all of you and your husband’s Lomo Saltado problems. Until 2am on weekends, no less.

    Lastly, I warn you to never, ever, mistake a rocoto for a bell pepper and throw it on the grill for a tasty snack. Most. Painful. Experience. OF MY LIFE. I wish I were exaggerating. I am not.

    • 3.1
      Everywhereist says:

      Making note of the rocoto mistake. :)

    • 3.2
      Jess says:

      Thank you so much for such a wonderful post! I enjoyed it very much. I found about your trip to Peru via Google+ and came to your blog to see other posts. The photos you posted made me so hungry. I’m very lucky that there are a few Peruvian restaurants around town. Now off to get some lomo saltado and inka cola! :)

    • 3.3
      Jess says:

      Here an intersting post about where alfajores really come from. :) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfajor

    • 3.4
      VicMan says:

      You are wrong .
      Alfajores is a dessert brought by the arab servants of the spaniard nuns during The colonization of the America continent. The most important territory during that time XVI and XVII century was the viceroyalty of Peru. So that dessert alfajores was brought first to Peru. Then it was spread to other countries like chile, Argentina, etc. The same happened with the empanadas ,natillas, and other desserts brought by spaniard nuns.
      Argentineans can not show many original plates or desserts.

    • 3.5
      mjeleon says:

      What VicMan said. As a Peruvian who lived grew up there and lived there for 14 years, I can very confidently say that no, Peruvians did not get them from Argentina, they got them when the Spaniards conquered Peru, bringing with them all sorts of foods (many of which were arabic). Furthermore, the alfajores from Peru are very different from the ones in Argentina. They’re usually covered in azucar en polvo, powdered sugar, and while they do sell them in large sizes, they are now often offered as bite-sized cookies. They are also very soft, and almost melt in your mouth. In Argentina they tend to be about the size of your palm, covered in chocolate, and harder. I love both, and I think they’re delicious, but alfajores are definitely NOT “solely Argentinian” (in fact, they can be found in other countries as well, although they’re prepared differently depending on where you’re at).

  4. 4
    Ruth says:

    Rand just can not stop photobombing himself, can he?

  5. 5
    Janet T says:

    picarones? totally qualifies as a vegetable side dish(pumpkins and butternut squash) or it would if the world was fair and just

  6. 6
    janine says:

    This is priceless for my trip!!! Thank you. You are a woman after my own heart, I go straight to learning the cuisines of a country, before researching the sights. I am so excited to try most these things. Although now, long gone is the thought of actually losing some weight next week :-)

  7. 7
    Philip says:

    Will you just follow me around and order all my food for me from now on?

  8. 8
    Xenia says:

    My husband and friends usually order whatever I choose, I have a reputation for that.
    The only (teeny tiny) difference is that you seem to have the metabolism of a 12 year old! I gain weight from breathing! :)
    By the way, greetings from Milan (I’m currently travelling too). If you folks ever come to check it out, please don’t skip:
    1. Ristorante “Al Conte Ugolino” in the center for some delicious Spaghetti ingarbugliati (seafood spaghetti). Or anything else from the menu. Then cross the street to this great sandwich place “Il Panino Giusto” to have the best tiramisu ever. The sandwiches are also amazing, but way too expensive and small. For the same price you can eat at a good real restaurant with cooked dishes.
    2. If you’re a meat lover, absolutely go to “Il Giardino dei segreti”. Be sure to start with a plate of “salumi” (I think they’re called coldcuts in English – ham, salami, etc.). Then, when you order meat, ask for a side of their fried potatoes and zucchine. Wow!!!
    3. If you’re on a budget (but also if you’re not), eat pasta at “Pastarito Pizzarito”. My fav is paccheri speck e provolone. I never recommend people to eat pizza in Italy because they never like it. Too different from its foreign versions, it tastes bland in comparison.
    4. If you’re going fancy, get yourself a table for lunch at “Il Salumaio”, and for dinner at “Just Cavalli”. Japanese at “Nobu”. Seafood at “La Risacca”. Pastries at “Cova” in Via Montenapoleone.
    And know that, besides “Cova”, you won’t be going to tourists places. These are the favorites of the Milanesi.

    • 8.1
      Everywhereist says:

      Um, no. Metabolism is that of a dying mule, I promise you. Thank you for the suggestions! I would love to get back to Milan (it’s been ages since we’ve been there) and I adore Italian pizza. :)

  9. 9
    Marshall says:

    Well, I hate to be picky but llamas & alpacas are totally different animals – so which one was it that Rand ate?

    • 9.1
      Everywhereist says:

      I don’t know – the more adorable one? (Menu said alpaca in Peruvian, translated to llama in English. So … yeah.)

  10. 10
    Kelly says:

    thank you so much for this post! i’m off to peru in six weeks and cant wait to try all of these and more.

  11. 11
    kokopuff says:

    Love the post. Just one comment…that llama dish looks alarmingly like a Georgia O’Keefe painting.

  12. 12
    Sha Menz says:

    Oh my…I knew when I clicked the link that this post would be delicious and right off the top you started with Cookies! I don’t know if Alfajores has an alternative meaning, but it looks like it should be “cookies from heaven”!

    Honestly, I think your concern about any future alien experience is totally misplaced. What self-respecting alien is really going to have any higher priority than finding what moves the soul and captures the heart of any mortal earthling? FOOD. It will always be at the top of the list! :)

    Seriously, thank you for this one … I was feeling a little flat today, but just reading this has raised my blood sugar a few points!

    I’m off to find a recipe for Alfajores – Time to Bake! ;)

  13. 13
    Jeff says:

    This post made me hungry! I enjoyed Chilean cuisine when I was there, but have never had Peruvian fare. Looks like there is som overlap, but a lot of really unique dishes. Might need to find my way down south in the near future.

  14. 14
    RiderWriter says:

    OH Nooooooooooo!!! Not the cuy…

    Sorry, I had to say something as a long-time guinea pig (cavy, here in the US, if you want to be formal) person. Do I really have to go home now and tell Barney and Jasper that you ate their relatives???

    I had a hard time cooking the squirrels my son proudly brought home after his first hunting expedition, because the little carcasses looked a whole lot like I imagine cuy looks like after it’s de-furred (my squirrel fricassee was not a hit, either, though the dog liked it a lot :-). I know my little pets are actively farmed in Peru and people think they taste great, but you won’t find this piggie person personally popping semi-porcine preparations into HER mouth. UGH!

  15. 15
    Marianne says:

    Picarones! Yes please.

  16. 16
    Andre says:

    Wow, what a complete list you got together in this post. Nothing to add… But for Fish Lovers I also can recommend Tiradito en Aji Amarillo. It’s similar to Cebiche, but the Fish is sliced and it has a yellow, spicy “aji” cream on top… I just wish I’d be back on a flight to Peru again to keep eating :-)

  17. 17

    A word of warning: do not try Pisco Sours first! I made that mistake and it ended up being a day of pisco sours and nothing else!

  18. 18
    Kelsey says:

    This really makes me want to go to Peru!

  19. 19
    Dino says:

    You are forgetting two other very traditional Peruvian dishes:Pacha Manca and Papa a la Huancaina.

  20. 20
    Kitty says:

    Just a note to say that arabic descendant alfajores,spanish alfajores and argentine alfajores have NOTHING in common (except the name), and they don’t necessarily have the same origin. Just a lack of imagination to create a new word to call a new snack, so they just used a word that already existed.

    My mouth is watering by just thinking about argentine alfajores yummy!

    All the meals in your pics look sooo delicious!!!

  21. 21
    Sam says:

    Loved this post! Planning a trip to Peru in the new year and your blog is bookmarked; thank you for taking the time to write. Question–did you try the Peruvian potato salad causa? It’s the only Peruvian recipe I’ve thus far tried and we love it here; can’t wait to try it there.

  22. 22
    Sariah says:

    Im an Aussie living in Lima with my Peruvian husband, and I’ve made most of the food on your list. The Aji De Gallina is actually sooooo easy and the list if ingredients is short- let me know if you want to make it:D

  23. 23
    raul says:

    Thank you so much for enjoying our dishes and our country!

    Lomo saltado – easy to make! Many great youtube videos.

  24. 24
    Maria wren says:

    Thank you for your post . Peru as every Central and South America Country is beautiful . It was a great to follow your trip, nice family and friends .

  25. 25
    Franki says:

    I am going to Peru in a week and the fact that my ‘research’ has brought me to this post pretty much tells you everything you need to know about my priorities. Plug adaptor? Currency? Yuh, I’ll figure those out when I get there, now WHAT AM I GOING TO EAT?

    (Case in point: I lived in Rome for a year and when people ask me what to do in Rome now, I pretty much just give them a list of restaurants. I didn’t go to the Sistine chapel until the day before I flew home. Amazingly, I actually lost 7llbs the year I was there which surely proves that everything they say about carbs is a cruel conspiracy.)

    Anyway, great post. Love your writing style. Am now going to go and read everything else you have to say on Peru…

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