(Approximate reading time: 20 minutes)
Well, maybe the title is been a little too martial and gonzo. But it doesn’t change the tasty and surprising content, that this article about the Peruvian kitchen will show to you. The Peruvian kitchen is world famous and a culinary delight for even the most critical gourmets. During my time in Peru I had the joy to discover a lot of brilliant flavors, aromatic spices and tasty sauces in a variety of excellent dishes. Therefore, it’s not an accident, that the Peruvian kitchen is seen as the best kitchen of the world. At least if you ask every Peruvian.
To make this opinion more objective, some other rankings and opinions demonstrated, that the Peruvian kitchen is always ranked in the Top lists when it comes to the joy of eating. Three of the Top 50 restaurants worldwide are based in Lima and Peru’s capital was even called the World’s Best Food City. The World Travel Awards have named Peru the World’s Leading Culinary Destination. Besides that, Peru has the best chef in the world.
Any more doubts or questions? Shoot!
During my time in Peru I had the joy to discover a lot of excellent Peruvian dishes. You should imagine the Peruvian dish as a language. All are very proud to speak it, but there are a lot of dialects and everyone likes poems. The coastal kitchen with all its fish and seafood dishes is way different than the Andean style where it is tradition to prepare native animals or the Amazonian cuisine where many local fruits and sometimes insects are used for the dishes. The mixing of all different cultures and the variety of climates within the country determine the variety of local cuisine. This would be actually worth another blog article. But I would like to focus this time on the best dishes I discovered during my time in Peru.
There are dishes you wouldn’t even imagine of their powerful tastes. I was more than cosseted and blessed with all the brilliant flavors, aromatic spices and tasty sauces in a variety of excellent dishes, that the Peruvian kitchen has to offer. I would like to show all people the 10 best national dishes I tried during my time in Peru.
1 – Tacacho con cecina
The first dish I would like to introduce is a made in the Amazonian region from Peru. Tacacho comes from the Quechua ‘Taka chu’ which means ‘the beaten one’. But don’t worry: If you order this food in a restaurant, no one will ever beat you. These Peruvians are just making jokes – and great dishes like Tacacho con cecina.
Cecina is a dried and smoked pork filet. Usually it is prepared on a grill. Its taste is super juicy and aromatically salty. I can’t really explain why, but I didn’t have the usual feeling of pork when I ate it. It tastes different than expected, but I can’t really explain how. That’s why I had to make sure, that it is really pork and asked twice.
Below the smoked pork you see a yellow ball, the Tacacho. For the preparation, a mass of roasted green plantain, pork jerky (or alternatively sausage), oil, lard, and salt is composed. The plantains have been previously roasted on charcoal.
Amazonian people seem to be very generous with the quantity of their offered dishes. What I ate might seem like a little bit, but in fact it satisfied my stomach fully. Barriga llena – Corazón contenta!
2 – Anticucho de Res
Would you ever dare to eat the heart of a cow? If not you should skip the second dish I want to introduce and continue reading number three. Yes, you read right: A cow’s heart.
Probably your instant refusal, that you would never eat this, reached your mind. I can understand, that it would be for the most people a really strange idea to think about eating that. But when in Rome, do as the Romans do! For me it was a little different experience. I ordered Anticucho de Res and ate it before I asked, what it actually consists of. No chance for me in this case to create a scene. Maybe that’s the better strategy to discover new and exotic food. First eat, ask later. Laugh now, cry later.
I was surprised, when I read, that Anticucho is originated in Peru. Not that I don’t give Peruvians the credit to invent this dish. But actually, everyone else in the world would be able to tear out the heart of a cow, fry and eat it. But Peruvians were the first people who had this great idea.
This dish dates back to the Pre-Colombian era, first records date back to the 16th Century when the Spaniards came and discovered this dish to progress it with European spices such as garlic. The conquerors were as well the renovators to impale the prepared cow meat. Rough people, these ancient Spaniards.
So, what else to say about Anticucho? It is usually not the main course of a Peruvian meal, but rather an accompaniment to other side dishes. Usually a bit salt is added and sometimes even vinegar or lemon juice. A popular dressing is a sauce made from garlic, onion and chopped cilantro, vinegar, lemon juice and beer, which is spread onto the Anticuchos. But I preferred the original taste without sauce.
Anticuchos are almost everywhere available: As streetfood from a food truck, in some simple bars or in high-priced restaurants. The taste is intensely juicy and simply good. Usually a plate comes consists of three spits of Anticuchos and a boiled potato or little loaf of bread. Unfortunately, for an overindulging hog like me this portion is not enough and I had to order more than one plate.
3 – Makis estilo peruano
Yes, I know. Makis are not Peruvian food, but Japanese. But I didn’t see in any other city such a high amount of Sushi and Maki restaurants as I saw in Lima. This is because of the big influence of Japanese immigrants to Peru in the 19th and 20th century.
Makis are the little cylindrical rolls, that are wrapped with the help of a seaweed, soy paper or cucumbers. That’s just the outer shape, inside of a Maki there can be a lot of tasty and colorful ingredients. Makis are not served apart, but come in a whole team. Depending on the restaurant, one plate of Makis can come in either 8 or 10 or 12 units.
But a very interesting experiment is to order the Peruvian Maki style. Usually, every restaurant in Peru offers in its menu a special section with Peruvian editions. These Makis transfuse the tasty Peruvian dishes in micro size into the basic Japanese snacks. So, you can order a little Ceviche or Lomo Saltado in a tiny size – Isn’t that amazing?
4 – Ceviche
Ceviche deserves an own article as well. And I already wrote a few months ago about it. There are several international styles of Ceviche, but the Peruvian one is the original and definitely the best one. Confusion exists unfortunately again with the right spelling. But no matter if a menu offers you cebiche, seviche or sebiche – Be sure, that you’ll be on the right path if you read one of these words.
In Peru, Ceviche has been declared to be part of Peru’s national heritage and has even had a holiday declared in its honor. The 28th of June is the national day of Ceviche. So far I don’t have any idea, how these people are celebrating it, maybe I still will be able to find out.
From the making one could say, that Ceviche is very simple to prepare. And actually, it is correct. But sometimes it’s the simple things in life that that brings us the most joy. In case of the preparation of the famous national dish Ceviche, the classic variant is composed of chunks of raw fish (corvina or sea bass) which are marinated in squeezed key lime or bitter orange juice, but lime juice is more common. Besides that, sliced onions, chili peppers, salt and pepper give a spicy and aromatic flavor.
Ceviche is healthy and served cold, don’t expect, that you will be served a hot meal. Usually it comes with cooked corn, camote (a kind of sweet potato that I fell in love with ❤ ) and bit of decorative greenery like leaves of lettuce or alga. Sometimes, also Chifles (fried banana crisps) and yucca arrives on your table after you order it.
There is not one Peruvian Ceviche – Of course every restaurant, kitchen and cook has an own recipe which may differ to the above-mentioned versions with its components. Be sure, that every time you order ceviche, the taste will be slightly different to the one before, but always good. Try also different types of ceviche, you shouldn’t be limited to the ‘normal fish version’ with sea bass or corvina, if you have interesting alternatives like seafood for example.
Take a look to all the different examples of Ceviche:
Very important: If the waiter asks you how spicy you’d wish your ceviche and you don’t want to burn your gums, better say ‘poco’ or maximum ‘medio’. Even I don’t order the spicy hot version of ceviche, because I like to keep its natural and sour taste and don’t want to get scorched of too spicy ingredients. Peruvians like it hot!
I feel deeply sorry for every vegetarian who will miss this wonderful dish because of his/her conviction. If I would have to rate it, it’ll be under the Top 5 dishes I ever ate.
5 – Tacu Tacu con mariscos
Tacu Tacu is a dish, that was originated from black slaves and was first recognized in 1872. Almost 150 years later, it still tastes like heaven on earth. Several Central American and Caribbean countries have similar dishes. But the Peruvian version comes with seafood and a creamy sauce made out of milk, caldo, garlic, chili, and cooking oil.
The word ‘tacu’ comes from the Quechua language. ‘takuy’ means to mix one thing with the other. Tacu Tacu seems to be according to the wording a double mix. The dish consists of cooked rice and legumes from the previous day shaped to a mass and seared gently under the heat of a pan. Usually beans, butter beans and lentils are used to form the mix with rice. Towards the end of cooking, the dough is usually fried to make it crispy.
Peruvians try to be artists when serving their plates. You can see this as well on this photo. A part of the dish is always decoration, which you can’t eat. An opened shell and a spike lavender in the middle of the food highlights the food.
You can find here the basic version (without seafood)
6 – Cuy
The good thing about this dish is, that a gringo wouldn’t understand its meaning in Spanish. The bad thing is, that you would eat an animal, which others would keep as a pet. But some people eat fishes as well and keep them at home in their aquariums. Would it be therefore questionable and a prick of conscience to do the same with a guinea pig? His unimaginative name has the Cuy from the squeaky sound it makes, when they are scared.
Yes – These animals are a speciality in Peru. Which is something weird, because the Moche people of ancient Peru worshipped animals and often depicted the guinea pig in their art. Nowadays they are worshipped as a culinary highlight from the Andean kitchen. the animal is so entrenched in the culture that one famous painting of the Last Supper in the main cathedral in Cusco shows Christ and the 12 disciples dining on guinea pig. Weird!
Peruvians consume an estimated 65 million guinea pigs each year, which means for 32 million habitants at least two per capita. I had the opportunity to try it one time as well. Guinea pig meat is high in protein and low in fat and cholesterol and tastes similar to a rabbit. Well, that’s another domestic animal, that you can eat. The plate was served with some boiled potatoes and vegetables. Quite ordinary. Really extraordinary was the fried guinea pig – When would you have the option to go and eat an animal like that?
Could you eat a guinea pig? Would you dare to eat a guinea pig? You can find the recipe here.
7 – Causa a la Limeña
It’s enough to only order Causa in a restaurant. Everyone knows already, that it’ll be the Lima style. In fact, you only have to decide, which type of filling you would like to have for your Causa. Like several other traditional Peruvian dishes, Causa has as well a loooooong history. It was already prepared in Pre-Colombian times, but then again processed from the Spaniards. The name “Causa” come from the Quechua “Kausay”, one of the indigenous languages of Peru. It means “necessary sustenance” and “food ” or “what feeds”. As the clue is here in the name, this is the right wording to satisfy a chronic hungry guy like me.
The original version is even Vegetarian: This dish is prepared on the basis of Peruvian yellow potatoes, lemon, chili, lettuce, boiled egg, avocado and black olives. Of course, you could use any other potato to prepare Causa, but for the original version you have to go out to the Peruvian Andeans, look for a field and grab out the original Peruvian potatoes from the agricultural soil. Therefore, every other potato does it as well.
Of course, I never ordered the Vegetarian version. You could perceive the vegetarian version as standard and any other ingredient as enhancement. And I was of course interested to order Causa 2.0 for me and not the standard version. Here, you can decide amongst a lot of interesting ingredients like tuna, chicken, seafood or other varieties of white meat. It is served with a light flush of mayonnaise.
What you could see on the picture is the Causa de Atún that comes with tuna. This taste was amazing and I was very surprised to have had this experience with a dish, that uses these ingredients. If you think further, there is nothing really special about the ingredients and they are merely generic things from the kitchen.
What the Peruvians accomplished, is to create a distinctive taste from simple ingredients. I would like to recommend everyone who has the chance to order Causa once. You won’t regret it!
8 – Lomo Saltado
One of the most famous Peruvian dishes is the Creole Lomo Saltado. It got its influences from the Chinese kitchen and shows the rich fusion of old and new worlds. This becomes clear when taking a look on the plate. Have you ever been before served rice and potatoes together? Lomo Saltado fulfills your subliminal wish!
Whenever you will order a jumping sirloin, …
Wait, does the meat still jump on my plate, when I order it? Calm down my dear naïve reader, that was just a joke. Although ‘Lomo Saltado’ means translated ‘jumping sirloin’.
The name comes from the preparation style of the food. Imagine the Chinese preparation of food – All ingredients are stirred or sometimes even tossed in a wok over a very high flame. ‘Lomo’ means’ Tenderloin and ‘Saltado’ comes from French cooking style sautée, which means to “jump”.
Next to the already delineated rice, potato and tenderloin, you’ll enjoy Lomo Saltado with the taste of its remaining ingredients red onions, parsley, tomatoes. As well vinegar, soy sauce, spices give an aromatic and toasty taste.
9 – Suspiro a la limeña con algarrobina
Usually I do not like deserts. And if I order a desert, it’s most of the time not a sweet one and I order hearty stuff. This one is a double exemption.
I have had the opportunity to try a homemade version of a dessert with Algarrobina. I’m not sure, if a restaurant or pastry shop will be able to offer the same wonderful individual taste, that I could enjoy. But you should order it anyway, if you have the chance to. I’m pretty sure, that it will be worth trying!
Algarrobina is a syrup made from the Black Carob tree and is popular in the Peruvian cuisine. It can be found in smoothies, cocktails, or simply in milk. Very funny was the following Algarrobina-sirup with a famous celebrity I saw on a market:
If you wish to prepare Jean-Claude van Damme’s favorite dessert, you can find the recipe here in Spanish language.
10 – Tarta de Maracuya con helado
And now a desert again? Hmmm, maybe I should reflect about the sentence “Usually I do not like deserts”. Anyway, I wouldn’t recommend something, that isn’t worth to talk about, would I?
What you can see here is a piece of cake – passion fruit cake to be a stickler for details. Between the flan base and the creamy layer of passion fruit is vanilla ice cream. A strawberry garnishes the top of this masterpiece.
The taste was very fruity, refreshing and a little bit spicy because of the black passion fruit seeds. A real explosion of different flavors was this passion fruit mousse. A little bit sour, a little bit sweet, a little bit spicy – But for a sweet dessert exactly the right portion to satisfy after the main meal.
You can find the recipe here in Spanish language. But I doubt, that it will taste similar to the great one I had, because it looks very different on the picture.
Well, I hope, that you enjoyed my article, that your mouth is watering and your stomach growls. Same for me now. Whenever you have the chance to visit a Peruvian restaurant in your country, try to remember this article and what I tried to recommend you. I know what I will miss, when I leave this epicurean country with all its fanciful and wondrous Peruvian dishes. The joy of eating and that a whole country celebrates the creation of food as a national heritage.