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Peru is widely regarded as one of the best countries in the world for food lovers. Its capital, Lima, is often called the culinary capital of South America. So of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you my favorite typical foods in Peru that I tried while I was in Cusco. Famous dishes such as ceviche originated in Peru, as well as some of the most adventurous ones, like cuy al horno (roasted guinea pig).
The staples in a Cusqueñan diet are potatoes, rice, soups, corn, and lots of meat, from alpaca to chicken to pork. Go into any restaurant, and you can expect to first be served a soup (which will often contain corn, quinoa, vegetables, and some sort of meat), then the main course (which will usually include rice), and a small dessert. Often restaurants also serve an appetizer of large, roasted corn kernels (hard and crunchy) with three different sauces, usually green, red, and white, and one of them will be picante (spicy).
Below I’ve listed some of the most popular foods in Peru that you must try (especially in Cusco). Enjoy!
Typical Foods in Peru
When most people think of Peruvian food, they immediately think of ceviche. Made with raw fish marinated in lime juice, ceviche is a classic Peruvian dish. Though many people claim the best city to try it is Lima because it’s close to the ocean, Cusco has its own version of ceviche that won’t disappoint. Since there’s no ocean nearby, it’s made with river trout. The dish is tangy and refreshing.
By far my favorite of all the typical foods in Peru! It’s the go-to comfort dish of every Cusqueñan. Lomo saltado is a hearty serving of beef, onion, and tomato stir-fried in soy sauce and served atop a bed of piping hot French fries along with rice. This dish can also be made with chicken (pollo saltado) or alpaca (alpaca saltada). There are also many vegetarian restaurants in Cusco that serve a meat-free version of lomo saltado, often made with soy meat or mushrooms (champiñones) as a substitute.
Cuy al Horno
Cuy al horno is guinea pig that is stuffed with herbs, baked, and then served whole—head and all.
The first time I tried it was at the restaurant La Cusqueñita with my host Manuel. When the cuy arrived at my table, snarling at me from my plate, I just stared at it, trying to figure out a civilized manner in which to eat this roasted rodent.
“Dig in with your hands,” Manuel told me.
“Like some barbarian?” I cried.
“Start with the hind legs,” he said. “That’s where the best meat is.”
And so, I “dug in,” ripping those little hind legs off in horror. Once I got over the initial shock of its appearance, the cuy actually tasted good, lean and a bit salty, like pork.
While some may say it’s one of the typical foods in Peru, this dish is traditionally reserved for special occasions, such as birthdays. However, it is commonly listed on menus in Cusco because foreigners love to try it.
Rocoto is a type of pepper that is similar to red bell pepper, but spicy. Relleno means “filled.” This dish is a rocoto pepper that is breaded, stuffed with meat and veggies, and then baked. It’s often served with French fries.
Ají de Gallina
Ají de gallina is a chicken dish made with potatoes drenched in a creamy, yellow, curry-like sauce that is slightly spicy.
Palta a la Reina
Avocado stuffed with with chicken, potatoes, and cheese.
A breaded and deep-fried trout.
Milanesa de Pollo
Breaded and fried thin fillet of chicken.
Served cold as an appetizer or a light meal, causa is made from yellow potatoes, and often has avocado, fish or chicken, olives, egg, and celery. Because of its layers, it looks like a little potato cake.
The cookie of South America. Alfajores come in all sorts of varieties, but they basically consist of dulce de leche (caramel) sandwiched between two thin cookies, often covered with powdered sugar or coconut flakes.
Typical Peruvian Drinks
Chicha de Jora
A beer made from fermented corn.
A non-alcoholic drink made from purple corn. It’s sweet and served cold. Try it with a squeeze of lime juice for a real treat.
Chicha de Quinua
Similar to chicha morada, but made from quinoa, a grain very popular in Peru.
This brand of beer is brewed in Lima, and there is a bottling plant for it right in Cusco.
Ah yes, the famous Peruvian drink. Made with pisco (an alcohol made from grapes), lime juice, syrup, bitters, ice, and a raw egg to make it foamy.
Hot tea with pisco, lime, and a little bit of sugar.
This bright yellow soda exists only in Peru. It is a favorite among locals and very well could be the unofficial national drink of Peru. The flavor is fruity and sweet, and though its main ingredient is lemon verbena, it tastes like bubblegum.
If you’re anything like me and travel mainly to eat, you will LOVE Peru! I hope this list of traditional Peruvian foods and drinks helps you get started on your culinary tour of this wonderful country.
Want more tips on traveling to Peru?
- How Much My Trip to Machu Picchu Cost
- 10 Ways to Avoid Altitude Sickness in Cusco and Machu Picchu
- The Ultimate South America Packing List
- I also wrote a book on long-term travel to Cusco, Peru!