We had eaten so many empanadas in Argentina and Chile my tummy was starting to resemble a pastry parcel, so we were ready with fork in hand to try some new delicious fresh foods during our month in Peru. Trendy Peruvian restaurants are opening up in London serving Cerviche and Pisco Sours and we can certainly see the appeal. Here’s a taste of what we ate and drank in Peru.
Chifa and Lomo Saltado
Chinese restaurants are everywhere in Peru serving hot, fresh cooked great value meals.
3% of the population of Peru are Asian. Initially thousands of Asian people were shipped over to South America during Spanish colonial rule to work in farming and on the sugar plantations. In the mid 1800’s many immigrants arrived looking for work, then to escape communist China more people made Peru home from the 1960’s onwards.
Chifa cooking fuses Chinese stir fry dishes with some classic Peruvian ingredients such as Alpaca meat. By far the most popular dish is Lomo Saltado, this is a sizzling stir fry of beef, onions, peppers, soy sauce and chips, yes proper fried chips!, served with a big portion of rice. The chips are seen as a vegetable, not as a side dish like we know in western style cooking. It’s carb-tastic! The chicken version was pretty tasty too. Lomo Saltado cost us from £1.50 to £6 per dish depending on the restaurants we visited and we tried quite a few!
By far the national dish of Peru must be Cerviche, this is a dish of super fresh, cold raw fish which is marinated in salt and lime juice. The acid of the juice ‘cooks’ the fish giving it a soft, delicate consistency. I really didn’t think I’d like cerviche as I can’t stomach tuna served pink, it’s too fleshy for me to eat. But the Cerviche we ate was delicious, it’s mixed with thinly chopped red onions, aji peppers and served with creamy sweet potato and big chunky white Andean corn kernels to add some crunch.
During our visit to Paracas on the coast, we had watched the small fishing boats coming into harbour, the boats were full of fish, crabs and sea anemones. Peru has sustainable fishing rotas, so for example you can only harvest shrimp at certain times of the year.
We ate fish fresh from the morning’s catch and had some of the best fried Calamari we have ever tried. Seafood heaven!
OK there’s no way to break this news to pet lovers, but eating Guinea Pig is as normal in Peru as eating fried chicken at KFC. These small furry animals are easy to keep, providing nutrious dinners especially for indiginous families in the Andes.
I like the story of how they got their name, Amyra people have many words that sound like their name. So when a Guinea Pig squeeks it sounds like a ‘quee quee’ noise and therefore the tasty treats are called Cuy!
Guinea Pigs have been eaten for thousands of years, in Churches and Cathedrals of Peruvian colonial cities there are paintings of ‘The Last Supper’. They depict the 12 disciples around the table with a big plate of cooked Cuy ready to chomp on – another clever way the Spaniards incorporated indiginous traditions into Christianity.
You can eat Cuy cheaply, fried or barbecued usually unceremoniously in a spatchcock style or more traditionally stuffed and baked complete with crackling skin.
Even for research purposes we resisted eating these cute little critters, but we did try Alpaca!
Pizza and Pasta
Along with Chinese food there were plenty of restaurants serving Italian food.
In the dank drizzly strange town of Machu Picchu Pueblo surprisingly we ate the best thin crust pizza, spaghetti and gnocchi of all our South America trip.
Although it looks like it’s choc a bloc full of sugar there are less calories in a bottle of Inca Kola then a regular bottle of Coca Cola. It’s still horrendously bad for you though!
This sweet, fruity, luminous yellow drink is ridiculously popular in Peru. It’s so bright you think it would give you glow in the dark weewee!
While at altitude, I found this drink gave me the sugar boost I was craving and helped more so than drinking Coca Tea. On all the buses we took you can either choose to drink Inca Kola or Coca Cola that they serve. There were very few diet sodas in Peru.
Drinking Inca Kola is really good with a bowl of salty cancha, yummy dry-roasted corn kernels.
I drank loads of Coca Tea in Puno and Cusco mainly as a preventive. Although I didn’t get altitude sickness there was a definate lightheaded feeling that comes with being above 11,000 feet. Coca leaves are chewed or brewed into tea, it’s like drinking green tea – really good once you get over the washing up liquid smell. Coca leaves are used to produce cocaine, therefore drinking the tea can be a stimulant and can help to alleviate being at height. I’ve got a stash of Coca T-bags squirrelled away..
Corn and maize are huge staples in Peru. In restaurants families share a jug of Chicha Morada, this is a drink made from purple maize. It’s a bit like grape juice but with more of a starchy taste. I preferred to drink the Inca Kola.
Strong grape Brandy, Pisco is mixed with lemon juice, sugar, bitters, and an egg white. These sharp, creamy cocktails are refreshing, easy to drink and very tasty. There is the big debate who makes the best Pisco Sour – Peru or Chile? I’m going with Peru!
Being at high altitude for most of our time in Peru we found we drank mainly water to keep hydrated. On the coast of course we did have a few Cusquena beers to toast farewell to the setting sun and our time in marvelous Peru.