Peru is an amazing country for foodies and I have to admit that I was more excited about the food than the 4 day Inca trail hike to MP. The food culture is so varied with Japanese influences, Chinese influences and some of the freshest seafood you will ever eat. I was ready and excited, armed with a ton of research about what to eat. We decided to split up our food choices to really get a feel for all types of food, some nice restaurants, a well known place or two with a Peruvian “celebrity” chef and of course, street food. Check out the food episode of “Taste & Adventure” with myself and Natalie J Forte on youtube
Here are some of my favorite “must eats” while in Peru……
The San Pedro market in Cusco has all the typical Peruvian dishes you could ever want. In the front of the market are the juice vendors. Start here and get a mix of some fruit and veggies to give you the energy you need to hit up all the food stalls. Next sample some of the freshly made cow’s milk cheese. It’s super salty and crumbly and I loved it. We needed something a bit more substantial to eat and next we found a row of stalls with ladies selling chicken soup. This we heard, was the Peruvian hangover cure and while we had not yet had too many pisco sours the night before ( that was coming) we decided chicken soup in any country must be tried. We picked a stall and settled down to a warming, homestyle soup with a delicious broth topped with cilantro. It was good but not something I need to go back and have again.
In the back of the market is the foodie jackpot. Lomo Saltado (steak w/ crispy potatoes and rice, topped with an egg) w/ spicy fresh made pico de gallo is a well known Peruvian staple for a reason, crispy fish filets, more Peruvian soups, veggies, rice dishes…sample as much as you can for ridiculously cheap. It’s a delicious bargain. GO and eat your face off for a few hours.
Cuy aka Guinea Pig (& Chicharron!) :
We knew we had to try it even if we weren’t overly excited about it and we wanted to do it right. There seemed to be plenty of restaurants in Cusco serving the little beasts to tourists but we wanted a more authentic experience. We heard some locals mention a town called Tipon which was about 30 minutes outside Cusco where guinea pig is the specialty. This was the place for guinea pig. If we were going to eat it, we had to have the best so off we went. We did some quick research and found Casona del Cuy to have a great reputation. But seriously, there are cuy restaurants EVERYWHERE in Tipon, so just look for one that’s fairly crowded and popular. Down a little alley off the main road, Casona del Cuy, had only Peruvians eating there so that was a great sign. If the locals like it, we knew we had chosen wisely. Also the courtyard was really cute and welcoming and we could watch them roast the little creatures over an open flame as we waited. Check out the video to see our experience!
Side note, on the way to Tipon was a little stretch of road where Chicharron restaurants are literally everywhere. If you have time, stop and have some of the best pork we have ever had. I wish we had filmed us eating because it ended up being one of the best dishes we had during our time in Peru. Make it a little foodie tour and do both!
Causas & Ceviche & Tiradito:
duh. you’ll eat these in Peru. And probably more than once. And you will be happy every time. These are the staples that every foodie tourist reads about and so really unique to Peru. Go ahead, get crazy.
Causa is a combo of usually some sort of seafood (shrimp or crab), potato, avocado and really whatever they feel like adding….Sometimes the causas are stacked with each ingredient on top of the other in a really colorful tower like display.
Sometimes it’s a square of mashed potato simply topped with one ingredient. In any form, it’s delicious. The cebiches, as they are spelled here, are also amazing and vary in ingredients but all have the bright acidic lime that essentially ‘cooks” the fish, usually a bright orange river trout. Some have huge corn kernels that have been roasted giving the dish some texture. Some are filled with fresh cilantro and onion. There also ceviches that have a mixture of raw seafood mixed with fried seafood, like we had at El Mercado in Lima.
This is a super yummy combo for texture. You can’t go wrong, try as many as you can because chances are, they will be different every time. Tiradito is similar to sashimi. It’s fresh, and I seriously couldn’t get enough.
Gaston Acurio Restaurants:
Any good food lover who does their research before they go to Peru will find out who the most famous chef in the country is. Gaston Acurio seemed to be everywhere with a ton of restaurants, some being “chains” & it made me wonder if he had lost the quality that he started off with. Could his food really be that good if he wasn’t cooking in all of them? We didn’t have a ton of money to spend and since our time in Lima was less than 24 hours, we didn’t want to spend 4 hours on a pricey tasting menu at his flagship restaurant “Astrid y Gaston”. We knew we had to try his food so we decided to pop into Chicha one night in Cusco. They were booked solid but we waited for about 20 minutes hoping for the rightful owners of the table to not show up. Thankfully, they didn’t show and we snagged it. The meal turned out to be the best in Peru. Between the four of us, we ordered about 12 dishes.
EVERYTHING was great. We were totally surprised and obviously giddy in our food coma. This guy was famous for a reason. The dishes were uniquely Peruvian and still totally modern.
Another night, we were walking around Cusco with no food plan waiting for something to jump out at us. We didn’t want to pick a place blindly and be disappointed. We saw “Papachos”, a Gaston Acurio burger restaurant. Burgers in Peru seemed like a ridiculous concept and we kinda felt like we should continue on the Peruvian food tip. Butttttt….the guys wanted a beer and a burger so up the stairs we went wondering what the chef’s take on something so American would be. We had a great experience in his Peruvian restaurant, but could he do burgers? The interior that greeted us was super hip. It could have been a restaurant in Los Angeles. Vintage records covered the walls and edison bulbs dominated the lighting concept. The menu was huge and literally we wanted it all. I’ll just say that I am so glad we went. The burgers were amazing, the “Juerguera”
with the fried egg & banana was surprisingly everyone’s favorite but the appetizers we shared of chicken wings (yep chicken wings) called “Charapitas” and a potato dish
were every stoner’s dream. It was hangover food. It was foodie food. It was bar food elevated to a ridiculous level. I wish there was a
For a fun, clubby atmosphere with good food (although not technically Peruvian) Lima 27 was a great choice. The drinks were great and the service was awesome. I had made the reservation 2 weeks previously and mentioned it was Natalie’s birthday. Without my knowledge, they came out after dinner with dessert and a candle. I thought it was super kind of them to remember my note and do something special. Thank you Lima 27, you made our last night in Peru awesome.
So yeah, Peru’s food scene is not to be missed. I only wish we had more time. I will say that there were some disappointments….
Our first meal in Cusco was meant to be a celebration, friends getting together for a long awaited vacation blah blah blah….I made reservations at Senzo. Virgilio Martinez is super famous in Peru for his use of Amazonian ingredients, beautifully plated dishes and elevated, modern Peruvian food. His restaurant in Lima, “Central” is said to be the hardest reservation to get in Peru. Eating at one of his restaurants was pretty much number 1 on my list. Perhaps we were eating early at 7:30 but no one else was in the restaurant and the vibe was odd. No music. No welcome. We stood around for a few minutes to get acknowledged. Once seated, the service was pretty inattentive and no one seemed to care that we were there. The exception was the bartender at the separate bar where we had pre dinner pisco sours. Raoul was awesome. Anyway, the bread comes out in what is meant to be a cool presentation on these grey rock things but the rocks were covered in dust and looked like they had been sitting there in that bowl forever. And my food was sitting on top of it. Awesome. I mean, we were there to spend some money, this was our splurge night, put it on the card, who cares kind of night! The waiter screwed up our order, even after repeating it back to us correctly and then refused to fix it saying the kitchen wouldn’t make the dish we wanted, the dish we had actually ordered. WHAT???!!! After a bunch of back and forth, it did get made but we were ready to get out of there. No apology, no customer service. I think the waiter and kitchen staff just wanted to go home and the one table was proving to be an inconvenience for them. Needless to say, my little daydream of an amazing first meal in Peru with great service, us all dressed up ready to blow our load at world class foodie restaurant did NOT come true. I remember the street food more fondly 😉 Food was good, not mind blowing but solidly yummy. Overall just a huge bummer. Sorry, Senzo.
We also decided to splurge in Lima. Malabar was high on our list but didn’t deliver. The restaurant felt like a chain hotel type restaurant, not much style, sterile and weird lighting. Overall the restaurant seemed to put an emphasis on these unique, amazonian ingredients and they were plated beautifully but they did not come together in a way that worked. Nothing stood out and nothing was amazing and the restaurant was empty.
All in all, sometimes it’s the experience of knowing that it’s the most hyped food you remember least and the food you aren’t expecting to give you a revelation that does. Peruvian food is ridiculously delicious and creative. Enjoy your adventure there and try it all! (even the cuy 😉