We think one of the best ways to experience a country and connect with the locals is by eating! Peruvian cuisine has blown up in the international culinary scene in recent years, particularly in the capital city of Lima where you'll find some of the world’s top restaurants. So, while you may travel to Peru to explore Machu Picchu, Colca Canyon and the Rainbow Mountains, you’ll stay for the ceviche, lomo saltado, and butifarra. Whether you’re staying in small villages or hanging out in large cities, here are some must-try dishes to try on your Peru adventure.
What is Peruvian cuisine?
Thanks to its diverse landscapes and climates, Peru produces an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables, including over 4,000 different kinds of potatoes (yes, you read that right!). The staples of Peruvian cuisine are spuds (and other tubers), corn, Amaranthaceae (quinoa, kañiwa and kiwicha) and legumes (beans and lupins). Peruvian food today draws on influences from Inca, Spanish, African and Asian cuisines, and each region has their own specialities or takes on classic recipes that take advantage of the local produce. If you want to learn about more cuisines in South America, check out our South America food guide.
Ceviche is Peru’s unofficial national dish, and while you might find it in other South American countries like Mexico and Colombia, the OG ceviche comes from Peru. It's made by marinating cubes of raw fish and seafood in lime juice, onions, salt and aji amarillo chilli peppers. It’s served cold with sweet potato chunks, plantain chips, and corn on the cob. You'll find ceviche everywhere, but be sure to visit one of the many cevicherias (a restaurant specialising in ceviche) in Lima.
2. Lomo saltado
Ask anyone who's been to Peru, and they'll say you absolutely must try lomo saltado. This popular chifas (Peruvian-Chinese fusion) dish combines Chinese and Peruvian ingredients. It’s made with tender strips of beef (though alpaca is also common) marinated in soy sauce, juicy tomatoes, onion, aji peppers, and various herbs and spices. The ingredients are fried until the juice from the meat and the tomatoes turn into a delicious gravy-like sauce. It’s served with rice and french fries.
3. Anticuchos de corazón
Another popular street snack across Peru is anticuchos de corazón (grilled beef heart skewers), though alpaca hearts are also common. The meat is marinated in oil, vinegar, garlic, aji peppers, cumin and other spices, and cooked over charcoal. If you're eating the dish as a main meal, it's usually served with boiled potatoes and aji dipping sauce. Or, pick up a skewer on the move for a cheap and nutritious snack – you’ll see (and smell!) it sizzling on most street corners.
4. Aji gallina
Similar to lomo saltado, aji gallina is another dish that shows how Asian food has influenced Peruvian cuisine. Made with shredded chicken, a creamy nut-based sauce (usually pecans or walnuts), cheese and aji peppers, this is Peruvian comfort food at its best. The recipe will vary slightly depending on who's making it, so you may want to order it a few times as you travel around the country! It’s served over white rice and boiled potatoes and garnished with black olives and boiled eggs.
There are many takes on the humble sandwich – from England’s chip butty to Vietnam’s banh mi, and Portugal’s francesinha to Japan’s katsu sando – and Peru is no exception. Introducing the butifarra: a crowd-pleasing pork sandwich made with slices of jamon del país (Peruvian country ham), spicy peppers, salsa criolla (sweet onion relish) and salad stuffed into a crusty rosetta roll or French baguette. Butifarras are cheap, filling and downright delicious. The best ones are usually from street vendors.
Causa is essentially a glammed-up version of the potato salad. Not only is it delicious, but it looks like a work of art on your plate. Mashed potatoes are seasoned with spicy aji sauce and lime juice, and then layered with slices of chicken, tuna mayo, avocado, boiled eggs, olives – or whatever else you fancy. It's served cold as an appetiser or side dish.
You might’ve had one as a pet, but cuy (guinea pig) is an Andean delicacy that dates back to pre-Inca times. The meat is fatty and rich in flavour, and many people describe it as a crossover between chicken, rabbit and duck. Cuy is traditionally stuffed with Andean herbs and spices such as cumin, cilantro and huacatay (black mint), and roasted whole over an open fire. Typical side dishes include roast potatoes, salsa and corn.
Empanadas are a popular snack food across Central and South America, but Peru has its own version. Peruvian empanadas are traditionally made with a moreish mixture of ground beef, onions, olives, boiled eggs, garlic and cumin, but you’ll find plenty of other options on the menu. The mix is sealed inside a dough pocket and fried until crisp and golden.
9. Rocoto relleno
Rocoto relleno is the Peruvian take on stuffed peppers. The dish hails from Arequipa in southwestern Peru and is a big hit with spice lovers. It's made by filling red aji rocoto peppers – which can reach up to a fiery 100,000 on the Scoville Heat Unit – with a savoury mix of ground meat, veggies, hard-boiled eggs and cheese. The peppers are then covered in a milk sauce and baked until soft. If your heat tolerance is low, you might still be in luck as the peppers are sometimes boiled in water and vinegar to remove as much heat as possible.
To end this list on a sweet note, we have picarones – a classic Peruvian treat that you’ll find all over the country. Rings of dense, deep-fried dough generously drizzled with sticky sugar cane syrup. What’s not to love?! But these aren’t made with your typical dough mixture. They’re made by boiling and pureeing cubes of sweet potatoes and a local squash called zapallo macre, and mixing it with sugar, flour and yeast.
Does Peru have good vegetarian and plant-based options?
Peruvian food is meat-heavy, but vegetarian options aren’t hard to come by. Oh, and if you’re an avocado lover, Peru is a dream come true! If you’re vegan, you might need to do a bit more detective work in smaller towns and villages. If you’re travelling with us, your local leader will be able to help you navigate the menu and find the best plant-based dining options.
You'll find vegetarian food in most bars, restaurants, cafes and markets, especially in Lima, Peru's capital city. It can be a bit trickier to find vegan options outside of the big cities, so the safest option is to make the local market your first port of call in each place you visit to stock up on fresh fruit, vegetables and bread.
When looking at local menus, keep an eye out for empanadas (baked or fried pastries), rocoto relleno vegetariano (vegetarian stuffed peppers), sopa de quinoa (quinoa soup), stuffed avocados, and mushroom ceviche.
Our Peru trips