As recent food trends go, few are hotter or bubbling with more creativity right now than the myriad delights of Peruvian cuisine. While this stunning, rugged country overlooking the Pacific has long been a standout of rustic Latin cooking, lately it has been punching well above its weight in the refined culinary arena as well. Now home to no fewer than three of the world’s best restaurants – including Central, Maido, and Astrid y Gaston – on the prestigious San Pellegrino Top 50 list, Peru has been exporting its culinary muscle for quite some time and there are probably some tasty outposts near you.
Not unlike the melting pot of U.S. fare, Peruvian cuisine is far from monolithic but, rather, a delirious mash-up of techniques and pairings reflecting its diverse geography, agriculture, and a history that blends indigenous ingredients (the country has more than 4,000 varieties of potato) with diverse influences accompanying sustained waves of immigration from both Europe and Asia over the past five centuries. Among the most conspicuous foreign influences on Peruvian food is Japan. Peru boasts one of the world’s largest Japanese expat populations, and their impact has permanently transformed the national palate.
What to order
To a first timer, the variety of Peruvian dishes and ingredients might seem a bit overwhelming. While you could be tempted to just tuck into the country’s most recognized dish, Pollo a la Brasa (an earthy, satisfying herb-seasoned roast chicken), consider venturing outside your comfort zone. You will be well rewarded. Here are some classic dishes worth trying (and sharing).
Anticucho – These skewers of grilled meat evoke Japanese yakitori but actually originate from humble Peruvian street food culture. Contemporary restaurants have come up with infinite clever variations, but the most traditional — and really worth trying if you’re game — is local favorite roasted Corazon, chunks of intensely flavorful beef heart, often paired with Andean potato and corn.
Ceviche – One of Peru’s best-known dishes is ceviche, which can come in myriad varieties, but nearly always includes at least one type of raw fish or seafood typically bathing in Leche de Tigre (“Tiger’s milk”), a refreshingly puckery marinade traditionally made from lime, red onion, and hot chiles as well as the natural juices from the fish itself. This acidic broth essentially “cooks” the fish, giving it both flavor and texture. It’s a light, healthy dish that highlights the best qualities of its ingredients. Locals have been known to down shots of pure Leche de Tigre as a potent hangover cure.
Chaufa Aeropuerto – A veritable kitchen sink of Latin-accented Chinese fried rice studded with garlicky pork, egg, shrimp and vegetables. Filling and delicious, it’s a great dish to share with the table.
Empanadas – These stuffed, savory pastries hail from across Latin America, but Peru has dozens of its own with fillings ranging from seafood and local corn to all kinds of meat.
Tiradito – Ceviche’s close cousin, Tiraditos are a uniquely Peruvian concoction that draws on the country’s Nikkei influences. Translucent strips (tiras) of fish resembling sashimi are lightly drizzled just before service with a variety of flavorful marinades and spicy sauces. Like sashimi (and unlike ceviche), Tiradito is uncured and eaten raw.