Peru is known for its rich culinary heritage, with traditional Peruvian dishes that are influenced by both Incan and Spanish cooking traditions. These combined traditions result in popular dishes such as Ceviche, lomo saltado, and many others.
Peru has been awarded the important recognition of Leading Culinary Destination in the World several times, including the last tie in 2022 , while the Capital City Lima is named the culinary capital of South America, and is defined by its sublime cooking.
Peru has a variety of landscapes, and therefore the ingredients and the places differ greatly from region to region. For instance, at the southern coast, fish dishes are very popular, while the Peruvian cuisine along the northern coast has a very different style than the central and southern parts of Peru. The dishes in the north are not as heavily influenced by Andean culture, as in the south, the central part of Peru. Instead, the influence comes from coastal native Indians, the Spanish, and the Africans, as well as the warm coastal climate.
In the Andean highlands, where Cusco is located, you find a great variety of grains, potatoes, and corn. Finally, in the Amazon, fish is also often served as the main dish. The difference in the Amazon is that the fish comes from the river instead of the sea.
Some of the most popular and typical Peruvian dishes include:
- Ceviche: a traditional Peruvian dish from raw fish marinated in lime juice, chili peppers, and cilantro. Ceviche is a popular starter dish and is served with corn, sweet potatoes, and lettuce.
- Lomo Saltado: a traditional Peruvian dish that is made with stir-fried beef, tomatoes, onions, and French fries. It is usually served with rice and is a popular main course dish.
- Aji de Gallina: a traditional Peruvian dish made with shredded chicken, cream, and aji (a Peruvian chili pepper) sauce. It comes with white rice and is a popular main course dish.
- Papa a la Huancaína: a traditional Peruvian starter made with boiled potatoes, served with a creamy sauce made of cheese, milk, and aji amarillo (a Peruvian yellow chili pepper).
- Chicharrones: a traditional Peruvian dish made with deep-fried pork rinds. It is usually served as a snack or appetizer and is often accompanied by aji (chili pepper) sauce, maís, and potatoes.
- Pollo a la Brasa: a traditional Peruvian dish with rotisserie chicken, usually served with a side of fries and a salad.
- Causa Rellena: a vegetarian starter made with mashed potatoes, filled with different ingredients such as chicken, tuna or vegetables. It is usually served cold.
Typical Cusco products and ingredients
Cusco has a rich culinary heritage and diverse natural resources, which have led to various unique and typical products and ingredients. Some of the most popular and typical products and ingredients in Cusco include:
- Quinoa: a traditional grain that is native to the Andean region and is considered to be a staple food in Cusco. It is high in protein, and people use it in traditional dishes, such as soups and stews.
- Aji: This is a traditional Peruvian chili pepper that is commonly used in Cusco's cuisine. It comes in different varieties and is used in a variety of dishes, such as ceviche, lomo saltado, and aji de gallina.
- Potatoes: This is a traditional Peruvian ingredient that is native to the Andean region and is considered to be a staple food in Cusco. Potatoes come in different varieties and are used in various dishes such as Papa a la Huancaína and Causa Rellena.
- Maiz: Maiz, or corn, has been a staple ingredient in many traditional dishes in Cusco, for thousands of years and continues to play an important role in the local diet. In Cusco, you can find corn used in dishes like mote (boiled corn kernels), choclo (large kernels of corn), humitas (a type of tamale made with fresh corn), and the local specialty, chicha de jora (a fermented corn drink). Corn is also a common ingredient in soups, stews, and sauces.
In Cusco can enjoy these and other traditional dishes at local markets and restaurants that specialize in indigenous cuisine. Whether you're sampling street food or sitting down for a multi-course meal, you're sure to come across plenty of delicious dishes made with corn during your time in Cusco.
Andean Herbs and Spices
Cusco is home to a variety of herbs and spices that are used in traditional dishes, such as huacatay, herba buena and others. These herbs and spices are used to add flavor and depth to traditional dishes and also have medicinal properties. Coca leaves are used for herb tea.
- Chicha: This is a traditional Peruvian corn-based beverage that is commonly consumed in Cusco by the local people in the countryside. There is a conventional fermented version and a non-alcoholic version.
- Pisco: This is a traditional Peruvian liquor that is made from grapes and is commonly consumed in Cusco; it is often used in a variety of classic cocktails, such as the Pisco Sour.
Anticucho is a traditional Peruvian street food that is made with skewered and grilled meat (typically beef heart). The meat is marinated in a spicy sauce made with aji panca (a type of chili pepper), garlic, and vinegar, before being grilled over hot coals.
It is a popular street food in Peru and is typically sold by street vendors, often from mobile carts or grills. The skewers are often served with a side of boiled potatoes, corn, or a salad and a variety of sauces such as ají, huancaína, chimichurri, etc. The meat is cooked to order and is typically served hot.
The origin of anticucho is uncertain, but it is believed to have been brought to Peru by African slaves during colonial times. Today, it is considered a traditional and important part of Peruvian cuisine and culture. When you try anticucho on the street, make sure that the meat is cooked properly and that the street vendor is reputable and hygienic before purchasing.
Peruvian papa rellena (stuffed potatoes) is a popular dish in Peru that consists of mashed potatoes that are filled with meat, spices, and vegetables, then deep-fried until crispy and golden brown. It is typically sold on the street, at the bus station, and at festivals by Peruvian ladies that will offer you ‘papa rellena” at low cost.
Picarones is a traditional Peruvian street food desert that is a type of doughnut made from dough of sweet potato and wheat flour. It is typically fried in oil and then coated in syrup made from molasses or chancaca (a type of unrefined sugar).
The origin of Picarones is uncertain, but it is believed to have been brought to Peru by African slaves during colonial times; the used ingredients like sweet potatoes and chancaca that were widely available in the region.
Today, picarones are considered a traditional and important part of Peruvian cuisine and culture. Picarones are popular street food in Peru.