Peru may be quite popular because of the Inca empire and Machu Picchu, one of the new Wonders of the World according to the international survey which ran until the 2007. What many people still don't know is that Peru is also famous for having a delicious cuisine, certainly it is a treasure of good meals every traveler should learn about and to appreciate. This article aims at giving you some generic insights on what Peruvian cuisine is like.
Let's start from the beginning.
Peru is a large country in the central western side of South America, and, from south to north, it is crossed over by the Andes cordillera. The Andes divides the country into three large natural regions: the Pacific coast, which has arid lands but still many fertile valleys, the Andes, which have a variety of micro climates, and the Amazon rainforest, in the eastern side, which is very hot and very humid.
Each of these regions has its own natural resources (further, some authors state that Peru is one of the top ten most biologically varied countries in the world) and, therefore, its own meals too. It is a delicious experience. The Pacific coast is full of fresh fish, so many of its typical dishes includes fish and seafood. In addition to this, you should know that many slaves brought by Spaniards during their colony epoch came and stayed in the coast because they could not resist working in the heights of the Andes mountains. Because of this, Peruvian coast meals also have some Afro-Peruvian and Chinese influence.
Every tourist coming to Peru coast should try, among others:
Cebiche, which is marinated fish with some chilli and sliced onions. It is delicious, but you need to be a little careful with it. Peruvian lemons are very strong compared to those you find in your local market. If you have a sensitive stomach, we advise against trying it right from the start. Give a try to other meals first.
Causa rellena, which is a sort of pie prepared with soft smashed potatoes and filled in with either tomato and avocado, or pieces of chicken. This dish is very old. Peruvian civilizations before the Inca one already enjoyed delicious 'causas'.
Lomo saltado, which is a mix of tomato, potatoes, onions in slices and pieces of meat, all saute-mixed together, and served along with white rice. To be honest, it looks simple but its taste is beyond description.
Pollo a la brasa, also known as Peruvian chicken in some restaurants, which is another invention of Peruvian cuisine. In short, they cook a chicken over charcoal, and serve it along fried potatoes and salad.
Once we travel to the Andes we meet a new world there. Cities such as Cuzco still have some advantages of our modern days, but hundreds of smaller towns are way more interested in keeping their traditions than in adopting the trends of the new days. In the Andes, you must try this one mandatorily (if not, you will always regret it):
Pachamanca. This one is incredible. In short, what people do is to dig a large hole in the ground while they heat many stones close to it. Once the stones are very hot, they put them in the hole and then add to it all kinds of food: pork meat, chicken, potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, and many other native Peruvian ingredients. Once they are there, they cover the hole leaving only a small hole for the vapours to escape. In a few hours (the time changes between region and region, but usually between one and three) they open the hole and uncover an extraordinary meal. You won't forgive yourself if you miss this one.
Lastly, in the Amazon rainforest dishes are quite varied too. The most popular are two:
Tacacho con cecina, which is a mix of other two: the tacacho is smashed bananas prepared with some oil and manteca served as one or two balls in the dish, while the cecina is a special preparation they give to pork meat which has been previously dried and smoked.
Juane, which is a mix of rice, meat, olives, hard-boiled egg, spices among others, which is wrapped with bijao foil and then put to boil for about an hour and a half. Its name 'juane' is to remember John the Baptist, and the dish is widely eaten during its festival on June 24th.
Well, with this, I think I have covered the very basics of Peruvian cuisine. Keep in mind these dishes are the just the tip of the iceberg about Peruvian cuisine. In a future post, I will speak about Peruvian liquors. You will love the idea.