What Makes Peruvian Food So Great
Here are some of the reasons I think Peruvian cuisine is one of if not the best cuisines on the planet:
1) Peruvian food is simply delicious. Peruvian ceviche incorporates some of the freshest seafood you’ve ever tasted while traditional críolla cuisine features stews that are teeming with flavor. Just about every dish incorporates the flavorful but not too spicy ají peppers along with other local ingredients from Peru’s bountiful, natural pantry.
Personally, I’m only a partial believer in acquired tastes—I think most of the best foods are delicious right away but then get even better over time as you start appreciating all of the nuances.
However, if you’re into bizarre and challenging foods, there’s plenty for you to try from black clams (conchas negras) to Amazonian grubworms (suri).
Peruvian food has something for everyone, with a great mix of accessible dishes that are simply delicious right away like Lomo Saltado and Pan con chicharrón, and ones like Guinea pig (cuy) and Cau Cau de mondongo (tripe) that take a bit more time.
2) Peruvian food reflects the vast biodiversity of the country. Peru represents one of the most biodiverse regions of the world. There are hundreds if not thousands of ingredients available.
It’s an oft-quoted factoid that Peru has more than 3,000 types of potatoes. The actual number cited can be anywhere between 500 to 5,000, depending on the exuberance of the person doing the quoting. It’s not just potatoes. Go to a market in Peru and take a look at the quinoa, corn, or potatoes and you’ll see a multitude of new varieties that you’ve never seen.
Every few years, a new superfood pops up and takes the world by storm. More often than not, these superfoods come from this region of the world.
For example, quinoa comes from this region of the world. Now, jungle fruits such as Camu Camu and Andean grains like Kiwicha are popular among health enthusiasts. Imagine being somewhere where these ingredients are commonplace. As you travel around Peru, you’ll have ample opportunity to learn about local ingredients, sample regional dishes, and see how people have adapted to their environment.
One of the most famous chefs in Peru, Virgilio Martinez, travels around Peru on a regular basis, finding new ingredients never before used or ones that only a small, handful of villages know about. In one tasting menu at his Central, his restaurant, you can easily be introduced to dozens of new ingredients.
3) The ingredients are incredibly fresh. It’s not just about the diversity of the ingredients; the ingredients are incredibly fresh.
The fish in your ceviche was caught that morning. Fresh organic fruit and vegetables are a matter of course. When my girlfriend, Mariela, and I travel outside of Peru, we realize how we take for granted the intrinsic flavor that basic ingredients like chicken and lime have in Peru.
The quality of the ingredients is why some of the best dishes in Peru like ceviche and tacu tacu have just a few ingredients.
4) Peruvian cuisine lends itself to creativity. Peruvians are inherently creative with food. They embrace new ideas as evidenced by the number of dishes that reflect influences of other food cultures from Chifa to Nikkei and beyond.
One of my favorite parts of researching Peruvian food for my guidebook is seeing how different chefs riff off the same culinary ideas and how dishes evolved throughout the different regions of Peru.
Just about every restaurant in Lima has its own signature version of ceviche and causa that expresses the chef’s unique point of view. It’s fun to try a dish not only once but several times in different regions and different restaurants. I’ve tried close to a hundred variations of ceviche and still come across delicious new twists on a regular basis.
Creativity isn’t limited to only tasting menus in Peru. Creativity abounds in Peruvian cuisine whether it’s home cooking, street food, or even takeout.
5) In Peru, there's good food everywhere. I love how easy it’s to find good food in Peru. You don’t need a reservation to enjoy great food in Peru. Just go where you see a crowd.
There’s also at least one pollo a la brasa joint and local eateries with daily specials at bargain prices in just about every neighborhood. Fresh markets with local food stalls are another sure bet for fresh food at low prices.
Peru offers a full range of great food from street food to tasting menus. One of my favorite things to do in Peru is to eat the same dish multiple ways—try the street food version and then try the version at one of the leading restaurants.
Now, it’s your turn! If you’re headed to Peru or just want to learn more, consider buying a copy of my guidebook.