Eating and drinking

Food


Not surprisingly for a country with such a diversity of geography and climates, Peru boasts the continent's most extensive menu. Its cuisine varies from region to region, but basically can be divided into coastal, highland and tropical.

Coastal cuisine

With a coastline of more than 1800 km, the fruits of the sea are almost limitless.The best coastal dishes are those with seafood bases, with the most popular being the jewel in the culinary crown, ceviche. This delicious dish of raw white fish marinated in lemon juice, onion and hot peppers can be found in neighbouring countries, but Peruvian is best. Another mouth-watering fish dish is escabeche - fish with onions, hot green pepper, red peppers, prawns (langostinos), cumin, hard-boiled eggs, olives, and sprinkled with cheese. For fish on its own, don't miss the excellent corvina, or white sea bass. You should also try chupe de camarones, which is a shrimp stew made with varying and somewhat surprising ingredients. Other fish dishes include parihuela, a popular bouillabaisse that includes yuyo de mar, a tangy seaweed, and aguadito, a thick rice and fish soup said to have rejuvenating powers.

Fish isn't the only thing eaten on the coast. A favourite northern coastal dish is
seco de cabrito
, roasted kid (baby goat) served with beans and rice, or
seco de cordero,
which uses lamb instead. Also good is
ají de gallina
, a rich and spicy creamed chicken, and duck is excellent. People on the coast are referred to as
criollos
and
criollo
cooking can be found throughout the country.

Highland cuisine

The staples of highland cooking, corn and potatoes, date back to Inca times and are found in a remarkable variety of shapes, sizes and colours. Two good potato dishes are causa and carapulca. Causa is made with yellow potatoes, lemons, pepper, hard-boiled eggs, olives, lettuce, sweet cooked corn, sweet cooked potato, fresh cheese, and served with onion sauce.

Meat dishes are many and varied.
Ollucos con charqui
is a kind of potato with dried meat,
sancochado
is meat and all kinds of vegetables stewed together and seasoned with ground garlic and
lomo a la huancaína
is beef with egg and cheese sauce. A dish almost guaranteed to appear on every restaurant menu is
lomo saltado
, a kind of stir-fried beef with onions, vinegar, ginger, chilli, tomatoes and fried potatoes, served with rice. Others include
fritos
, fried pork, usually eaten in the morning,
chicharrones
, deep fried chunks of pork ribs and chicken, and
lechón
, suckling pig. And not forgetting that popular childhood pet,
cuy
(guinea pig), which is considered a real delicacy.

Very filling and good value are the many soups on offer, such as
yacu-chupe
, a green soup that has a base of potato, with cheese, garlic, coriander leaves, parsley, peppers, eggs, onions, and mint, and
sopa a la criolla
containing thin noodles, beef heart, bits of egg and vegetables and pleasantly spiced. And not to be outdone in the fish department,
trucha
(trout) is delicious, particularly from Lake Titicaca.

Tropical cuisine

The main ingredient in much jungle cuisine is fish, especially the succulent, dolphin-sized paiche, which comes with the delicious palmito, or palm-hearts, and the ever-present yucca and fried bananas. Other popular dishes include sopa de motelo (turtle soup), sajino (roast wild boar) and lagarto (caiman). Juanes are a jungle version of tamales, stuffed with chicken and rice. A common dish to start the day is chapo, banana porridge, delicious with evaporated milk.

Desserts

The Peruvian sweet tooth is evident in the huge number of desserts and confections from which to choose. These include: cocada al horno - coconut, with yolk of egg, sesame seed, wine and butter; picarones - frittered cassava flour and eggs fried in fat and served with honey; mazamorra morada - purple maize, sweet potato starch, lemons, various dried fruits, sticks of ground cinnamon and cloves and perfumed pepper; manjar blanco - milk, sugar and eggs; maná - an almond paste with eggs, vanilla and milk; alfajores - shortbread biscuit with manjar blanco, pineapple, peanuts, etc; pastelillos - yuccas with sweet potato, sugar and anise fried in fat and powdered with sugar and served hot; and zango de pasas, made with maize, syrup, raisins and sugar. Turrón, the Lima nougat, is worth trying. Tejas are pieces of fruit or nut enveloped in manjar blanco and covered in chocolate or icing sugar - delicious.

Eating out

The high-class hotels and restaurants serve international food and, on demand, some native dishes, but the best places to find native food at its best are the taverns (chicherías) and the local restaurants (picanterías).

Lunch is the main meal, and apart from the most exclusive places, most restaurants have one or two set lunch menus, called
menú ejecutivo
or
menú económico
. The set menu has the advantage of being served almost immediately and it's usually cheap. The
menú ejecutivo
costs US$2 or more for a three-course meal with a soft drink and it offers greater choice and more interesting dishes than the
menú económico
, which costs US$1.50-2.50. Don't leave it too late, though, most Peruvians eat lunch around 1230-1400. There are many Chinese restaurants (
chifas
) that serve good food at reasonable prices, and the
comedores populares
found in the markets of most cities offer a standard three-course meal for as little as US$1 (but keep an eye on cleanliness and hygiene). Buying food on the street is generally best left until your stomach has acclimatized, but avoid hamburgers sold at stalls anywhere in Peru (guaranteed to upset even the hardiest of constitutions).

For those who wish to eschew such good value, the menu is called
la carta
. An
à la carte
lunch or dinner costs US$5-8, but can go up to an expensive US$80 in a first-class restaurant, with drinks and wine included. Middle and high-class restaurants may add 10% service, but do include the 19% sales tax to the bill (which foreigners do have to pay). This is not shown on the price list or menu, so check in advance. Lower-class restaurants charge only tax, while cheap, local restaurants charge no taxes. Dinner in restaurants is normally about 1900 onwards, but choice may be more limited than lunchtime. Peruvians tend to ask guests for dinner at 2000.

The situation for
vegetarians
is improving, but slowly. In tourist centres you should have no problem finding a vegetarian restaurant (or a restaurant that has vegetarian options), especially Cuzco and Arequipa and, of course, Lima. Elsewhere, choice is limited and you may find that, as a non-meat eater, you are not understood. Vegetarians and people with allergies should be able to list (in Spanish) all the foods they cannot eat. By saying
no como carne
(I don't eat meat), people may assume that you eat chicken and eggs. If you do eat eggs, make sure they are cooked thoroughly. Restaurant staff will often bend over backwards to get you exactly what you want but you need to request it.

Drink


Peru's most famous drink is pisco , a grape brandy used in the wonderful pisco sour, a deceptively potent cocktail that also includes egg whites and lemon juice. The most renowned brands come from the Ica Valley. Other favourites are chilcano, a longer refreshing drink made with guinda, a local cherry brandy, and algarrobina, a sweet cocktail made with the syrup from the fruit of the carob tree, egg whites, evaporated milk, pisco and cinnamon.


Some Peruvian
wines
are good, others are acidic and poor. The best are the Ica wines Tacama and Ocucaje, and both come in red, white and rosé, sweet and dry varieties. They cost around US$5 a bottle, or more. Tacama Blancs de Blancs and brut Champagne have been recommended, also Gran Tinto Reserva Especial. Viña Santo Tomás, from Chincha, is reasonable and cheap, but Casapalca is not for the discerning palate.

Peruvian
beer
is good, especially the
Cusqueña
and
Arequipeña
brands (lager) and
Trujillo Malta
(porter). In Lima only
Cristal
and
Pilsener
(not related to true Pilsen) are readily available, others have to be sought out. Look out for the sweetish 'maltina' brown ale, which makes a change from the ubiquitous pilsner-type beers.

Chicha de jora
is a strong but refreshing
maize beer
, usually homemade and not easy to come by, and
chicha morada
is a soft drink made with purple maize.. The number of cafés serving good, fresh coffee is growing. There are many different kinds of herb
tea
: the commonest are
manzanilla
(camomile),
hierbaluisa
(lemongrass) and
mate de coca
. Although a stimulant, the latter is frequently served in the highlands to stave off the discomforts of altitude sickness. Try tea from another herb from the sierras,
muña
, instead, which is a relaxant and may be more effective.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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