Let us start with a quick Peruvian Cuisine primer:
- Utilization of indigenous produce such as the varieties of peppers (amarillo, limo, mirasol, rococo) and potatoes
- Delicious sauces that help add variety to dishes (Ocopa and Huacaina)
- A foundation built upon a blend of Spanish and Indigenous cuisines; along with, a development of “fusion” cuisines (Nikkei and Chifa) through the influence of Chinese and Japanese immigrants
- The caloric source revolves largely around potatoes and rice; meals are hearty with a typical two course consisting of a meat based stew starter and a rice and protein base main course
For many, a trip to Peru is focused on Machu Pichu, which means that you will be spending sometime in Cuzco. While this post focuses on the options in Cusco, the local dishes can be applied to other cities such a Lima or Arequipa. Cuzco is a tourist town, there is no getting around that. I mention some specific restaurants below to eat in Cusco, but other than that, I would recommend you focus on local spots, the street, and markets to get a taste of Peruvian Cuisine.
You might be thinking, “Dude, you forgot about Ceviche and Pollo a la Brasas!” at the end of this post. But no, I didn’t and would never. I believe that both those items should be eaten in Lima, and you can learn more on that city in our Lima Guide.
One of my favorite activities in a new country is to hop over to a local market to get a lay of the culinary scene, along with a delicious and cheap meal. The San Pedro market in Cusco is a great trip to make.
- Try the juice
- Eat the daily set lunches
- Buy fruits for later (Cactus, Passion Fruit, and the others in the map below)
Here’s a handy little map of the market I put together, along with some recommendations:
For a taste of local cuisine frequent the local market and try the daily lunch specials. Of which, here is the ones I would look out for to get a understanding of typical dishes:
- Lomo Saltado & Arroz Chifa (which are the “Chifa” or Chinese Peruvian dishes)
- Aji de Gallina (classic dish of shredded chicken and yellow pepper sauce)
- Chicha Morada (Purple corn based drink)
- Fideo (Pasta based soup)
- Various Cazuelas or Estofedos (meat based stews)
- Rocoto Relleno (Stuffed Peruvian Red Peppers)
- Ocopa (a Peruvian yellow pepper, cheese, and Huacatay herb sauce)
- Causa (potato and avocado casserole)
Right outside of the San Pedro market, you should be able to find restaurants that specialize in Adobo (a pork based spicy stew) and Chicharrones (Fried Pork).
- Greenpoint: a vegan joint that has a nice sized lunch menu (at the San Francisco Plaza location). Recommend if you are craving something healthy
- Papachos: one of the many chains by Gaston Acurio, considered the father of modern Peruvian Cuisine and one of the Peruvian celebs chefs, has fusion burgers that I believe are worth the price
- Cicciolina: if you need a date spot, a place to celebrate, or just want to treat yo’ self, this Italian restaurant as some great tapas
I unfortunately didn’t have a great experience with Cuy–in my opinion it is an overrated, tourist centric speciality. But as a foodie, sometimes you have to insist on trying it anyways. If you do want to try it, do it at a proper restaurant–yes, it will be more expensive, but I think the proper restaurants do more justice to the Cuy, especially the ones which require an order in advance. I can’t give a recommendation as I tried it at a local spot and was disappointed.
Picarones (at the market)
Anticuhos (try both Corazon, heart, and Rinones, kidney) – many places at night to try this at night
Tamales (at the market)
Quail Eggs (at the market)
Churros (spot on map)
Empanadas Saltenas (spot on map)