Throughout my travels in Peru, I became very interested in the cuisine of this great country. From an outsider’s perspective, it looked like Peruvian cuisine shares a lot with Mexican cuisine (especially Corn, as well as Spanish imports like empanadas and arroz con leche), but upon closer inspection, I discovered that snacking in Peru was a real unique adventure, with tasty treats not seen anywhere else in the Americas.
Street food is a big business in Peru, and in Lima and more southern cities like Cusco, you can find a wealth of snacks available to chew on, and not just the usual stuff either – they even eat guinea pigs here! Although I didn’t try one of those guinea pigs myself, I am told they are a prime delicacy in Peruvian cuisine. So whether you’re camping in the Peruvian Amazon, laying on a beach near Lima, or hiking the Inca Trail, let’s take a look at a dozen of the most popular street foods you can find in Peru!
In Peru, Ceviche has been declared to be part of Peru’s “national heritage” and has even had a holiday declared in its honour. The classic Peruvian ceviche is composed of chunks of raw fish, marinated in freshly squeezed key lime or bitter orange (naranja agria) juice, with sliced onions, chili peppers, salt and pepper. Corvina or cebo (sea bass) was the fish traditionally used. The mixture was traditionally marinated for several hours and served at room temperature, with chunks of corn-on-the-cob, and slices of cooked sweet potato.
Aji de Gallina is a delicious Peruvian classic – slightly spicy and bright yellow from the famous aji amarillo peppers, and rich from the unusual cream sauce made with ground walnuts. This dish is traditionally served over rice, with boiled yellow potatoes and black olives.
Pollo a la Brasa (otherwise known as Peruvian Chicken) was originally consumed by wealthy people, but is now widely available. The original version consisted of a chicken that had been cooked in charcoal and marinated only with salt, then served with large French fries. It is traditionally eaten with the fingers, without cutlery, and is almost always served with a creamy (mayonnaise-based) sauce.
Rachi is a common food served in the Andes. Most people can be a bit thrown off by its name, since it is made from cows belly and it is not a common dish but once they experience this delight, there is no going back!
Lomo Saltado is a popular and traditional Peruvian dish, a stir fry that typically combines marinated strips of sirloin, or other beef steak, with onions, tomatoes, and other ingredients, served with fried potato slices and rice. The dish originated as part of the chifa tradition, the Chinese cuisine of Peru, though its popularity has made it part of the mainstream culture. The dish is normally prepared by marinating sirloin strips in vinegar, and stir frying these with red onions, parsley, and tomatoes.
Sometimes eaten as street food and sometimes eaten as an appetiser to a sit-down meal, Papas a la Huancaina is a dish consisting of boiled yellow potatoes (similar to the Yukon Gold potatoes) in a spicy and creamy sauce called Huancaína sauce (made from fresh white cheese). Although the dish’s name is derived from Huancayo, a city in the Peruvian highlands, This dish is from Lima – and has become a staple of everyday and holiday cuisine throughout the country. It is typically served cold as a starter over lettuce leaves and garnished with black olives, white corn kernels, and hard boiled egg quarters.
One of the most famous Peruvian snacks, Rocoto Relleno is a dish made of stuffed peppers. It was made popular in the Andean city of Arequipa. Hard-boiled eggs are placed inside the rocotos and is then topped with melted cheese, baked and served whole. As a side note, Rocoto peppers are around ten times spicier than jalapeños when raw – although you will be pleased to hear that this spiciness is toned down when cooked!
Not to be outdone by Japanese yakitori or Indonesian sate, Peruvian cuisine has its own version of the cheap skewered meats, and these are known as Anticuchos! Found on street-carts and street food stalls ALL OVER the country, Anticucho meat may be marinated in vinegar and spices (such as cumin, ají pepper and garlic), and often come with a boiled potato or bread on the end of the skewer.
Lucuma is one of the most popular fruits in Peru, and is grown in the Andes Mountains. When eaten raw, Lucuma has a very dry taste (and tastes similar to butterscotch) but it can be used as flavouring for other snacks – even for ice cream!
Buttifara is a delicious Peruvian sandwich (and not to be consumed with one of Spain’s famous sausages of the same name), easily the equal of the choripan from Argentina. The key ingredient for the popular Buttifara sandwich is the special ham that is made by boiling a boned pork leg in a flavourful broth. The combination of a crispy bun filled with the ham and topped with Peru’s typical Salsa Criolla, results in an absolutely delicious street food – and it is so typically Peruvian…
With over 65 million guinea pigs eaten every year in Peru, it comes as no surprise that “Cuy” is boasted as being one of the country’s national dishes. Guinea pig meat is high in protein and low in fat and cholesterol, and is described as being similar to rabbit and the dark meat of chicken. As street food, Cuy may be served to you fried, broiled, or roasted, but in urban restaurants Cuy may also be served in a casserole.
Pisco Sour originated in Lima and is a cocktail using Peruvian Pisco as the base liquor, and adds Key lime (or lemon) juice, syrup, ice, egg white, and Angostura bitters to make a drink that locals and tourists alike can enjoy after their street food feast!
I hope that you have gained an insight to the street food scene in Peru, and if you ever get the pleasure of travelling around the country, make sure you indulge in a few items off this list! Which item seems most tasty to you? For more posts on street food around the world, check out my Snack Attack series!