Peruvian “cocina” – The Best, the worse, and the weird

– “And don’t forget to try Pisco Sour and Ceviche!” my good friend Cony reminded me just when we were about to go on our Peruvian journey.

With that fresh thought in our minds, we were able to offer ourselves not one, but two amazing treats on our first day in Lima: indulging in a Pisco Sour (which is like a sour citrus cocktail) while enjoying the beautiful sunset over the Pacific Ocean. What a wonderful start to our new adventure in Peru!

The schedule for our two-week trip to Peru was quite tight. We wanted to cover Lima, The Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu, Cusco, Route of Sun, Lake Titicaca, Colca Canyon, and Arequipa. If you are wondering how you can see Peru in two weeks, you can read here. We covered a lot following this route, saving some time, which was essential for us. But one thing we never really looked into was the local cuisine, we didn’t know what to expect.

“As long as it is cooked, I’ll try any type of food” was my mental motto.I have always tried a new meal or two in all the places visited so far, so of course, I followed my friend’s advice on the following day too. Very hungry after a long, morning walk in the Lima district, we found a table at a central restaurant and eagerly ordered a portion of Ceviche (a seafood dish).

Ceviche, Papa a la Huancaina in Lima district

Not sure what I was imagining, but ceviche (the one on the right side) was served on the same plate with some fried meat and Papa a la Huancaina (boiled potatoes in Huancaina sauce). Although it didn’t look bad, we just started picking at our food. Sadly, we were overly disappointed, and began to wonder whether all our meals will be tasting like this. With this single lunch, one of the central restaurants in Lima district ruined our hopes of enjoying Peruvian cuisine.

The next three days we ate more of basic meals, not wanting to have any unknown surprise.

Our forth day in Peru found us in Ollantaytambo. So hard to pick a restaurant when the main plaza was full of options. We decided to choose one that was down the main street: Apu Veronica Restaurant.

Trucha a la parilla (Rainbow trout) and Alpaca steak was our immediate choice. After a short wait, and a quinoa soup, our dishes came up, still sizzling on an iron plate, put together on a bigger wooden platter.

Washed with Chicha Morada (an Andean beverage made from culli/purple corn), and Cusqueno (Peruvian beer), the texture, and taste were at their best!

Chicha Morada and Cusquena Beer, Ollantaytambo

Now, that I think about it, I guess this was one reason why we fell in love with Ollantaytambo😊

The next day had arrived and we had to eat again, right? Now we got our bigger dilemma, what should we choose from all these new menus:

– “Hold on… Is this what we think it is?”

Yes, the picture is very descriptive to clarify any doubt what Cuy Frito is. Ok, maybe I was not brave enough to try anything as I previously thought, although it is fried…

Potatoes were present on most of our meals. Fried, or boiled, they never tasted the same. We quickly figured out why; Peru has more than 3,500 varieties of potatoes, the largest in the world. There are over 700,000 families in 19 producing regions who make their living from growing potatoes. And let me tell you they are delicious; you wouldn’t want a meal without them!

We travelled from a city to another, and tried different food. Started to appreciate and savour every meal along our trip, and learned to avoid the busy, crowdy, central places, unless they really had a view.

Rainbow trout and Aji de galina

A cup of Mate de coca (coca tea) was welcomed with every meal. Maybe it’s not as tasty as it sounds😜, but it helps with the altitude sickness.

It was very easy for me to find a favourite meal every day, as I love grilled trout, and all menus offered plenty of them. But we found that the trout is not a native species. Our guide from Taquile Island explained to us that a few trout species were brought in from Canada between 1930s and 1950s to populate Lake Titicaca and the nearby lakes and rivers along Sacred Valley.

Trout, Taquille island

Another interesting fact we learned was about Choclo (Peruvian corn). There are about 55 corn varieties, which can have different sizes and colours.

The corn is more often eaten with Chicharron (fried pork), Ceviche, or cheese as choclo con queso.

Chicharron con choclo
Chicharron con choclo

Although guinea pigs are grown as pets in most of the countries around the world, in Peru, they are considered traditional delicacies. They have been domesticated about 5000 BC by the Andean tribes because they were a good food source in the region. They were originally used in ceremonial meals, but have become later accepted for consumption by everyone, especially in the Andes Highlands. The animal remains important in certain religious aspects, even after colonization. As Peruvian Catholicism followed the syncretism found in most of Latin American countries, in which the native rituals have been combined with Christian celebrations, the animal has been integrated into one famous painting of The Last Andean Supper in The Cathedral in Cusco, where Christ and his 12 disciples dine on a guinea pig.

Cusco- The Cathedral - The Last Andean Supper

  • Although we tried grilled trout and alpaca at different restaurants, Apu Veronica Restaurant gets the prize, that was the best meal we’ve had in Peru, and the best Chicha Morada.

  • One Italian Restaurant in Puno took the second-place prize for the best Ceviche, as well as for the best Pisco (and a pizza). We later found out that we could simply ask for a shot of Pisco rather than Pisco Sour.
Ceviche and pizza, Puno
  • Aguas Caliente got another prize for the most expensive cookie and ice-cream we’ve ever had. But we enjoyed the decorations!
Aguas Caliente dessert

  • As for the weird meal, of course, we didn’t want to miss the opportunity to try a guinea pig!
Cuy Frito, Cusco

~ visited in April 2019

I would love to hear from you:

  • Have you tried eating a guinea pig? Would you try?
  • What is the best/worst/weirdest meal you have ever had?

40 thoughts on “Peruvian “cocina” – The Best, the worse, and the weird

  1. I had one bite of guinea pig, and that was plenty. I don’t really eat meat in general, and that meat was so salty! (Plus, come on, it’s a pet! Haha) I loved the potatoes in Peru, I thought the choclo sold on the streets was fun and tasty, and we had some great pizza throughout the country. I’m not a huge ceviche fan (but my whole family is), and I agree that your first meal was a terrible introduction to ceviche and Peruvian food in general. Glad you gave it many more chances!

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    1. I know, it is so hard to overcome to the idea that guinea pig is a pet. Same with rabbits, right? But they have huge farms growing guinea pigs, and actually have a good living out of them. I’m not fan of ceviche either, but at least I know how good it can be🙂 Thank you for stopping by, Lexie, hope all is well! xx

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    1. So true! We always like to try different things, I remember one time in France we ordered randomly from the menu, they didn’t have any translation. It turned out a great lunch🙂 Hmm.. what can go wrong with a French menu LOL

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  2. Oh no the poor guinea pig!!! I”m veggie so wouldn’t try it, Richard thought he would because he thought they were pigs. Then behind one restaurant was a pen of guinea pigs so he realized what they are. This prevented Richard from having one, thankfully for me because I didn’t want to have to look at it on the table!!

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    1. We’ve had the same thought initially, we were shocked! After reading about them, we gave a second thought, and decided it might be a once in a life opportunity to try. There are big farms in Peru, and growing guinea pigs is a good business for them. Having them on our table is another business🙂 Thank you Maggie for your comment, hope all is well! xx

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  3. Sounds like you guys were quite adventurous with your meals. I’m vegetarian so guinea pig would be off the menu for me. I haven’t had too many weird meals, but that’s probably because I tend to do a lot of research in advance to make sure there are vegetarian options wherever we are eating. I’ve also learned to pack lots of snacks with me just in case.

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  4. So here I was, Christie, happily scrolling through your blog and thinking interesting, interesting, interesting, and then I came on Christ and his Last Supper of guinea pig and burst out laughing. My brother raised guinea pigs as a child until he put them in the bathtub once for some reason or the other and Demon, our black cat, discovered them. It was close to Demon’s Last Supper as well. –Curt

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  5. Thank you for sharing all your lovely meals! This brings back so many memories from my trip and I’m smiling at chicha morada (delicious). I did try guinea pig and actually really liked it! Loved all the options and seafood in Peru however my appetite slowly disappeared after being at high altitude which was disappointing.

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    1. Oh, I’m sorry to hear you had altitude sickness. I was also sick, but I still had my appetite, so I tried to experience everything I could. Although I’ve had only a few bites, I was pleasantly surprised to find the taste is similar with fried pork skin. So, it is a sort of a pig after all🙂 Thanks for reading, and commenting! xx

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    1. I know it is overwhelming since the moment you see it on the menu! We needed several days to adjust our brains about this. I might have needed more time, but my husband took the initiative one day🙂 I wonder if your husband actually liked it. Thank you for your comment, xx

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  6. Love Pisco Sour and Ceviche! Your post makes me want to return to Peru.
    Never tried Cuy as couldn’t bring myself to try it after seeing it on the sidewalks and outside restaurants. They always looked as though they had a violent death!

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    1. I’ve heard from someone that they saw them outside of the restaurants, I guess that has a mental impact, isn’t it? We didn’t see any, other than the menus, and actually someone else was eating one, which gave us more courage LOL

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  7. For many travellers, one of the most exciting aspects of spending time abroad is all the new food experience that awaits them. But if you know that you’re a picky eater or vegetarian in my case, the thought of having to eat what your international host puts before you each day can leave you feeling uneasy. I am glad to learn that Peru has more than 3,500 varieties of potatoes, I wouldn’t be able to survive without them. Thanks for sharing your Peruvian adventures, I look forward to reading more. Have a good day. I hope all is well. Aiva 🙂

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    1. I think Peru does not disappoint vegetarians either, with so many potato varieties, quinoa, corn, etc. I do like potatoes also, and I don’t remember having a meal without some🙂 Thank you for reading, Aiva! Take care, xx

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    1. I guess it’s hard to think of something else😉when you’re breeding them!
      They have quite a large variety of food, but I noticed it differs from an area to another one. Thank you for reading, have a lovely weekend! xx

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    1. It was a total surprise, since we have not looked into any food option before going to Peru. But it turned out not as bad as it looks😉 Thank you for reading, have a great weekend!
      Christie

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    1. If you are brave enough, then totally you should try it! It tastes much better than it looks like, or than what we had thought. Most people wouldn’t try for psychological reasons, it is quite hard to overcome certain feelings, we also took about a week until decided to order it😁

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