Unlike other South and Central American cuisine, Perúvian food is a combination of influences from the indigenous in the Andes and the Amazon, the Spanish, and African slaves. It presents some of the most uncommon and tasty cuisine in the world. You will never find a dish of rice and beans or even tortillas. You will encounter many dishes seasoned with limes or hot peppers. You won’t see a hamburger, but you may eat roast guinea pig.
Customs around eating
The main meal each day is lunch. Traditionally, Perúvians observe a siesta when families sit together at home for lunch. Life in big cities, such as Lima, means that many cannot observe the siesta, but most people wish they still could.
Lunch begins with an appetizer, as well as soup. Soup is a highland tradition, because of the colder temperatures, which has carried over to the coastal region. Soups range from vegetable, wheat, pumpkin or seafood. Another appetizer that you may see would be avocado stuffed with chicken or seafood.
The main dish, plato fuerte, which translates literally as “strong plate,” usually consists of potatoes and/or rice. Potatoes originated in the Andes and were taken to Europe by the Spanish. Perú is home to over 400 varieties of potato. You will likely see aji, the main hot pepper used in Perúvian food, which adds extra orange and yellow color to different dishes.
You won’t see much meat during meals. Chicken is the most common. While beef is rare, pork is more rare. However, in the highlands guinea pig is a staple food. People in the Andes also eat alpaca, a small cousin of the llama, as well as mutton.
Similar to meals in North America, Perúvians use silverware, plates and bowls. However, food is served on individual plates; there is no family style dining where you serve yourself. Second helpings are uncommon, but it is important to still leave a little food on your plate to show that you have been well fed. Likely, your host families will try to feed you a lot early in your stay.
Breakfast, like supper, is a small meal. The main staple of a Perúvian breakfast is café con leche, coffee with milk. Bread, cheese and marmalade also are served at breakfast. In Perú, the verb that goes with breakfast is tomar, which means “to take” or “to drink.” You don’t “eat” breakfast in Perúvian Spanish.
Supper usually consists of tea and bread. Sometimes food leftovers from lunch will be eaten. Both breakfast and supper are eaten on your own.
Lomo Saltado – This dish consists of rice with French fries, a combination that will make newcomers look twice. It also has spicy, marinated beef strips, along with onions and hot peppers. It is very common in the highlands and along the coast.
Aji de Gallina – Also common in the Andes and on the coast, this dish of spicy chicken sauce over rice will have anyone’s mouth watering.
Paiche con Yuca – Served only in the Amazon, paiche con yucca is big boneless fish steak with fried yucca. Yucca is a root that can be found in some restaurants in the southwestern United States.
Anticuchos – This shish kabob is alpaca or beef heart, which is grilled over an open fire. This kabob is easy to purchase on street corners in tiny mountain towns to Lima. It often comes with a baked potato or fried yucca.