Mmmm, Peruvian food. This vibrant cuisine is really having its moment in the suburb outside San Francisco, California that we call home – and now we understand why. Who knew that endless potatoes, rice and meat could be so interesting?
Aside from its creative fusion of flavors and satiating ingredients, one of the things we love most about Peruvian food is that its offerings are consistent. On nearly any menu, you’re bound to find the same assortment of dishes. Different cooks put their own twists on each – as recipes are handed down from generation to generation – but for the most part, you know what to expect when you sit down for a Peruvian meal. Here are some of the delicious plates we’ve found ourselves ordering again and again during our time in Peru and Chile (because Chileans love comida Peruana, too).
Disclaimer: Sorry, vegetarians… this post isn’t for you.
Ceviche. OK, this one is pretty obvious. From fish to shellfish to seafood to mixto (“mixed”), this incredibly fresh, citrusy dish is to-die-for in Peru. Spicy-sweet onions and hot peppers beautifully contrast with tart lemon and musky coriander. The best ceviche we had was in Arequipa’s San Camilo market, where it was served alongside slices of sweet potato.
Lomo saltado. Who doesn’t love a good stir fry? This traditional dish combines Peruvian seasonings with the Chinese tradition of sautéing food. Strips of beef tenderloin are marinated with vinegar, wine, seasonings and a little oil, and then fried to a beautiful brown. Added to that are tomato, onion and garlic, plus a little chopped parsley and cilantro. The stir fry is served with white rice and french fries, making it a hearty meal.
Arroz con pollo. Chicken and rice are simply meant to go together, and that’s what this dish is: simple. The rice is cooked with vegetables – typically onions, peppers and peas – and chicken broth, giving it a distinct yellow color. Most times, an entire chicken is chopped up to go with it, so you never really know which piece you’ll get on your plate – maybe a breast, maybe a leg, maybe a thigh.
Ají de gallina. This popular dish took us far too long to try – probably because we didn’t recognize any of the words in its name. Simply put, it’s creamy chicken chili made with yellow chilis, milk, bread and shredded chicken breast. For many Peruvians, this flavorful stew is a comfort food that reminds them of childhood. It’s typically served atop slices of parboiled potato and next to white rice, with a few slices of hardboiled egg and black olives.
Papas a la hauncaina. This is another dish we hesitated to try – probably because it doesn’t look too pretty in pictures outside restaurants and on menus. It consists of sliced parboiled potatoes smothered in a slightly spicy sauce made of chili-pepper sauce, milk, oil and fresh cheese. Like ají de gallina, it’s served with hardboiled eggs and black olives, plus some lettuce leaves.
Pollo a la brasa. Grilled chicken is one of the healthier items you’ll find on a Peruvian menu – but it’s just as delicious as the more indulgent dishes. After being marinated, the chicken is baked in a special furnace called a rotombo, which rotates the meat so that it cooks evenly. The chicken is usually accompanied by french fries and salad, but you can sometimes opt instead for white rice, fried rice or the yellow rice that’s served with arroz con pollo. Sauces like chili sauce, mayonnaise, mustard or ketchup may also be served on the side.
This is, of course, just a sampling of dishes that Peruvian cuisine has to offer. Go out, order everything and find your own favorites. We have yet to have a bad Peruvian meal – we hope that becomes the case for you, too!