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In 2016, Peru was crowned as “World’s Leading Culinary Destination” by the World Travel Awards for the fifth year in a row. It was just 10 years ago that Peru’s gastronomic boom began, reinventing dishes that had a long tradition in the kitchens of Peruvian families. While a second gastronomic boom of organic and healthy food seems to be happening nowadays, every Peruvian dish offered in restaurants around the world was based on an earlier and more original one. Learn about the most traditional Peruvian dishes here.
There’s nothing more Peruvian than lomo saltado. As a country that hosts diverse cultures, the birth of this dish could only have been possible because of culture clashes in the kitchen. For example, lomo saltado got its special flavor from the woks brought by Chinese immigrants. Combine sliced steak, red onions, french fries, ají amarillo or chili and you’ve got the basic recipe. This dish is considered the father of many other traditional Peruvian dishes such as tallarín saltado (noodle with lomo saltado), tacu tacu (beans and rice) with loin, among others.
There are different stories about the origins of the creamy aji de gallina. Historians say that when Peru was a Spanish colony, a dish that came from Europe made with chicken breast and Arab seasoning became a prototype of aji de gallina. Another story claims that poor citizens collected the hen bones that were thrown away by the rich and took the remains to their houses where they added chili and bread to make a bigger meal. The aji de gallina is nowadays made mostly with chicken, bread, potatoes, olives and eggs, and is one of the most original dishes that Peru has to offer.
Ancient Peruvians ate ceviche with lots of chili, locally known as ají. Peruvian ceviche is the only one with a preparation that consists in quickly soaking the fish in lemon juice and then immediately serving it, according to expert ceviche chef Javier Wong. Preparing a ceviche is an art that Peruvians like to experiment with to make other dishes like quinoa ceviche.
Its preparation is done underground. The word “pachamanca” is broken down into two: “pacha” meaning earth, and “manca” meaning pot. This banquet dish has been served at large and important ceremonies since pre-Columbian times. It is cooked with hot stones that cover the meat and vegetables, along with potatoes and other spices used according to the region.
Cuy means guinea pig. Cuy chactado is fried guinea pig. Before it was brought to Europe and made a pet, guinea pig was already served as a meal and domesticated in almost every home in the highlands. It’s mostly served in Andean cities such as Cusco and Arequipa. An ancient custom says that if you dig through the guinea pig’s ears and find a tiny fox-shaped bone and drink it with chicha de jora, you’ll gain psychic abilities.
Welcome to the jungle. This amazonian dish consists of tacacho, a mushed bellaco plantain, and cecina, dry and smoked pork. It is usually served with chorizo and, depending on where they’re making it, it can be served with collared peccary meat. It is considered a must if you visit the Amazon region, especially Iquitos, Madre de Dios and San Martín, although it is not hard to find tacacho con cecina in Lima.
This traditional Amazonian boiled dish was made to grab and go. It consists of rice, hen meat, eggs and olives all wrapped in macaw flower leaves. In some parts of the jungle, you can find Juane with yuca root, paiche (the biggest fish in the Amazon), and fried plantains.
This list would not be complete without a Chinese-Peruvian dish. As a result of the first Chinese colony that arrived at Peru in the 19th century, a new twist to Peruvian cuisine changed its history forever: Chifa (Chinese-Peruvian fusion cuisine). Kamlu wantan is one of those dishes that is always seen on tables at Chifa restaurants. It’s a sweet and sour dish that consists of pork, chicken, onions and peppers, and also includes seafood like shrimp, all dipped in tamarind sauce. It is served with wontons.
This dish is served mostly in the southern coastal towns of Peru and it’s a mix of Peruvian and Italian cuisine. Carapulcra is a stew of peanuts, chicken, ají panca and dehydrated potatoes. It is served with sopa seca, a noodle dish with heavy seasoning. It is commonly served at weddings and other family events.
Back in the coastal restaurants of Peru, choritos a la chalaca make the best appetizers on any summer day. Originated in the portal city of Callao, this dish consists of mussels filled with onions, tomatoes, and corn kernels, while the rest cooks with the lime juice, just like a ceviche would. You do not even need a fork to eat choritos a la chalaca. Just grab one!