When people think of Peru, they often think of beautiful high-altitude hiking, ancient civilizations, and the world-famous Machu Picchu. These are all fantastic reasons to visit Peru, but there’s more. Peruvian food is so full of flavor, diverse, and high quality.
Most people who spend time in Peru joke about how much weight they’ve gained simply because of the abundance of delicious Peruvian cuisine. And they aren’t lying! Peruvian food was very different from what I expected, in the best way possible.
One of the most surprising characteristics of Peruvian food for me was the Chinese influence. Some of the most popular Peruvian dishes are heavily based on Chinese classics (like chicken fried rice or noodle chow mein). Peru saw an influx of Chinese immigration in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Chinese immigrants brought their cuisine, and it became so popular it transformed Peruvian cuisine.
If you plan an upcoming trip to Peru, you’ll enjoy plenty of Peruvian food. But where do you start? There’s so much to choose from! I am here to share some of the best Peruvian food, including appetizers, main dishes, and sweets.
Make sure to also read my post The Best Things To Do In Peru.
The Best Peruvian Food – All The Dishes You Should Try
Tamales (sometimes called ‘humitas’ in Peru) are a popular dish in Latin America, and Peruvian tamales aren’t so different from most. Peruvian tamales are usually made with pureed fresh corn (compared to the lard and masa of Mexican tamales) and cooked with butter, garlic, chili paste, and a dash of sugar to give it all the flavor.
These tamales usually contain meat, chicken, pork, cheese, vegetables, and other seasonings. They are wrapped in banana leaves and steamed to perfection.
Pan con chicharrón
Pan con chicharrón (bread with pork rind) is a popular local breakfast that is a pork rind sandwich, often accompanied by sweet potato, onions, and spicy chili sauce for extra flavor. You will likely find this sandwich at morning street food stalls or local markets.
Desayuno Andino (Andes breakfast) is a traditional breakfast from the Andes region in Peru. The breakfast has several variations but is most commonly served with boiled potatoes, cheese, avocado, and a fried egg. It is a simple breakfast that will give you the energy and calories you need for a full morning of hiking or exploring.
Quinoa is a yellow seed from the Andes region of South America, specifically Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia and Chile. So, it is unsurprising that Peru has a few unique quinoa-based dishes.
Quinoa porridge is made by rinsing quinoa. It is then cooked in milk or water (or a combination). It is often cooked with cinnamon, vanilla, and honey. It is a healthier version of oatmeal, and quinoa provides many nutritional benefits.
Caldo de Gallina
Caldo de Gallina (chicken soup) is often served as an appetizer, main dish, or even breakfast meal. This is one of the most popular soups throughout all of Peru. It is a traditional chicken soup, often cooked and boiled to perfection over a long period of time. It is boiled with many seasonings and spices and sometimes served with rice.
Chupe de Camarones
Chupe de Camarones is a shrimp chowder. It is most prevalent in Arequipa but can be found along the coast, where seafood restaurants are common. It is typically made with river shrimp, milk, potatoes, cheese, and herbs. It is a very filling and hearty chowder.
Appetizers / Side Dishes
If you eat at a traditional Peruvian restaurant, you will likely get served a small dish of cancha. Cancha is made from toasted corn kernels and is typically seasoned with salt, chili powder, or other spices. It is toasted in a hot skillet or oven, giving it a crunchy texture. It’s actually quite addictive!
Leche de Tigre
Strictly speaking, Leche de Tigre is the leftover juice that comes from marinating ceviche. Leche de Tigre is best described as a marinated (and sometimes blended) form of ceviche. It is ceviche (raw fish, citrus juice, onions, and cilantro) mixed with fish stock. It is often served as a unique appetizer in most local restaurants or cevicherias (restaurants specializing in ceviche).
Tiraditos is Peruvian sashimi. It is thin slices of raw fish served with a variety of sauces. Tiraditos are often found along the coast and in seafood restaurants.
Causa Rellena is a layered potato salad made from chicken, crab, avocado, egg, and mayonnaise. It is commonly served as a small appetizer but can also be found as a side dish or a main meal.
Palta a la Reina
Palta a la Reina is avocado stuffed with homemade chicken salad. It is served cold and often as an appetizer or side dish. It is a popular food in Peru and serves as a refreshing side option.
Tequeños are fried cheese sticks wrapped in wonton dough. They are served very crispy and often with a side of aji or similar salsa for dipping. You can find tequeños all around Peru, and they seem to be one of the more popular Peruvian dishes among the locals.
Papa a la Huancaína
Papa a la Huancaina is another famous potato-based Peruvian dish. In Spanish, “papa” means potato, and “huancaina” means woman from the city of Huancayo (where this dish originated from). The huancaina sauce is a thick, yellow, mayonnaise-style sauce served cold or warm.
Papa a la Huancaina is a boiled potato covered with yellow huancaina sauce. It is most commonly consumed as an appetizer (in bite-size portions) but can also be ordered in larger portions as a main course.
Ceviche is the crown jewel of Peruvian food. It comes from the coastal region of Peru but has since become popular worldwide. Ceviche can be served as a cold appetizer or a hearty meal. There are “cevicherias” all through Lima and other coastal cities, specializing in ceviche and other seafood dishes.
Ceviche usually consists of raw fish or seafood marinated in citrus juices and mixed with other ingredients, like cilantro, chili peppers, and onions. It is often served with a side of sweet potato and corn.
Jalea is a popular seafood dish often found on the coast of Peru. It is similar to a seafood platter or fried seafood mix. It is made by deep frying a seafood mix, often including fish, squid, and shrimp. The seafood is sometimes served on a bed of vegetables or lettuce.
Seco de Carne
“Seco” in Spanish translates to dry, but Seco de Carne refers to the thickness of the stew rather than the meat’s moisture. Seco de Carne is a popular Peruvian soup made from beef, cilantro, beer, and other seasonings.
Seco de Carne is popular during family gatherings and quickly gaining popularity outside of Peru.
Aji de Gallina
Aji de Gallina is a grilled chicken breast covered in a creamy and heavy yellow sauce. It is often served with rice, french fries, and salad. Some regions may prepare it differently. Some restaurants may serve it cold or at room temperature, while others may serve it hot.
Peruvian food is strongly influenced by Chinese culture and history within the country. Most Chinese-style restaurants in Peru will be called “Chifa.” However, you can find popular Chinese dishes in almost all local restaurants.
Arroz Chaufa is essentially Peruvian fried rice, very similar (basically identical) to Chinese fried rice. It is served in massive portions. Frequently, just a large plate piled high with fried rice.
When in Cusco, you may want to try the local variant called “aeropuerto” (pictured above) which is just arroz chaufa with an egg omelette and cheese on top. It’s one of the most filling Peruvian dishes!
Arroz con Pato
Arroz con Pato translates to “rice with duck.” This dish is often prepared with marinated duck meat in various seasonings, like butter and garlic, and served alongside rice and boiled potatoes. If you go to the right place, the duck is cooked to perfection with total tenderness and noticeable blasts of flavor.
Alpaca meat is surprisingly common in the Andes region of Peru. You will find a lot of Alpaca meat in and near Cusco. Alpaca meat is much more tough and chewy than other types of meat but very flavorful and unique in taste. It is prepared in many different ways, from burgers to simple Alpaca meat alongside rice and potatoes.
I did not think Alpaca meat was exceptionally tasteful – I found it to be similar to veal, actually – but it is a unique experience as you can’t find it anywhere.
Anticuchos are grilled beef hearts, generally marinated in vinegar, garlic, and other spices. Beef heart tastes very similar to beef but has a slimy exterior and a chewier interior. It is served as a main dish and can be quite filling if you can stomach it all. It’s actually a very common street food and easy to find in Lima – we tried it during our street food tour (more about it below).
Cuy Chactado (fried guinea pig) is another delicacy across the Andes region in Peru, and one of the most popular Peruvian dishes. Cuy Chactado is generally seasoned with different spices like salt, pepper, and cumin. Most guinea pig dishes are not super meaty on the inside but have thick salty skin on the outside. This is another unique experience you may only find in Peru.
Tallarin Saltado is another Peruvian staple that is heavily influenced by Chinese cuisine. It is essentially a noodle stir-fry or chow mein. It can be topped with chicken, pork, egg, shrimps or plenty of vegetables.
Lomo Saltado is a stir-fried strip of beef (lomo), onions, tomatoes, and french fries cooked in a wok and served with rice. This Peruvian-Chinese fusion dish has gained popularity across all of Peru.
Pollo a la Brasa
Pollo a la Brasa translates to “roasted chicken.” It is a simple dish that consists of roasting a chicken on a spit over an open flame, served with a side of french fries, rice, and salad. Pollo a la Brasa is a national dish served everywhere in Peru.
Rocoto Relleno is a stuffed spicy pepper with cheese, ground beef, raisins, and olives. This dish is typically served with roasted potatoes, aji sauce (a spicy sauce made from aji pepper found in almost every restaurant across Peru), garlic, and other seasonings.
Rocoto peppers are a native pepper to Peru and are first boiled in water and vinegar to remove the spiciness and skin.
Trucha Frita translates to “fried trout.” This straightforward fried fish dish is often served with white rice, french fries, and salad. The fish is usually very fresh and flavorful. It is very popular amongst Peruvians.
Sweets and Desserts
Picarones are like the Peruvian version of doughnuts. They are typically made from sweet potato dough and seasoned with cinnamon, anise, and other spices. They are then deep-fried and served with a sweet syrup drizzled.
You can find picarones stands and shops almost everywhere in Peru, especially around the busy streets of the historic center in Lima. That’s where we tried them, and we truly loved them!
Queso helado translates to “frozen cheese” or “cheese ice cream,” but there is actually no cheese in this sweet ice cream. It is made from milk, sugar, and cinnamon. This mixture is first heated on a stove until it has a custard-like consistency and then flavored with cinnamon, coconut flakes, and nutmeg. It is a traditional sweet treat from the region of Arequipa.
Suspiro a la Limena
Suspiro a la limena is a light and creamy dessert, typically served in a small glass or cup. It has a base of condensed milk, egg yolks, and vanilla cooked until it has a custard-like consistency. The treat is then topped with meringue from egg whites and sugar.
Arroz con leche
Arroz con leche translates to “rice with milk” in English. It is a sweet dish where white rice is cooked in milk, sugar, and cinnamon until it is soft and sweet. It is comparable to rice pudding.
Arroz con leche is incredibly popular throughout Peru, but you’ll find street food stands in the evenings all over Lima. The central park in Miraflores, Parque Kennedy, has several world-famous arroz con leche stands, one featured in a Netflix documentary about street food worldwide.
Peruvian churros are very similar to Mexican churros but with a little twist. Churros are thin, fried dough sticks covered in sugar. The churros in Peru are a little thicker and longer and filled with chocolate, dulce de leche (sweet milk), or other flavorings. The churros in Peru are almost always served as one long piece (rather than small pieces as in Mexico) and stuffed with some filling.
Alfajores are one of Peru’s most famous sweets. Alfajores are two soft, crumbling cookies sandwiched together with a sweet filling (usually dulce de leche, caramel, or jam). They are often covered with powdered sugar or other sweet seasonings.
Butifarra is a traditional Peruvian sandwich typically made with pork loin marinated in vinegar and garlic and roasted until tender and juicy. The pork is sliced thin and served on a French bread roll with classic toppings and condiments.
Charqui is thinly sliced, dried meat. It is usually made from beef or alpaca meat. It is first marinated in vinegar, salt, and spices and then hung out to dry for several days. This is a great way to try a small piece of alpaca meat if you are curious about that one but don’t want to commit to a full meal.
Papa rellena translates to “stuffed potato” in English. Papa rellena is a ball of mashed potato, with some meat, pieces of a hardboiled egg, and other seasonings at the center, deep fried until crispy. It is served with some condiments. You can find papa rellena on many lunch and dinner menus, but you can also find some of the best papa rellenas from street stalls.
Chicharron is a popular Peruvian snack made from fried pork belly or pork shoulder. The pork is deep-fried until the outside is very crispy, and the meat on the inside is juicy. You’ll find different variations of chicharron across Peru and Latin America.
Chica morada is basically the national juice of Peru. It is made from purple corn, fruit, and spices. The purple corn, unique to the Andes region, is boiled with pineapple, cinnamon, and cloves until dark and fragrant. The mixture is strained with other additions like sugar, diced fruit, and spices.
Mate de coca
Mate de coca is a traditional Peruvian tea made from the coca plant leaves. It is incredibly popular in high-altitude towns, such as Cusco and Huaraz, as it can help prevent and handle altitude sickness. Its flavor is rather mild (a bit like a light green tea). But don’t drink too much of it, as it’s high in caffeine content and you’ll stay awake for hours!
Pisco sour is a popular alcoholic drink from Pisco, a brandy produced in Peru and Chile. The cocktail is typically made with Pisco, lime juice, simple syrup, and egg white and served chilled in a glass. Different variations, such as Mango Pisco and other fruit flavors, can also be found.
Inca Kola is the local Peruvian soft drink or soda. It is a bright yellow and smells strongly of sweet syrup or cotton candy. It is a very sugary, flavorful soda. Most travelers don’t seem to like it (I tried it during my first trip to Peru but was not keen on trying it again on later trips), but it’s extremely popular in Peru. Many locals seem very proud of Peru’s Inca Kola.
The coastal regions of Peru are perfect conditions for vineyards, so it should be no surprise that Peru is home to some delicious and unique wine. Peruvian wine is known to have rich, earthy, and acidic undertones. We drank several wines from the Intipalka winery of Pisco and we actually really liked them – and trust me, we love a good wine!
How To Make The Most Of Peruvian Cuisine
Join a food tour
Going on a food tour is the best way of getting acquainted with Peruvian Food. Because Peru has such diverse cuisine, and endless options (especially in Lima), it can be hard to find the best of the best. That’s where a good tour comes in handy. We did a street food tour in Lima the day we arrived, and not only we tasted some delicious Peruvian food, but we also learned a lot about the local culture and even Peruvian history!
A food tour can take you to the city’s most well-known hidden gems. It is a great way to experience a city or town in Peru while learning about the different types of meals and ingredients.
We went on this Historic Center Street Food and Old Taverns tour. It is a popular option that takes you to several restaurants – including some that made the history of Peruvian cuisine and food stands to sample many different flavors of Peru. I wholeheartedly recommend it!
Other recommended options would be this Ultimate Peruvian Food Tour or this Miraflores Trending Flavors tour that actually take place in Barranco and in Miraflores, two of Lima’s nicest neighborhoods.
If you find yourself in Arequipa, you may want to try this 5-tastings food tour that includes dessert too.
Make sure to also read my post A Short Guide To Barranco, Lima and 13 Best Things To Do In Miraflores Peru.
Experiment with a cooking class
A cooking class is a fun way to learn about Peruvian food and the culture behind each dish. And if you find you like a local meal, you can learn how to make it yourself! You can bring the recipe home to share with your friends and family.
Peru has some excellent cooking classes throughout the country.
This cooking class in Lima is a highly-rated course that includes a market tour.
If you are in Cusco, you may want to join this cooking class that takes place at the Choco Museum.
You should also read my post 24 Unmissable Things To Do In Cusco, Peru.
Visit local Peruvian markets
Most Peruvian cooking classes will take you to the market to shop for all the local ingredients and spices. But if you don’t have time, you should visit a local market alone.
We literally made it a point to visit the market in each city and small town we went to (our favorites were the market in Arequipa, which is right in the historic center, and the main market in Cusco) and that’s how we discovered many flavors and ingredients.
The markets have huge baskets filled with unique herbs, vegetables, and other ingredients. It’s a great way to see what is popular and common in Peruvian cuisine.
Go out of your comfort zone
Some popular dishes of Peruvian cuisine may look very foreign and unappealing (I certainly felt that way about antojitos). But if you’re open to it, you should step outside your comfort zone for a second to experience some completely new bites of Peru.
Most people would not swoon over the chance to try guinea pig or alpaca, but these dishes have a deep history in Peruvian culture and reflect much about the region.
Look for crowded joints
One of the best ways to find the most popular and best local spots is to walk the streets and settle in one of the most crowded restaurants. There are so many amazing restaurants in Peru, so finding a simple lunch spot can be overwhelming. But if you follow the crowd, you will surely not be disappointed.
That’s how we came across La Morena, which quickly became our favorite restaurant in Cusco. While it definitely has more of an international audience, locals seem to appreciate it too!
The menu del dia, or “menu of the day,” is also very popular in Peru. This usually consists of an appetizer (sometimes a soup and an appetizer), a main dish, and a beverage. This is a great way to try some popular dishes of Peruvian cuisine.
Head over to my post 7 Best Restaurants In Cusco.
Ask locals about their favorite spots
You can always ask locals for recommendations if you can’t find the most crowded spots. A good person to ask is your hostel or hotel receptionist. We also asked our guides for recommendations on places to try the best Peruvian food and their tips never failed us. Peruvians are incredibly proud of their cuisine (why wouldn’t they be, it’s delicious!) and will most likely be more than happy to point you in the right direction.
For more useful information to help you plan your trip to Peru, you may want to read the following posts:
- 25 Things To Know Before Visiting Peru
- Is Lima Safe For Tourists?
- 33 Incredible Things To Do In Lima, Peru
- The Best Time To Visit Peru
- A 2 Weeks Classic Peru Itinerary