Peruvian cuisine: The good, the bad and the cuy
FELIZ DIA DE ACCION DE GRACIAS! and happy Thanksgiving to all my gringitos. Although they don’t celebrate Thanksgiving here in Peru, we are having our own dinner in the IFSA office. I’m in charge of the pumpkin pie. Since Thanksgiving is the day in which we gather together with loved ones to give thanks and stuff our faces, I figured it would be a good time to talk about Peruvian food!
I’ll start off my saying Limeñans love their rice. I eat rice –usually accompanied by potatoes — basically everyday. Obviously, I’ve grown pretty sick of it. Everyday Peruvian food isn’t all that great. Breakfast and dinner are usually pretty much the same for me: 2 dinner rolls with various toppings included but not limited to olives, ham, cheese, marmalade (the marmalade here is suuuuper delicious) accompanied by either a mixture of kiwicha and “Kwa-ker” (aka Quaker oatmeal) at breakfast or a soup at dinner. The main meal here is lunch, which usually has an entrada and a segundo. When you go out, you can usually find places with menus in which you get soup or salad, your choice of entree and a drink all for around s./8 more or less.
Since day to day food is pretty boring, I’ll focus on the things I LOVE and will miss greatly when I’m gone. I’ll begin with my all time favorite, lomo saltado.
It’s basically a tasty stir fry of beef, onions, tomatoes and cilantro. It’s served with fries and rice (shocking). This dish is also a reflection of Peru’s Chinese population and their influence over the country’s cuisine. Lomo saltado is typically cooked in a wok and seasoned with soy sauce.
…Which leads me to chifa, Peruvian Chinese food. Peru’s Chinese population immigrated to the country after slavery was abolished, as a source of cheap labor. Lima has a good sized Chinatown, but there are chifas everywhere. What makes chifa so distinct is its use of Peruvian flavors, ingredients and spices combined with more traditional Cantonese cuisine. Ask any Peruvian and they will tell you their Chinese food is better than China’s. My favorite is arroz chaufa, their variation on fried rice.
Another of my favorite Peruvian dishes is tacu tacu. It’s a mixture of rice and beans that are fried, topped with a fried egg and served with fried banana and a breaded pan-fried steak. It’s taaaasty.
There are lots of other traditional Peruvian dishes that are pretty yummy: aji de gallina, pollo a la brasa, papa rellena, sebiche, arroz con pollo and each region has it’s own specialty. The cool thing about Peruvian cuisine is that it reflects a fusion of the country’s diverse population: African, Chinese, Japanese, Italian, indigenous, French, German…and what a delicious fusion it is.
Peru also has some distinct beverages. The national cocktail is the Pisco Sour which is made with a special type of grape brandy called pisco. The drink is made with lemon juice, pisco, egg whites and bitters and is deceivingly tasty. The national drink is Inca Kola, a bright yellow pop that tastes like cotton candy and bubblegum. It’s supposed to taste like hierba louisa or lemongrass, but it absolutely doesn’t. Peruvians adore it, particularly with chifa.
My personal favorite is chicha morada, a sweet drink made from purple corn boiled with pineapple and spices. It has almost an apple cider-y taste, but minus the apple…the flavor is distinct but yummy just the same.
I will also miss the AMAZING fruit. Even the bananas taste better here. There are also all kinds of fruits you can’t find in the states. My favorites are: granadilla, camu camu, maracuyá, mango and pepino. Obviously, they also have delicious fruit juices everywhere, freshly prepared.
Living in Peru has also given me the opportunity to eat some interesting things. Most notably, cuy known to you as your pet guinea pig. To be honest, the tiny creature hardly has any meat on it. It’s all bones. I had a difficult time eating it because it had the head intact. I don’t like to eat things with eyelashes… But people say it’s tasty if prepared correctly and it’s an important food for much of the country’s population in the sierra. I’ll leave it to them. I also had the opportunity to try anticuchos which are kabobs of cow’s heart. My host mom cooked them at home and she assured my they are much tastier when you eat them at a restaurant. It wasn’t that bad, just a little tough, but I can imagine they are better when served up hot on the skewer.
So, I recommend you seek out a Peruvian restaurant ASAP as I am sure you’re now hungry for some lomo saltado. I know I am.
Last weekend I spent some time in the province of Piura in the small beach town of Máncora. We got some sun and relaxed before finals begin next week! I have less that 3 weeks left in Lima and am finding myself scrambling to do everything I want to before I leave. I’m excited to get back to Chicago to spend the holidays with my family (and eat my favorite foods from home) but I’m sad to be leaving my life here in Lima– especially my host mom. As I reflect more and more on my experience here in Peru, I realize it has been once in a lifetime and has impacted me greatly… but that’s another post.
¡Un beso y un fuerte abrazo! Chau chau