I approached this post intending to have a good mix of dishes from Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia, but it would be dishonest to claim that anything I ate in Ecuador or Colombia even came close to competing with Peru’s incredible food. For whatever reason, Ecuador and Colombia have typical Latin American food (which, by the way, is not the same as Mexican food – Mexican food is much better), while Peru has a unique and thriving culinary culture. Frommer’s says it’s among “the best and most diverse cuisines in Latin America;” Gourmet Magazine dedicated eleven pages of its August 2006 issue to Lima’s budding gastronomy; the Economist claimed that Peru can “lay claim to one of the world’s dozen or so great cuisines.”

I can’t explain the cultural divide in cuisine. I never tried while I was there. I just put fork to mouth and enjoyed every bite. Here are my Top Five foods from the trip and the area where I ate them, all of which are in Peru.

5. Rocoto Relleno in Arequipa

I’ve tried to describe to people what is so good about rocoto relleno and have so far failed. Here I try again. Rocoto Relleno is stuffed pepper, which of course isn’t unique to Peru and not particularly hard to prepare (even I did it in college sometimes). Thing is, the rocoto in Arequipa was so delicious that I had it three times in two days, and only didn’t have it more than that because it wasn’t offered during those other meals. The perfect combination of spicy, crunchy, and filling, these are a must-eat if you’re traveling in the south of Peru. Try it in the city of Arequipa on your way out to Sibayo, Yanque, or Coporaque.

Palpa, Ica, Peru

Smoked Pork

4. Smoked Pork and Orange Juice in Ica

There is a restaurant called Cerdito al Humo (Smoked Pork) in the community of Palpa in the south of Peru that smokes the pork right in the backyard of the restaurant. It’s definitely one of the top three pork dishes I’ve ever had. Soft, juicy, and utterly delicious, they complement their smoked pork with homemade orange juice that has just a touch of honey in it and uses the locally-grown oranges for which Palpa is famous.

Lima, Peruvian food

Menú

3. Typical Menú Anywhere in Peru

One of the first things that excited me about Peru was menú. This is the blanket name for receiving a lunch that consists of a soup, a main dish, and a juice, all in one price. All in one low price. I pretty commonly paid something to the tune of $2 for menú and that excited me every single day for two full months.  Soups and main dishes all depend on where you are and what the restaurant happens to be serving that day. My two favorite menús were lomo saltado – beef and vegetables and French fries all cooked together – and pollo guisado, which is stewed chicken, vegetables, and rice.  My least favorite were anything that contained cow stomach or intestine (BTW I’m not averse to weird foods – my favorite sushi is eel – but I can’t stand the texture or the taste of stomach or intestine). They do do menú in Ecuador and Colombia as well, but it’s just not the same as Peru.

2. Ceviche in Tumbes

I had ceviche all up and down the coast of Peru and enjoyed every plate of it, but the ceviche in Tumbes city in the very north was in a league by itself. Perfect texture, perfect flavor, the spicy and smooth perfectly balanced – I don’t think I’ll ever have a better ceviche.

Huaraz, Peruvian food

Pachamanca

1. Pachamanca in Huaraz

Pachamanca is not a food but a meal prepared a certain way. I’m not an expert on the cooking method but you essentially wrap bananas, chicken, beef, pork, and corn in banana leaves and then cook them underground for a few hours (similar to Hawaiian-style barbeque). What emerges from the earth is a gigantic plate of cooked meats, vegetables, and fruits that you eat with your hands. Before pursuing pachamanca, I have to warn you: There Will be Drool. I ate two people’s worth of it and kept going, not because I was still hungry, but because I could think of no other option but to keep eating the delectable mess in front of me. It is best anywhere in Ancash and is only served on weekends (specifically Sundays).

 

I don’t place anywhere else in Latin America on my list of culinary powerhouses, but Peru can quite honestly compete with the likes of Thailand, China, France, Japan, and other famous food destinations.