From llama to cow intestines to ceviche to guinea pig to a LOT of rice and boiled potatoes, Latin America introduced me to a lot of new gastronomical challenges. Some were successes (I love alpaca!), while some left me feeling queasy (spit-roasted guinea pig is not a delicacy for me), but all reminded me that the secret to understanding a culture is through their food. Here is just a taste of what South American cuisine is all about.
Also, for a more detailed look at Peruvian cuisine, don’t forget to check out my post on the most typical Peruvian dishes.
Peru Independence Day was July 28. To celebrate, a friend and I went out to a food fair in Lima, which is reputedly the gastronomical capital of South America. After a night spent stuffing ourselves with traditional Peruvian food and drink, we decided that this is a reputation well-deserved.
If you’re heading to Peru any time in the future, or just looking for some new food to sample, here are some of my top picks:
Ají de Gallina: Chicken and rice in a creamy, aji (hot pepper) sauce. Supposedly it also has peanuts, although I didn’t see any in mine. I found this dish rather mild, so maybe mine didn’t have enough aji.
Anticuchos: This was the toughest one for me to stomach, but one of my favourites. Grilled beef hearts! So delicious and tender!
Arroz con Leche: A sticky and sweet rice pudding. Best served with liquid gelatin topping. Can be served warm or cold.
Carapulcra con Yuca: I only tried a bit of this one, and it wasn’t a huge standout. Boiled potato stew with hot peppers, rice, chicken/pork and garlic. Served with yuca — cassava.
Ceviche: Easily the most famous Peruvian dish. Considering I really dislike fish, I am so proud of myself for having eaten this twice in one week. I actually love it! Raw fish marinated in lime, and served with lots of red onion, dried corn, and sweet potatoes.
Chicha Morada: The juice version of chicha. Non-alcoholic, this juice is made from purple corn and is mixed with pineapple juice and cinnamon.
Chicha: A very traditional Andean drink from the Inca Empire. Fermented purple corn drink, slightly alcoholic. It used to be used in many Inca ceremonies.
Chicharrones: The idea of pork rinds fried in fat is less-than-appetizing, but these are a crunchy, tasty snack!
Lomo Saltado (con Arroz Chaufa): Chinese cuisine meets Peruvian in this dish, a stir-fry with sirloin, onions, parsley, tomatoes, and home-cut french fries in a spiced soy sauce. Normally it is served with white rice, but you can also get it with Arroz Chaufa, rice fried with vegetables, meat, and eggs. These two dishes are a typical example of Chifa — Chinese food modified to include typical Peruvian ingredients, a result of Chinese immigration to Peru in the late 18th and 19th centuries.
Pastel de Papas: A sort of potato pie, which involved a lot of cheese. Also part of my cooking class.
Pollo Broaster: Both Peru and Bolivia are filled with Pollo Broaster restaurants. All feature rotisserie chickens in grease-covered window displays and have severly-questionable hygiene standards. The chicken is overly salty and nothing exceptional, but you are guaranteed to have a true, Peruvian fast-food dinner experience.
Rocoto Relleno: Typical food from Arequipa. Rocoto hot peppers stuffed with a mixture of beef, raisins, eggs, cheese, peas, carrots, milk, and potatoes. These have a real kick to them, but are probably my favourite Peruvian dish! I learnt to cook them in a cooking class in Arequipa!
Salchipapas: A popular Peruvian fast food snack. French fries piles high with cut-up hot dog wieners, mayo, ketchup and/or mustard. Peruvian version of poutine?
Soltero de Queso: A tasty, brightly-coloured salad. Lots of cheese, corn, lima beans, onions, tomatoes, carrots, all tossed with a lime dressing.
Tamales: Beef or vegetables in a layer of mashed corn, all wrapped up in a steamed banana leaf.