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Peru Food and Drink

Peruvian food has begun to win international acclaim in recent years, but the locals have known about-and celebrated-its unique ingredients, diverse flavors and interesting fusions for a long time. In Peru, food is a window into the society as a whole; Peruvian recipes reflect the country's unique geography, its openness to blend cultures, and its use of ancient cooking techniques in modern dishes. Luckily for travelers, this gustatory tour through the history and culture of Peru is quite affordable; even in the more upmarket restaurants, prices are much lower than in equivalent restaurants back home.

Traditional Food of Peru

For the indigenous cultures of Peru, like the Moche, Chimu and Inca, food centered around the crops, animals and fish that could be found locally, and much of that sentiment still remains. The Andes region yielded hundreds of varieties of corn and potatoes, many of which are still available in Peruvian restaurants today. The lucuma fruit, revered by the ancient Moche, remains Peru's favorite flavor of ice cream. Even the humble lima bean, called a pallar, has been cultivated for thousands of years in Peru, its country of origin (and from whose capital the bean takes its name). Though these ingredients can be found anywhere in Peru now, many of Peru's traditional dishes are still associated with particular regions of the country.

Food of the Peruvian Coast

The quintessential Peruvian coastal dish is ceviche, raw seafood (often fish) marinated in chiles and lime juice and served with sweet potatoes, toasted corn and seaweed. Other typical coastal foods include causa and papa rellena, both of which involved mashing and stuffing a potato; escabeche, in which chicken or fish is cooked in a tangy vinegar and onion sauce; and aji de gallina, which features shredded chicken in a spicy, creamy sauce.

Food of the Andes

In the Peruvian mountains, the diet of indigenous people remains nearly the same as it has been for hundreds of years. Staples include corn, potatoes and the meat from animals such as alpacas and guinea pigs, or cuy. The idea of eating a furry little animal may seem repulsive to many foreigners, but cuy is a common food that is considered a delicacy by many in the region. When in the area you are sure to walk down a street and see restaurant after restaurant roasting up guinea pig. If you are feeling brave, try one-it definitely will be an experience you will never forget.

A pachamanca is a special highland meal, usually reserved for celebrations. It is made from a variety of meats, herb and vegetables, which are slowly cooked underground on heated stones. It is a rather tedious process, which requires the cook to be very skillful.

Food of the Amazon

Fruits and vegetables make up the basis of the jungle diet. If you make the trip to the Amazon basin, you are sure to encounter many foods that are foreign to you, like turtle and game animals. A popular fruit is camu camu, which is a small reddish, purple fruit that resembles a cherry and has an extremely high Vitamin C content.

Peruvian Fusion Food

Peru has experienced mass immigration from places such as Spain, China, Africa, Japan and Italy. These immigrants brought their own techniques and tastes and combined them with traditional Peruvian cooking. This has yielded a cuisine that fuses together the food of the Americas, Africa and Asia. One of the most popular mixed cuisines in Peru is chifa, or Peruvian-influenced Chinese food. You will also find many Peruvian meals, such as lomo saltado (a dish of beef stir-fried with vegetables, spices, soy sauce and potatoes), which combine traditional Peruvian food with Chinese influences. A popular dish called tiradito, raw slices of fish marinated in lime and ginger, shows the role that Japanese cooking has played in Peru.

Peruvian Desserts

Those with a sweet tooth will not be disappointed with the desserts and sweets of Peru. There are many very popular and delicious choices from which to select. Helados, or ice creams, are one of the most popular treats. Besides traditional ice cream flavors, such as chocolate and vanilla, you can often find exotic flavors made with local fruits. Another common dessert option is alfajores, lemon-flavored pastries with a sweet, creamy filling. Turrones, similar to fudge, are also very popular. They are most commonly made from almonds, although some are made from honey.

International Food in Peru

If your time in Peru leaves you a bit homesick, you will be glad to know that many fast food establishments are present in major cities. Kentucky Fried Chicken is particularly popular in Peru. There is even Starbucks in Lima, if you simply must have a Frappuccino. Major cities like Lima and Arequipa, as well as tourist centers like Cusco, are littered with international restaurants serving food from pizza to pad thai.

Vegetarian Food in Peru

Cities and tourist hot spots tend to have at least a couple of vegetarian restaurants, many of which are excellent and good-value. In small towns and villages, however, vegetarians may struggle to find options other than rice, beans, potatoes and salad.

Where to eat on the cheap

Restaurants all over Peru-from big cities to tiny villages-offer inexpensive multi-course lunches, called almuerzos. Almuerzos are set-menu lunches with usually only one or two options, and include soup, meat or fish, rice, potatoes and a small salad. This is the best way for the traveler on a budget to fill up on hearty, hot food. Restaurants serving almuerzo do not usually have printed menus, but instead will often have a sign in the window advertising today's lunch. Almuerzo is generally served between noon and 3 p.m.

What to Drink in Peru

The most popular drink in Peru is, by far, the Pisco Sour. It is made with pisco, which is a type of brandy distilled from grapes. The brandy is then mixed with egg white, lemon, sugar syrup and spirits. See the article Pisco Sour for more information about Pisco, iincluding how to make the perfect Pisco Sour.

The wine industry in Peru has also been gaining more attention. Though the grape growing region is quite small and doesn't boast the production scale or reputation of larger markets in neighboring Chile or Argentina, the quality of wines is comparable. In particular, good wines can be found in the Ica region, which enjoys fertile soils and the cool air of the Humboldt Current, blessing the area with ideal conditions for the cultivation of wine grapes. Peru's best wineries—or bodegas—are located here. Grape harvest is annually celebrated with lively parades, marching bands, and tastings in Ica every March during the colorful National Vintage Festival.

Chicha is a popular alcoholic drink in the Andes. It is made with fermented corn and herbs (a variant of Chica is Chica Morada, a bright purple drink made with purple corn). Be careful when drinking Chica though-it can have a deceptively high alcohol content!

As for non-alcoholic drinks, soft drinks are very popular, especially Inca Kola, Peru's bright yellow answer to Coca Cola. Its flavor resembles bubble gum, and most Peruvians enjoy it at room temperature from a glass bottle. Launched in 1935, the cola has seen great success in Peru; it has consistently had higher sales then both Coca Cola and Pepsi. In 1999 however, Coca Cola bought 59% of the Inca Kola Corporation and 30% of the Lindley Corporation (who produce Inca Kola) for 300 million dollars. In return, Lindley Corporation was given the rights to bottle all Coca Cola products in Peru, and Coca Cola was given permission to bottle and sell Inca Kola in other countries.

Fresh juices are also widely available, but be careful because they are often prepared with tap water. Most restaurants in touristy areas know to make the juice with purified or boiled water, but a hole in the wall probably won’t.

Don't drink tap water anywhere in Peru, unless you want to spend a day or two in the bathroom. Boil water or buy it bottled-it's plentiful and cheap.

Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to Peru: Buying Tickets , Peru Border Crossings, Media in Peru, History of Lima, Studying Spanish in Peru, Regional Summaries, Politics in Peru, Safety on the Pacific Coast south of Lima, Safety in Peru and When to go.

05 Jun 2012

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