I haven’t done one of these in months, so needless to say this is long overdue. I hope to return to a monthly posting for this series since I know that most people who love to travel also love the food aspect of it too!
(The churros are also quite delicious!)
While its cuisine is nowhere near as famous or well-known as that of Mexican or Cuban food, Peruvian food is in one word, delicious. Save for a few “unfortunate” meals, almost everything I ate in Peru was scrumptious and in the months I’ve been back, has me constantly craving Peruvian dishes. Sadly for me, the somewhat classy Peruvian establishment in Pittsburgh that I dined at on two occasions (Aji Picante, you can read my review here), has long since been closed, but thankfully there’s still the much more casual Chicken Latino. If you ever visit Peru here are five foods you don’t want to miss, although if a trip to that amazing South American country is not in your immediate future, definitely seek out a Peruvian restaurant in your area. If you live in a decent size city, there’s bound to be one (if not more).
I first tried aji gallina at Aji Picante and was immediately entranced by its taste. The word aji actually refers to the pepper of the same name which is also yellow (aji gallina sauce will be a bright yellow). In a nutshell, aji gallina is a “chicken in a spicy sauce” dish. While sometimes I am apprehensive over dishes with creamy sauces, thankfully every time I’ve had aji (both in the States and Peru), I’ve never had any issues so I definitely take that as a sign that I’m meant to consume it…a lot. It’s always served with a hardboiled egg as a garnish and on top of a bed of white rice. This is what I had our first day in Cusco.
It was my Peruvian friend who first told me about lomo saltado (I had never heard of it before). It’s one of Peru’s most popular dishes and is a stir fry of sirloin or other beef steak, mixed with garlic and cumin powder, Spanish onions, tomatoes, and already cooked French fries, along with coriander and parsley in white rice. I made this dish myself prior to my trip to Peru (you can access that post and recipe by clicking here) and had it for lunch on the day I visited Machu Picchu at a delightful restaurant in Aguas Calientes. Nothing could be sublimely better than a dish with stir-fried meats, vegetables, and fries, am I right?
Corn Nuts (Cancha)
While this is hardly unique to Peru (corn nuts are also popular in Colombia), it’s still a snack I highly recommend trying and one that you’ll most likely have a chance to consume constantly. Known as cancha in South America, corn nuts are prepared by soaking whole corn kernels in water for three days, then deep-frying them in oil until they are hard and brittle. The reason for soaking them is that the kernels shrink during the harvesting and cleaning process but rehydration returns them to their original size. In Peru these have often been flavored with some type of seasoning, usually spicy. I first saw these at the many tourist stalls set up at the salt pools of Salineras; vendors would let you sample them for free. During our lovely (but rushed) lunch at the Museo Larco restaurant, they were also served just like a basket of bread would be given. Thankfully, Williams-Sonoma sells them, although I will say it’s not quite the same.
In many ways tacu-tacu reminded me of my beloved Costa Rican dish, gallo pinto, as both are rice and beans-style dishes. I first had tacu-tacu at our hotel’s breakfast in Ollantaytambo. Tacu-tacu came about as a way to use up leftover rice and beans. The leftover rice is mixed with cooked, seasoned Canary beans, and then fried in a skillet to make a large patty. At breakfast, mine was served with a fried egg, although on our last full night in Peru I ordered it for my meal and it came with a grilled thin steak. It’s an extremely simple dish and yet one that is very historic in its origins.
Not to be confused with the Mexican taquito, tequeños are a popular appetizer throughout Peru and a staple at both cafes and private parties. I had these for the first time at the Museo del Pisco and they were delicious-who doesn’t like fried cheese wonton sticks? I equate them to the Spanish croquette, something I could eat copious amounts of in a very short period of time. If you’re ever at a bar in Peru and want something to have with your pisco sour, I definitely recommend ordering a plate of these sinfully little culinary creatures.
Which of these five things I showcased here would you like to try the most?