Peruvian Food

PeruFood-fish1In Australia, we are pretty spoiled when it comes to food. Being a nation founded on immigration, each group of people that has come to our shores has brought their fruits and vegetables, spices and herbs, and their recipes. It means that on any given day you can go to the markets and pick up all the ingredients required to make almost any meal. 

PeruFood-main2One of the things I love about visiting a new country is trying all the food. Just because we have such variety at home doesn't mean we have it all. In fact, if you go to restaurant you'll often get an Australianised version of a traditional dish, so the only way to get the real thing is to eat it in country. I've never seen a Peruvian restaurant in Adelaide, so I was really interested to see what I could find.

Peru is home to some really interesting tastes, but in order to appreciate it, you need a little background information first.

 PeruFood-main4Peru is the home of the potato, that remarkable staple of the global diet. There are 200 native varieties of potato and with domestication and experimentation there are now of 3000 varieties available to the world. Corn is also a staple, having been introduced centuries ago, and available in varieties I didn't even know existed. Here golden corn, that ever so lovely an juicy cob favoured in Australia is animal feed. The Peruvians prefer to eat the white corn which grows to massive proportions with kernals as big as 1-2cms. The flavour is a little different to the golden corn, not quite as sweet. They also brew a drink with the black corn which is very tasty. 

As for meat, the Peruvians are and agrarian society so they don't waste anything. Every muscle and organ is used, sometimes rather inventively. The primary animals for meat is: Cows, Bulls, Sheep, Alpaca, Lamb, Chicken, Pig, and Guinea Pig.


For grains, they have Quinoa (an excellent protein), Amaranth, Wheat, Oats, etcetera, then a range of nuts, and all the herbs you could ask for although the popular ones seem to be peppers, basil, oregano, mint, and salt. And a range of tropical fruits that are as varied in range as they are in taste.

Oh, and one more thing, Peruvians like their food hot. Every restaurant table has pot of hot sauce which varies in flavour and heat depending on the restaurant. 

PeruFood-main3The traditional diet (as told to me by my guide here in Peru) is:

Breakfast – Bread and Milk

Lunch – Soup followed by a dish of meat, vegetables and rice

Dinner – Small meal of vegetables and rice, usually leftovers 

So now that you've had your brief introduction, how about I tell you about some of the amazing, exceptional and strange flavours I have encountered in my travels?


PeruFood-finalentreePeruFood-main5Alpaca, is a gamey meat, not dissimilar to goat but drier on the palate. In Peru, Alpaca is widely available and in a variety of dishes. I have tried is as a straight fried fillet, in a range of marinades, and on pizza. For the most part it is a beautiful tasting meat, so long as it not overcooked, which unfortunately is something the Peruvians like to do. It's very hard to get a rare-medium cooked meat. It's all medium well to well done.



Ceviche, is Peru's national dish and it is raw fish. Well, they say it's raw fish, but it's not really. It is cured fish. The best fish is white and from the ocean. I tried this in Nazca prior to a night bus across the country, so if something went wrong after this dish I would have been pretty uncomfortable. As it is, nothing went wrong, and the dish was delicious. The ceviche came served with a mushrooms, shredded roast chicken, lettuce, with a lemon juice and chilli dressing. The flavour was tart but delicate and had my mouth salivating. There is a reason hat this is the national dish, when done right, it is exquisite. My advice, only have it when in a town near the ocean, that way the fish is freshest.

Chicha, is fermented corn and is quite possibly one of the cheapest alcohols I've ever come across. 1 pint cost me 0.50 Sols which equates to around AU0.20. The alcohol content varies from place to place the same as the quality. Why would this not be standardised? Well, it's all backyard still. You walk around towns such as Ollantaytambo you look out for a red flag on a pole hanging over a backdoor and you find the bar. Traditionally, before your first sip, you splash some onto the earth as an offering to Pacha Mamma. I've had four Chichas now, and each has been diferent. One tasted like Gruppa, another like Vodka, one was sweet and the last was sour. It is well worth the experience of trying it, but on't jut go wandering into a persons home, use a local guide to get you in as you don't want to offend and I'm sure the guides Quechua will be better than yours.

Chicha Morada, is the juice of the purple or black corn. It is found in restaurants and is an alternative to juice or sot drink. It is a refreshing beverage with a rich flavour and is quite filling.

Chicha Frutilad, is another chicha drink bu this time mixed with strawberry. It's not as refreshing as Morada but is very satisfying and filling. The chcicha is subtle against the fruit, adding a spicey tone, complemented by a sprinkling of cinnamon. A half litre cost me 1.50 Sols.


Ubre Apanada, is apparently a local delicacy in Cuzco. It is a deep fried Cow Udder served with roast potatoes, rice, and sliced tomato. It has a texture like pork fat, and looks like crackling. It even tastes like fat. To eat this dish, you need to add the spicy sauce. The one on offer with this dish was a pesto style sauce – basil, peanuts, chilli, parsley, all blended and kept very thin opposed to the thick pestos of home.

PeruFood-finalmain2PeruFood-finalmain1Cuy (Guinea Pig), is dry and tasty. The taste is very similar to that of rabbit, and it is quite lean. The skin cooks up like crackling. It is quite small and very fiddly similar to eating quail, and you must use your hands to eat it. The knife and fork is considered an insult with this dish. Sometimes when it is served, it is a whole Guinea Pig, other times it is quartered and served without the head, or with the head. If you receive the head on your plate, you must eat the flesh, eyes and brain which can be quite off-putting to your dining guests. There are many ways to prepare Cuy, but the way I had it on my last night in Peru was the best – Roasted.


Other Peru Articles:

August 26 2011 – Lake Titicaca

Lake Titicaca is the 5th largest lake in the world, and highest navigable lake in the world (), crossing the border between Peru and Bolivia, and was the primary route for trade between the two nations before good highways and roads were constructed and the railways and heavy water transit was rendered obsolete. More importantly though are the people that populate the coastal regions and its many islands.

My trip here over today and tomorrow will take me to the island of Taquille where I will meet some of their people and learn of their customs, then Lukina community on the Chuquito peninsula where I will spend the night with a family, then on to visit the Isla Flotante de Los Uros (The Floating Islands).

The lake is where it gets linguistically complicated, there are three languages at work here: Spanish, Quechua, and Aymara.

First off, how to pronounce the name : ti-ti-kha-ka. The kha sound is almost like clearing your throat. The name is made of two parts:

Titi – Puma

Caca – Stone

Apparently, long ago, the islands were full of Puma.

Once upon a time the lake was filled with hundreds of sails and large floating behemoths tearing across its still waters. Now, there is only the occasional sail, and the giant transports are replaced by small ones carrying tourists to the islands or contraband between countries.

Our transport cuts through the calm waters, creating a small wake, with nary a lilt or a dip. We pass through a channel of Totora reeds that grow in the shallows (2 ½ metres maximum depth) which are use for a range of local constructions. Hundreds of metres from shore and the water is so clear,a light blue/green, I can see the bottom scattered with a small forest of weeds.

It takes a few hours to travel to Taquille, our first stop. The island rises steeply off to our side, the hill sides stepped and tiered according to the old ways. We pull into the dock, a small rock jetty jutting from the rocky shore, and disembark. We walk to the Heffe and show our documents, then off up the steep rock walkway to the village. The Heffe, here wears all black and a fedora, this is the imagery of power here. Power also doesn't bring money, it's a job of prestige not income. The culture on this island is a bit different from any of the others I have encountered so far.

The society is quite balanced in regard to duties at home and in society. The males must all know how to sew and knit (it provides them with status, and is the only way they will ever be wed). They are responsible for the production of hats, shoals, and skirts. If the man is married, then he is responsible for clothing his daughters. The women make belts, adornments and special gifts for weddings.

Single women hide their faces with a shoal/headdress, signifying their status. It is hard to meet a partner here as single people aren't allowed to go to the celebrations, as only married people have status in this society. The Aymara people of this island love to celebrate and they will drink the chicha until quite intoxicated. When the married people return home to sleep off their imbibing, the single people will go out into the night with a flash-light and meet each other. They use the light and small stones to get the attention of a potential mate, then nature takes its course. This goes on until the single person finds someone and they get married.

For the wedding, the woman makes a man-bag for her husband, which he will wear for the rest of his life and use to store his coca leaves. The groom will sew his wife's hair into his belt and wear it also for the rest of his life.

The town operates as a collective, with a central store to sell their wares opposite the town hall in the square. The view here is incredible, looking out over the lake into the green blue beyond. You can see the coastline and other islands amongst the still waters.

Lunch on the island is at a home/restaurant. We walk a meandering path out of the square past small shops selling chocolates, drinks and souvenirs, and other home/restaurants. There are a vast number of these shops and apparently the island doesn't require the income generated by these shops, it just provides extra. With the choice of home/restaurant it comes down to who you get as a guide, each guide has a relationship with a restaurant owner and thus it is balanced out. This island receives a great many boats such as ours each week and thus tourism provides a great deal extra for the island.

Our lunch today included: Toq To's – a traditional bread that is lightly fried similar to a doughnut, quinoa soup, and trout from the lake served with chips, rice and salsa, finished with coca tea. It's a tasty and filling lunch. The trout was fried on a wood stove and tasted excellent. There is a satisfaction that comes from eating simple 'peasant' food, after all it is the reason it persists to be the most widely consumed style of food in the face of all the cooking shows, 'peasant' food is pretty much the best in the world.

After our lunch we walk across the island down to where our boat is moored. From here we will travel to the Lukina Community, where we will spend the night with a local family. The Lukina community is on the Chuquito peninsula.

Other Peru Articles:

August 21 2011 Machu Picchu

I have no idea what to expect from today. I have waited such a long time, as anyone who reads this blog will know.

The day starts early for most of the group, for me it's just another morning wakeup. 5:30am up, 6am breakfast, 6:30 out. We walk to the bus station to catch the bus up the mountain to Machu Picchu. The line is quite long with everyone wanting to see a glorious dawn bring the city from out of night. The thing is these people have read too many travelogues and do not get that there are few true sunrises in the Andes. For the most part, the sky lightens to grey then around the 8:30-9am mark the light changes to regular golden daylight as the clouds dissipate.

The bus journey takes around 20 minutes up the mountainside, winding its way slowly to the parking lot. At the parking lot the line is still long as security check each ticket to allow entry. There are a set amount of people allowed into Machu Picchu per day, and each day it's a sell-out. It's like the Inca Trail, only less rigorous. The Inca Trail allows 500 per day of which 300 are cooks, porters and guides. So the line takes around another 20 minutes to clear and then we are through for our tour.

The two hour tour takes us through the major features that everybody does here. The end of the Inca Trail, the Rock of the Southern Cross, the Sun Dial, the Andean Cross.

For me, what I wanted was to take my shoes off and touch the earth beneath my feet, and listen to world. After the tour I did just that. Then, I put my shoes back on and I ran. It must have been coming down from the altitude but I was energised. I ran to the Wina Picchu entrance to try and bribe my way through. It used to be free, but a month ago with the anniversary, they changed the rules. Only 400 a day, 200 at 8am and 200 at 10am. I tried to use US$20 to get through but the two guards would have none of it, they wanted 50 each and I couldn't work out if it was Sols or US$ so I turned around and ran again this time to the Inca Bridge, passing my tour group on the way. They said “slow down and enjoy the scenery”, to which I replied “I am”.

I ran, taking in the scenery, my camera flashing at the scenery as I went. I overtook all manner of Europeans and some Japanese, signed in at the security station, ran along the cliffs edge and made it. Sadly, I couldn't cross the bridge as it is deemed to dangerous. Considering it was designed to be dropped as invaders attacked, I'm thankful I couldn't cross it.

I paused slightly, then ran back, signed out at security and made my way to Machu Picchu mountain entrance. Once more, the rules have changed and you need to pay 145 Sols at the town hall to be allowed up – 500 a day. The funny thing is the ticket to Machu Picchu is 165 Sols. So, I tried my bribe again and was just flatly refused. So I ran again...

To the Sun Gate. The Sun Gate is at the top of the Inca Trail and offers a grand view. It took me 30 minutes to run up to the top. At the top, I sat on the grass and enjoyed the view, my shoes off again and gripping into the soil, reclining on a cliff face. The view was incredible and difficult to describe with any justice.

After another half an hour, I made my way back down to the city proper and found a nice little room to sit back and recline in, to enjoy my last hour in Machu Picchu. And here is where my brain went splat. Here's my great revelation:

If you feel the need to achieve something, let nothing and no-one stop you from achieving it. If it is important to you, then it will be important to those who share your life and they will do everything they can to ensure you accomplish this thing, the same as you would help them to achieve their goals.

It's a very basic understanding, and one we all now but I think often we forget. I know I do. I have a habit of forgetting myself for the greater good of those around me. So, now I understand the need to be a little selfish for personal growth because anything else is suicide by a thousand cuts.

So, what was I expecting from this place besides a brain splat? I'm not sure but the feeling I am left with is the sense of terrible loss for the world that these great thinkers and engineers have passed from the world. What a world could have been made if only Europeans had come not blinded by gold but with desire to expand their understanding of the world. The knowledge these people possessed of their world was incredible. If we can but decipher the limited writings of the Inca and anything of the pre-Inca, who knows what unique perspective might be added to our own?

Another sad thing about this trip to Machu Picchu, is that many may never have the chance to walk the green terraces and sit amongst the granite walls. Machu Picchu is becoming unstable apparently, and the damage hard to repair. So a platform is going to built whereby people will gaze down upon the city. Apparently this could be in as little as two years. While I don't believe they will permanently close the site, I think they will make the price so incredibly high that only a select few will ever be able to afford the experience.

Other Peru Articles:


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