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Introduction to Peruvian Food

by: Gary Sargent

One of the great attractions of Peru is its food. Almost every Peruvian dish is prepared with imagination and contains rice and potatoes plus chicken, pork, lamb or fish as the base. Also included in many of the dishes is a different kind of hot pepper native to Peru, which is either of the yellow aji or red rocoto type.

When the Spaniards came to Peru 500 years ago, they introduced chicken, pork and lamb. Potatoes and other ingredients were already being grown in Peru and the Spanish took those back to Europe. Today over 200 kinds of potato can be found in the Lake Titicaca area which vary greatly in size, color and texture. Peruvian potatoes can be brown, blue, yellow, and purple in color and be as small as nuts or as large as oranges.

There are many popular national dishes in Peru. Ceviche is probably the most famous and is fish or mixed seafood with lime, lemon or occasionally sour orange used as a marinade. To give ceviche its gusto, hot peppers, green pepper, garlic and onion are then added to the marinade. The dish is served cold with corn on the cob and slices of cold sweet potato.

Parihuela is another seafood dish which is the like the French bouillabaisse. It is made with fish and shellfish, cooked in a strong broth, and is light enough to be eaten during the summer months. Chicharron is a Peruvian dish that is based on deep fried meat, pork, or seafood. It is usually served with rice and an onion salad called Sarza.

Rocoto relleno has as its base the rocoto chili which is one of the spiciest chilies in the world, at fifty times spicier than a jalapeno. The entire insides and the seeds of the rocoto are removed and filled with fried ground beef and pork mixed with chopped onions and sliced hard-boiled eggs with an additional special seasoning. A slice of mozzarella cheese is placed on top and then baked for fifteen to twenty minutes and served immediately. Aji de gallina is the closest dish you will find to a Peruvian curry, with shredded chicken cooked in a spicy milky-like cheese sauce.

Lomo saltado is a very popular Peruvian dish that is made of fried marinated steak, tomato and onion with fried potatoes, served with white rice.

A very traditional Peruvian dish from the highlands is Cuy which is guinea pig and has a taste similar to rabbit. It is considered a staple of Andean cuisine and can be baked or barbequed and served with a hot sauce. It is typically served on special occasions but many locals will eat it on Sundays each week with the family.

Pachamanca is a very traditional way of cooking meat in the ground, normally on special occasions. A cairn of stones are heated in a hollow in the ground onto which meat and potatoes are placed, covered by further hot rocks and straw and then buried with earth to slow cook.

Other Peruvian favorites include papa la huancaina which is potatoes served with a spicy sauce, olives, lettuce and egg; papa rellena which is potato patties stuffed with meat; and seco de frejoles, which is lamb stew and boiled beans cooked in a green sauce, served on white rice and raw onions seasoned with aji and lemon. A further staple is pollo a la brasa which is spit roasted chicken served with fried potatoes and salad.

The cuisine in Peru varies according to geography with distinctive dishes found on the coast (although these vary from the north to the south), the Andean region and the Amazon basin. A particular favorite in the Amazon jungle for example is Tacacho. This dish consists of balls of mashed, baked and deep fried bananas which are seasoned and spiced and accompanied with either sausage, pork or beef. The dishes listed above are some of the best known but there are plenty more to try. There are also numerous types of soup and desserts (Suspiro Limeno is a particularly good desert) common to Peru, as well as tasty snacks such as empanadas.

In addition, Peru has been influenced by Western culture and dishes such as pizza have become popular. However, they make it their own way by baking in old-style, wood-burning ovens which have been traditionally used for preparing many of Peru's most famous dishes. The Chinese immigrant population has also made their mark with Chinese style "chifa" restaurants being common.

All in all you would need several weeks in Peru to try all the dishes on offer and you can be sure that there is plenty of variety to keep your taste buds interested.

About The Author

Gary Sargent is the Managing Director of the tour companies Escaped to Peru and has lived in South America since 1998. Gary is passionate about life here, the people, customs and places. Visit Gary's website for more Peru travel advice or to book your next Peru vacation at http://www.escapedtoperu.com

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