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Please help me "get" Peruvian food.

  • m

I have a sordid confession to make. I don't get Peruvian food. It seems less a distinctive cuisine than a hodgepodge of different dishes that bear no resemblance to each other. I've had the a la brasa chicken (love that), but then you've got a lot of gaucho type cooking - meat and rice - that to me isn't particularly worth seeking out. Then you've got ceviche in there somewhere. I also had a tamale that truly sucked. I think they used mashed potatoes instead of masa.

Are there any food ethnologists out there who can explain what's going on?

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  1. Carbs + Protein + Aji = delicious

    Peru = lots of japanese influence


    31 Replies
    1. re: ns1

      + Chinese. The fried rice in many cases is better than most Chinese restaurants. What's there not to like when you have stirred fried chicken or beef with onions, tomatoes, cilantro, french fries served over rice with Aji.

      1. re: KTLA

        except it's not better than any Chinese restaurant.

        MarkC: I was told, once, Americans have the right to not enjoy things (such as Peruvian food).

        Also, know you're not the only one. Peruvian took everything Asian and make it worse. Like: why did you guys do that to fried rice? And sushi? God forbid one doesn't enjoy mushy fried potatoes in rice.

        1. re: TonyC

          It's not all Asian. Cancha, chicha morada, empanadas with fish, meat, and fruit, ceviche, etc.

          1. re: Veggo

            Cancha, that's what those things were called. They were delicious. A meal of ceviche, with those cancha things served on the side, followed by a smoky chicken, definitely makes me think: "Mmmmm, Peruvian food".

            But then the other things on the menu. Chicken and potatoes covered in a cheese sauce. Doesn't sound latin American to me. Sounds more like some horrible American recipe from the fifties.

            My impression from looking at the menu is that Peruvian cooking consists of a small number of native dishes, cattle rancher food with some Asian influences (maybe they worked as cooks on the haciendas), and then lots of stuff introduced by colonialists from countries with bad food.

            1. re: MarkC

              Potato and cheese sauce - do you mean ocopa?

              That sauce is yellow aji, breadcrumbs, peanuts, herbs.

              The most frequent question on Chow about Peruvian cooking is - what's in that sauce they serve, especially the light green one(s). That's likely to include milk (or a mild cheese), bread crumbs, greens (even lettuce), all blended together. I think the roots of that kind of sauce are Spanish.

              1. re: paulj

                On the menu they called it a cheese sauce. So I assume there was cheese in it. Next time I'm there I'll see if there's a Spanish translation.

                1. re: MarkC

                  One popular Peruvian dish that clearly has some sort of the American (USA) roots is salchipapas.


            2. re: TonyC

              Peruvian took everything Asian and make it worse.
              Uh, not true.

              Try the seafood based stuff. Ceviche in Lima is pretty amazing. Arroz con mariscos, arroz norteno, pescado a lo macho, chupe camarones, lamb seco, antichucho...none of these are Chinese.

              You may be referring specifically to Chifa which is just Peruvianized Chinese fast food.

              Had fresh sea cucumbers in the arroz norteno at La Mar Lima. It had a texture similar to abalone. Better than any Chinese braised prep. Gotta respect a cuisine that does sea cucumber better than the Chinese.

              Some of the best suckling pig and milk fed baby goat I've had was in Lima.

              There is a reason Gaston restaurants have taken over South America and they even have a La Mar in SF (no sea cucumber in their arroz norteno).

              Peruvian cuisine is easily my favorite South American cuisine and in my opinion the most evolved.

              My advice is to move beyond that lomo saltado or chaufa crutch and start exploring.

              It's like thinking Korean food is just BBQ meat and tofu stew. You're missing out on a lot.

              Pictured below:
              1. Ceviche
              2. Arroz Norteno
              3. Chupe Camarones made with crawfish
              4. Veal kidneys with chimichurri
              5. Antichucho- grilled beef heart.
              6. Quarter suckling pig and milk fed baby goat

              1. re: Porthos

                Lamb seco top right.

                Cuy center

                Pork ribs braised in beer top left (not sure if this is a local dish or made up for the tourists)

                1. re: Porthos

                  Also some sopa de gallina and a local dish of beef tendons, vegetables, and egg over rice at Mercado San Pedro in Cusco (local market selling fruits, meats, with food stalls in the back). Both delicious. The carrots on the sopa are actually marinated in vinegar and added to the dish just prior to serving. It provides a nice contrast and is a pretty deft touch for local food stall cuisine.

                  Peruvian food is too diverse to write off based on a couple of dishes.

                  1. re: Porthos

                    porthos, is cuy worth eating? or is it more something its fun to say youve eaten?


                      1. re: linus

                        I wouldn't eat it again. Never had rat so I'm going to say tastes like gamey rabbit. Have to try everything at least once for yourself right?

                        1. re: Porthos

                          This was our first cuy. Looks delicious, tastes like animal lab.

                            1. re: Veggo

                              The cuy was fresh, too. It was a little roadside stand with cuys out back. We had high hopes for liking it.

                              1. re: eams

                                I would not eat guinea pig if there were any other alternative for the next week.

                                1. re: Veggo

                                  What's the difference between eating cuy and eating squirrel - other than the fact that one is raised and the other hunted?

                                  1. re: paulj

                                    I have never eaten a cuy, and I haven't eaten squirrel for 39 years, so I don't know the difference. I have moved beyond eating rodents.

                          1. re: linus

                            The traditional cuy is not very exciting, fatty and boring. The cuy pekinese at a Gaston Acurio restaurant is amazing.

                            1. re: Worldwide Diner

                              "..not very exciting, fatty and boring"
                              Sounds like blind dates in college....

                              1. re: Worldwide Diner

                                The cuy we had in Cuzco was anything but fatty. It was a scrawny little thing. Again, no pronounced flavor, so I just describe as chicken'ish. I can't imagine going to Peru and NOT trying it. But we're bolder than a lot of US travelers.

                          2. re: Porthos

                            Great post. Where to get that pig and goat. And the rice w scallop on top gorgeous.

                            1. re: Porthos

                              Nice Porthos! that looks delish! :>

                              but where can you find this stuff in L.A. (especially that Peruvian suckling pig and milk fed baby goat)? :<

                              1. re: chowseeker1999

                                Haven't found the suckling pig or baby goat here in LA yet. Will let you know when I do :-)

                                In the meanwhile chupa camarones, pescado a lo macho, arroz con mariscos, seco (beef or lamb), beef heart antichuchos, parihuela (Peruvian seafood stew), and jalea mixta (platter of fried assorted seafood containing shrimp, calamari, octopus, fish, yucca, and corn) should be enough to change someone's opinion about Peruvian cuisine and is readily available in LA.

                              2. re: Porthos

                                The La Mar in NYC went out of business in less than a year I think. it was terrible, even in such a pretty space.

                              3. re: TonyC

                                to be fair, one could say the same thing about how HK style places ruined western cuisine with their asian take on it. the result suits their native sensibilities.

                                1. re: TonyC

                                  There are no potatoes in Peruvian fried rice. And I agree with KTLA. When I ask Puro Sabor to cook my fried rice crispier (like a lot of people like) they always accommodate. Try asking Chinese restaurants to do that? Most won't, like it's a pain in the ass to cook minute longer.

                            2. They have wonderful tamale in Peru, on account of many types of corn available. The mashed potato is called causa. I love the Peruvian food I had in Peru. It is a fusion of local ingredients with Asian and Spanish cooking.

                              6 Replies
                              1. re: Worldwide Diner

                                Peru is the second largest country in South America-a place with a large diverse geography, a very long rich history and cultural diversity unimaginable to most people.

                                So it's not surprising that some foods appeal and some don't.

                                Methinks OP has never been to Peru and has actually eaten very little of the food.

                                1. re: Sam Salmon

                                  Youthinks is right. Otherwise I guess I wouldn't have asked the question.

                                  1. re: MarkC

                                    Good post. I've been underwhelmed by Mario's only place I've been but porthos gave a great answer for us.

                                    1. re: jessejames

                                      Can't vouch for Mario's but Casa Inka in Fountain Valley has good stuff and the flavor profile is spot on. No lamb seco but they do have beef seco.


                                  2. re: Sam Salmon

                                    My idea of good Peruvian food is Nobu, with Tiradito in first place~

                                    1. re: Sam Salmon

                                      Fact check: Peru is currently 3rd in area and 4th in population in South America, not second.

                                      Sorry for the interruption - Carry on...

                                      1. re: J.L.

                                        Yep. But since this is an English language site I went with English. They DID kinda freak when I ordered it in Cuzco :) They weren't sure I knew what I was ordering. I did.

                                      2. re: c oliver

                                        Cuz a rat not meaty enough? Kidding....tastes like?

                                        1. re: jessejames

                                          God, I hate to say it but it really did kinda taste like chicken :) But those little front teeth WERE a teensy bit off-putting!

                                          1. re: c oliver

                                            Cuy is in the center of my lamb seco photo :)

                                            1. re: Porthos

                                              One cuy breast there in half? Side taters?

                                              1. re: jessejames

                                                The entire thing. The front (left) and hind quarters (right). Other side is intact.

                                                Peru is known for their many types of potatoes. Love that Peruvian choclo.

                                            2. re: c oliver

                                              See, that makes me sad that those are bred to be eaten. My children raised guinea pigs when they were little; they were the cutest things and I can't imagine eating them. I also can't imagine eating other animals we as Americans call pets. And I'm a meat eater .....not putting anyone down so to each his own.

                                              1. re: Cherylptw

                                                Cats, dogs, horses - All consumed as food in other countries.

                                            3. Searching for a recipe using tripe and heart, I found a report from an American meat producers trade mission, expressing delight that Peruvians love those cuts. Classic Peruvian dishes include marinated beef heart skewers, and a tripe stew called caucau.

                                              Earlier this week I made carapulcra, a meat (I used chicken) and dried potato stew. The dominant flavoring is aji panca paste. Aji panca is a mild dry red pepper, Peru's version of Mexico's ancho chile.

                                              As for the heart (pork) and tripe, I made a stew borrowing from Peru, Ecuador and Mexico. Flavorings included aji panca, a bit of Spanish pimenton, a bit a Mexican guajillo for more heat, peanut butter. Besides diced precooked meats I added chickpeas, mote (hominy) and dice potatoes.

                                              Hearty soups and stews like this draw from both Spanish and Native cuisines.

                                              1. Try Chupa Camarrones at Los Balcones del Peru or Mario's Peruvian Seafood.

                                                That may prove it to be a more distinctive cuisine to you.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: Ciao Bob

                                                  That's helpful, thanks. I will!

                                                2. despite the relatively small amount of space landwise, peruvian geography is extremely diverse: coastland, plains, jungle and mountains and the regional cuisines reflect what ingredients are available as a consequence. IIRC guinea pig is quite popular in the andes as a source of meat.

                                                  chinese regional cuisine is similarly diverse for much the same reasons, but not all authentic regional cuisines are particularly noteworthy and they vary in the level of culinary finesse involved. pick and choose what you like of it i guess.

                                                  2 Replies
                                                  1. re: barryc

                                                    Chicken don't thrive above certain altitudes, from what I was told by my guide during our trek to Machu Picchu.

                                                    So instead of chicken coops, most Andean dwellers have a guinea pig shed out in the backyard. We visited one such home. It's really quite cute to see all them critters scooching about.

                                                  2. I really enjoyed my dinner the first time I had Peruvian food. It was many years ago in the mid-Wilshire area on Berendo in a what was then a high end Peruvian restaurant. I had a steak that had lightly grilled onions and tomatoes. The side dish was Papas Huancaina (sp?). I didn't think of it as anything but really homey. Does that make sense? Since then, I've enjoyed the Peruvian food I've had in restaurants even though I can easily make it myself.

                                                    1. Peruvian chicken is insanely delicious!

                                                      1. Mark, I'm sure you have more recommendations than you'll ever need, but in case you need more I think you need to try the El Huarique in Venice.
                                                        The chef there makes the best ceviche I've ever had, and that includes the meal I had at La Mar in Lima (a pretty highly regarded place). I usually get the ceviche de pescado or the ceviche mixto.

                                                        In terms of other Peruvian, I've tried most of the places in the Hollywood area (mario's, inti, Los balcones) and Natalie makes my favorite Lomo Saltado and arroz chaufa.

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: Butter Fight

                                                          keep meaning to try this place....he was working out of a mexican restaurant on Venice a year or so ago and made great food.

                                                        2. My explanation is that you need to find better places to eat. Foreign tourists can come here and easily say "American food sucks" if they have inferior versions of dishes. One of my favorite restaurants is Gaston Acurio's La Mar, in San Francisco. Acurio has a lot of restaurants in Peru, other South American countries, Spain and the US. He just opened a Peruvian "street food" restaurant in Chicago.

                                                          Your summary above hardly describes the breadth of dishes that Peru has to offer.

                                                          1. I don't get Peruvian food nearly as often as I'd like!

                                                            Potatoes grow better at high altitudes than maize does, so Peruvians use potatoes a lot (they're native to the Andes, after all). It's a large country with a wide variety of climate zones - from the Pacific Ocean to the Andes to the rainforests and lots in between - so one would expect a varied cuisine based on just where in the country a dish comes from: we used to have two Peruvian restaurants nearby, one run by people from the coast, and one by people from the mountains, and they served As others have mentioned, there was a large influx of Japanese and other Asian immigrants, along with a mix of Europeans.

                                                            I don't understand Inka Kola, though.

                                                            1. I think you have to hit the brakes hard skid a bit and wipe the slate clean of all preconceived notions (I can mix in more metaphors if you'd like) you can't go into it expecting purely Euro-colonial and/or indigenous South American, with or without Asian influences, but maybe all of the above. and more.