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Peruvian cuisine is among the finest and most diverse cuisines found in Latin Americaand, indeed, the world. It is one of the most important contributors to the wave of Pan-Latino restaurants gaining popularity across the globe. As knowledge of Peruvian food spreads, more and more travelers are even making focused gastronomic pilgrimages to Peru -- for many travelers, the cuisine will rank among the highlights of their visit.

Peruvian cooking differs significantly by region, and subcategories mirror exactly the country's geographical variety: coastal, highlands, and tropical. The common denominator among them is a blend of indigenous and Spanish (or broader European) influences, which has evolved over the past 4 centuries. Traditional Peruvian coastal cooking is often referred to as comida criolla, and it's found across Peru. The other main types of cuisine are andino, or Andean (highlands), and novo andino (creative or haute twists on and updates of traditional highlander cooking). Several celebrity chefs, including Gastón Acurio and Pedro Miguel Schiaffino, are leading the charge of contemporary Peruvian cuisine, often offering their creative takes on traditional dishes.

Coastal preparations concentrate on seafood and shellfish, as might be expected. The star dish, and the most exported example of Peruvian cuisine, is ceviche, a classic preparation of raw fish and shellfish marinated (not cooked) in lime or lemon juice and hot chili peppers, served with raw onion, sweet potato, and toasted corn. Ceviche has been around since the time of some of Peru's earliest civilizations, although a traditional Andean argument over whether Peruvians or Ecuadorians should be credited with creating it persists. Cevicherías, traditionally open only for lunch, usually serve several types of ceviche as well as a good roster of other seafood. Tiradito is finely sliced fish marinated with lime juice and ají peppers, essentially Peruvian sashimi or carpaccio. Other coastal favorites include escabeche (a tasty fish concoction served with peppers, eggs, olives, onions, and prawns), conchitas (scallops), and corvina (sea bass). Land-based favorites are cabrito (roast kid) and ají de gallina (a tangy creamed chicken and chili dish).

Highlanders favor a more substantial style of cooking. Corn and potatoes were staples of the Incas and other mountain civilizations before them. Meat, served with rice and potatoes, is a mainstay of the diet, as is trout (trucha). Lomo saltado, strips of beef mixed with onions, tomatoes, peppers, and french-fried potatoes and served with rice, seems to be on every menu. Rocoto relleno, a hot bell pepper stuffed with vegetables and meat, and papa rellena, a potato stuffed with veggies and then fried, are just as common (but are occasionally extremely spicy). Soups are excellent.

In the countryside, you might see people in the fields digging small cooking holes in the ground. They are preparing pachamanca, a roast cooked over stones. It's the Peruvian version of a picnic; on weekends, you'll often see families outside Cusco and other places stirring smoking fires in the ground while the kids play soccer nearby. Cuy (guinea pig) is considered a delicacy in many parts of Peru, including the sierra, but its elevated status was never much apparent to me. It comes roasted or fried, with head and feet upturned on the plate.

In the Amazon jungle regions, most people fish for their food, and their diets consist almost entirely of fish such as river trout and paiche (a huge river fish). Restaurants feature both of these, with accompaniments including yuca (a root), palmitos (palm hearts) and chonta (palm-heart salad), bananas and plantains, and rice tamales known as juanes. Common menu items such as chicken and game are complemented by exotic fare such as caiman, wild boar, turtle, monkey, and piranha fish.

In addition to Peruvian cooking, visitors will find plenty of international restaurants, including a particularly Peruvian variation, chifas (restaurants serving Peruvian-influenced Chinese food, developed by the large immigrant Chinese population), a mainstay among many non-Chinese Peruvians. Chifas are nearly as common as restaurants serving pollo a la brasa (spit-roasted chicken), which are everywhere in Peru.

Drinking is less of an event in Peru. While Peruvian wines from the coastal desert south and local beers are improving, they still can't really compare with superior examples found elsewhere on the continent (Chile and Argentina, predominantly). Most wines in better restaurants come from these three countries, along with Spain. Yet one indigenous drink stands out: pisco, a powerful white-grape brandy. The pisco sour (a cocktail mixed with pisco, egg whites, lemon juice, sugar, and bitters) is effectively Peru's margarita: tasty, refreshing, and ubiquitous. New takes on the pisco sour have sprung up at sophisticated mixology bars: maracuyá (passion fruit) sours, coca sours (made with macerated coca leaves), and other sours highlighting indigenous tropical fruits, such as lúcuma. Pisco is also taken straight.

Peruvians everywhere (but especially in the highlands) drink chicha, a tangy, fermented brew made from maize and inherited from the Incas. Often served warm in huge glasses, it is unlikely to please the palates of most foreign visitors, although it's certainly worth a try if you come upon a small, informal place with the chicha flag flying in a rural village (it means something akin to "fresh chicha available inside"). Chicha morada, on the other hand, is nothing to be afraid of. It is a delicious nonalcoholic beverage, deep purple in color, prepared with blue corn and served chilled, the perfect accompaniment to ceviche. Masato is a beer made from yuca, typical of the Amazon region.

Dining Customs

Among the more interesting dining customs -- beyond the eating of guinea pig -- is the lovely habit of offering a sip of beer or chicha before the meal to Pachamama, or Mother Earth. Many Peruvians still ritualistically thank the earth for its bounty, and they show their appreciation by spilling just a bit before raising the drink to their own mouths.

Restaurants range from the rustic and incredibly inexpensive to polished places with impeccable service and international menus. Set three-course meals are referred to by a variety of terms: menu del día, menu económico, menu ejecutivo, menu de la casa, and menu turístico. They are all essentially the same thing and can sometimes be had for as little as S/10. In general, you should ask about the preparation of many Peruvian dishes because many are quite spicy. Informal eateries serving Peruvian cooking are frequently called picanterías and chicherías.

Fixed-price lunch deals are referred to as menus del día (or simply menu). The majority of restaurants include taxes and services in their prices, and your bill will reflect the menu prices. Others (including some upscale restaurants), however, separate taxes and services, and the bill can get pretty byzantine, especially when it comes to imported wine. You might see a subtotal, followed by a 10% service charge, a 20% "selectivo" wine tax, and a 19% IGV (general sales tax). It's crazy. Fortunately, the restaurants that do this are rare.

Note: Some upscale restaurants will place a couple of small plates of cheese, sausage, olives, or other tidbits on your table to nibble on as you wait for your meal. In almost all cases, you will be charged for these items, called a cubierto, or cover. Usually, it'll add S/5 to S/15 to your bill. If you don't touch the stuff, in theory you shouldn't have to pay for it because you didn't order it, but many restaurants automatically tack on the charge -- and few are the customers who don't consider the cubierto part of the cost of eating out.

Dining hours are not much different from typical mealtimes in cities in North America or Great Britain, except that dinner (cena) is generally eaten after 8pm in restaurants. Peruvians do not eat nearly as late as Spaniards. Although lunch (almuerzo) is the main meal of the day, for most visitors, it generally is not the grand midday affair it is in Spain, unless you are dining at an outdoor quinta, where most locals linger over lunch for a couple hours.

If you invite a Peruvian to have a drink or to dine with you, it is expected that you will pay (the Spanish verb invitar literally connotes this as an invitation). Do not suggest that a Peruvian acquaintance join you in what will certainly be an expensive restaurant or cafe for him or her, and then pony up only half the tab.

General Terms

Beef/steak -- Lomo

Bread -- Pan

Chicken -- Pollo

Dessert -- Postre

Eggs -- Huevos

Fish -- Pescado

Fruit -- Fruta

Lamb -- Cordero

Meat -- Carne

Pork -- Cerdo/puerco

Potatoes -- Papas

French fries -- Papas fritas

Rice -- Arroz

Roast -- Asado

Salad -- Ensalada

Seafood -- Mariscos

Shrimp -- Camarones

Soup -- Sopa (chupe)

Sweet potato -- Camote

Vegetables -- Verduras

Meat

Adobo -- Meat dish in a spicy chili sauce

Alpaca -- Alpaca steak

Anticuchos -- Shish kebab

Cabrito -- Goat

Carne de res -- Beef

Chicharrones -- Fried pork skins

Conejo -- Rabbit

Cordero -- Lamb

Empanada -- Pastry turnover filled with meat, vegetables, fruit, manjar blanco, or sometimes nothing at all

Estofado -- Stew

Lomo asado -- Roast beef

Parrillada -- Grilled meats

Pato -- Duck

Pollo a la brasa -- Spit-roasted chicken

Venado -- Venison

Seafood

Corvina -- Sea bass

Langosta -- Lobster

Langostinos -- Prawns

Lenguado -- Sole

Mero -- Mediterranean grouper

Paiche -- Large Amazon fish

Tollo -- Spotted dogfish

Beverages

Beer -- Cerveza

Mixed fruit juice -- Refresco

Juice -- Jugo

Milk -- Leche

Soft drink -- Gaseosa

Water -- Agua

carbonated -- con gas

still -- sin gas

Wine -- Vino

Cocktail -- Cóctel/trago

Preparation

Fixed-price menu -- El menu

Spicy -- Picante

Hot (temperature) -- Caliente

Cold (temperature) -- Frío

Raw -- Crudo

Cooked -- Cocido

Fried -- Frito

Vegetarian -- Vegetariano

Peruvian Favorites

Ají de gallina -- Spicy/creamy chicken

Anticuchos -- Beef-heart brochettes

Causa -- Mashed potatoes with avocado, stuffed with chicken or tuna

Ceviche -- Marinated raw fish

Chaufa -- Chinese fried rice

Chicha -- Fermented maize beer

Chicha morada -- Blue-corn nonalcoholic beverage

Chifa -- Peruvian-Chinese food

Chupe -- soup or chowder (chupe de camarones, prawn chowder, is the most common)

Choclo -- Maize (large-kernel corn)

Cuy -- Guinea pig

Flan -- Caramel custard

Lomo saltado -- Strips of beef with fried potatoes, onions, and tomatoes over rice

Manjar blanco -- Sweetened condensed milk

Pachamanca -- Roast meat and potatoes, prepared underground

Paiche -- Amazon river fish

Palta -- Avocado

Palta rellena (or palta a la Reina) -- Stuffed avocado (with chicken or tuna salad)

Panqueque -- Crepe

Papa a la huancaína -- Boiled potatoes in a creamy and spicy cheese sauce

Papa rellena -- Stuffed and fried potato

Quinua -- Andean grain (quinoa), often in soup (sopa de quinua)

Rocoto relleno -- Stuffed hot pepper

Sopa a la criolla -- Creole soup (noodles or grain, often quinoa, vegetables, and meat)

Tamal -- Ground corn cooked and stuffed with chicken or pork, wrapped in banana leaves or corn husks, and then steamed

Tiradito -- Cevichelike strips of raw fish, marinated with ají peppers and lime but without sweet potatoes or onions, akin to Peruvian sashimi or carpaccio

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.