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South American chef and restaurateur Martin Morales counts his must-try 10 dishes from his home country Peru, including highlights from its culinary capital, Lima.
Situated on the South Pacific Ocean side of South America, Peru is a land of contrasts, from Machu Picchu and the Inca trail and Amazon rainforest to a sprawling, bustling capital. If you’re planning a trip to Peru, make sure you visit the vibrant city of Lima, we have 10 dishes worth seeking out while you’re there.
Don’t leave Lima (or indeed Peru) without trying…
It’s Peru’s national dish, the best versions of this marinated fish dish are in Lima and it’s the freshest, zestiest and healthiest dish you will ever have. While Lima may not be the ancestral home of the ceviche, you can find delicious fine dining recipes and street food versions here. The word ceviche comes from the indigenous quechua language word ‘siwichi’, meaning fresh fish. It’s primarily a coastal dish but I had one of my most memorable and tastiest ceviches in Iquitos, a city in the heart of the Amazon.
Causa means ‘the cause’. It is said that over 100 years ago in the war between Peru and Chile in the frontier, all that was left was potato. The wives of the Peruvian soldiers made the best of this by serving a cold mash potato salad and other ingredients to accompany it and said ‘this is for the cause’. Thus, ‘causa’ was born. Today it’s a classic Peruvian dish. The Causa Limeña, or Lima Causa, has potato, tuna, avocado and tomato.
Peru has almost 500 national dishes but Lomo Saltado is the most popular meat dish. It is part Criollo, part Chifa. Criollo meaning mixed influenced, and Chifa is the cuisine in Peru, which blends Peruvian influences and those of Chinese origin. The Chinese arrived in Peru in the 1850s and brought with them a variety of cooking techniques. This dish is beef, flame-cooked (flambee) in the wok mixing Peruvian native ingredients like amarillo chillies, tomatoes and red onions. Its smoky flavour gives it character, but it is the sauce – a combination of Peruvian and Chinese ingredients – that really make this a mouthwatering dish.
Suspiro a la Limeña
Suspiro a la Limeña is Lima’s most popular dessert and carries the city’s name. It is a combination of dulce de leche, or caramelised sugar and smooth meringue. Its name means ‘sigh of a Lima lady’ and is said to have been named by the Peruvian poet Jose Galvez, after his wife Amparo Ayarez first made it for him. Inspired, he gave it this name in honour of his favourite dessert.
Tiradito (any fish and seafood)
Tiradito is a dish that has thinly sliced fish or seafood at its heart. It’s like a ceviche but more delicate, and uses a fish cutting technique similar to that of sashimi. It is accompanied by tiger’s milk and a variety of other ingredients depending on the recipe. Tiger’s milk is the marinade – usually a citrus fruit juice of some kind, chilli, salt and other ingredients – used to cure the fish or seafood. Tiradito is said to have been created by the Nikkei people; these were descendants from Japanese people but who now live in Peru. The Japanese arrived in Peru in 1898 and over time blended their techniques and ingredients with Peruvian ones creating Nikkei cuisine.
Anticuchos de Corazon (Beef heart skewers)
Anticuchos comes from our Afro-Peruvian culture. African slaves were brought to Peru a few hundred years ago and were given offal to eat. To disguise this they marinated the meat with spices and smoky chillies and created Anticuchos. Now it’s a much-loved street food and a favourite late-night dish.
Conchitas a la Parmesana (Parmesan scallops)
A dish with Italian origins, Conchitas a la Parmesana is one of the freshest cooked seafood dishes you can find. Parmesan melted on top of fresh scallops and a dash of lime, you can find this classic in any seafood restaurant.
Jalea de Mariscos (Peruvian frito mixto)
A take on the classic frito mixto, this Peruvian version has added salsa criolla – onion, tomato and coriander with a dash of lime alongside Peruvian chillies. The result is a refreshing guilty pleasure seafood dish, perfect for any summer evening.
Tacu Tacu is a Peruvian rice and beans dumpling, a kind of bubble and squeak. Originating in the Afro-Peruvian communities, this dish is usually served with a cheap cut of beef steak and a fried egg. Recently this dish has been made with many additions to the classic rice and beans. Many gourmet chefs have added amarillo chilli, asparagus, leeks and even mango. My favourite own recipe uses Peruvian Hass avocados.
Aji de Gallina
They say that everyone’s grandmother in Lima makes the best Aji de Gallina. It’s a chicken and chilli dish which includes shredded chicken, amarillo chilli, bread or crackers, Parmesan, pecans, onion, garlic and a few other ingredients. This dish was created to mop up the leftovers from using chicken then slowly bread and chilli was added. It is served with rice and potatoes and is a favourite in wintertime.
Chupe de Camarones
This Prawn chowder has its origins in the city of Arequipa in southern Peru but has been adopted by Limeños as one of their own. It features a rich mix of prawns, cream, cumin, tomatos, broad beans, onions and garlic among other ingredients and is served with a poached egg. It’s a hearty stewy seafood soup that will compete with any great bouillabaise.
Have you visited Peru’s capital Lima? Feel we’ve missed a dish out? We’d love to hear your favourites. For more global cuisine and authentic local dishes, visit our Travel section.