Arequipa Stories and Tips

A Brief Introduction to Peruvian Food

Cathedral Near Sunset Photo, Arequipa, Peru

Although it's justifiably growing in popularity abroad, too often Peruvian food either calls to mind either inexpensive pollo a la brasa (spit roasted chicken) or expensive (outside of Peru) ceviche (raw fish "cooked" in lemon juice sometimes mixed with aji). In honor Arequipa's status as Peru's culinary capital (home to its best and most original food as opposed to most famous restaurants), here's a brief list of some typical Peruvian foods you may (or may not) have heard of.

Cuy: Okay, I'll get this one out of the way first. Peruvians eat guinea pigs. But keep in mind that they were dinner for thousands of years before they became pets, since they're easy to raise and relatively nutritious. The sight of one cooking, particularly the claws, isn't too appetizing and they're relatively expensive, particularly considering how difficult it is to get what little meat there is off their bones. As the saying goes, they taste like chicken.

Chancho asado: Chancho is the Peruvian word for pig (known elsewhere as porco, puerco, or cerdo) and like its smaller namesake it's easy to raise. I'm not usually fond of pork in the least, but unless you have religious or hygienic exceptions to eating pigs it's worth trying this dish, which is the flesh of a spit roasted pig cooked in spices. What are known as "pork rinds" (fried pork skin) in North America are sold here as the hugely popular chicharrones.

Rocotos rellenos: At its best, Peruvian food can be quite spicy and no dish is quite spicy as one involving rocoto peppers (which are also offered in slices to spice up soups). The best of them is this traditional Ariquipeñan delicacy which involves cleaning the peppers of their spicy seeds and filling them with seasoned chopped beef (and sometimes vegetables).

Arroz chaufa; Peru has a huge ethnic Chinese community, descended from laborers who came in the 19th century to build the railroads. (However, ex-President Alberto Fujimori is of Japanese, not Chinese descent, despite being nicknamed "El Chino.") While chifas (Peruvian Chinese restaurants) are more ubiquitous than their North American counterparts, their most famous dish, a Peruvian take on what's known as fried rice in North America has become so mainstream that many traditional Peruvian restaurant offer it as well. It' tastiest with a dab or two of aji (Peruvian hot pepper sauce.)

This is only a small selection of Peru's rich traditional cuisine that I've come across in Arequipa. If you'd like to try a range of these dishes at once, it's best to visit a picanteria (literally a "spicy spot") and order a doble, triple, or Americano platter which contains portions of several. Be sure to wash it down with a traditional Peruvian beverage such as chicha morada (a drink made by soaking purple corn in water with sugar and spices) or chica jora (a fermented version of chicha morada made with mashed corn and fruit). It'll set you up nicely for a nice of imbibing Pisco sours or Peru libres (Pisco and cola) - if this leaves you with a hangover, well that's what ceviche was (literally) invented for or you could try a spicy adobo soup for the same purpose!

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