The Peruvian culinary scene is rapidly gaining international acclaim, and for good reason. With almost every type of climate in the world, including deserts, rainforests and the Andes mountains, Peru has a huge amount of regional diversity, which translates to a diverse cuisine.
And there's a huge diversity in the types of produce grown in Peru — from hundreds of varieties of potatoes, to fruits like granadilla and pacay.
An adventurous eater on a visit to Peru can sample everything from cuy (guinea pig, a popular delicacy and vital source of protein in the Andes), to lagarto (alligator, similarly popular in the rainforest), to cow testicles and hooves. And for those who like spicy food, most Peruvian dishes come with a side of aji, a sauce made from hot peppers that you can add to your dish.
Here are the twelve things you definitely need to eat on a trip to Peru:
This is an Inca meat and potatoes dish, a specialty in the Sierra. Cooking it involves heating rocks over a fire for several hours, then burying them with underground with the meat and potatoes and leaving it to slow cook. The food is wrapped in leaves with herbs to give it flavor.
Pachamanca typically consists of guinea pig, chicken, or another type of meat, along with with potatoes, and a bean called habas. Not only is pachamanca delicious, it is a cultural experience.
Expect to pay more for this dish, as it is labor and time-intensive to prepare. True pachamanca is prepared underground—don't settle for pachamanca de la olla or del horno, which is prepared in a pan or oven; it won't have the same flavor.
2. Rocoto Relleno
This regional stuffed pepper is a specialty of Arequipa, a major city in the southwest part of the country. Often stuffed with meat or egg and topped with cheese, rocoto relleno will light your mouth, and your soul, on fire.
3. Tacacho con cecina
This delicious dish consists of a ball of mashed, grilled plantains traditionally served with grilled pork, and often accompanied by chorizo sausage.
You would never know it, but this tasty street meat grilled on skewers is actually cow heart. Peru has some fantastic street food, and anticuchos are some of the best: they're filling, cheap, and flavorsome.
Another street food special, this is a donut-like dessert typically made from sweet potatoes, deep fried and served with honey.
6. Chupe de Camarones
This crawfish soup is a coastal speciality, often eaten on special occasions. It is a hearty soup with noodles, potatoes, squash, legumes, and, of course, crawfish. The broth often contains evaporated milk.
7. Aji de Gallina
This dish combines the Peruvian love of aji (a hot pepper) and chicken. It'a a creamy, almost cheesy, sauce made with yellow peppers and pulled chicken, to be combined and served with rice and potatoes.
This dish is on every list of must-eat Peruvian food, and with good reason. Classic ceviche is made with raw fish "cooked" in lime; it can also be made with shrimp, crawfish, and octopus. Don't miss it.
9. Sopa Seca con Carapulcra
This is a classic Afro-Peruvian dish popular around Chincha, a province in the Ica Region of Peru. Sopa seca con carapulcra is noodles served with a pesto-like sauce and a "dry soup" made with dehydrated potatoes, which is actually much tastier than it sounds.
10. Arroz con Pollo con Papas a la Huancaína
The name of this dish, which translates to chicken and rice, is misleadingly simple. This classic Peruvian dish involves a special blend of herbs and spices for cooking rice and chicken, or duck, together. It is served with potatoes and a creamy and cheesy huancaína sauce.
11. Causa Rellena and Palta Rellena
Causa rellena is a layer cake of mashed potatoes and chicken salad, and palta rellena is typically chicken a or vegetable salad stuffed inside half an avocado. Avoid these if you hate mayonnaise.
12. Caldo de Gallina
Peru's version of chicken — or in this case, hen — soup, caldo de gallina is rumored to cure all kinds of ailments. The hen used in this dish is usually tougher than your average bird because it is home-raised or free-range.
If you need a tasty beverage to wash these down, order a Pisco Sour, the national drink, made from pisco, a brandy-like, grape-based liquor, egg whites, lime juice, and bitters. Or try a Chilcano, which is made from pisco, ginger ale, and lime.
When you're not eating, find out more about what else to see in Peru besides Machu Picchu.
About the Author: Tasha Prados is a returned Peace Corps Volunteer (who served in Peru), a traveler, and a writer. She has lived, worked or volunteered in six countries, and been to over 20 on every continent except Antarctica. She is a contributor to Mic and to Keteka.