Before we discuss Peruvian street food, we have to discuss Peruvian cuisine. Peruvian cuisine is one of the best in the world. Lima—the country’s capital, is one of the world’s best food cities. Two restaurants in Lima, Peru are consistently ranked as two of the top-10 best restaurants in the world. According to the annually released, “World’s Best 50 Restaurants” list—the restaurants Central and Maido ranked in spots #6 and #10 on the 2019 World’s Best 50 Restaurants list, respectively.
Why is Peruvian cuisine the best, you ask? Peruvian cuisine has a culturally diverse history—it’s influenced by an infusion of Spanish, Asian, African, and Incan cooking techniques and ingredients. Peru is also geographically diverse, resulting in a diverse array of dishes that are influenced by the region that they come from—for example, plantains and tropical fruit-themed dishes come from the rainforest, meat from its farms and fish-based dishes such as ceviche (raw fish) come from the coastal beach towns.
The ingredients in Peruvian cuisine vary, but a steady trend is that Peruvians use a lot of corn and potatoes in their meals. This is because there are 60 types of corn and 3,000 varieties of home-grown potatoes in Peru. And, who doesn’t like corn and potatoes!?
Because the cuisine in Peru is so stellar, the street food is also incredible. I’ll make a bold statement and say that in the collective year that I’ve spent in Peru so far, I have yet to have a bad meal in the country. The food (all of it) is just so good.
There are a few common types of Peruvian street food that I’ll highlight in this post, but this list just braises the surface. In order to really have an understanding of Peruvian cuisine—you’ve got to go to Peru. Peruvian street food vendors like to get creative and have fun with their meals. Peruvian locals use the nickname , “la tia venemo” for street food vendors which translates to, “the poison aunt”. In other words, Peruvian street food vendors throw a bunch of ingredients together to create magic but it’s a risk because you don’t actually know what the ingredients that they’re using are.
What are Anticuchos?
Anticuchos are meat skewers with boiled potato on the end. The most common type of meat used for these in Peru is beef heart (anticuchos de corazón). If you’re not into the idea of eating beef-heart, then you can try them in chicken or plain beef varieties. Even though these are a traditional Peruvian street food, they also appear on the menus of fine dining restaurants where octopus, fish or alpaca may replace beef heart.
Where did Anticuchos originate?
During the 16th century, the Incas inhabited Peru and liked to eat meat on sticks. They used sticks because it was an easy way to get the meat over a flame to cook. The Incas meat of choice was usually llama but they would grill anything that they could get their hands on. When the Spanish arrived in Peru in the 16th century, they saw the Incas cook in this manner and adopted the recipe for themselves.
The Spanish brought slaves to Peru from Africa and fed the slaves beef innards. The innards were given to the slaves because they were considered to be garbage but enough for the slaves to eat and survive. The slaves began to cook the beef hearts on a stick, emulating what they saw their Spanish owners do.
The beef hearts that the slaves grilled on sticks and marinated with any sauce that they could find were dubbed anticuchos. Anticuchos were eventually sold by street vendors in the 1800s in poor neighborhoods because they were an affordable meal. Eventually, people that live in Lima began to pick up on the fact that this affordable snack was actually delicious and anticuchos were slowly sold in more and more locations—rich and poor.
Today, anticuchos have become a Peruvian staple. The smell of anticuchos burning over a flame can be smelt on Peruvian city streets after dusk—which is when the Peruvian street food vendors come out to begin cooking and selling their food.
How are Anticuchos prepared?
Peruvian’s first slice whatever meat they are using and then place it on a stick. The meat is then grilled for about two or three minutes on each side. While the meat is grilling, it’s continuously brushed with a marinade that’s made of vinegar and spices (salt, pepper, aji, and cumin). Once the meat is cooked, a potato is slid onto the end of the stick and then the meat is set in a box next to a choice of sauces (Peruvian’s love their sauces!)
What do Anticuchos taste like?
The beef-heart variety of the Anticucho tastes like beef but the texture is different. The texture is a little slippery on the outside and when you bite in it’s muscular and takes extra effort to chew. On top of the beef, you’ll taste all of the spices and sauces—including the Peruvian signature aji sauce, which compliments anticucho really well.
How much do Anticuchos cost?
8SOL – 10SOL ($2.50 – $3.50 USD)
What is Rachi?
Rachi is meat that comes from a cows belly. It’s a cheap food item because it comes from a part of the cow that’s not very “desired.” Rachi is often served in the same vicinity as Anticucho. Rachi is sometimes available as a “mixto” (combination) with Anticucho.
Where did Rachi originate?
The Incas ate Rachi in pre-Spanish times. The food was adopted by the Spanish when they came to Peru. Quechua is the language that the Incas spoke and the name Rachi comes from a Quechua word, which refers to the part of the cow that it comes from (stomach).
How is Rachi prepared?
Rachi is marinated with a mixture of vinegar and spices—including ground chili, garlic cloves, cumin, salt and pepper. Then, it’s placed on a charcoal grill to cook. Rachi is usually served with potatoes, corn, and a choice or chili or criolla sauce.
What does Rachi taste like?
Rachi has a very chewy consistency and a bland taste.
How much does Rachi cost?
1 – 3SOL ($.025 – $1.00 USD)
What is Ceviche?
Ceviche is the #1 most desired food in Peru. Peruvians love it. It’s dices of raw fish mixed with lemon or lime. Ceviche is everywhere in Peru—most local restaurants serve it and fine dining restaurants serve it as well. Ceviche is not technically exclusively Peruvian street food but it can be found on the streets. The Peruvian street food version of Ceviche is referred to as, “Ceviche de Carretilla” (Ceviche of the Cart).
Where did Ceviche originate?
The origins of Ceviche have been debated throughout the years. No one knows exactly where Ceviche came from, but there are some theories. The story that I’ve heard while spending time in Peru is that a group of people dubbed the Moche inhabited Peru between 100 to 700 AD and came up with the idea of eating fresh fish. Some time thereafter, the Incas came into play and adopted the idea of eating fresh fish themselves. Then, when the Spaniards came to Peru—they themselves took the recipe and enhanced it by adding lemon and onion, which are the extra ingredients that are still used in the recipe today.
There are also many conflicting stories in regards to where the name, Ceviche, comes from. The story that I’ve heard from my friends here is that it comes from the Quechua word, “Siwichi” which means fresh or tender fish. There are additional theories about where Ceviche came from, and why it’s called what it’s called but I won’t summarize them here because it would become a rabbit hole of a blog post.
How is Ceviche prepared?
Fish is cut into small cubes and then mixed with limes, onions, aji chili pepper, and fresh cilantro. It’s then served cold and raw—though the lime juice naturally cooks the fish a little before it’s served. Many fish types will work with the recipe but the traditional Peruvian ceviche is made with sea bass.
What does Ceviche taste like?
The Peruvian version of ceviche tastes like raw fish, doused in lemon and onion with a spicy kick.
How much does Ceviche cost?
The cost of Ceviche varies but I’ve seen it cost anywhere between 5SOL – 12SOL ($1.00 $4.00 USD).
Bonus! Ways to Find/Eat Ceviche in Peru:
Ceviche is everywhere in Peru. You can find it in local restaurants, street vendors or upscale restaurants. One of the most famous (and most delicious) places to get Ceviche in Lima, Peru is Al Toke Pez.
If you want to eat Ceviche in an unconventional way, then you can find a fisherman that will take you to catch your own Ceviche and then they’ll prepare it for you to eat on the boat—talk about fresh! The option to catch your own Ceviche and have it prepared for you exists in the smaller beach towns—like Mancora, Peru.
#4: Peruvian Tamales
What are tamales?
Tamales are a food staple that can be found across South America in varying ways. The Peruvian version of the tamale is made with white or yellow cornmeal that’s then filled with a variety of ingredients—such as meat, boiled eggs, olives, nuts, aji and onion.
Where did tamales originate?
Tamales are found all over Latin America. No one knows exactly where they originated but it’s been documented that the The Incas, Aztecs and Mayas all had a version of the tamale and it hasn’t been established who came first.
How are tamales prepared?
Tamales are made with cornmeal dough that’s created with white or yellow rice. The dough is molded around a variety of ingredients—such as chicken, pork, olives, onions, chili pepper, etc. The tamale is steamed until it’s a solid consistency and then wrapped in a banana leaf to package it before serving. Some street vendors will let you choose which specific ingredients you want inside, while others will pre-select the ingredients for you.
What do tamales taste like?
Peruvian tamales taste like cornmeal mixed with whatever ingredient you ask to have placed inside it. The overwhelming taste is the cornmeal and the additional ingredients are usually used sparingly.
How much do tamales cost?
The cost of a Peruvian tamale varies. I’ve seen them for 3SOL ($1USD).
#5: Peruvian Sandwiches
What are Peruvian Sandwiches?
Peruvian’s love sandwiches. I know what you’re thinking—so what? Peruvian sandwiches are a genuine street food here. You can find sandwiches in street vendors after dark, for sale on the beach (women walk around selling them out of a bucket) or in street stands during the day. They’re really good, varied and affordable.
What are the different varieties of Peruvian Sandwiches?
There are many different varieties of Peruvian street sandwiches.
During the day, you can find ham and cheese sandwiches sold on the beach or in street stands that sell the sandwiches alongside a smattering of other things (like magazines, matches and more—think of it as a convenience store that sells sandwiches on wheels).
At night (usually after 8pm or so) street vendors come out that sell hamburgers, chicken sandwiches, fish sandwiches and the Peruvian (and my) favorite: the butifarra. The butifarra is a pork sandwich served with onions and hot sauce. It’s delicious.
How much do Peruvian Sandwiches cost?
The cost of a Peruvian Sandwich varies depending on where you buy it but they typically run from 4SOL – 10SOL ($1USD – $3.5USD).
What are Picarones?
A donut made of sweet potato and squash.
Where did Picarones originate?
Over 200 years ago, Spanish colonists made fried dough balls. African slaves re-invented the recipe by adding squash and sweet potatoes to the dough. The African version of the recipe is what Peruvian’s eat today.
How are Picarones prepared?
Dough is created with squash and sweet potato. The dough is rolled and then deep-fried until golden. Once fried, the picarones are served with chancaca, which is a syrup made of cane sugar.
What do Picarones taste like?
Picarones are always served warm and crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside. Picarones taste sweet when you first bite into them and when you get to the center, you’ll taste a burst of sweetness.
How much do Picarones cost?
4 – 5SOL ($21 – $1.5USD) for a set of 4.
#7: Arroz Con Leche & Mazamorra Morada Desserts
Arroz con Leche & Mazamorra Desserts are usually sold together, so I’m including them in the same category.
Arroz con Leche:
What is Arroz con Leche?
Arroz con Leche is a Peruvian version of rice pudding.
Where did Arroz con Leche originate?
Spanish colonists brought this dessert to Peru when they first came to the America’s.
How is Arroz con Leche prepared?
It’s made with rice, sweetened condensed milk and evaporated milk.
What does Arroz con Leche taste like?
Peruvian arroz con leche tastes like rice, in pudding with cinnamon. Delicious!
Mazamorra Morada Dessert:
What is Mazamorra Morada Dessert?
Peruvian dessert made from purple corn and fruit. Usually sold with Arroz con Leche.
Where did Mazamorra Morada Dessert originate?
The word “Mazamorra”comes from the Spanish words “masa mora” which translate to “berry mass/mush” in English. The origins of Mazamorra Moroda dessert can be traced back to Arab cultures prior to its existence in Spain. The Spanish adopted the recipe and then brought it with them when they came to Peru.
How is Mazamorra Morada Dessert prepared?
Berries, corn, cinnamon sticks, cloves and pineapple rine are boiled in water for 30 minutes, until the liquid is a deep purple color and very soft. The liquid is then drained and then the contents are returned to the pot. The corn, quince, cinnamon sticks, cloves and pineapple rine are discarded and the remaining texture is what is consumed as a delicious dessert.
What does Mazamorra Morada Dessert taste like?
Mazamorra Morada has a mushy consistency. It tastes like berries and hints of other flavors such as corn, pineapple, etc. It’s sweet with a slightly bitter kick.
How much does Arroz con Leche y Mazamorra Morada Dessert cost?
3SOL – 5SOL ($1 – $1.5 USD) (usually sold together)
#8: Peruvian Street Cakes
What are Peruvian Street Cakes?
Cake seems like an odd thing to list as street food, right!? Well, not in Peru. Peruvian’s walk around selling cakes in little carts. It’s just as cool and convenient as it sounds. The cakes are often cooked fresh the morning of and then sold in pieces to anyone that will buy them.
What do Peruvian Street Cakes taste like?
Like cake! Sweet and sugary and delicious.
How much do Peruvian Street Cakes cost?
1SOL – 6SOL ($0.25 – $3 USD)
#9: Peruvian Juices (Jugo)
What are Peruvian Juices?
Peruvian’s love juices in many varieties. Juices are often sold in the vendors on the streets alongside the foods mentioned in this article. The most popular juice in Peru is called Chicha Morada. Chicha Morada is made by boiling purple corn in water with pineapple and quince peel with a pinch of cinnamon and cloves, sugar and lemon.
Other popular juices include juices that are made straight from fruits such as: mango, melon, maracuya and more.
How much do Peruvian Juices cost?
1SOL – 3SOL ($0.25 – $1)
#10: Suri Grub (exclusive to the Amazonas Region)
What are Suri Grubs? Suri grubs grow in the trees in the Amazonas region of Peru. They’re eaten by the Amazonian locals and sold in the markets. The most common way to eat them is live though sometimes they’re cooked and served on a stick.
Where did the idea of eating Suri Grubs start? Eating Suri grubs traces back to when the indigenous first lived in the Amazonas. Suri are delicious and full of protein. They were first seen as an accessible form of food. Today, people in the Amazonas still eat them because they’re good and plentiful.
How are Suri Grubs prepared? Suri worms are sometimes eaten straight off of the tree that they grow in. Other times, street vendors will take them and then serve them on sticks.
What do Suri Grubs taste like? They taste like sweet cheese. Sort of like a candy mixed with cheese. The consistency is soft and mushy.
How much do Suri Grubs cost? The worms are free if you eat them straight off of the tree. Prices in the markets vary but they are usually around 3SOL ($1 USD)/worm.
Here’s a video of me eating Suri worms off of the tree in the Amazonas.
So as you can see, Peruvian cuisine is incredible. That notion extends beyond it’s local restaurants and fine dining to its street food. I would be hard pressed to give you an example of a time that I had a bad food experience in Peru, it just doesn’t happen very frequently. Peruvian’s take their food very seriously and as a result, they produce delicious meals. The food items listed here just braise the surface; there are tons more iterations and food items to try when you go on a trip to Peru.