One of the best ways to get to know a country and its culture is to eat local food. Ditch the international fastfood restaurants and head instead to local eating places.
Peru, in particular, is a good destination for a foodie. It has a rich culinary tradition coming from international influences–brought by immigrants from China, Japan, and Spain, among others–and indigenous Incan traditions. All over Cusco, for example, you can find Peruvian-Chinese restaurants that are more Peruvian than Chinese, having been introduced to Peru for a long time.
Indeed, while traditional staples like potatoes, corn, legumes, and chili peppers can be found anywhere in Cusco, there are also other dishes that are a must-try if you come visit.
A contribution from the Spanish conquerors, and due to the rich marine life in Peru’s coastal areas, ceviche is indeed a must when you visit Peru. Fresh raw fish is soaked in citrus juices to gradually cook them, resulting in a chewy and tangy taste spiced up with a dash of aji pepper or Habanero chilies.
Ceviche is usually served with a mixture of sweet potatoes, Andean corn, and buttered lettuce. If you’re bold enough, you can gulp down the citrusy concoction called tiger’s milk.
Note that you must choose well where to eat ceviche. Tourists have had some stomach upset when eating in places where ceviche is not prepared well. Ask around, especially the locals. They can tell you their favorite place for eating this yummy dish.
In other countries, guinea pig are considered pets. They are cute and fluffy, aren’t they? In Peru, guinea pigs have one other purpose: as food. Either fried, roasted, or baked, cooked guinea pig is called cuy (pronounced “kwee”).
Cuy has been in the rural Peruvian diet for hundreds of years; in fact, it is Peru’s national dish. It has even its own national holiday, which is celebrated every second Friday of October.
This dish is so important in Peruvian cuisine that an imitation of Da Vinci’s Last Supper is displayed in Cusco Cathedral, showing Christ and His disciples seated around a platter of cuy.
Cuy is usually cooked whole in a griller or oven, drenched in salt and garlic to make the skin crunchy. Baked or barbecued cuy resembles a cross between wild fowl’s or a rabbit’s taste. When ordering cuy, you have three (popuar) choices: cuy chactado (fried), cuy al palo (roasted), or cuy al horno (baked).
To make your food exploration a breeze, there are cuy restaurants or cuyerias in Cusco specializing in cuy delicacies. Again, however, you have to choose the cuyeria well. Don’t just pick any that you see on the streets. Cuy that’s not prepared or cooked well has been known to cause stomach problems with tourists.
Causa ala Limeña
Peru has a variety of potatoes and loads of avocado to boasts of. These two ancient staples are the main ingredients of another traditional Peruvian dish called causa or potato starter.
Causa ala Limeña (Lima-style causa) is chilled and served as a starter or light meal. The potatoes are seasoned, mashed, and layered and then filled with tuna, meat, shrimp, egg, and avocado. It is all topped with black olives.
Classic causa is filled with shredded chicken, garnished with egg, olives, and thin slices of pepper.
People call it potato pie or potato cake because of its unique and beautiful presentation. This is truly an irresistible dish that will make you ask for another serving, and that’s just for a starter.
In Cusco, there are restaurants near Plaza de Armas that serve very good causa. One recommendation is Dolce Vita along Marques St.
Indeed, when you’re traveling, it pays off to introduce your taste buds to a variety of local dishes to widen not just your food familiarity but also to broaden your knowledge of the culture behind them.
Having an experience of Peruvian cuisine in Cusco is definitely highly recommended when you visit this beautiful city.