Peruvian cuisine combines indigenous traditions with influences brought over by immigrant populations, which results in a surprising variety that utilises the bounties of the country's highlands, tropical rainforests and ocean. Staples include corn, potatoes (there are over 2,000 varieties in Peru), legumes and quinoa, a 'supergrain' that has taken the health food world by storm across the globe. The Spanish brought with them rice, wheat, beef, pork and chicken, which now also form a fundamental part of Peruvian cuisine.
Native meats popular with Peruvians include alpaca, noted for its low cholesterol and high protein content, and cuy, or guinea pig in English, which is typically roasted and served whole. With over 2,400 kilometres of coastline, seafood is a speciality along the coast with ceviche one of Peru's most famous culinary exports. Raw fish is cured with lime juice and marinated with onions, chillies and coriander to form a tangy and delicate textured dish that sushi-lovers will no doubt enjoy.
Meat generally accompanies the main meal in Peru so meat-free options may be limited in traditional Peruvian eateries though restaurants catering to tourists usually have a vegetarian section that will include local classics such as papas a la Huancaina - cold potatoes served with a cheese sauce spiced with chillies - and palta rellena - avocados stuffed with onion, tomato and mayonnaise alongside quinoa vegetable soup and international dishes devoid of meat. Vegetarians will find plenty of options in Cuzco especially.
There's a good selection of beverages in Peru with delicious native drinks including chicha morada, made from purple maize spiced with clove, cinnamon, sugar and pineapple, and the cultural icon that is Inca Kola, a lemongrass-flavoured soda that is luminous yellow in colour and beats Coca Cola in sales. Those looking for something stronger need look no further than the ubiquitous Pisco sour, an alcoholic cocktail made from the country's national liquor along with egg whites, syrup, bitters and ice. Beer is also popular in Peru with Cuzqueña one of the most popular local brands.
Safe eating while in Peru
The main cities in Peru have an excellent reputation as culinary hot spots so you'll find plenty of options when it comes to dining out with hygiene standards high. In the countryside standards will be lower so make sure any cooked food is piping hot and if the place looks dirty then find somewhere else to eat. Street food can be a health hazard so it's best to stick to restaurants though if you can't resist the appeal of a quick roadside bite, make sure the food looks fresh, especially seafood. Food markets are a cheap place to eat with long-serving vendors offering up all sorts of dishes and these shouldn't cause you any issues if you stick to the most popular where turnover is high and food doesn't have time to ruin.