You may not think it, but Peru is one of the world’s leading countries when it comes to food. This is not precisely because Peruvian cuisine has become famous worldwide (although many of its core ingredients, including potatoes and corn, have worked their way into most other cuisines in the world), but because Peruvian chefs are at the forefront of innovating their dishes, incorporating international flavours, and sharing their creations with the world. Many current styles of Peruvian cooking are predicated on culinary fusion, but the traditional cuisine has also become lauded on the world stage.
The Peruvian capital, Lima, is especially important as it is in the midst of a culinary boom. In the interest of helping you feast on good food while exploring the many historical sights and cultural attractions of Lima, I’ve broken down some dishes and restaurants to seek out while here. Think of it as a short foodie guide to Lima. If you love exploring food on your travels, you’ll want to take note.
What to eat in Lima?
Lima’s high-end culinary scene
If you’ve been following the international food scene over the past decade, you’ve likely seen references to Lima’s emerging culinary scene. Much of this is due to Gaston Acurio, a Peruvian chef who studied at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris before returning to Peru in the nineties and applying his newfound skills to traditional Peruvian cuisine. Through television shows, cookbooks, and celebrated restaurants, he became wildly popular and his approach to Peruvian cuisine was a huge success. Today, other chefs have been inspired by Acurio to serve traditional Peruvian cuisine in modern ways instead of reserving high-end presentation for more lauded foreign cuisines.
Astrid y Gaston is Acurio’s flagship restaurant and synonymous with the city’s newfound status as a world food city. The menu changes according to the season, but regardless of whether you visit in winter or summer, you’ll be able to try high-end variations on Peruvian classics, like Criolla-style rice with seafood, crispy pork belly, and even traditional cuy (guinea pig). The restaurant is often listed among the best in the world, so know that you’re in for a treat if you go there for lunch or dinner. However, be sure to reserve a table ahead of time or get your travel agent to do this for you when helping to plan your Peru vacation.
While Astrid y Gaston is the most famous of the city’s high-end restaurants, it has actually been outpaced in recent years by newer spots that continue to elevate the city’s food scene. In particular, Central and Maido are both ranked among the top 10 restaurants in the world and are hot spots for globetrotting foodies. Central in Barranco is all about elevating popular and obscure elements of Peruvian cuisine from across the country. There you’ll find eclectic dishes relying largely on corn and potatoes as well as rare ingredients such as piranha and edible clay. Maido in Miraflores is Nikkei cuisine at its best. Nikkei is a fusion of Japanese and Peruvian cuisine, so at Maido you’ll find the best cuts of fish as well as succulent slow-cooked beef short ribs and savoury desserts. There are many restaurants beyond these three that showcase Lima’s incredible flavours, but there is a reason these ones are the most celebrated in the country.
Lima’s mid-range restaurants and classic Peruvian cuisine
Lima’s high-end food scene is great for the city, but it’s not the be-all-and-end-all of eating out in Lima. As well, you’ll probably only splurge for one meal during your visit here, so you’ll have to find places to go for all your other meals. Luckily, Lima has an abundant food scene that permeates the entire city. There are plenty of mid-range restaurants offering good food that are inspired by the most celebrated spots, but don’t have the same price point and exclusivity. Restaurants like Panchita in Miraflores (which is a part of Acurio’s line of restaurants) and Isolina Taverna in Barranco offer delicious classics in casual environments that are perfect for travellers and locals alike. They’re good places to try out traditional Peruvian cuisine.
While on Peru travel in Lima, you can also opt for a food tour, which will showcase many local ingredients and make sure you’re introduced to classical dishes in the company of an expert who will let you know the history behind the food. Through Goway, I went on a food tour one morning in Lima and visited local markets to try out unique fruits and vegetables (like prickly pear cactus) before heading to a local seafood restaurant, Santo Pez, to observe chefs making classic dishes and to enjoy a three-course lunch.
At Santo Pez, I got to try several traditional Peruvian dishes, starting with ceviche, which is fresh, raw fish marinated in lime juice. It was followed by causa, a savoury potato casserole served as an appetizer, and arroz con mariscos, a type of Peruvian seafood paella. I could’ve also opted for lomo saltado, the quintessential Peruvian dish, which is stir fried beef, onions, tomatoes, peppers, and French fries served with rice. Just be sure not to make the same mistake I made and eat breakfast before embarking on your food tour. You’ll have plenty of fill you up during the tour itself.
Chifa and Nikkei, Peruvian fusion
Another thing you need to do while in Lima is sample the country’s incredible fusion cuisine. Peru has experienced a lot of immigration over the past century, especially from China and Japan due the country’s location along the Pacific Ocean. As a result of these waves of immigrants, Chinese and Japanese cuisine began to blend with local traditions and ingredients, creating two brand new styles of cuisine: Chifa and Nikkei.
Chifa is the name for Chinese-Peruvian fusion, while Nikkei is used to describe Japanese-Peruvian fusion. You’ll find many restaurants serving both kinds of cuisine in Lima, including the aforementioned Maido. Chifa dishes include variations on the likes of chow mein, known as tallarin saltado, and wonton soup, known as sopa wantan. For Nikkei cuisine, you’ll find sashimi and sushi rolls, which often incorporate ubiquitous local ingredients like sweet potato. In particular, ceviche lends itself well to Nikkei cuisine, since raw fish is central to both Japanese and Peruvian cooking.
What to drink in Lima?
Lima’s bar scene
Lima also abounds with good bars and drinking establishments. There are the sorts of raucous nightclubs and discotheques you’d expect of a South American capital, but also microbreweries and distinguished cocktail bars. Miraflores and San Isidro abound with trendy establishments, while Barranco is a good place to find a quirky bar and while away a late afternoon.
You have to try the national drink, the pisco sour, while you’re on Peru travel in Lima, but if you’ve booked a tour, odds are a pisco sour will be involved at some point along the way. But in the slim chance that you aren’t going on a tour, you won’t have any problem finding a bar ready to whip up a delicious pisco sour for you.
Be sure to venture beyond the pisco sour, though, when exploring Lima. The city has experienced a boom in microbreweries and joints showcasing craft beer. The brewpub BarBarian has locations in Miraflores, Barranco, and San Isidro and is a good spot to try out local brews and even grab some food while you’re at it. Venture beyond Cusquena beer and experience some of the robust flavours of Lima’s microbrewing culture.
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