15 dishes you must try while volunteering in South America
Photo: Latin Discoveries
Do you love trying new food? Look no further than Peru for a unique food adventure that will complete your South American expedition.
There are countless things to do in Peru, but trying the country’s traditional and fusion dishes might just be the most fun.
Peruvian food is a fusion of multiple different culinary traditions and, as a result, it has evolved to be its own distinct tradition.
Its influences are geographically diverse – from the early Inca peoples, Spanish conquistadors, and slaves brought over from African, to more recent groups of French, German, Italian, Chinese, and Japanese descent. Consequently, Peru has made a name for itself as a must-visit destination in South America for foodies around the world.
In addition to its various cultural influences, Peru has been endowed with incredible biodiversity. Such diversity only contributes to the variety of dishes locals can create: making Peruvian food all the more interesting to eat.
As with many countries, popular foods vary throughout the country, making up three distinct culinary regions. Each is a reflection of the geography, climate, native plants, and local lifestyles of the people who live there.
As a traveler and volunteer in Peru, you’ll be remiss if you don’t eat as many traditional Peruvian dishes as you can. And what better excuse to visit multiple regions of the country than that?
Photo: World Wide Gifts
Enjoy hearty dishes in the Andes mountain range
High up in the Andes mountains you’ll find hearty dishes designed to keep people warm and full. Stews and soups are among the most popular dishes. These often include the regional staples of corn, meat, and potatoes, in addition to hot peppers and local spices.
You’ll also find dried foods, like charqui. Fun fact: charqui is the originator of the popular North American snack, jerky!
In the Andes, food is most commonly cooked slowly over a wood stove. Pachamanca, the placement of meat and herbs on a bed of hot stones underground, is the traditional cooking method. This has been practiced for centuries and remains popular for preparing meals today.
Because it takes such a long time to cook using this method, it is often reserved for special occasions and celebrations. As a traveler, consider yourself lucky to enjoy a meal prepared this way.
A house pet in many other countries, cuy, commonly known as guinea pig, is a traditional Andean entrée. Cuy is usually served with potatoes or rice and a rich, spicy sauce, and can be prepared multiple ways: baked (cuy al horno) or fried (cuy chactado).
Considered one of the more famous Andean dishes, rocoto relleno is a Peruvian variety of stuffed peppers. This brightly colored dish is comprised of ground beef, peas, carrots, and local spices.
Papa a la Huancaina
This delicious dish is a must-try for anyone who loves potatoes and eggs. Papa a la Huancaina (Huancayo style potatoes) is a dish made with yellow potatoes covered in a creamy cheese sauce, and served with hard-boiled eggs and black olives. You can also enjoy the Huancaina sauce as a dip for corn, fried yucca, or as a sauce for spaghetti.
Experience the tropical flavors of the Amazon basin
The Peruvian Amazon region is rich in biodiversity and exotic flora and fauna. Native tropical fruits, freshwater fish, and local wildlife provide rich and unique ingredients for the region’s dishes, from fruits like guanabana (soursop) and cheriymoya, to fish and meat like piranha and paca (a rodent).
With thousands of species of fish and an abundance of other wildlife and tropical fruits, it is no wonder that these mouth-watering Amazonian dishes are so popular. Don’t forget to add a fresh glass of fruit juice to complete your meal for a true Amazonian meal experience.
Made up of fish and vegetables wrapped and grilled in a fresh bijao leaf, this dish is only ever served with the freshest ingredients: onions, garlic, tomatoes, sweet chilies, and cilantro. It is then marinated in olive oil and white wine.
This flavorful dish is one of the region’s classics. Rice, mixed with meat, eggs, olives, and Amazonian spices and herbs, is wrapped in a bijao leaf and then boiled.
Tacacho con cecina
Made with one of Peru’s most popular fruits, tacacho con cecina is made with pork and bananas, mixed together and fried. They are served as meatball-size balls, often accompanied with juanes or smoked sausage.
Savor the fresh flavors of the coast
Being a coastal country, Peru has been endowed with an abundance of seafood. Lima, in particular, is known for its fresh and flavorful seafood dishes: propelling it to the top of foodie lists everywhere.
While the Peruvian coast is less well-known for its Creole influences – which encompass a combination of African and Spanish food that has evolved over the centuries – these fusion dishes are extremely popular and common along the coast.
A preferred dish among locals and tourists alike, ceviche is known as Peru’s national dish. Incredibly flavorful, this dish is made with the freshest coastal ingredients: white fish from the Pacific Ocean, red onions, lime juice, sliced chili peppers, and salt. You can enjoy this dish is just about any restaurant along the coast, or from many of Lima’s street vendors.
Photo: G M
Leche de Tigre
For those who love ceviche, leche de tigre is another must-try dish. It is made with the leftover ceviche juices and is served as either a shot or as an appetizer. As an appetizer, it will be a thicker sauce and served with fish, making for a soupier version of ceviche.
Aji de gallina
Loosely translated as “creamy chicken”, aji de gallina is one of Peru’s most popular comfort foods. The shredded chicken is cooked with a unique combination of cream, cheese, walnuts, and chili, creating an array of flavors that will surely satisfy your pallet. It is served along with rice, a hard-boiled egg, and olives.
When trying anticuchos, you should be prepared to try meat from all parts of the animal – nothing goes wasted in Peru! Made from cow heart, these barbequed skewers are made with vinegar, garlic, and chili, and are often served with potatoes. Some of the best anticuchos are sold in Lima.
Explore Peru’s most popular fusion traditions
Photo: Cathrine Lindblom Gunasekara
You may not initially think of Japanese or Chinese flavors when you imagine Peruvian food, but influences from both have resulted in fusion dishes that are national staples.
With the second largest Japanese population in South America, Peru has been heavily influenced by Japan’s culture. The fusion of the two cultural cuisines is known as Nikkei, and in Peru you will find traditional Peruvian foods mixed with miso, ginger, soy, wasabi, and rice vinegar, giving it that unique Japanese twist.
Pancayaki is a new take on the Maki roll, combining classics like Andean potatoes and avocados with onion tempura, octopus, mushrooms, and anticuchera sauce.
Tallarin con pollo
The fusion of Peruvian and Chinese food is a style that has been embraced and celebrated in Peru. Known as chifa, this style of food has become authentic Peruvian food in its own right.
Tallarin con pollo is a dish that you will find on every chifa menu. Most commonly prepared with chicken, this dish is made with yellow egg noodles and stir-fried in a wok along with vegetables, Chinese onions, ginger, and soy sauce. There are several variations of this dish, surely to be a favorite for anyone who loves Chinese food and is looking to try a different variety of it.
Indulge your sweet tooth
A trip to Peru would not be complete without indulging in your sweet tooth and trying one of the many traditional Peruvian desserts the country has to offer.
Most commonly referred to as a type of donut, these African-inspired sweets are made from a combination of sweet potatoes and squash that is deep fried and served with cane syrup.
Photo: Lou Stejskal
Typical of the Lima area, this dessert is made from purple corn, which not only gives it its deep, rich purple color, but also its unique flavor. The thick, jelly-like dessert is then served with cinnamon sprinkled on top, and a variety of fresh and dried fruits on the side.
Cookie lovers will not be disappointed with their visit to Peru. Alfajores are soft, sweet cookies that sandwich a filling of manjar blanco (a caramel cream), and are topped with powdered sugar. They are best enjoyed with a cup of coffee, hot tea, or hot chocolate.
Ready to travel experience Peru’s wonderful food yourself? Volunteering in Peru will now only allow you to contribute to high-impact community projects but will give you the change to get to know communities on a more personal level. There’s no better way to learn about the culture and experience the food than from the locals themselves.
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