Peruvian cuisine is the culmination of three distinct food cultures. The indigenous food practices of the Inca Empire met Spanish culinary traditions in the 16th century, forming the basis of Peruvian cuisine. A strong African influence which came from the influx of slave labour during the colonial period and an influx of immigrant groups in later years from Japan, China and Italy added their own ethnic flavours to the pot, creating a varied cuisine often known as Peruvian Fusion. Each region has its own speciality and Peruvians are fiercely proud of their national and regional dishes.
Peru has around 28 diverse microclimates- from the vertical plateaus of the Andes to the exotic selvas (jungles) around the Amazon River and the arid, coastal capital of Lima. These provide Peru with an incredible diversity of food crops such as potatoes, purple corn, quinoa, cocoa, plantains, botija olives, bright green lemons and aji (Peruvian chilis). Dairy products are popular and meat and fish are a big part of the Peruvian diet. Indigenous animals like the famous cuy (guinea pig) and alpaca are eaten around Cusco and beyond whilst game such as wild pig, deer and even monkey is occasionally eaten in the jungle. The difficulty in breeding cattle at high altitude meant beef was historically produced on the coast near Lima but it is now eaten in Cusco too, alongside chicken, lamb and pork. The Pacific Ocean provides much of the countries fish and seafood but the Amazon and other rivers are also fished, mainly for trout, but also for turtles and piranhas.
The local diet in Cusco has been based on corn, potatoes, rice and indigenous animals for hundreds of years. This is still the case today and restaurants and street vendors reflect these culinary traditions as well as embracing more international influences. Typical dishes you will find in Cusco include; Cuy Chactado (fried guinea pig), Lomo Saltado (stir fried beef with rice and French fries) and Anticuchos (Skewers of marinated, grilled meat- usuallybeef heart). Dishes from other parts of the country like Ceviche (‘raw’ fish marinated in lime and chilli, served with sweet potato, onion and corn), Empanadas (meat turnovers), chupe de camarones (crayfish, potato, milk and aji soup) and Pappa Rellena (deep-fried potato stuffed with ground meat, eggs and olives) are also popular. The Pachamanca, ‘earth oven’, is a special banquet usually reserved for large celebrations amongst Peruvian families. Various meats, including cuy, vegetables and herbs are wrapped in banana leaves and slowly cooked underground on a bed of hot stones ,then shared by everyone. You can get in on the act in Cusco too where restaurants are preparing their own Pachamancas for customers.
Of course Cusco has not escaped the influence of modern fast food from North America, and hamburgers and pizzas are readily available in many restaurants. Chifa (Chinese) restaurants are also popular and offer a unique take on Chinese food that often fuses local culinary ingredients and influences. Vegetarian and vegan food is steadily increasing with many, often Indian based, cafés and restaurants catering for meat and dairy free diets. Try ocopa (boiled potatoes with cheese and nuts) or arroz tapado (a mix of onions, garlic, tomatoes, raisins, eggs, olives and rice- just ask for it without the steak!) Choclo (giant corn on the cob) is often smothered in aji and can be bought from street vendors making for a delicious snack whilst exploring.