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Food and Drink

Peru - Food and Drink


Travelers to Peru need to be aware that the tap water is not safe to drink unless it has boiled for between one and three minutes. Cholera and typhoid are among the many microorganisms that could make you sick. Only water that is bottled, has come from a shop, and has the seal intact should be consumed. Roadside vendors selling tap water in reused water bottles are to be avoided, as are any drinks watered down with tap water, and ice cubes.

In upmarket restaurants and hotels, the staff will have received thorough training in food safety and the head chef will work hard to maintain the establishment’s reputation. As a result, hygiene standards will mirror those in the west. However, in the rest of Peru, this cannot be taken for granted. Some restaurants and all street food vendors will be without access to a refrigerator, and food safety training will be patchy or absent. Choose where you eat carefully; saving a small sum of money on a meal could turn out to be a bad decision.

As Peru has a varied climate, fresh fruit and vegetables are available throughout the year. Make sure you have washed them in bottled water or cooked them thoroughly before eating.

Lima is a cosmopolitan city whose cuisine reflects the centuries of trade and colonization. Native American and Spanish dishes have developed with influence from African, Asian and Italian travelers into a range of creole dishes. All the food tends to be spicier and heavier than many Westerners are used to.

One of the country’s staple foods is rice, along with corn and papas, or potatoes. In the jungle, yuca is a common ingredient in many dishes.

Peruvian cuisine tends to make use of any meat available. Previously, alpaca meat was on the menu, but this is quite tough, so these days they are just kept as work animals and for wool. Familiar livestock meat such as chicken, pork, beef and lamb or mutton are commonly served. In the Andes, the delicacy known as cuy, or guinea pig, will widely be on offer. Traditionally, nothing goes to waste in the Peruvian kitchen, so there are recipes for a variety of animal organs. The most widely found today are the street food kebabs called anticuchos, made from marinated cow’s heart.

Fishing is big business in Peru, and has always provided a major source of food in the country. There is a long and accessible coastline, and many rivers run through the jungle. Ceviche is spicy, raw fish marinated in lime juice, while popular variations use the same technique for shellfish and sea urchins. Fish eggs, yellow sauce and potatoes combine to make the dish cau-cau. Fresh trout, or truchas are especially bred in the Sierra.

Unfortunately, the illegal production of cocaine in the selva alta jungle area means strong chemicals are routinely dumped into the local rivers. Added to the more minor pollution associated with the legal mining operations in the area, fish caught there should not be eaten.

Peruvians enjoy eating sandwiches, known as sanguche. A whole variety of fillings are used, and they are eaten at any time of day or night. Heavy slices of pork, ham, as well as the triple combination of avocado, tomato and egg are typical choices.

Another popular food choice is soup. The huge range of soup recipes available in Peru reflect the different regions of this diverse country. Chicken, beef and noodles, shrimp, minestrone, quinoa, peanuts, chickpeas, yuca, onions, garlic or even milk and cheese are used to make Peruvian soups that are distinctive from those of other nations.

Vegetarians will find provision in the major cities, with dedicated meat-free restaurants. Rigoletto Lima, Nanka and Matria Restaurant are some of the many popular choices in Lima. However, generally in Peruvian culture, vegetables are there to accompany the meat, which is the centre of the meal.

Fast food is widely available in Lima. However, in the rest of the country, Western style fast food provision is patchy.

Peruvian desserts are plentiful, and tend to be very sweet and heavy. Purple corn is used to make a drink known as chicha morada and the purple custard known as mazamorra morada. This latter treat can be added to the mixture of rice and condensed milk called arroz con leche to make the combinado dessert.

Yams' dough can be fried up into a picarone and served with the sweet sugarcane syrup chancaca.

Peru has a long tradition of alcohol production and consumption. Wine is produced in the Pisco-Nasca region, and is inexpensive to buy. Most Peruvian beers are brewed to be lighter than European ones but stronger than American beers. Pisco Sour, made from pisco brandy, includes egg whites and has a sweet taste. It is a very strong drink, so be careful just to have one!

If you see a long stick with a brightly coloured bag on top, you know the alcoholic drink chicha is sold there. This is made from fermented corn and is also strong.

Inca kola is a non-alcoholic Peruvian drink. Bright yellow, it has a distinctive bubble gum flavor. Alternatively, try the chicha morada drink mentioned above, which is made from boiled purple corn, sugar and spices.

Vendors in the streets sell the very cheap hot drink called emoliente. You choose from a range of fruit and herbal extracts, or you accept the vendor’s own mix. It could be described as a type of tea, although some people drink it cold.

The tea drink known as mate de coca is normally served hot. Despite being from the leaves of the coca plant, it is not a drug and is legal to be served and drunk. However, don’t take it out of the country, as many countries will arrest you for importing a coca product.

Since Peru produces more organic coffee than any other nation, this is available in plentiful supply there.

If you are caught in connection with drugs offenses, even if you have been tricked into carrying drugs without your knowledge, you risk being detained. Prison conditions in Peru are unpleasant. View all unexpected gifts with suspicion and do not take them out of the country unless you know the donor well. Do all your own packing. Never agree to take possession of any drugs, no matter how small. If you obtain drugs in Peru you may be robbed during your purchase, or you may be stopped by a police officer demanding a bribe.

Since April 2010, it has been illegal for anyone to smoke cigarettes in a public place in Peru, inside or outdoors. This includes healthcare centers, educational institutions, public and private transport, hotels, bars and workplaces. Smokers enjoying a meal will usually go and stand in the street to smoke, before joining their party indoors again.


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