The traditional cuisine of the Peruvian Andes is satisfyingly nourishing and nutritious, especially while acclimatizing to the high altitude’s thin air. While many of the staple Andean ingredients won’t raise any eyebrows, others will certainly give you pause. Our recommendation is to give them all a chance, remembering all the while that Incan emperors once dined and imbibed on the very same cuisines. Of the long list of Andean food and drink, here are the absolute must-try’s:
Choclo con Queso
You’ll find this local delicacy boiling inside large metal pots on the streets next to a stack of cheese wheels. It’s one of the Peruvian Andes most popular salty sweet street food snacks. The giant ears of corn are served in their husk with a healthy portion of queso paria. a smooth and soft cheese made from Andean cow’s milk.
Adobo is a flavor-packed Andean soup that’s every hungover Peruvian’s favorite morning meal. The recipe varies slightly by city, but the central ingredients remain the same: pork, onion, and rocoto (hot pepper) in a spicy red broth. You’ll find this beloved Andean dish at picanterías and chicharronerías across southern Peru.
Cuy (pronounced “COO-ee”) wins as the Peruvian Andes’ most exotic cuisine. While the rest of world domesticates guinea pigs and calls them the household pet, the people of the Peruvian Andes dine on cuy for lunch, dinner, and even as a drive-by snack. There are two ways to dig into your first cuy while in Peru: fried (chactado) or oven-roasted (al horno), but you’ll find cuy al horno is most common in the Cusco region.
You’ll need a bit of patience if you plan to sample this Andean dish. The pachamanca is as much an experience as it is a meal. A medley of marinated meats, beans, potatoes, and humitas are cooked for several hours under the earth by hot stones. Once ready, the earth oven is opened up and its now smoky and tender contents are dished up on plates for all to enjoy. The pachamanca tradition dates back to Incan times when its preparation was meant to both pay tribute to Pachamama (Mother Earth) and celebrate her life-giving fertility.
Alpaca and Llama
Alpaca and llama are synonymous with Peru, but did you know you could eat them too? In the Andes, they’ve been part of the local diet for centuries. Whether served on a skewer (locally known as anticuchos) or dished up as a steak, the meat is lean, tender, and sweet. Llama and alpaca meat also makes for excellent jerky, something the Incas whipped up often for an on-the-go nutritious snack.
Chicha de Jora
This popular Andean alcoholic beverage (1–3% ABV) is prepared with a local yellow corn called jora. Don’t let its saliva-activated fermentation process put you off from giving the sacred drink of the Incas a try. Its soup-like consistency and slightly sour flavor go down easily. Before you know it, you’ll be ordering another colossal-sized glass. To find it, just look for homes and restaurants donning a red bag or flag on a stick – the signal that a fresh batch is ready.
Amber is a freelance travel writer currently calling Cartagena, Colombia home, originally from Washington D.C. Besides putting pen to paper in a cozy coffee shop, her favorite thing to do is purchase one-way tickets to South American destinations for the purpose of getting to know a city fully. So far, Arequipa, Cusco, and Cartagena have had her full attention while Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, and Medellin are contenders for her next deep dive.