It is safe to say that food in Cuzco is quite unlike any of the food that many Americans have encountered in our daily lives. With the exception of ceviche which is common in the United States, most of the meals served in Cuzco have been pleasantly new for us to try. Below are some of the highlights of indigenous food that we have tasted.
Cuy (Guinea Pig)- This traditional Andean dish is generally hit or miss for most people; you either love it or you hate it. The meat is best compared to a more gamey version of dark chicken, and if cooked properly (either fried, broiled, or roasted) offers its eater quite a treat. A good indicator of how well a restaurant has cooked its cuy is if its outer skin is crisp like that of a fried chicken, and not overly tough or chewy. The reason for guinea pigs’ prominence in Andean food is due to the fact that they are extremely easy to mass produce as they inhabit much smaller places than livestock and can be grouped together in living spaces. Nonetheless, cuy is considered a delicacy in many places, as the relatively expensive prices at restaurants have hinted. Its effect on Peruvian culture is much larger than just food, as a famous painting in the Cuzco Cathedral shows a cuy being served at the Last Supper.
Empanadas- This tasty treat can be served either as an appetizer, entrée, or as street food. It is basically a fluffy pastry stuffed with some sort of meat: either ham and cheese, chicken, or ground beef. The chicken and ground beef usually has some sautéed onions, olives, or raisins added in the mix for extra flavor. These are the go-to if you are on a limited budget.
Maracuya/Granadilla (Passionfruit)- This is by far the strangest fruit you will ever eat; it’s taste is somewhat that of a kiwi. In order to tell if it is ripe, you must shake the fruit to feel if the seeds within are shaking. If so, peel off the outer layer, remove the membrane of the fruit, and simply suck out the flesh of the fruit, including the seeds. Yes, this sounds rather strange, but the taste is certainly worth it. This fruit is commonly used in fruit drinks in Peru as well.
Pollo a la braza- This is considered the “hamburger and fries” of Peru. Essentially Rotisserie Chicken, pollo a la braza is the staple of Peruvian cheap fast food. Served at most restaurants, it is always amongst the cheaper options on the menu, but don’t let this affect your perception of its quality. Juicy and tender dark meat is my recommendation, served with fries and a salad.
Pisco sour- For all alcohol lovers out there, it will please you to know that you will be able to drink without being carded in Peru. Pisco sour is considered to be the national drink of Peru, essentially a mix of Pisco, a Peruvian brandy, lime juice, syrup, egg white, and several herbs. It goes very well with most Peruvian dishes.