Peru is home to some of the most extreme variations in environment and climate on the entire planet. From sea level to Machu Picchu, there is a complex tapestry of microclimates, temperature changes, and soil conditions that have given life to a wide variety of crops, animals, and most importantly, cuisine.
Depending on where you are in Peru, the food you’ll find will be wildly different. And while you must believe me when I say ‘everything is really really good,’ you will find quite the swing in flavor and ingredients the higher or lower you climb in altitude.
This article aims to explore these differences and how they correspond to a city at a different elevation from sea level. The hope is to paint a picture of just how diverse the food culture is in Peru, and add a screaming endorsement for anyone who is considering a vacation. Go. Now.
Elevation: Sea Level
There are many varieties of ceviche throughout Latin America, but the stuff you’ll find in Lima, Peru’s capital city, is among the very best. It’s the dish that has driven the Peruvian food craze to nuclear levels, and one of the must-haves if you’re visiting the coastal city. Cuisine in Lima rests heavily on what’s provided by the sea, and ceviche is the crowning achievement. Peruvian ceviche typically features flounder, cooked potato chunks, corn kernels, and an assortment of different peppers.
Elevation: 1168’ above sea level
Dish: Lomo Fino
In the inland, mid-elevation city of Tarapoto is some of the finest beef Peru has to offer. Perhaps the best way to experience it is with lomo fino, a French inspired recipe that features the highest quality of tenderloin this side of Buenos Aires, Argentina. The area is also very near the Rio Cumbaza, which provides local restaurants with an abundance of doncella and paiche.
Elevation: 6275’ above sea level
Dish: Aji de Gallina
Higher up in the mountains sits the small town of Huanuco – a picturesque village surrounding a proud culinary tradition. If you happen to find yourself there, you can’t miss out on the locally prepared aji de gallina. It is a chicken dish cooked with onion, garlic, and bay leaves, then finished in a sauce containing yellow aji peppers, which are what give the dish its distinct color and texture. It is typically served with a toasted French baguette, because, you know, it needs to be even better than it already is.
Elevation: 7661’ above sea level
Dish: Rocoto Relleno
At the center of an extremely active food culture in the mountain city of Arequipa is rocoto relleno, a stuffed pepper with a distinctly Peruvian personality. A rocoto pepper looks like your run-of-the-mill red bell pepper, but hides a spicy secret that makes it unique to Peru. The peppers are boiled, then stuffed with a mixture of finely chopped beef, cheese, black olives, Peruvian spices, and peanuts, then baked until the cheese is molten. It’s an absolute can’t miss, and perfectly encapsulates the mountain food culture in Peru.