Peru can be considered among the world’s most culinarily interesting countries, “boasting” a food diversity only rivaled by China. Not just the potato, but also the tomato that Europeans and Americans celebrate in a variety of dishes, has its origins in Peru.
Peru is a colorful patch of various climatic zones, from iced mountain tops to dried deserts, to tropical terrain forests, to juicy grass landscapes that are home to herds of animals. It offers a diverse potential for agriculture and also rich fishing grounds on its Pacific facing shores. With culinary influences of Peru’s original inhabitants, as well as European migrants, its kitchen cuisine is regarded as being the best in South America.
My personal culinary travel experience in Peru
I was fortunate enough to travel to Peru and taste some of its food and drink some of its juices, which were made from the most delicious fruits I have tasted in my life. I might say this again in future, but at this point, in regard to my life-long fruit-experience, those were the best fruits I have ever had.
I visited a little town very close to the border of the Amazon jungle called Pucallpa. Before my trip, my wife, who was born in Peru, suggested I try as many different fruits as possible. I literally followed her advice. During my stay in Pucallpa, I would have fruits, eggs, bread, and tea for breakfast; fruits, vegetables, and a salad for lunch; and some more fruits, vegetables, and a fruit juice for dinner. I was in fruit paradise.
Camu Camu juice
Camu Camu is a typical Peruvian fruit that is native to the Peruvian Amazon Rainforest. The fruit is extremely acidic, which I found out in a rather amusing way.
My guide, translator, and friend during my trip ordered a Camu Camu juice one morning when he picked me up and we sat down for a bite before heading out for the day. So he ordered a Camu Camu and said: “With less sugar please.” I thought to myself, having never tried or even heard of the fruit before, well, fruits are usually sweet enough. So when it comes to my turn to order, I say: “Camu Camu with no sugar please!” Both the waiter and my friend look at me with an expression I can only interpret as questioning-astonishment. I did not understand their reaction then, but I do now, with a slight grin. My friend quickly added: “Un poco sugar,” which translates to “a little bit of sugar” in English.
When the juice was finally served, I was amazed. The color, the taste, and the smells were just mind-blowing, to me personally. I had never tasted anything like it before. I honestly can’t think of any Western fruit that I could reference it to for the sake of illustration. You’ll just have to try it for yourself if you ever happen to travel to Peru. Camu Camu became the signature drink that I had almost every night with my dinner.
One evening, however, I made sure to emphasize that I did not want any sugar in it. I was sure that they knew how I liked it and had considered my initial request at the beginning to add no sugar. But this particular evening, I just wanted to make sure. When I drank my first sip, I almost rolled together like an armadillo. The same drink, without a sprinkle of sugar, was incredibly sour. Like really sour! Not lemon or lime sour; Camu Camu sour. Regardless, I still consider it my favorite juice ever.
A healthy timeout
During my stay in Pucallpa, I was mostly on a plant-based diet. I was not dieting, rather only eating fruits and vegetables. For the time of my stay and even a week after I avoided coffee or any beverage with caffeine, as well as pork, beef, chicken, and anything excessively sweet. Why? Well, I needed a break from all the stuff that I excessively consumed back home; things like coffee and meat. I consumed them far too much for my taste. But my daily routine back home just kept on reinforcing my habits and I felt like I was stuck in a vicious cycle. I would try to get out, but mostly it would only last until I smelled freshly brewed coffee.
So while having the chance to visit a place so close to the jungle one could consider oneself being in the jungle, I figured I could use the remote “isolation” to disconnect myself from my bad eating and drinking habits. Indeed, I got a fresh look at things. I was humbled by the simple way people live here.
Dining where the locals eat
After seven days of plant dieting, I was ready to eat my first meal with meat. I asked my friend if he knew of any good place where the locals eat. The place he took me couldn’t have been more local than this place, located right on the banks of the Ucayali River, right where the little boats taking people up and down the river lay off from and return to.
My meal consisted of a delicious BBQ grilled fish that had a visual consistency of chicken, a piece of yucca root, and a delicious salad. One thing that is always served along with Peruvian food in a restaurant is “aji,” a type of hot sauce that you can enjoy with salted and fried corn as an appetizer or during the meal as a food topping, along with pickled onions.
The fish was really delicious, with a full taste that was slightly salty and the consistency of chicken meat. Very tasty. My taste buds where dancing. Each flavor in that meal was new to them. One thing to add is that I never had the feeling of not getting enough food on my plate. Peruvians, just like the Chinese, give a rich serving of food that will even fill up those who usually need a bit more to get full.
I intentionally didn’t mention ceviche, probably the most popular Peruvian dish among foreigners and Peruvians. There is enough information on the web to read about that dish. What I shared with you was something you won’t find everywhere, which makes it so unique. I feel very fortunate to have been able to sample all those delicious fruits, vegetables, and foods.
There are several really delicious street foods I very much enjoyed. One of them was BBQ skewered chicken. Peruvians use a number of favorite spices repeatedly across many of their dishes, and it seems that lime is never missing, either as a vinegar substitute in salad dressings or a meat marinade component lending the meat a limy but acidic-rounded flavor.
Fried fish and rice wrapped in banana
I really enjoyed the fish dishes in Peru. Ceviche is one of the most popular. Unfortunately, I don’t eat raw meat or fish, so I had to pass on that. But when it came to cooked food, I was all in. I can only recommend trying any fish you see frying on the BBQ in a restaurant and trying one of the many foods that come served, wrapped in banana leaves.
Spicy may not be everyone’s taste, but I must mention that the spicy dips (“aji”) you get with your food in Peru are really something and definitely worth a try, even for those who usually don’t like spicy.
Peru has a rich food culture. Each area has its own distinct flavor and dish. The local food and fruits I tried didn’t always look as eye-catching as the ones we are used to when we go shopping at our local supermarkets, but their taste was truly a sensation. The bananas I would have for breakfast looked and tasted far from what I know from home. The spices, the flavors, it was a true culinary experience I will never forget.
If there are any special Peruvian local dishes you have tried before and you’d like others to know about them, please feel free to share them below. Otherwise, feel free to read my other article on other things I experienced during my trip to —Peru in Lima, Mira Flores, and Pucallpa.