Lima has rightfully earned a popular reputation as the culinary capital of South America. With a blend of ingredients and traditions from its indigenous population, as well as African, East Asian, and European influences, the cuisine of Lima is a sight to behold. From street carts, to market stalls, all the way up to Michelin-starred fine dining establishments, there’s great food to be eaten everywhere in this city.
What to Eat
There are too many options for me to list in one article, so I’ve selected my ten favorite items. To me, these items best represent Limeño cuisine. Here’s my list of what to eat in the City of Kings:
This is the obvious one, so it should naturally be mentioned first. Ceviche was invented in Peru, and no other place in the world does it quite like Lima. Ceviche is by far the most popular Peruvian dish internationally, to the point that many countries now offer their own regional variation of this iconic Peruvian delicacy.
The standard recipe for classic Peruvian ceviche de pescado uses the following: chunks of raw fish, thinly sliced purple onion, chopped ají pepper (usually ají limo, but others can be used as well), lime juice, salt, and pepper. Cilantro was not part of the original Peruvian ceviche recipe, however, its present day use in Peru varies from place to place. That’s it. Nothing further is added to a true Peruvian ceviche, especially not that most vile of condiments: ketchup.
After lightly mixing, ceviche is then left to marinate for 5 to 10 minutes. It’s then plated on a few leaves of bib lettuce with the following accompanying items on the same plate: a partial cob of boiled choclo (giant Andean corn with amusingly large kernels), boiled camote (sweet potato), and cancha (fried Andean corn: the original Corn Nuts). Lastly, yuyo de mar, a seaweed similar to the kind used in Japanese seaweed salads, is placed on top as a tasty, edible garnish.
In Lima, the preferred fish is lenguado (sole). These are large, halibut-sized sole, and they’re extremely tasty. Contrary to popular American myth, ceviche doesn’t have to be made exclusively with white fish. In fact, lenguado is often pink white or brown white in color, and far more flavorful than many white fish commonly used in ceviche in the United States (particularly cod and tilapia).
There are countless locations in Lima where you can find exquisite ceviche. My two favorite places to eat ceviche are Restaurant Sonia in Chorrillos and Cevichería Puro Tumbes in La Victoria. For a more in-depth look at eating ceviche in Lima, check out my article: Lima: The Cradle of Ceviche.
Anticuchos are grilled beef heart skewers. They’re one of the tastiest things you can eat in Peru, particularly within Lima. Don’t be put off by eating beef heart. The taste is phenomenal, the texture is close to that of arrachera (hanger steak), and heart is actually quite lean for red meat (particularly for organ meat). If you enjoy marinated meat, grilled over an open flame, you ‘ll love anticuchos.
Beef heart is cut up into cubes approximately two by two inches in size. The fat, ventricles, and membranes are trimmed, leaving nothing but lean, red meat cubes, which are then marinated in a solution of vinegar, olive oil, dried ají panca (a local chile with a deep red hue), garlic, cumin, oregano, salt, and pepper. The marinated meat is then placed onto skewers, and roasted, scored, and basted continuously over a fire until grilled to perfection.
Anticuchos are a pre-Colombian dish, but they’ve had a few modifications along the way. Prior to the arrival of the Spanish, anticuchos were more likely to be made out of llama or alpaca. The Spanish introduced beef, as well as vinegar, olive oil, garlic, cumin, and black pepper. African slaves are said to have added the final and most important touch to anticuchos: the use of beef hearts. The Spanish, in their cruelty, left the slaves only offal meats, such as heart and other organs, to prepare their meals. The slaves, in their resilience, turned this leftover organ meat into a national delicacy.
The best place to eat anticuchos in Lima is Anticuchos de la Tía Grima, a Miraflores tradition since 1973. After being highlighted on national TV by Peruvian chef Gastón Acurio, Tía Grimanesa (or Tía Grima, as most Limeños call her) is now the most popular anticuchera on the planet, and carries several awards for the best anticucho on Earth.
Abandoned with 5 kids to feed, Tía Grima first began making chanfainita (stewed beef lungs), pancita (grilled beef stomach), rachi (grilled omasum, the third chamber of beef stomach), and eventually her prized anticuchos, as a way of supporting her children. For decades, she had successfully operated her stand nightly from 7:00 to 11:00 PM, with lines forming in anticipation as early as 6:00 PM. People from all walks of life would be seen eating her anticuchos in the street: from blue collar workers, to club-going students, to high brow executives. Everybody wanted a piece of the good stuff.
With so much popularity and success, she was able to transform the humble street cart on the corner of Enrique Palacios and 27 de noviembre into a full-blown restaurant on Calle Ignacio Merino in Miraflores. One plate arrives with two gigantic skewers of anticuchos, perfectly boiled potatoes, and sides of salsa de ají verde (green chile sauce) and salsa de rocoto (a bright red chile sauce), both of which are fiery hot and delicious. I highly recommend ordering a side of their popular choclo (giant Andean corn on the cob).
Lomo saltado is comprised of beef tenderloin strips, stir-fried with purple onion, tomato, chilies (usually ají amarillo or rocoto), cumin, vinegar, soy sauce, black pepper, and parsley. Recipes vary from person to person, with some adding cilantro and dried oregano as well. The resulting dish is fragrant, beefy, and tender, with a flavorful sauce (more of a juice, really) that is absorbed perfectly by the rice and french fries accompanying it.
While many describe lomo saltado as criollo cuisine, originating with Spanish descendants, it actually originated as chifa cuisine, a blend of Chinese and Peruvian ingredients and cooking methods. Lomo Saltado was first served exclusively with rice, but eventually french fries began to appear as part of the dish, with some even mixing them into the lomo saltado itself.
Cau cau is a Peruvian tripe stew with a wonderfully bright yellow color. Beef tripe is simmered until soft, then added to a pot with olive oil, boiled potatoes, ají amarillo (a yellow Peruvian chili pepper), turmeric (or palillo, as Peruvians call it), garlic, onion, cumin, peas, carrots, mint, black pepper, and oregano. It varies from person to person, though I personally prefer versions without dairy.
Cau cau is said to have originated in the African slave communities of coastal Peru. Much like with anticuchos, and chanfainita, African slaves again used their culinary ingenuity to turn less desired scraps of beef tripe into a beautiful, aromatic dish that will revitalize you. cau cau is a truly Peruvian dish, and can be found all over Lima. I ate mine at a random stall in the Surquillo market. Bar Juanito in Barranco also serves excellent cau cau.
Arroz Chaufa is Peruvian fried rice. Like lomo saltado, it’s a type of chifa cuisine, created by the Peruvian Chinese community. Like Chinese fried rice, arroz chaufa contains, rice, fried in a wok with oil at high temperatures. The usual condiments such as egg and soy sauce (which Peruvians call sillao, derived from the Cantonese word for soy sauce: siyau), and scallions are added. However, it also uses local Peruvian ingredients, such as ají, for a different flavor.
During my stay in Lima, I ate arroz chaufas with beef, pork, chicken, duck, shrimp, and even crayfish. I had them served straight up on a plate, or with sides such as french fries, cancha, and choclo. All were delicious, but my personal favorites were duck and crayfish arroz chaufas. I had the duck arroz chaufa at Chifa San Joy Lao in Barrio Chino and the crayfish arroz chaufa at Cevichería Puro Tumbes in La Victoria.
Salsa a la Huancaína
Despite its name implying that it originated in Huancayo, salsa a la huancaína originated in Lima. It was first brought about during construction of the central railroad between Lima and Huancayo, which lies more than 10,000 feet above sea level and roughly 6 hours way from Lima by train. Papa a la huancaína was served as a light snack to be eaten before ascending 10,000 feet up via railcar.
Huancaína sauce originally consisted of olive oil, queso fresco (fresh, crumbly Peruvian cheese), ají amarillo (lightly sauteed in the olive oil), milk, and a final touch of salt. Over the years, numerous ingredient variations have been introduced to individual recipes, such as garlic, onion, and saltine crackers (for thickening). Evaporated milk is commonly used instead of regular milk, as it preserves better, thickens the cheese sauce more easily, and has a more consistent texture.
Papa a la huancaína consists of boiled yellow potatoes, sliced hard-boiled egg, and olives, as well as a garnish of lettuce. Papa a la huancaína is served cold. Don’t be put off by this. In my opinion, it tastes much better this way. Remember, it’s a snack, not a meal.
Peruvians love tallarines, which is their name for wheat noodles, whether they be pasta, or of the East Asian variety. The Spanish word tallarín derives from the Italian word taglierini, which is a specific ribbon pasta, similar to tagliatelle. As it’s made in Northern Italy, taglierini is an egg pasta. However, the word “tallarín” in Peru (and most of South America), has lost this specificity and become a generic catch-all term (much the way Kleenex has for tissues in the United States) for long, skinny wheat noodles of many varieties.
Given the love for both huancaína sauce and tallarines in Peru, it was inevitable that cooks would soon begin making pasta with huancaína sauce as an ingredient. The huancaína sauce in this warm dish bonds perfectly with the pasta, providing a mild spice, bright yellow color, and rich aroma. Tallarines a la huancaína can be found with just huancaína sauce, or with additional ingredients such as shrimp, anchovies, chicken, and so on.
Tiradito is a Nikkei (Japanese-Peruvian) dish that is somewhat like a Peruvian version of sashimi and carpaccio combined, mixed with some elements of ceviche, then smothered in a bright yellow sauce. Tiradito differs from ceviche in that rather than being cured in lime juice for five to ten minutes, it’s prepared, covered in sauce, and then served almost immediately. This is possible due to the thinner, sashimi-like cut of tiradito, whereas ceviche’s larger, cube-like cut requires a longer curing time.
Tiradito’s signature yellow sauce is made with ají amarillo (blended into a paste), lime juice, chopped ají limo, and salt. Some variations use finely chopped ginger and garlic as well. Chopped cilantro is sprinkled on top as a garnish. The finely cut fish is then plated next to choclo (giant corn), sweet potato, and lettuce, and topped with the sauce. Unlike with ceviche, onions are never used in making tiradito. I recommenced getting this dish at Restaurant Sonia or Cevichería Puro Tumbes.
Pollo a la Brasa
Pollo a la brasa is Peruvian rotisserie chicken, cooked over an open flame. Chicken is marinated in cumin, dried ají panca, garlic, mustard, soy sauce, vinegar, salt, and black pepper. Some cooks use beer as well. In the Andean regions of Peru, the herb huacatay is often added to the marinade. The chicken is then placed in a rotisserie and roasted until it’s golden brown and slightly crispy on the outside, yet tender and juicy on the inside.
This dish was invented in Lima in the 1950s by Roger Schuler and Franz Ulrich, two Swiss immigrants to Peru, who opened La Granja Azul to sell their popular grilled chicken. After their success, they soon moved on from manually turning chicken over coals, to installing a Swiss-made invention that would revolutionize their business: a mechanical rotisserie that would rotate a large volume of chickens simultaneously over the fire.
Pollo a la brasa is served with french fries and ají sauces, with the most common sauce being made of ají verde and mayonnaise, cheese, or saltines. In the Andes, the most common sauce is salsa uchucuta, which contains rocotos, toasted peanuts, and huacatay. You can find pollo a la brasa all over Lima. Though La Granja Azul may have invented it, it’s not the only popular place. Some chains, such as Pardo’s, have even opened up international locations around the world.
Butifarras are Peruvian sandwiches. The name comes from the butifarra, a type of sausage from the autonomous Catalan region of Spain. Italian immigrants in Lima introduced other ingredients, such as ham, over the years, and now, in present day Peru, most sandwiches are made with anything but the actual butifarra sausage.
Butifarras are usually made with marraqueta (similar to french bread) or roseta (similar to a Kaiser roll) bread, both of which contain nothing more than wheat flour, water, yeast, and salt. They both have a little bit of crunch on the outside, but give way to a soft interior. Meat, lettuce, mustard, mayonnaise, salsa de ají amarillo, and salsa criolla (purple onion, aji amarillo, cilantro, salt, pepper, lemon juice, and olive oil) are layered between the bread.
The most common ingredient is jamón del país, which is a Peruvian style ham. A deboned and filleted pork leg is soaked overnight in a brine of salt and water. The leg is then dried and rubbed in a marinated of garlic, salt, black pepper, turmeric, cumin, and white vinegar, then rolled up, tied with kitchen twine, and left to marinate for a minimum of twelve hours.
The ham is then simmered in a pot of water, salt, purple onion, leeks, carrots, bay leaves, mint, rosemary, and black peppercorns until it reaches a tender consistency. Once removed from the pot, the ham is rubbed down with an achiote oil solution (made by browning achiote seeds in oil), to give the ham’s exterior its signature red finish.
My favorite place to eat butifarras in Lima is Bar Juanito, in Barranco. One of the most iconic bars in Barranco, Bar Juanito (which also goes by Juanito de Barranco) has been owned and operated by Juanito Casusol and his family since 1939. It’s a beautiful, rustic bar, that serves excellent drinks. Don Juanito passed away in 2011, but his family eventually re-opened the bar (originally located on 274 Avenida Grau) in the building next door (270 Avenida Grau), complete with all of the original furniture and artwork from the former location.
Bar Juanito specializes in several varieties of butifarra, all of which are amazing. There are several types of ham, including the aforementioned jamón del país, an olive butifarra, a sardine butifarra, and the house specialty, a smoked pork butifarra. Though I enjoyed every single one of them, my personal favorites were the sardine butifarra and the house specialty. Washing them down with a beer and a glass of pisco make it all the more worthwile.
Pisco is type of Peruvian brandy that is distilled from select varieties of grape wine. Pisco was invented in Pisco, Peru, yet much like with ceviche, some nationalistic Chileans have gone to great lengths to undeservedly take credit for its creation. By law, Peruvian pisco cannot be barrel aged, diluted with water, or have additives, unlike that lesser Chilean aguardiente that Chileans falsely claim as pisco.
Pisco can only be produced in the following five regions of Peru: Lima, Ica (the region containing the city of Pisco), Arequipa, Moquegua, and Tacna (which borders Chile). Pisco can only be made from the following eight grape varietals: Quebranta, Negra Criolla, Uvina, Mollar, Moscatel, Torontel, Italia, and Albilla. Pisco, like Armagnac, Cognac, and Brandy de Jerez, can only be made from wine. Unlike grappa, which pisco is occasionally compared to, it cannot be made from pomace (the leftover smashed grapes from the wine making process), .
Pisco is produced in a copper pot still, where it’s distilled to its exact proof (between 76 to 96 proof, or 38 to 48% alcohol by volume). Because pisco cannot be aged in wood, or have water and other impurities added to it, it has to be made to the highest quality. In many types of liquor, including rum, tequila, and whiskey, undrinkable flavors and impurities would normally be mellowed out by barrel aging, diluted by water, or covered up by additives. With pisco, everything has to be done correctly from the start. There is no room for error. This makes for a superior distilled spirit.
There are four distinct pisco classifications: Puro, Aromáticas, Mosto Verde, and Acholado. Puro is made from only one non-aromatic grape varietal: Quebranta, Negra Criolla, Uvina, or Mollar. Aromáticas means that the pisco is made from only one aromatic grape varietal: Moscatel, Torontel, Italia, or Albilla. Mosto Verde pisco is made from semi-fermented grape must. Acholado pisco is multivarietal, utilizing a blend of two or more grape varietals. Pisco producers can produce no more than two Acholados, one from Puro varietals and one from Mosto Verde varietals.
Most visitors to Peru try the Pisco Sour, the most famous drink in the country. Pisco, key lime juice, simple syrup, and beaten egg white are mixed and garnished with bitters. Pisco sours are wonderfully refreshing, and surprisingly strong. The Chilcano is a mix of pisco, ginger ale, key lime juice, and bitters, and is also an excellent drink.
While pisco cocktails are widely popular in Peru, I prefer drinking pisco neat. Good pisco has a wonderful, aromatic finish, that’s hard to describe. It’s best enjoyed sipped from a snifter. My favorite brand that I’ve tried so far is Biondi, which uses grapes grown in the Moquegua region (in the far South of Peru). It’s much less known in the United States, but in Peru, it’s widely known as one of the best piscos on the market.
I recommend heading to Bar Juanito in Barranco for all your Pisco needs. They have several varieties of pisco and make excellent cocktails, among them pisco sours and chilcanos. Pisco makes for a great pre-meal aperativo or post-meal digestivo, especially when putting down several of Juanito’s signature butifarras.
Lima: Always Worth a Return Visit
Lima is such a giant, vibrant, cosmopolitan city, that I could go on listing food endlessly, but these are my ten recommendations for any first-time visitor to Peru. This small sample will give you a great idea of the wide variety of high quality dishes available in Lima. You’ll see firsthand why it’s been dubbed the culinary capital of South America, and like me, you’ll want to come back as often as you can.
Restaurant Sonia is open from 12:00 PM to 5:00 PM, 7 days a week.
Cevichería Puro Tumbes has two locations. This location is open from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM, 7 days a week.
Anticuchos de la Tía Grimanesa is open from 5:00 PM to 11:00 PM, Monday through Saturday, and is closed Sundays.
Surquillo Market in Miraflores opens daily at 7:00 AM. Food stalls and vendors close at varying hours.
Mercado Número 1 de Surquillo
Avenida Paseo de la Republica and Calle Narciso de la Colina
+51 947 893 626
Chifa San Joy Lao is open from 2:00 PM to 10:00 PM, every day.
Juanito de Barranco (Bar Juanito) is open from 11:30 AM to 2:30 AM, every day.