Eat Like a Local: Lima

Five easy tips to Peruvian cuisine.

By / June 2012

As an avid eater, my first order of business when traveling is to get the culinary lay of the land. I do research before departing of course, but I’ve found that there’s really no better way to get your bearings than through the sage advice of someone who actually lives and works in that place. Whether it’s a taxi driver, or a chef, or a friend of a friend, I always ask: How do I eat like a local here?

On my recent trip to Lima, I sought out the advice of the folks at Capital Culinaria, a food tour company run by married couple Samantha and Lucas. The pair specializes in small food tours that are high on locally owned spots and low on tourist traps. Whether you’re headed to Peru by plane or only to the Latin section of your local international market, here are five tips I picked up from Lucas about how to eat like a local in Lima.

1. Start with the basics. The world of Peruvian ingredients and dishes is vast and diverse, but start your trip with a stop by a local market to get to know foods such as lucuma, a tropical fruit that tastes of butterscotch and also makes a great ice cream flavor. When ordering in restaurants, work your way through some of Peru’s most iconic, traditional dishes first. Some of these dishes include:

Lomo saltado: Stir-fried beef with onions and peppers and served with potatoes (usually French fries) and fried eggs. With its flavors of soy, this dish testifies to the presence of Asian communities in Peru.

Anticuchos: Skewered, grilled meats. Try the beef heart, you won’t regret it.

Causas: Cubes or rounds of cold, mashed potatoes stuffed with everything from crab to shrimp to avocado.

Cebiche (also spelled: ceviche): Raw fish marinated in lime and chiles. Served with thinly sliced red onion, potatoes, and Incan corn.

2. Speaking of cebiche, eat it for lunch, not dinner. This is a tradition that took root when a lack of modern refrigeration met with a bounty of fresh seafood just after the fishing boats docked in the mornings.

Pisco sour, a brandy-based cocktail, is a popular spirit in Lima. Photograph by Martha Miller

You’ll find the best cebicherias in town, most of which are only open for lunch, clustered along Mariscal La Mar, including Gastòn Acurio’s La Mar and the well-regarded Embarcadero 41.

3. Get to know your piscos. A brandy made from grapes, pisco is the liquor of choice in Peru. Ranging in price and palate (thanks to different grape blends), the most popular cocktail is the pisco sour—a shaken together mixture of pisco, lime juice, simple syrup, egg whites, and bitters. But my favorite concoction is the refreshing chilcano – pisco, lime juice, and ginger ale served in a tall glass with plenty of ice.

4. If you’re really going local, go Inca Kola. With its neon green color and lemon verbena flavor redolent of sickly sweet bubble gum, Inca Kola is ubiquitous in Peru and available worldwide in many international markets. Seated on the patio of Restaurant Huaca Pullcana overlooking the ruins, I watched as two exceptionally well-dressed and serious businessmen downed tall glasses of the nuclear-colored stuff alongside their gourmet lunch and I figured I’d give it a go. I didn’t make it past sip number one, the over-the-top sweetness threatening to kill my appetite, but it wouldn’t have been a trip to Peru without it.

5. Embrace a little fast food, done the Pardos way. The Peruvian chicken at Pardos is famous for a reason. I usually eschew chain restaurants on travel, but try as I might to avoid Pardos, I found myself tucked into one of their booths after receiving yet another recommendation. Overlooking the cliffs of Miraflores and surrounded by Peruvian families for lunch, I cleaned my plate without shame. With a healthy price point, speedy service, and a trio of addictive dipping sauces served alongside spiced, juicy chicken, you just might find yourself dreaming of Pardos long after your return home.


Martha Miller is the food columnist for EthnoTraveler.