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Peruvian Criollo food is a melting pot of various cultural influences. The resulting mix of flavors are vibrant, colorful, and tasty dishes.
While exploring the local food specialties in Peru, we were surprised by the popular everyday dishes known as Criollo food.
After eating our way through the country, we highlight some of the most traditional Peruvian Criollo foods we discovered.
If your travels take you to Peru, here are 7 beloved Criollo foods not to miss.
What Is Criollo Food?
The short answer is criollo food is Peruvian “comfort food,” or everyday food. It is the food that many Peruvians eat in their homes.
If the word “criollo” sounds familiar, it’s likely because you’ve heard its English equivalent: Creole.
In Peru and other countries in Latin America, the word “Criollo” commonly refers to people who are descended from the Spanish colonial settlers.
In the past, Peruvians integrated different ingredients and cooking techniques into their cuisine.
These influences came not only from the Spanish but also from enslaved Africans, Chinese, and Japanese immigrants who provided their own flavorful additions to the cuisine.
Today, Criollo food is found mostly in the coastal and central regions of Peru, the same areas where immigrants first settled.
AUTHENTIC FOOD QUEST TIP: If your travels take you to Lima, consider taking a food tour with a local guide and discover Peruvian Criollo food. See our guide to the 10 Best Food Tours in Lima For A Peruvian Feast
Peruvian Creole vs Criollo
You will hear multiple terms being thrown around to discuss this cuisine. When you’re in Peru, if you hear the word “Criollo,” it’s typically in reference to Peruvian Creole dishes.
However, the word “Criollo” is also used to describe cuisine in other countries. Each one has its own variations on comfort food, also called Cocina Criolla.
- Puerto Rico: The traditional food of Puerto Rico is known as Comida Criolla. Some of the popular Puerto Rican Cocina Criolla dishes include Mofongo, a plantains dish, Arroz con gandule rice dish, and Lechon or roasted pig.
- Cuba: Cuban comida criolla, a dish made up of several flavorsome ingredients, including a meat, salad, fried plantains, rice, and beans. One of the most popular is Ropa Vieja and made with shredded beef and is also considered the national dish.
- Venezuela: A classic Venezuelan criollo dish is pabellón criollo, which is beans and rice with shredded beef.
The Criollo foods you get in Peru will be different from those cooked in other countries. Peruvian comfort food is delicious, and these are unmissable 7 Peruvian Cocina Criolla dishes.
AUTHENTIC FOOD QUEST TIP: If you are curious about Peruvian Criollo dishes, consider making them at home with a local chef. The Chef and the Dish offers cooking classes with a Peruvian chef, live via Skype. Learn how to make Tacu Tacu, Salsa Criolla, and other popular Criollo dishes in the comfort of your own kitchen. Find out more about Peruvian cooking classes with The Chef and the Dish.
Top Peruvian Criollo Dishes
1. Peruvian Causa – Layered Potato Dish
Peruvian Causa is a unique Peruvian appetizer that consists of one of the nation’s 3,000 local varieties of potatoes.
The origin of the word “causa” is unknown, but some believe the word comes from the Quechua word “kausay,” which means “sustenance of life.”
A signature dish from Peru, there are endless ways to compose and present this dish.
In Peru, there are two main Causa styles. You’ll find Causa Limeña and Causa Rellena.
The potato is the star ingredient and when we had Causa Limeña, tuna, avocado, and tomato were added. Whereas, Causa Rellena had shredded chicken breast and tomatoes.
Known generally as Causa, it is a Peruvian dish with a lot of tradition. With potatoes, chili, lemon, and different kinds of stuffing, it is always delicious.
AUTHENTIC FOOD QUEST TIP: If your travels take you to Cusco, consider taking a cooking class and learning to make Criollo dishes. See our guide to 7 Of The Best Cooking Classes in Cusco.
2. Anticuchos, Anticuchos de Corazon – Beef Heart
Anticuchos is a beloved Peruvian dish. This dish was first created by Africans who were enslaved by the Spanish in the 16th century.
The Spanish gave the African slaves cow innards, which they considered unfit meats for themselves.
However, when the Africans marinated the meats with spices and smoky chilies harvested from the Andes, the tasty dish called Anticuchos was born.
Hundreds of years later, Anticuchos is still served in Peru. The most traditional form of the dish is anticuchos de corazón, which includes pieces of grilled beef heart.
The grilled beef heart is served on skewers with a boiled potato and a little bit of aji seasoning sauce.
If you prefer alternatives, you will also find other cuts of beef, chicken, or even hot dog Anticuchos.
Today, Anticuchos are a much-loved street snack and a favorite late-night dish.
3. Ají de Gallina – Peruvian Creamy Chicken Stew
Ají de gallina is one of the most quintessential native Peruvian dishes. It fuses Spanish and Quechuan ingredients from the Peruvian Andes mountains.
Ají de gallina is typically made with boiled Peruvian potatoes or rice. Served with succulent chicken, this creamy, mildly spicy sauce dish features a great combination of flavors.
It gets its bright yellow color from ají amarillo, This ají amarillo, or yellow chili is one of the most popular spices and adds extra flavor and spice to meals.
We first had this dish in Cusco and happily ate it throughout our stay in Peru. This is Peruvian comfort food at best, and it is one of the most emblematic and endearing dishes in Peru.
AUTHENTIC FOOD QUEST RECIPE: If you are curious about Aji de Gallina and want to make it at home, see our simple Peruvian Aji de Gallina Recipe
4. Lomo Saltado – Peruvian Beef Stir Fry
Lomo Saltado is another emblematic and traditional dish of Peru. The word “Lomo” means “loin,” while “Saltado” refers to the cooking method of stir-frying or sauteing.
You can find it easily in any restaurant or farmers market. Lomo Saltado fuses Chinese and Peruvian food, also known as Chifa cooking, but is also considered a classic criollo dish.
The delicious dish consists of marinated beef strips that are stir-fried with Peruvian potatoes, onions, tomato, and aji amarillo, the must-have Peruvian sauce.
It is simple to make with commonly available ingredients. Everything is cooked in a wok, a throwback to the dish’s Chinese roots, and then flavored with a little soy sauce, garlic, and cilantro.
You’ll find it often served as the main meal on a lunch menu and it is very tasty. It is one of Peru’s signature dishes and one we enjoyed tremendously in the country.
5. Tacu-Tacu – Peruvian Rice and Beans
Tacu-tacu is a typical Peruvian dish whose heritage is from the Afro-Peruvian communities.
It’s the Peruvian version of refried beans and rice. And, it was created as a way to use leftover rice and beans in a simple and savory combination.
The ingredients are usually mixed together to form a patty and may be served with protein like a cheap cut of beef steak or a fried egg on top.
As one of the signature dishes of Criollo cuisine, Tacu Tacu reflects the ingenuity of Afro-Peruvians to create a new dish using leftover rice and beans.
The name Tacu Tacu means “mix” or “mash,” and in general, the rice and beans used need to be from the day before.
Today, you’ll find many contemporary variations of the dish. Some variations use yellow chili, different types of beans, and vegetables like asparagus and leeks.
While in Peru, we had Tacu Tacu at a Cevicheria, prepared with seafood. The portion was humongous and large enough to be shared by three people.
A tasty delight and a Peruvian Criollo food worth savoring.
AUTHENTIC FOOD QUEST TIP: A world-leading culinary destination, Peruvian cuisine has been honored for multiple years in a row, as one of the best cuisines in the world. If you are interested in diving deeper into the country’s gastronomy, we recommend taking a 10-day Peru real food adventure. Starting in Lima and ending in Cusco, you’ll learn about the cuisine on tours, cooking classes, and local producer visits. You’ll also visit important landmarks in the country including Machu Picchu.
6. Salsa Criolla, Sarza Criolla – Red Onions, Ají Amarillo and Cilantro Salsa
Salsa Criolla, also known in Peru as sarza criolla, is a dish that’s part salad and part relish.
It is traditionally prepared as an accompaniment to many Peruvian dishes. It adds spicy and acidic flavors and only a little bit is needed with a meal.
An integral part of Peruvian cooking, Salsa Criolla is made with thinly cut julienned red onions, thinly cut aji peppers, and cilantro. It is seasoned with lime, salt, and pepper for an additional kick.
On the tables of every local and traditional restaurant we ate at in Peru, this ubiquitous salsa was always present.
It is added to sandwiches, grilled meats, Peruvian tamales, and a variety of dishes.
7. Suspiro a la Limeña – Lima’s Signature Poetic Dessert
Suspiro a la Limeña is a Criollo dessert and Lima’s most popular. It is creamy dulce de leche topped with a smooth meringue cloud and a touch of cinnamon.
The dessert’s unusual name translates to “sweet sigh of a woman.” This romantic name is said to have been coined by Peruvian poet Jose Galvez, who was reacting to the dessert invented by his wife Amparo Ayarza.
Delighted by its flavors and textures, he described it as being as sweet and soft as a lady from Lima.
This iconic dessert combines ingredients and techniques brought over from Spain, with Peruvian Manjar or dulce de leche.
This popular Lima dessert is extremely sweet. We ate it sparingly, only a few times while in Lima, and each time delighted in its flavors.
When you sit down for a meal in Peru, you are not just eating. You’re tasting a fascinating mix of foods and cultures with long histories.
The Criollo dishes are a result of the new flavors and ingredients which combine the flavors of Africa, Europe, and Asia, all with a Peruvian twist.
When in Peru, do yourself a favor and try these must-eat criollo dishes. Be prepared for a culinary and historic journey that reveals the enduring Spanish influence in Peru.
With fresh, flavorful ingredients, it’s no wonder these dishes are considered everyday comfort foods.
Have you tried any of these Peruvian Criollo foods before? Please let us know in the comments below.
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More Peruvian Local Food Experiences
Our book, Authentic Food Quest Peru takes you on a journey through the regional food specialties in Peru. Get an introduction to Peruvian food and the history of how this unique gastronomy came to be.
Discover the authentic foods in Lima and Cusco as well as the top Peruvian foods and drinks that should not be missed. Take this guide with you as you explore Peru’s magnificent cuisine.
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Claire is co-founder of Authentic Food Quest and a lover of simple and exquisite cuisine. Since 2015, with her partner, Rosemary, she has been traveling the world as a digital nomad, creating content about local food experiences.
Her advice from visiting 45 countries and more than 240 food cities has been featured in Lonely Planet, Business Insider, Honest Cooking, Food Insider, and Huffington Post. She has also co-authored three books, including one in collaboration with Costa Brava Tourism.
An ex-mechanical engineer, Claire is responsible for SEO, keeping the website running, and the fun food & travel videos on YouTube.
When Claire is not eating, she can be found running or cycling. Find out more about Authentic Food Quest