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Peru street food is very popular. Of the South American countries we visited, we were most surprised by the popularity and diversity of the Peruvian street food.
We observed a strong Peruvian street food culture with different types of vendors showing up at different times of the day.
In the mornings you find street carts selling breakfast type foods. This includes bread with cheese, omelets or fried eggs.
In the evenings, another set of street carts appear selling a variety of options. Ubiquitous carts with names like “anticuchos, “mazamorra morada” fill up the streets.
On your travels to Peru, be sure to try these 7 authentic Peruvian street foods in Lima or Cusco.
And don’t forget to check our tips to enjoy Peruvian street food safely.
Note: Article updated – September 2020
1- Anticuchos – Peruvian Meat Skewers
As the sun begins to set and dusk approaches, the first thing you will notice on the streets of Peru are little carts being set up on virtually every corner. One popular sign you will see is for Anticuchos.
What is Anticuchos?
Quite literally, this is meat on a stick served with a boiled potato on the end.
The most traditional Anticuchos are Anticuchos de Corazon, which are pieces of grilled beef-heart served on a stick.
They are served with a boiled potato on the end of a skewer and aji, or hot sauce. If you can’t stomach the idea of beef heart, you can also get chicken, regular beef or even hot dog anticuchos.
History of Anticuchos a Unique Peruvian Street Food
The story of anticuchos is very much part of the national story of Peru. This tradition comes from the African slaves who were brought by Spaniards to Peru in the 16th century.
From time to time, the Spanish would slaughter cows for food and give the innards which they considered garbage to their slaves.
The African slaves learned how to cook them using different seasonings from the Spanish and the Andes region, transforming them into delicious morsels of meat.
As the story goes, after the slaves were freed in 1874, they moved to the cities to start a new life. Poor, hungry and in search for work, the mothers started selling anticuchos at neighborhood corners.
Attracted by the smell, Limenos (people from Lima) would stop and enjoy them, quickly making them a daily habit.
The number of anticucheras or Peru street food stalls selling anticucho quickly grew and spread throughout Lima and other cities.
Today, anticuchos are loved and eaten by all – young, old, rich and poor. They are a part of the traditional Peruvian cuisine.
The greatest consumption is in July during the celebration of Fiestas Patrias or Independence Day.
The Taste of Anticuchos
Watching the preparation of the Anticuchos is fascinating. All the skewers are lined up and loaded with pieces of cow heart, beef or chicken.
They cooked “made to order” for about 5-7 minutes with a sauce applied regularly.
The first bite of Anticuchos is like biting into a piece of beef. The difference is in the texture.
The heart meat feels slippery, compared to beef, and is like biting into muscle fiber. Tender, with lots of chewing.
Surprisingly delicious is what we thought after eating the anticuchos. We enjoyed them so much that we had to have them a second time.
Tasting this popular Peruvian street food is a unique experience. Be in Lima or Cusco, this is a street food one should try.
AUTHENTIC FOOD QUEST TIP: Explore local and traditional Peruvian food on a street food tour in the historic center. Over 4-hours you’ll visit iconic Lima landmarks while stopping to savor street food, traditional dishes, and Peruvian desserts. Go hungry and dive into Peruvian food culture on this tour.
2- Rachi – A Peru Street Food with Cow Belly
Typically, on the same street cart that has anticuchos, you will most likely see rachi.
Rachi is essentially a cow’s belly. It is a traditional pre-hispanic Peruvian food served in the Andes and popular throughout the country.
When we had Anticuchos for the second time, we decided to order the mixto which is a combination of anticuchos and rachi.
We did not enjoy the Rachi much. We found the texture too chewy and the taste not as delicious as the anticuchos.
It is a dish that is well worth trying given its importance in the Peruvian cuisine. The ingredients include slices of cow belly, garlic, Peruvian corn, salt, pepper and seasoning.
3- Butifarra – Peruvian Pork Sandwiches
Sandwich vendors are a common street food in Peru. Vendors sell different types of sandwiches including hamburgers, chicken sandwiches and the famous butifarra (pronounced boot-ee-FAR-ah).
The vendors place their mobile carts on the sidewalk with their stock of food as well as a plancha (flat metal piece of cast iron over fire) to cook on. Some will have a menu of sandwiches to choose from.
They make an appearance at dinner time between 7:00 pm – 8:00 pm and stay open late into the night.
We tried two different types of sandwiches. The butifarra and the hamburger sandwich.
Butifarra is a traditional pork sandwich. Another name for the butifarra is jamon del pais or country ham.
It is made with slices of Peruvian ham or boneless pork slow cooked with garlic, pepper, achiote, cumin, oregano and butter.
The ham sleeves are then served in between two slices of small white bread similar to a french bread. It typically comes with onion and aji (chili pepper).
Incredibly delicious, the Butifarra has a slight spicy kick.
Accompanying the hamburger sandwich were tomatoes, onions, bacon, and the patty. Not knowing what sauce to select, we asked for a combination of all proposed sauces including the spicy picante sauce.
The sandwich was rich and tasty though not exceptional. Nothing like juicy wagyu burgers.
Nonetheless, if you are craving Peruvian street food and want a sandwich, go for the butifarra.
4- Peruvian Tamales
Tamales are a staple that can be found across South America with different flavors and ingredients.
Unlike Mexican tamales, in Peru the tamales are made with Peruvian white or yellow corn.
Inside is cornmeal dough filled with chicken or pork, boiled eggs, olives, nuts, and aji (chili pepper) topped with red onion.
They are typically steamed and wrapped in a banana leaf. Easy to eat they make for an ideal Peruvian street food snack.
Our tamales experience was at a street corner near Surquillo market, one of Lima’s most important markets.
A vendor with a warm smile tempted us with her homemade tamales. After seeing locals stopping to get some, we decided to try them as well
The mix of flavors was incredible. You have a great combination of the mild taste of corn with spicy bites of meat.
We found them tasty and liked the convenience of eating it on the go. A great option when strolling the streets and one of our best Peruvian street foods.
5- Arroz con Leche – Peruvian Rice Pudding
Arroz con Leche is the Peruvian version of rice pudding with an emphasis on the sweet. Brought to Peru by the Spanish conquerors, this simple dessert is a popular favorite.
Arroz con leche is also a very popular Peruvian street food. You find it easily on the street of Lima in the evening or night.
It is made with rice, sweetened condensed milk and evaporated milk. The traditional version is flavored with vanilla, lemon peel and cinnamon. Though, you can find many variations including some with Peruvian Pisco.
While rice pudding is something we are familiar with, we found the Peruvian version to be a little too sweet and the rice a little too thick.
Nonetheless, given its popularity in Peru, it is a must eat Peruvian street food worth trying on your travels.
This sweet Peruvian dessert can be eaten two ways. Arroz con leche by itself.
Or you can choose the “classical” which combines equal servings of the rice pudding and the mazamorra morada highlighted below.
6- Mazamorra Morada – Peruvian Purple Corn Pudding
Mazamorra morada is a traditional and popular Peruvian dessert. A peruvian purple corn pudding, it is a typical Limeña dessert (from Lima).
The purple part is like a porridge and it is made from a concentrate of purple corn starch. Purple corn is native to Peru and has been cultivated since the pre-Hispanic times.
Quite delicious, it is spiced with cinnamon and cloves and mixed with diced apples and apricots.
Sold on the street of Lima at every street corner, it is impossible to miss this dessert. Most of the vendors offer it with arroz con leche.
It is worth trying mazamorra morada by itself as well to enjoy the delicious nuances of fruit and spice flavors.
AUTHENTIC FOOD QUEST RECIPE: The Easy Way To Make Mazamorra Morada – Peruvian Corn Pudding
7- Picarones – Peruvian Doughnuts
Even though picarones are referred to as a kind of doughnut, they are actually quite different and unique to Peru. The principal ingredients of this Peruvian street food dessert are sweet potato and squash.
The story goes that these unique Peruvian doughnuts were invented by the Spaniards. Looking to recreate Spanish buñuelos fritters, they were missing their traditional ingredients.
Instead they used squash and sweet potatoes, the local ingredients, creating an entirely new Peruvian dessert.
Picarones are deep fried and served with cane syrup called chancaca. It is a tradition to serve picarones while eating anticuchos.
They are typically served in sets of four. The first time we got our order, we were surprised and thought we would not finish them. It was after a big meal and we were already stuffed.
After the first couple of bites, we understood clearly why these little-fried fritters are so popular. They are not overly sweet, and the combination of sweet potato and squash is heavenly.
No questions, this delightful Peruvian street food should be on your list to savor in Peru.
Where to Eat Street Food in Lima and Cusco
With the popularity of Peru street food, it is hard to miss it when you are visiting Lima or Cusco.
The places where you are sure to find street food are around local markets or close to bus stations especially in Lima.
Other locations where street food is popular are in neighborhoods well frequented by locals.
In Lima, we stayed in a popular neighborhood called Lince and had plenty of opportunities to taste Peruvian street food.
In Cusco, we stayed away from the historic center and found street food near bakeries and supermarkets.
Additionally, Lima street food is particularly popular in parks or surrounding festivals.
Here are a few street carts to eat Lima street food.
Anticuchos Dona Pochita draws a long line of locals in Lince. Located at Av. Ignacio Merino 2328, she opens in the afternoon after 5:30pm and remains open until midnight.
By the market Surquillo #1, you will find ladies with large baskets selling tamales directly across the main entrance.
For Picarones, head to the Park Kennedy, you will find Picarones Mary’s cart. In the afternoon local and tourist alike lineup for a sweet treat.
Is It Safe to Eat Street Food in Peru?
It is generally safe to eat street food in Peru. Here are the tips we recommend to observe and apply.
Tip 1- Find The carts with the longest lines
This one might seem pretty simple and obvious. Try to find the carts with the longest lines.
If there is a long line or queue of Peruvians. It’s probably a good sign. A long line suggests that there is a high turnover of the food.
This means the food is cooked and eaten quickly, reducing the chances of using “old food” that has been sitting around for a while.
Tip 2- Check the hygiene of the cart and the person preparing the food
Does the cart look clean? Are there any flies around the cart?
How is the person preparing the food getting rid of the waste or remains of the food?
Pay attention to the sanitary conditions and make sure you feel comfortable.
Tip 3- Look at How The Money is Handled
Street food is synonymous with cash payment in Peru. How the money exchange is happening is quite relevant.
Is there a second person at the cart to receive payment? If not, is the person preparing the food also handling the money?
Are they wearing gloves and taking off the gloves to handle money? Lots of germs can get transmitted by dirty bills and coins. Pay attention here.
Tip 4: Be cautious about the eating utensils.
This is a big watch out. Since you never know how the utensils are being washed, it is best to have your own utensils with you.
The spork (combination spoon and fork) has been our lifesaver. We never travel without it and it has come in handy in many situations.
READ MORE: additional street food tips and advice How to Eat Local and Safely on the Street
Looking for 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 into 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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Curious by nature, Rosemary loves exploring new flavors and connecting with locals. She shares her insights and culinary finds from her travels to inspire people to connect local through food.