Street food in Peru is very popular. Of the South American countries (Argentina, Uruguay, Chile) we have visited on our quest for authentic food, we’ve been surprised to by the popularity and diversity of the Peruvian street food. We have observed a strong street food culture with different types of vendors showing up at different times of the day.
In the morning you will find street carts selling breakfast type foods This includes bread with cheese, omelettes or fried eggs. Other traditional breakfast beverages are macha and emoliente, super beverages that we discovered in Cusco and wrote about in our blog post Cusco Market and Its Natural Medicine. In the evenings, you will find another set of street carts offering other options including the ones we highlight below.
1- Anticuchos: the most unique Peruvian street food
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 Antichuchos are Anticuchos de Corazon, which are pieces of grilled beef heart served on a stick. They are served 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.
The Story Behind Anticuchos
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 they would give the innards which they considered garbage to their slaves. The African slaves learned how to cook them using different seasonings from the Andes and Spanish, transforming them into delicious morsels of meat.
The story goes that 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 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 (Independence day).
The Taste of Anticuchos
Watching the preparation of the Anticuchos is fascinating. All the skewers are lined up and filled with pieces of cow heart, beef or chicken. They cooked on order for about 5-7 minutes with sauce being regularly applied.
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, but 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 an experience and one you should try on your next trip to Peru.
One the same street cart that has Anticuchos, you will most likely see Rachi. Rachi is a tradtional Peruvian food served in the Andes and popular throughout Peru. It is essentially made from cows belly. When we had Anticuchos for the second time, we decided to order the “mixto” which was a combination of Anticuchos and Rachi.
We really 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 cow belly, garlic, Peruvian corn, salt, pepper and seasoning.
3- Peruvian Sandwiches
It is very common to find sandwich vendors on the streets of Lima. They sell different types of sandwiches including hamburgers, chicken sandwiches and the famous butifarra (it is pronounced boot-ee-FAR-ah) which is a pork sandwich.
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. They usually provide a menu for your to choose from. It is most common to find them starting at dinner time between 7/8pm and staying up late into the night.
We tried two different types of sandwiches. The butifarra and the hamburger sandwich.
The butifarra sandwich consists of slices of pork on a bread, similar to a french bread. It comes with onion and aji (chili pepper) and we added palta or avocado. Incredibly delicious, with a slight spicy kick though the palta helped smoothen it out. Another name for the butifarra is “jamon del pais” or country ham.
Accompanying the hamburger sandwich were tomatoes, onions, bacon, and the patty. Not knowing which sauce to select, we asked for a combination of proposing all sauces including the spicy picante sauce. The sandwich was rich, tasty though not exceptional. We have a preference for the hamburgers in the U.S. which are filled with more meaty and succulent.
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. The Peruvian tamales are made with Peruvian white or yellow corn. They consist of a cornmeal dough filled with meat, usually 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 on the go.
We tried the tamales at a street at the corner of the Surquillo market (one of the major farmers markets in Lima). We found them to have a great combination of mild taste of the corn and spicy bites of meat. We enjoyed them very much as well as the convenience of eating it on the road. A great option to have while you are strolling the streets of Lima.
5- Arroz con Leche y Mazamorra Morada
Arroz con Leche is the Peruvian version of rice pudding. Brought to Peru by the Spanish conquerors, this simple dessert is a popular favorite. Made with rice, sweetened condensed milk and evaporated milk. The purple part is like a porridge and it is made from a concentrate of purple corn starch. Quite delicious, it is spiced with cinnamon and cloves and mixed with diced apples and apricots.
Similar to Thai desserts, this popular rice pudding is known as a Peruvian street food.
This sweet Peruvian dessert can be eaten three ways. Arroz con leche by itself is one option. You can choose only mazamorra morada, which is a typical Limeña dessert. Or, finally, there is the “classical”, which means equal servings of the rice pudding and mazamorra morada.
We opted to try this traditional Peruvian dessert as a “classical” and get the best of both worlds. After a few bites, we both much preferred the mazamorra morada. 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 worth trying out on your next trip.
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 dessert are sweet potato and squash. They are deep fried and served with cane syrup called chancaca. It is a tradition to serve picarones when eating anticuchos.
Picarones 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 were 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.
Eating Peruvian street food is a great way to experience local culture. We recommend it highly because it gets you out of the comfort of eating in restaurants surrounded by other tourists or upper class locals. We’ve shared benches, counters and tables with locals who are friendly, welcoming and openly curious. In these settings, we get to appreciate the local culture at an even deeper level. We encourage you to do the same on your travels for a truly authentic experience.
However, as you look at all the tempting food carts and take in the delicious odors of the street food, one thing you might be wondering about is safety. On this quest for authentic food, we have eaten a lot of food street food, mostly in Peru and have only fallen sick only one-time. This was actually our fault, for not applying one of the tips that we share with you below to safely eat Peruvian street food, or any street food.
Tip #1: This one is pretty simple and obvious. Look for 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: Look at 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.
Lastly and very important, how is the money exchange happening? 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. This is probably why we got sick on our authentic food quest.
Tip #3: Be cautious of the eating utensils. This is a big watchout. 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. See our blog post about the 10 Essentials For Foodie Travelers for more practical and safety tips.
Love it? Pin It.
Rosemary is a writer and culinary explorer. Together with her partner, Claire, they created Authentic Food Quest to inspire people to travel deeper through authentic food. Through food, they believe, people can have more meaningful connections on their travels. Prior to creating Authentic Food Quest, Rosemary worked as a director of strategy in advertising for over 15 years. Take the quiz and find out your Food Traveler Profile.