And that the Amazon makes up 60% of the country? Have you ever wondered what Amazonian food tastes like?
To get started, it is helps to understand that the Peruvian cuisine follows the rich biodiversity found all over the country. There are 3 regions that are typically used to describe the geography of Peru:
- The costa (coast), on the west side which includes the arid plains where Lima seats.
- The sierra (highlands), which is the region of the Andes that extends from the north to the southeast of the country
- The selva (jungle), to the east with the tropical Amazon rainforest.
The landscape is rich and the climate of Peru is very diverse. According to Wikipedia, Peru has 30 of the 32 world climates.
These unique characteristics of Peru, from its landscape to its climate, make for the very rich Peruvian cuisine.
On our quest for authentic food in Peru, we had the chance to visit two of the country’s main regions: Cuzco which is in the sierra region and Lima in the costa. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the opportunity to explore the authentic food in the Amazon forest. Fortunately, Lima has lots of produce and restaurants dedicated to Amazonian food.
So let’s dive in and get a feel for Amazonian food. We introduce you to two of the most popular dishes from the Amazon. We also talk about the juices and the famous liquors from the jungle.
Juane – One of the most popular Amazonian Food from Peru
Juane is one of the most traditional and popular dishes from the Peruvian jungle. On June 24th, the Peruvian Amazon jungle celebrates San Juan feast or St. John the Baptist’s day, and eat Juane to celebrate this Catholic festival.
The Juane consists of a bowl of rice filled with meat, boiled egg, black olives, and spices. All the ingredients are wrapped up in bijao leaves (which look like banana leaves) and are plants from the jungle. It is then boiled as is in clay pots and served in its leaves.
Where to try Juane in Lima
We went to a place called El Bijao that was recommended to us by our gastronomy critic and friend Cecilia Portella. It is a typical huarique, which is family restaurant where traditional home-cooked meal are served as we described it in our ceviche post. The Chef and owner, Sulma Penaherrera, has been serving dishes from the Amazon (Selva) for about 23 years.
Sulma is from Iquitos, the largest city of the jungle, also known as the “Capital of the Peruvian Amazon”. Iquitos cannot be reached by car but only by boat or plane. Sulma dishes are so exquisite that Gaston Acurio the famous Peruvian chef and ambassador of the Peruvian cuisine visited and showcased her restaurant as one of the best places for Amazon food in Peru.
Listen to Sulma in the video below as she talks about the Juane.
Juane de Pollo
El Bijao proposes a different menu everyday. We went on a Thursday when Juane de Pollo was on the menu. It is a Juane made with chicken meat. It was served with plantains and salsa con cocona, a salsa sauce made of onion and cocona (a yellow fruit from the jungle). It is a very well presented dish served in the bijao leaf.
As we dug into the rice, we got to uncover the chicken as well as an egg and olive. It is a very flavorful dish with the combination of the poultry, the olive and the spices. Adding the sauce spices it up a bit, but the plantains give it a mild taste. This is a dish that we enjoyed very much and one that we recommend you should experience.
Amazonian Fusion Food
Having enjoyed our previous experience with Amazonian food, we decided to check out another restaurant in our area, Lince distritos (neighborhood), which also features food from the Amazon. When we arrived at TK Restaurant, we were intrigued by the fusion menu but had no idea what the foods were. A young man gently came outside to greet us and took the time to explain the menu and the different dishes. Convinced, we took a table by the entrance with clear view of the kitchen.
Much to our surprise, when the young man came back with the complimentary appetizer, we learned that he was the chef and owner of the restaurant. He introduced himself as Ivan and told us that his restaurant had only been opened for one month. Before that, he had a stand at the market and he was selling pure food from the Amazon. For his restaurant concept, he decided to focus on Amazon fusion food and offer Peruvian “fast food” with an Amazonian flair.
With his recommendation, we ordered two dishes. One typical meal from the Amazon jungle that was different from the Juane we had tried earlier. And the second dish was a fusion Amazon/ Peruvian preparation.
Tacacho Con Cecina
Tacacho con cecina is a typical dish from the Amazon forest of Peru. Along with the Juane, these are two most representative and delicious meals from the Amazon. When we ordered this meal, we didn’t know what to expect. We were incredibly surprised when the dish arrived with two round balls and thinly cut slices of dried, smoked pork.
At first glance, dish looked very dry. However, after the taking the first bite, it was surprisingly moist. Ivan (chef and owner) explained to us that the round balls are made of mashed up bananas, thinly chopped slices of dried, smoked pork, seasoning and salt and pepper. At his restaurant instead of using green bananas which is typical, he mixes green and yellow bananas to give the balls their unique taste. The cecina is dried, smoked pork made with traditional spices from the jungle which gives it a distinctive flavor.
TK Chaufa Mix
Venturing into the fusion space, we ordered the TK Chaufa Mix. The main ingredients in this dish are arroz chaufa and cecina accompanied with fried plantains. What makes this dish a true fusion is the use of arroz chaufa, which is very a popular mix of Peruvian and Chinese fried rice. Pairing it with Amazon style pork or cecina and blending the tastes from the Peru and the Amazon forest was unique part about this dish. Ivan, the chef/owner told us that his goal was to introduce Amazonian food to locals by using popular fast food dishes with an Amazon twist.
The Chaufa Mix was absolutely excellent. The rice was full of flavor and the chopped up pieces of the cecina enhanced the flavors. Like the Tacacho dish, the cecina was moist, tender and delicious. A really unique combination. Most of the typical fast food like arroz chaufa dishes are made with chicken, so using the cecina instead makes this dish really stand out. A nice way to ease oneself into Amazonian food.
Juices From The Jungle
At the restaurants, it was interesting to observe that the meals were accompanied with complimentary juices made with fruits from the jungle. Juane for example, was served with cocona juice. The juice comes from a yellow fruit that is grown uniquely in Amazon jungle. The fruit which is best consumed as a juice, and not eaten as a fruit. It is delicious with a sweet and refreshing taste.
Camu Camu Juice
The next juice that we tried was the Camu Camu juice. The Camu Camu is known to be the fruit with the highest Vitamin C intake. It provides about 50 times more Vitamin C than oranges! This juice was our favorite. A little tangy, but easy to drink juice. Knowing the health benefits made it even more appealing.
Aguajina juice is an interesting female-only juice. It is made with the Aguaje fruit. Apparently, Aguaje fruit is used to improve women’s health. This is due to its high phytoestrogen content known as a “natural estrogen”. Despite the benefits, we did not enjoy the taste of this juice. It was ‘oily’ and not very flavorful. It is drinkable, just not as easily as the camu camu or cocona juices. A truly unique juice and one that any woman should not hesitate trying.
Exotic Amazonian Liquors
One of the things we discovered from our friends and the restaurant owners, is the about popularity of liquors from the Amazon. We learned that Iquitos, the largest city in the Peruvian Amazon is famous for it’s liquors and beverages.
Prepared with the maceration of different ingredients from herbs to worms (yes you read correctly – worms) and sugarcane alcohol, these beverages are known to have aphrodisiac properties. The liquors have strange and provocative names; the most populars are: RC (Rompe Calzon – underpants breaker), 7 Raices (seven roots), Chuchuhuasi, Uvachado, Levantate Lazaro and more. Listen below to Sulma talk about the aphrodisiac properties of 7 Raices.
At El Bijao, Sulma offered to have us try 7 Raices (seven roots), uvachado (liquor based on amazonian black grapes and honey) and coctél de cafe (coffee cocktail). We found the 7 Raises to be quite strong. The uvachado was our best choice; easy to drink we liked its fruitiness and sweetness. While the coctél de cafe will definitely please a coffee drinker.
Your trip to Peru would not be complete without experiencing Amazonian food and juices. More than likely you will try the ceviche, Peru’s national dish. Our recent post about discovering ceviche in Peru should be a helpful guide. As you venture beyond the ceviche, we highly recommend discovering Amazonian food.
We were amazed and surprised at the large influence of the Amazon in Peru and on the food as well. Honestly, prior to visiting Peru, we didn’t know much about the Amazon in Peru, much less the Amazonian food. We were amazed and delighted by the flavors, preparation and ingredients used in the food. There is more to the Amazonian foods than we have showcased here. There are a great variety of fish that can be found in the Amazon. One of the most popular is the paiche, which we got a chance to taste at another restaurant and will highlight it in an upcoming post. Also, there are plenty of unique fruits that exist and we’ll introduce you to a few of them in a future post.
If your travels bring you to Peru, one of the easiest and best ways to get to know the Amazonian food is to try one of the many exotic fruits you can find at the farmers markets. In addition, stopping by for lunch at El Bijao or at TK restaurant and trying the food and the juices will give you a broader perspective on the Amazonian food from Peru.
El Bijao, Av. Ignacio Merino 2051 Lince, Lima
TK restaurant, Jr. Soledad 516, Lince, Lima
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