Peru is a rich tapestry of tastes and cultures, with influences ranging from indigenous recipes and ingredients to the imported cuisines of the early Spanish colonists and later waves of Chinese, Japanese, and West African immigrants. Dishes are also inspired by the country’s rich and diverse ecosystems, which span from the Amazon to the Andes, the coast to the highlands.
But it’s been a long journey for Peru’s nascent food scene. During the 80s and 90s, the country was ravaged by civil unrest created by The Shining Path (a split of the Communist Party of Peru). The conflict wound down in the early 2000s, and newfound stability afforded locals room to focus on culinary creativity. Credited most with elevating Peruvian cuisine is Gastón Acurio of La Mar, the first upscale restaurant to champion haute-indigenous Peruvian foods. Along with Acurio, Chefs like Mitsuharu Tsumura (Maido), Virgilio Martínez Véliz (Central) and José del Castillo (Isolina) continue to innovate and elevate the gastronomy of the region.
Peruvian commitment to eating organically and sustainably goes back centuries, and today many local chefs employ Veda, a traditional fishing practice honoring the life-cycle of sea creatures. It’s easy, however, to be sustainable when the area’s unique ecosystem allows a diverse range of ingredients to flourish year round.
To celebrate Peru, we’ve created a complete food and drink guide that explores the region’s most celebrated culinary treasures, from the ocean to the Amazon.
Chef Pedro Miguel Schiaffino puts Amazônia on the map with the singular Amaz. Located in the hip, urban Miraflores neighborhood of Lima, many ingredients come directly from the surrounding rainforests, which comprise 60% of the country. Opt for Schiaffino’s signature Churros Pishpirones, an Amazonian staple of plump Gian river snails cooked in a stew with smoked pork and hot chili pepper broth.
Meanwhile, Chef Virgilio Martínez Véliz, Peru’s “one to watch,” remains humble in the midst of fame. His restaurant Mil, which opened February 2018, pays homage to the nearby ancient ruins of Moray, perched atop a hill and hugged by sweeping vistas of the Andes mountains. Part research laboratory, part restaurant, Veliz connects diners with a deep appreciation and respect for indigenous ingredients like ocas (tubers) and tarwi (legumes). Currently, guests are offered a multi-course tasting menu showcasing food staples from the surrounding ecosystems. (One memorable menu is the “Plateau,” featuring a lamb crudo piled onto a kanihua grain crisp, topped with a white quinoa cream made from cherimoya custard apple and cabuya nectar.)
In Cusco, trek the steep and narrow cobbled street of Cuesta de San Blas to Plaza Regocijo and San Blas Temple. Sharing this space is Pachapapa, part of the Cusco Restaurants franchise. Dine in the open-air courtyard and opt for Chef Rolando Carrión’s famous Guinea Pig dish. Seasoned with wakatay pepper and Peruvian pink salt, and stuffed with cilantro herbs, the meat is roasted for an hour in the massive wood-fired clay oven until bronzed (tearing off the tender, sweet flesh with your hands is encouraged).
Since 2007, The International Gastronomic Fair of Lima, or Mistura, has been considered one of the most significant food fairs in Latin America. Created by the Peruvian Society of Gastronomy, whose aim is to spotlight the many unique districts and provinces found within the country, the event serves everything from ceviche and guinea pig to rocoto relleno (stuffed pepper) and carapulcra (pork stew). From September 7-17, Mistura will be celebrating its 11-year anniversary, so we recommend booking your flights now.
On the seas, Andrés Canessa of Blue Corner and Chef Ignacio Barrios of Urban Kitchen have aligned forces to offer epicureans a gourmet voyage and interactive cooking class called the Urban Kitchen Experience. Aboard a 50 ft. sailboat, departing from the Lima Marina Club, Barrios shares his culinary insights into Peru’s microclimates (84 total) and food heritage. This is followed by a 5-course seafood menu where guests learn to make dishes such as Tiradito (Japanese cut style-ceviche), Causa (potato enriched with aji amarillo, topped with tiger’s milk ceviche), and Tartar Acevichado, using fresh fish (corvina, lenguado, bonito) from the nearby Surquillo market. The oceanside spread is complete with chef’s arroz con mariscos with prawns, scallops, and calamari.
Aaron Diaz is a maestro of mixology, and his bar, Carnaval, is a travelogue of tastes. Located in San Isidro, the buzzing business district of Lima, this moody and seductive space is a local staple, featuring bespoke drink vessels made by local artists such as Marcelo Wong and Carlos Runcie Tanaka. Diaz also employs an “ice chef” to chisel crystal gems in various shapes for thoughtful sipping. Our drink recommendation is the “Beso de la Muerte," a fugu-spiked mug filled with pisco, luxardo, and camu camu (a citrus fruit from the Amazon).
Cervecería de Valle Sagrado is an award-winning brewery overlooking the snaking Urubamba River and situated in the quaint town of Pachar, a 10-minute drive outside Ollantaytambo, in the Sacred Valley). Thirsty travelers en-route to Machu Picchu are welcomed by owner Juan Mayorga, who since 2014 has utilized sustainable methods (like an on-site water plant that treats wastewater). Pull up a stool and opt for a flight tasting (Peruvian IPA, Black IPA, Red Amber Ale) along with seasonal favorites like a spiced Chocolate Pumpkin Porter that utilizes cacao from Cochabamba District and coffee from Ollantaytambo.
In Cusco, seek sanctuary at the Museo del Pisco, two blocks off the Plaza de Armas. Antiquity collides with modernity in this 3-storied historical dwelling that was once a palacio owned by Sapa Túpac Inca Yupanqui—the eleventh Sapa Inca, ruler of Cusco and the Inca Empire—turned Spanish colonial house. Today, it’s a lively bar spearheaded by owner Adam Weintraub and principal partner Berner Caballero. With 180-200 types of pisco, experience a foundational primer with their signature flight, which provides an aromatic journey of tasting and terroir notes on the eight grape varietals grown within the five regions of southern Peru.
Belmond Palacio Nazarenas in Cusco, meanwhile, has been reincarnated many times: first as the sacred Inca site “Amaru Qata Palacio,” then as a 17th-century Spanish colonial home, covenant, cloistered chapel, and finally as a luxury hotel. Some of the chic amenities include in-house Pisco Sour cocktail service, personal 24-hr on-call butler, and a top-of-the-line in-room bar to sip, linger and say "¡salud!" to views of charming San Blas, one of the oldest and artisan-centric neighborhoods in Cusco.
This October, Platinum Card® and Centurion® Members have the opportunity to travel to Peru’s Sacred Valley for a four day cultural and gastronomical tour, including dinner at Chef Virgilio Martinez’s restaurant, MIL. Terms apply. To learn more, call 800-321-7787. Chef Virgilio Martínez and MIL participate in the American Express® Global Dining Collection, a benefit for Platinum Card® Members offering special access to reservations and experiences with some of your favorite chefs. Terms apply.