The food scene in Lima is hot, but it’s not just a flash in the stove-top pan. Street food superstars are keeping up gastronomical traditions that have been around for generations. As locals say, when it comes to a satisfying meal it’s all about the three Bs: bueno (good), bonito (nice looking) and barato (cheap), and these 10 street-side food attractions are just that.
How to start a super(food) day
It's tradition in Lima to start the morning (or night) off with piping hot cups of herb-infused drinks that are boiled with grains like quinoa or boosted by maca, a revitalizing root from the high Andes of Peru. Find the carts set up at bustling intersections from the break of dawn until stock runs out, and back again when the sun sets. Don't forget to ask for the yapa, the leftover pour that couldn't fit in the first serving. Top spots include Grau at 28 de Julio in Barranco, Brasil at Grau in Magdalena del Mar, or Emancipacion at de la Union in central Lima.
You say potato, I say papa rellena
When life gives you 4000 varieties of potatoes, get creative. The papa rellena is Peru’s equivalent to a twice-baked potato. Completely enclosed and thus easy to eat on the go, mashed potato is stuffed with seasoned ground beef, onions, olives and egg before being fried to golden perfection. You’ll find plenty of options within the first three blocks of Av Petit Thouars, near central Lima, where students of nearby universities scramble to get the best and tastiest deal. Top it off with ketchup or Peru's ever-present spicy chili sauce, aji.
Stick to the basics
Chocolate-covered pretzels aren’t the only salty-sweet combo: choclo con queso (corn with cheese) is a popular standby meal and proof that something must be in the water to make Peruvian food taste this good. In the case of Peru's giant-kernel corn, that 'something' is anise. The small, aromatic seed gives the boiled corn a hint of sweetness that, when paired with a thick slab of queso Andino (a typical salty cheese in Peru), bursts into big flavor. Carts neighbor Lima’s Museum of Art during lunch hours, but at night, find the tastiest on Angamos at Jr Dante in Surquillo.
Although pollerias (roast chicken restaurants) appear to be on every corner in Lima, huevos de codorniz (quail eggs) rule the roost when it comes to street food. Vendors with small push carts first hard boil the eggs then, if you prefer, peel the spotted shells to reveal the creamy insides which are then generously sprinkled with salt. Nearly half a dozen of these small eggs can be purchased for one sol, and are found outside of shopping center Polvos Azules in central Lima or any district market.
To do or donut?
In Peru, such hole-y goodness as the donut and other fried pastries are upped a level by incorporating native starchy vegetables. Picarones opt for sweet potato and squash, hence their orange hue. Rings of this naturally sweet batter are lightly fried before being bathed in a generous pour of Peruvian honey. Their pastry cousins, yuquitas, use flour from the yucca root to become a warm, air-puffed treat. Get the best bang for your buck (or sol) at Mercado Palermo in La Victoria for yuquitas, and Parque Kennedy in Miraflores for picarones.
The dark side of rice pudding
There are various ways to jazz up the classic dessert arroz con leche (rice pudding), such as the combinado, which fills half of the serving bowl with mazamorra, a full bodied, jam-like pudding made from purple corn and native fruits. Oddly enough, this thick sauce tastes like blackberries. Get nutty and order up the arroz zambito, rice pudding sweetened with Peruvian chancaca sauce (an unrefined sugar syrup infused with orange peel) and topped with pecans and raisins. Treat yourself just outside of Real Plaza on Av Wilson in central Lima.
Everything's better on a stick...
...Even cow heart. If the thought of eating a cow's heart makes you uneasy, don't think you're the first. However if you can resist the smell of the grilled, tender cutlets on a cool evening, served kebab-style alongside boiled potato and a dab (or smothering) of hot sauce, then you've got incredible willpower. These smoky cuts of meat, known as anticuchos, are a perfect example of how innovative and waste-free traditional Peruvian cooking can be. Look for these when the sun goes down, along Av Angamos in Surquillo or Av La Mar in Miraflores.
They say if you want adventure in Peru, you can best find it in the mountains of Huaraz or in Colca Canyon. But the real adrenaline-seekers are the bikers who pedal carts full of palm-sized pizzas, empanadas, slices of apple pie and more along Lima’s traffic-ridden streets. Stocked with something for every craving, keep an eye out for these carts along Av Arequipa, which runs from Miraflores to central Lima. We recommend the baked chicken empanadas with a squeeze of lemon and drizzling of aji sauce.
Cuckoo for coco
Renowned for its rich biodiversity, Lima is the melting pot of Peru’s edible treasures. Coconuts from the beachy terrains up north are transformed into about as many different treats as you can count on your sticky, sweet fingers. Giant coconut macaroons known as cocadas, available in white or brown sugar options, will take you to a tropics state of mind. Stay hydrated with pure coconut water, perfect for the city’s notoriously muggy weather. Look for a parked cart in the trendy Barranco district on Jr Sucre near Plaza Chabuca Granda.
Ceviche al paso
As a coastal town, it’s not hard to find a ceviche restaurant in Lima with a view of the ocean. While day-to-day life doesn’t always allow for such luxury, a pang for seafood marinated in lime juice can hit at any moment, so vendors have brought it to the streets. Some ceviche al paso carts are so popular that you’ll still have to wait in line, but that’s a good sign. In the case of raw fish, it’s best to go with a recommendation, and ours are those just outside of district markets such as stands near Surquillo’s Mercado #1 or #2.