Why Peru Is, and Always Has Been, the Culinary Capital of South America

Pachamanca: a traditional Peruvian dish which is baked in the earth with hot stones.

Our next destination is Cusco, a city in the Andes that was once the capital of the Incan empire. It’s a spectacular city, steeped in history, which sits 1,1000 feet above sea level. Here, altitude sickness is no joke. Our hotel, the JW Marriot, set in an old convent built over preserved Inca ruins, even pumps oxygen into the rooms. I sip on coca tea, an ancient herbal tea from the coca plant, which is rumored to prevent altitude sickness.

After a day of sightseeing with Viajes Pacifico Agency, we visit a local market and marvel at the products: chuño (dehydrated potato), chuta (handmade bread) and salted lamb (similar to jerky). Despite being told that the altitude decreases your appetite, we stop for a 3-course lunch at MAP café. Set in a courtyard at the Museo de Arte Precolombino, MAP serves Peruvian haute cuisine. I opt for crayfish ceviche (which is served hot) and an Amazonian fish, paiche, which is poached in olive oil. One of the best dishes to arrive at the table is the quinoa cannelloni, with truffle essence, tomato pesto and sautéed vegetables – it’s incredible what the Peruvians can do with such a simple grain. Making ceviche isn’t hard, but there is a certain level of skill involved.

A three-course meal at lunch isn’t the best idea when you’re set to eat a full tasting menu at dinner, but the food in Peru is so good, you can’t possibly miss out on any opportunity to try a new dish. That evening, we dine at the hotel restaurant. Our tasting menu includes everything from fried Andean cheese to alpaca steak and cuy (guinea pig) with corn puree. Guinea pig is considered a delicacy in Peru, and although I find the meat slightly tough, I really enjoy the alpaca – despite having petted one earlier that morning.

Our final destination is Lima, a city I’ve wanted to explore for quite some time. Lima is exploding on the culinary scene, with restaurants such as Central and Maido gaining international attention and making it onto the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. We check in to the Wyndam Costa del Sol Lima, a newly refurbished hotel which has a lobby filled with bright Marimekko-upholstered chairs, and make our way straight to dinner at Maras restaurant. The chef, Rafael Piqueras, whose résumé includes El Bulli, is also responsible for devising the menu at Sumaq Machu Picchu Hotel. We are seated in a private dining room where we are served a tasting menu, which includes raw scallops, avocado gazpacho, grilled octopus and lucuma, a subtropical fruit native to the area. It’s a serious fine-dining experience where courses are served in everything from a little wooden box, to a glass plate, and even something that resembles a whale bone.

Our final day in Lima includes a city tour and one last meal at Museo Larco Café, the museum restaurant which was once run by Gaston Acurio. Although it’s almost physically impossible to fit any more food in my stomach, I can’t miss out on my final meal in Peru. I opt for a quinoa dish, which is deep and nutty, and comes with an entire avocado, which is rich and buttery. It’s a final reminder of how exceptional the quality of ingredients is here. I think back to what our Limeñan guide, Amalia, had told us on our tour earlier that morning “If you come here with open eyes and an open heart, you can experience everything”. Only, I think she left out the part about coming with an empty belly, too.

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LAN Airlines has 9 flights a week from New York to Lima and around 18 to 20 daily flights from Lima to Cusco. During high season, LAN Airlines offers 23 daily flights from Lima to Cusco. LAN also has nonstop flights from LAX to Lima.