The JT Insider Food Guide: Cusco, Peru
Local food expert Gustavo Roda of Cusco Restaurants talks to us about eating at Incan ceremonies, cooking in the earth and Cusco’s finest dining spots.
Food of the nation
‘Peruvian food is very versatile. We try fusing different cuisines, and if it works, we make it ours. Many of our national dishes are a result of this. Tiradito for example is a fusion of Japanese techniques and Peruvian flavours [Sliced raw fish, similar to Japanese sashimi, but in a spicy sauce.]. Our traditional food has a Spanish and Arabic influence, and the Japanese impact has also been strong. A Peruvian Lomo Saltado [Stir fried beef with tomatoes and onions.] clearly has Chinese influence, but it’s an emblematic Peruvian dish. When people come here, they recognise flavours they’ve tried in other parts of the world, that have creatively become something else. That’s why people love Peruvian cuisine.’
‘Cusquenian food distinguishes itself for being very regional and mainly using local products, which makes the local traditions stand out. The food in Lima often uses ingredients from different regions. The huatia is an example of culinary tradition in Cusco, a way of cooking by burying the food.’ [A traditional earthen oven from the Inca empire, in which food is cooked in the ground, under volcanic rocks.]
Three to try
Adobo de Cerdo: ‘Cusquenian Pork Adobo is a pork leg that’s been cooked for twelve hours for maximum tenderness, then flavoured with chicha de jora [a local beer made from maize], red chilli, and onion.’
Cuy: ‘Guinea pig, baked in the oven, is a specialty in Cusco.’
Alpaca Meat: ‘This is a great replacement for lamb or beef in stews.’
Where you’d take a friend
‘I would take a friend that’s visiting Cusco to MAP Café for its cuisine and ambience. The restaurant’s dining area is a crystal-clear cube, which is located on one side of the colonial patio at the Pre-Columbian Art Museum of Cusco. It delicately contrasts modern design with its classic patio and balconies, which is the perfect analogy of the restaurant’s culinary concept. The restaurant uses local food to create contemporary dishes. The result is creative cuisine, with great flavours and presentation.’
MAP Café, Plaza Nazarenas 231, Cusco.
‘It would have to be San Blas, since there are so many gastronomic options, from local cuisine to English and American. San Blas also has traditional pathways on picturesque streets, and galleries to visit, which is the perfect for after dining.’
Authentically local dining experience
‘For a great local experience, I’d recommend the Central Market of San Pedro. It’s the perfect place to go for a morning juice and to see the local commerce, supplies and people. It’s a very authentic experience.’
‘Chiriuchu is a traditional dish made for the Corpus Christi festival in Cusco, fusing produce from the coast, highlands and jungle. This tradition comes from the Incan and colonial times, when settlers from different regions of the Tawantinsuyo [Quechua for the Inca Empire] arrived in Cusco to participate in a procession of the mummies of the ancient Incan leaders. [The dish includes corn, guinea pig, chicken, sausage, cheese and fish eggs, among other ingredients from each region.]’
A lazy Sunday hangout
‘Saqsaywaman is a perfect place to go on a Sunday afternoon for a picnic. [This site is a UNESCO World Heritage Incan fortress, which at 3,701 metres above sea level, has spectacular valley views.] Go to Deli Monasterio to grab some sandwiches and drinks, then head straight up to the mountain.
Deli Monasterio, Hotel Monasterio, Calle Palacio 136, Plazoleta Nazarenas, Cusco.
‘LIMO has the greatest view in town. The balcony frames the view of Plaza de Armas, the cathedral and Compañía de Jesús church, with the city in the background. [This restaurant focuses on seafood, with tiratito, ceviche and a sushi bar, as well as a cocktail bar.]’
LIMO Cocina Peruana & Pisco Bar, Portal de Panes, Cusco.
Latest food trend
‘There is a necessity for rescuing the harmony of simplicity. I’d say we are going back to basics.’
A chef worth checking out
‘Coque Ossio of restaurants in Cusco [This world renowned chef is behind a number of restaurants in Cusco and Lima, including MAP Café.] and Luis Alberto Sacilotto of Cicciolina [Known as one of the best chefs in Peru, Luis creates Mediterranean dishes at his restaurant Cicciolina.].’
‘LIMO and MAP Café give cooking lessons for anyone that’s interested in Peruvian gastronomy.’