Getting to grips with what you are ordering in a seafood restaurant in Peru is the key to having a great meal. Often a little confusing with the language barrier and the weird and wonderful names of traditional plates, I have written a short article that will help you understand the menu better and make you look like a regular at which ever place you choose to dine.
How many times have you sat down in a restaurant in a foreign country and thought ‘this menu looks amazing, if only I knew what it all meant’. And when you try to ask the waiter exactly what the dish is, things are further complicated because you can’t understand him. I have lived in Peru for many years now, and have studied many menus in many restaurants (I do like to eat!). Generally you get to see the same old things time and time again, and before you know it you are an expert at staying away from the things you don’t like and ordering the stuff you do!
However saying that, the other day I was in a seafood restaurant whilst on holiday in Arequipa (yes, even Peru travel agents take a Peru Vacation now and again) and once again like a novice I found myself baffled by much of what was presented before me. Although some of my friends seem to be professionals in fish based menus, I on the other-hand believe you need to have some sort of professional qualification to fully master the art of ordering seafood.
Before I introduce you to some of the most mouth-watering and healthiest dishes ever, it is probably worth taking a moment to discuss where the best seafood restaurants are located in Peru. Peru is a big country, actually the third largest in South America and has many different topographical regions, including the Jungle (two-thirds of the country), the sierra and the coast region. As you would expect the best restaurants are found on the coast, where each day fresh fish and seafood’s are offloaded at the many markets in major coastal cities and towns. For Peru vacation tourists, the cities of Arequipa and Lima are probably the best places to dine, but other good restaurants can be found north of Lima in Trujillo, Chimbote and Piura. Although there are a few reasonable restaurants in the highlands, it is probably best to stick to the traditional foods there, and save your money for cerviche when on the coast.
The first thing you need to get to grips with is the language barrier, and understand the basic words for different types of fish and animals of the sea. So I think an evening study session of 10 minutes every day for 2 weeks before you leave for your Peru vacation should be enough time to perfect your Spanish.
mariscos – seafood
pescado – fish
sole – lenguado
corvina – croaker (similar to sea bass)
pejerry – kingfish
trucha – trout
calamar – squid
pulpo – octopus
camarón – shrimp
langostino – king prawn
cangrejo – crab
conchitas – scallops
sopa – soup
cazuelas – casseroles and chowders
Okay, so you have all this firmly committed to memory, now all you need to get to grips with is the names of the most popular dishes. Here are the top 5 most popular dishes that you are going to find on your Peru vacation and in my opinion the 5 best dishes also!
Cebiche de Pescado
This is the most common dish, and the one that most Peruvians go weak at the knees for. A large portion of white raw fish (of your liking) marinated and cooked in plenty of lime juice, before being tossed with fresh ricoto (spicy Peruvian pepper). The dish is served with finely sliced onions marinated in lime and salt, with a side of sweet potato, perhaps lettuce and chullpi (fried corn pieces). Cebiche may not be to everyone’s taste, as it effectively uses raw fish, only just cooked, but for many others it puts the taste buds in overdrive, and is the perfect dish to eat whist relaxing with friends and sipping a large cold beer.
Chupe de Camarón
Directly translated this traditional dish from the Arequipa region means shrimp suck! This is actually one of my favourite soups, and providing you like shrimp, is non-offending and great for first timers. This tasty soup is made with good portion of shrimp cooked in a blend of onion, tomato, garlic, olive oil and evaporated milk, and is served in the bowl with pieces of yellow and white potato, egg, cheese, carrot and broad beans.
Leche de Tigre
Meaning tiger milk, this is something that you will see on the menu in all cebicherias. Usually served up in a large glass, leche de tigre is a mix of the lime juices and spices used in the marinating of cebiche. Usually mixed up with tasty pieces of mariscos, this drink come soup isn’t for the light hearted as it often packs a ricoto punch. If you like fresh citrus drinks and are not afraid of a little spice then this is a must Peru vacation drink.
Chicharron de Pescado
Being English (and I know my Peruvian wife wouldn’t agree) Chicharron de Pescado is something which closely resembles the traditional British battered fish and chips (but without the chips). Simple pieces of fresh fish in a light bread crumb batter fried until golden brown. Usually served up with a salad of finely diced onions in lime juice, a slice of sweet potato and a small dish of mayonnaise with garlic, or often something similar to ranch dressing. Great for first timers, young children and one of my personal favourites too.
Conchitas a la Parmellanas
Perhaps eaten mainly as an entrada (starter) this dish is simple but tasty at the same time. Scallops served au gratin with a mix of highland and parmesan cheese on top. A dozen of these shared between friends with a nice white wine is what dreams are made of.