Peruvian cuisine is rife with delicacies that once could have been your pet but vegetarians won’t have to worry about leaving the table hungry while in Peru. There are numerous vegetarian options and flavors to discover, if you know where to look. Here are four tips for eating meat-free in Peru.
1. Know what You’re Ordering.
A common mistake when trying to eat vegetarian in Peru is messing up the vocabulary. Although the Spanish word “carne” does technically translate into “meat,” in Peru it refers to heavier meats, such as beef or pork. Ordering a dish “sin carne” (without meat) means you’re still likely find chicken or seafood scattered among your vegetables. To be completely clear, you want to be as direct as possible. Something along the lines of “Sin carne, pollo, y pescado; solo verduras” (without meat, chicken or fish, only vegetables), will increase your chances of being happy with your order.
2. Know How to Substitute.
Some of Peru’s most delicious and well-known plates are easily converted into vegetarian dishes without losing any of the authenticity or flavors. I eat meat, but my boyfriend does not, so I’ve had many dishes the standard and the vegetarian way—giving me a pretty good perspective for comparison.
Ceviche. This is a classic seafood dish, especially popular along the coast where locals like to eat the fish fresh the day they’re caught. Peruvian ceviche consists of chucks of white fish marinated in lime juice and served with onions and chili. Vegetarians can sample the same flavor and texture by having mushroom ceviche. The mushrooms are sliced thin to replace the fish. Since the onion and lime flavor is strong in both dishes, there is little difference between them. Mushrooms are expensive in Peru, however, so don’t expect a big price difference.
Lomo Saltado. This dish is found throughout Peru. It features a bottom layer of French fries topped with stir-fried vegetables (tomatoes, onions, peppers) and strips of beef, usually accompanied with a pile of rice. The best option is to replace the beef with strips of soya, as that will soak up the flavors. However, you can always simply order the dish with just the vegetables. Often, you can ask for extra vegetables to replace the meat.
Chifa. Peruvian and Chinese fusion is common in Peru. Local Chinese restaurants are called chifas and are popular for their inexpensive prices and heaping portions. Because the menus usually include dozens of different options, chefs are usually very flexible and let you make your own dish. Just make sure you have them write it down to make sure there is no miscommunication.
3. Go Ancient.
The most famous ancient Peruvian civilization, the Inca Empire, did not eat a meat-heavy diet. They lived on Andean staples, such as potatoes and quinoa. Today these dishes are still prevalent in Peru and used creatively in many dishes. There are over 4,000 types of potatoes in Peru, and they are cooked and served in variety of ways. Quinoa is a pseudo-grain with nutrient properties surpassing wheat, maize, and rice; it’s often touted as a superfood and a good source of protein. Yuca (cassava) is another tasty option.
4. Go Tropical.
Over half of Peru’s landmass is covered by the Amazon rainforest and basin. It is no surprise then that jungle fruits are bountiful. Travelers will find many fruits that often don’t make it to western supermarkets, and if they do, arrive at a much higher price. Several interesting fruits come from the Andes as well. Juices are the most common way to consume the exotic fruits, but many are eaten whole, or cooked into desserts. Lucuma is extremely popular, used as a flavoring for many desserts and ice creams. Chirimoya is also found in desserts, but can be eaten fresh as well. The fruit is creamy and makes a nice treat at the beach. Granadilla may be the oddest of the bunch. With an orange shell that is cracked open rather than peeled, the inside is full of gooey seeds, which can be slurped up as a healthy treat.
Laura Elise is a Lima resident and long-term South America traveler who writes for SA Luxury Expeditions (http://www.saluxuryexpeditions.com/).