I love street food and finding it is always high on my list when I travel. Unfortunately, street food isn’t readily obvious in Lima unlike many other major cities. You kind of have to know where it can be found, just like a local would. Since our time was limited, we took the easy route – a food tour. From the minute we met Julio from Lima te Llena, I knew this was going to be a fun evening. He was just so passionate about Lima, the region’s history, and food in general.
Wandering up Jiron de la Union which lies to the left of the Palacio de Gobierno in downtown Lima, we heard someone singing traditional Andean music. We joined the crowd for a little bit but our stomachs drove us forward in search of street food. And boy, did we ever hit the jackpot:
We started at the stand where we were served a dessert duo – yes, yes, dessert first is bad (i.e. good).
- Mazamorra Morada: Essentially a creamy purple corn pudding. Served cold, it contains fruits and is spiced with cinnamon and cloves. At first I wasn’t a fan, but the more I ate it, the more it grew on me!
- Arroz con leche: Brought over by the Spanish, this dessert is a rice pudding made with both evaporated milk and condensed milk. I normally hate rice pudding but this was actually quite good.
Tip: You can have these desserts separately but the classic way of eating them is half and half in the same container.
As if one dessert wasn’t enough, we then moved a few steps to the left where we checked out something called picarones. It’s another dessert with colonial roots but this time those roots are African. I could have eaten these things forever but conscious we’d only just started the street food tour, I sadly limited myself to two of these delicious fried donut-like pastries. The main ingredients are sweet potato and squash. Really! They are deep fried and drizzled with chancaca, a very light cane syrup. Picarones aren’t really sweet so you can chomp on these fairly guilt-free…kinda.
Tip: Check out the stand run by a woman called Leonor. She is apparently one of the best (if not the best) in Lima!
You know you’ve always wanted to try thinly sliced cow heart on a stick!
This dish is firmly embedded into Peru’s national history. Back then, colonialists were not exactly keen on feeding their slaves properly – whenever they killed a cow for beef, they’d give the “garbage” (organs) to them. Not having other options, the African slaves figured out ways to make this stuff taste edible – and not just edible, but actually good. When the slaves gained their freedom during the mid-19th century, paying work was still largely unavailable to them so many took to cooking and selling food on the street. Antichuchos was one of those items.
Eating cow heart will never feature on my daily menu but it was surprisingly alright. While it was rather chewy, the flavours were good.
Tip: Get the “mixtos” – this is antichuchos was served with a piece of potato and a hunk of large-kernelled corn. And sprinkled with rachi which is basically tripe (cow belly). The texture of rachi is rather…special.
To help our stomachs digest all this food, our next stop was the emoliente stand. A warm beverage made with a mix medicinal herbs and plants, emoliente is drunk daily by many Peruvians – it’s a great way to get your minerals and vitamins. Emoliente is a barley based tea that has Spanish colonialist roots. The interesting thing with this tea is that it’s a little thick so it took me a minute to decide if I liked it or not (I did). Everybody has their own secret recipe for it so it will taste different if you try it in multiple places. But no matter what is in it, you just feel healthy as you sip on this warm, slightly sweet drink!
pavo y pan
Taking a short walk back to towards the Plaza de Armas, we also ducked into a sandwich shop. Sandwiches are big in Lima and you will find many sangucherias, restaurants that specialize in beautifully simple sandwiches. The ones we ate were beyond simple: bread (pan) and turkey (pavo). We also had them make up one: bread, turkey, and Andean cheese. Both were phenomenal – the bread was crusty, the meat was juicy and abundant, and the cheese was strong. The sandwiches also came with a small plate of salsa criolla – thinly sliced red onions mixed with lime juice, vinegar, olive oil, and cilantro.
Not being big alcohol drinkers, we still couldn’t not try the quintessential Peruvian cocktail. So our final stop was at the Gran Hotel Bolivar. A somewhat faded yet still elegant hotel, it’s a classic place to try pisco sour, Peru’s national drink. Pisco sour is a mix of pisco, lime, egg white, and bitters. We tried the regular, the passion fruit, and one made with ginger ale called chilcano.
Tip: If you’re not a big alcohol person either, try the chilcano which is not as strong as pisco sour. You can also have the bartender go light on the pisco in whichever drink you choose.
If street food is your thing, I highly suggest you check out this part of downtown Lima. You can do it on your own but if you want to learn about the history of local street foods and drinks, get a Peruvian’s take on the best places to eat and drink, and explore places that you may not otherwise know to visit, I highly recommend checking out Lima te Llena’s food tours. I had a great time with them and count them as a highlight on my visit to Lima!