We're going to cover food in three sections here: the market, eating out, and street food.
Markets in Peru
Markets are an important part of life in Peru. You can find almost anything you could ever imagine in a market. The busiest and most popular are usually the markets with a produce and food section or the markets dedicated solely to produce and food.
When to go to the local markets
If you want to get a glimpse of what normal grocery shopping is like for a Peruvian family, hit up the local food market on Saturday morning. Fresh produce is normally shipped in on Saturday morning and families take advantage of this to get the freshest products on Saturday. Markets transform into loud, crowded, and uber busy bee hives.
Food at the local markets
Most markets in Peru are divided into sections including: produce, fruit, meat, dry goods, and a section of mini restaurants or eateries. Here you can get whooping amounts of delicious food served up hot and steaming for only a few soles. A typical market stall dish is arroz con huevo, or rice with egg. If you order this simple yet delicious dish, expect to get a plate brimming with rice, one oozy fried egg, and a salad made of diced tomato, cucumber, and onion.
Other market dish favorites include lomo saltado, arroz a la cubana, and soups brimming with huge chunks of potato. Lomo saltado is a very popular dish in Peru and is believed to have originated with the chifa tradition, or Chinese food tradition, in Peru. Lomo saltado is a stir fry of beef steak and veggies served with rice and french fries.
The area of small restaurant stalls often also has a fruit bar section. Do not pass this up! You will find the most delicious fruit smoothies of your life with these market women and the opportunity to try fruits you have probably never heard of before.
Popular local markets in Cusco
If you want to visit a market while in Cusco, the San Pedro market is where most visitors head to due to its central location near the historic district. Unfortunately, this has turned the central Cusco market into merely another tourist market that specializes in selling cheap trinkets to foreigners. Most Peruvians complain that tourists drive up prices there, and now elect to do their shopping in the Huancaro market.
Huancaro is located less than a block from San Pedro, but is virtually unknown of amongst tourists and and consequentially remains an authentic, bustling market. If you want a real market experience, don't waste your time in San Pedro. Head to Huancaro, located in the streets to the right of San Pedro, in order to get a feel for what a real market in Peru is like. The difference in atmosphere between the two is almost palpable.
The streets around the Huancaro market are also full of small vendors hawking their wares and each street has a different theme or organization. You'll find the fruit street, the meat street, the fish street, and the chicken and egg street crowded in next to each other around Huancaro.
Eating Out in Peru
Most tourist centers are crowded with tourist restaurants both high-end and hole-in-a-wall. Many advertise themselves as 'traditional' or 'typical.' You can interpret that as you like since the plates they offer have a basis in traditional Peruvian food but have been worked up by modern-day chefs into delicious restaurant recipes that are not eaten on an everyday basis by families in Peru.
Peru as a culinary destination
This is what earned Peru the World's Leading Culinary Destination award from World Travel Awards for the past 4 consecutive years in a row (2014, 2013, 2012 and 2011). Peruvian chefs, particularly in Lima, are melding flavors and traditions that originated in the Andes with flavors and traditions from the many other culinary traditions, mostly Asian in origin, that were brought by immigrants to Peru.
Vegetarian options in Cusco
If you are a vegetarian, there are a few excellent options in Cusco. El Encuentro and Green Point are the two favorites for vegetarians and vegans alike, while the San Blas market offers a small vegetarian restaurant stall run by a wonderful woman called Lily. Her menu, a fixed two course meal of a soup, rice plate, and cup of tea, sells for 6 soles and always promises to fill you up with something truly delicious. There are also good vegetarian options in Arequipa and Lima.
The Street Life in Peru is very lively – during the day, the streets are always filled with people in transit, school children, and tourists. This brings with it a great possibility for people who offer fast services like shoe cleaning and any kind of sales and offers on the street like massages or tourist tours.
Typical street food in Peru
Among the many ice vendors, little newspaper stands and bicycles transformed into drivable corner shops, you will see a lot of street carts were different kinds of little hot meals are prepared right on the side of street.
Most likely you will be offered hot cooked Peruvian Choclo, or simple “pan” with Guacamole made of fresh Avocado.
Another Peruvian (fast food) dish called “Salchipapa”, which is a common Street Food in Latin America. The name gives away its ingredients: cut up pan fried “salchicha” (sausage) is served with “papa”, (potato) in the form of French fries on the side.
Another meaty dish which vendors offer from portable barbecues on wheels is called “Anticucho” (Quechua for Stew Meat). It is a popular and inexpensive meal that originated in Peru in the pre-Columbian era. Anticuchos can be made of any type of meat but the most popular variety consist of beef heart (anticuchos de corazón
Should I eat street food in Peru?
You will observe that it is mostly the local population who are gathered around the little food carts during the breakfast, lunch or dinner time. Most tourist stay away from these meals sold on the street as the food can lead to stomach problems.
Most vendors don´t have access to running water nor the possibility to refrigerate their ingredients during the day which is why the food might not be prepared very hygienically. Especially concerning dishes that contain meat, you should be precautious.