Planning a vegetarian or vegan trip to Peru? You will be glad to know that the vegan movement is really growing there, as it is in many parts of the world. On my recent Peru adventure I learned quite a lot about food culture in Peru in general, vegetarian/vegan alternatives and even ate quite well during the adventure tour portion of my Peru trip.
You may have heard of the most famous local dishes in Peruvian cuisine: ‘ceviche’ (fresh raw local fish marinated with a lime juice), ‘cuy chactado’ (roasted guinea pig!) or ‘lomo saltado’ (platter of beef with sautéed onions and tomatoes, served with fries and rice). None of these are vegan friendly.
However, most Peruvians in fact eat a predominantly plant-based-diet, especially in small rural communities in the Andean mountains and the jungle. The staple dishes include potatoes, legumes, vegetables and fruits. Did you know that Peru is the birthplace of the potato? We were told many times that there are around 2,500 varieties of this vegetable that are native to the Peruvian Andes.
Some traditional Peruvian vegetarian dishes:
This appetizer typically is served cold, made of two or three layers of mashed yellow potatoes with egg or avocado in between. It is topped with olives or ají peppers.
Quinoa has its roots in the Peruvian Andes Mountains. Quinoa soup is made both with and without meat. The vegetarian version includes assorted vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, zucchini, peppers, etc., with quinoa in a veggie broth.
PAPAS A LA HUANCAINA
This dish consists of boiled potatoes covered in a thick cheese/ají pepper sauce. Ají peppers are a type of chili pepper native to Peru and not typically found elsewhere, which add a unique fruity flavor with a bit of spice.
Simply stuffed potatoes. A vegetarian version filling contains onion, eggs, spices, and various vegetables.
A stuffed bell pepper. Relleno/a means stuffed; you also might find other stuffed things like avocados. These bell peppers are typically stuffed with eggs, cheese, and onions.
There are vegetarian varieties, typically filled with cheese, and possibly spinach or mushrooms. They may be sold on their own by a street vendor or with a aji peppers salsa mixture.
A Peruvian rendition on rice and beans. Traditionally it is made with leftover rice and beans with a fried egg and salsa. The non-vegetarian version may be served on top of steak.
Here's a more complete list of Traditional Peruvian Food for Vegetarians
On my recent adventure trip, most of my time was spent hiking in Peru. However, I did get to spend some time in three of Peru's beautiful cities. So here's my personal experiences of eating vegan in Peru:
According to HappyCow, Cusco has 7 vegan restaurants and 46 vegan/vegetarian-friendly eateries.
A place that you should definitely visit in Cusco is Green Point.
The first vegan restaurant in Cusco, Green Point aims to “change the common perspective of vegan food and show that it can be exciting, delicious and healthy.” There are two locations, one near Plaza San Blas and the newest at Plaza San Francisco features a small store that sells cruelty-free delights like olive bread, coconut oil, fantastic desserts, vegan cheese, and some of the best kombucha around. The San Francisco location where I ate has a gorgeous garden that is a calm oasis in the busy city. A very affordable (18 soles) menu of the day consisting of a salad buffet, drink, soup, choice from two main courses and a dessert is on offer and the dinner menu is absolutely stunning with a lot of classic Peruvian dishes that have been given a vegan twist. Honestly, picking from the dinner menu was difficult – everything looked amazing. The smoked sushi was to die for. And you must try one of the kombucha cocktails!
Green Point also offers vegan cooking classes and workshops offering instruction in Peruvian , International Cuisine, Gluten-Free, and Raw Vegan Food.
This is a basic eatery frequented by locals and staff who speak Spanish only This restaurant has a menu or they will bring you out your meal consisting of a soup, hot tea, and main dish; vegetarian but you can ask for a vegan version. Dirt cheap. Dinner cost us 6 soles. Food was great and the taste of local culture even better.
This is a little hole in the wall (literally) that you can order food para llegar (to go). Very tasty empanadas, veggie burgers and vegan cake were sampled. The vegan pizza looked delish too!
San Pedro Market
You have to try one of the smoothies here! Made from different vegetables and fruits you may have never even heard of...cheap, tasty, oh so fresh, and you get three servings so you can share. Bonus: zero waste.
Great restaurant with a charming patio to dine on. Menu has an abundance of choices from pizzas, pastas and burgers to Peruvian classics veganized. I suggest the latter of course because when in Rome... I can personally recommend the veggie pappas!
This city is known as South America's food capital. While many travelers opt to simply pass through, Lima has been growing as a destination in it's own right. As it should be. Particularly if you are a foodie! Unique produce from varying ecosystems and some of the most popular plant-based superfoods in the global market make their way to Peru’s capital city, offering stellar options for all, even vegans and vegetarians.
I was always on the lookout for vegan alternative takes on Peruvian classics during my time in Peru. So I already had this gem on my radar. Then the chef happened to be the wife of a gentleman who worked at our accommodation. So we headed there straightaway. Bonus, it was just blocks from where we were staying in Barranco. Much like the classic, hole-in-the-wall eateries that fill neighborhood streets throughout Peru, this spot offers a complete daily menu (appetizer, entrée, drink and dessert) that puts a plant-based spin on classic Peruvian dishes. There is of course also a full menu with many delicious options
Another little local gem. It's tiny and when we were there they only had a limited selection of what was listed on the vegetarian/vegan portion of the menu. But we had no problem choosing from the limited selection and enjoyed our food very much. I was craving a veggie burger and this was a delish one!
Manantial Restaurant Vegetariano
If you're looking for great vegetarian/vegan food in the historical district, here's your spot. Can't beat their executivo for value! Local food that won't leave you hungry! Lots of locals dining in this busy spot.
Mami or Cholita, set up their carts on seemingly nearly every corner and sell a variety of incredible beverages. For breakfast, get a Quinoa con Manzana – basically cooked apples with cinnamon and quinoa for a protein-packed porridge/drink. They may even have soy milk on hand if you care to add a bit of creaminess to the drink. Only 1 sole.
Hiking in Peru
Many, many that come to Peru are coming to hike. And if it's multi-day it's bound to involve camping. Of course when you think of camping you think of food cooked over bonfires and pretty basic living conditions. So what happens if you're vegetarian or vegan?
Of course I cannot speak for all the tour operators, but I traveled with G Adventures and they did a great job of accommodating our diet. One of our first stops in the Sacred Valley (pre-hike) was Huchuy Qosco and it set the tone. The vegetarian/vegan options did not disappoint. To start, I got to enjoy a traditional rice and vegetable soup. The main was a dish of quinoa mixed with vegetables, stuffed pepper and a side of potatoes. The fruit salad and a cup of hot coca tea was just a perfect finish to this authentic Peruvian experience.
Once on the trail G Adventures made the most of local ingredients and managed to put out at times exceptional dishes from a meager set up. I had one of the best guacamoles of my life! (If you don't know already, the avocados are exquisite in Peru!) Our daily hearty breakfast of either quinoa oatmeal, pancakes or traditional Andean bread with a selection of spreads, and different beverages which of some where a very acquired taste. Varied mid-morning snacks were provided, typically fruit and nuts or seeds.
While happy hour is my favourite, tea time comes in a close second. And each day of the hike at the camp, before dinner was ready, we were treated to hot tea,hot chocolate, coffee, and a selection of crackers, biscuits and popcorn.
Lunch and dinner each day was a three-course affair. With a meagre set-up it's incredible what the small team of talented local chefs created for us. Each meal typically started with a soup, such as potato soup, rice and vegetable soup or Andean corn chowder. An example of a vegan main dish served was spicy soya chunks, vegetables and rice, This was then followed by a dessert (often fresh fruit) and a hot cup of coca tea.
I have to say a special thanks to hard-working porters who ensured all the food, water and camping equipment required to make these culinary experiences arrived and was set up and taken down in short order.
Overall the verdict on Peru from the perspective of a vegan traveller...for a South American country, you can eat very, very well in Peru. From fully vegan gems to many restaurants having specific vegan-friendly options to street food to the food dished up on the hike, Peru was the culinary superstar I had been hoping for.
I hope this is a helpful introduction to eating vegetarian and vegan in Peru. I will leave you with this list. When reading through the menu, here are some important Spanish words to look out for when figuring out what you can eat:
- Vegetarian – vegetarino/a
- Vegan – vegano/a
- Fish – pescado
- Bacon - tocino
- Sausage – salchicha
- Egg – huevo
- Meat – carne
- Chicken – pollo
- Vegetable – verdura
- Pork – cerdo
- Duck – pato
- Without meat or fish – sin carne y sin pescado
- Cheese – queso
- Salad – ensalada
- I don’t eat meat – no como carne
- Dairy – lactose
- I am vegetarian – soy vegetariano/a
- I am vegan - soy vegano/a
- Fruit – fruta
- Raw vegan – crudivegano
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