Peru is a country rich in history, culture, natural beauty and a vibrant culinary scene. Originally the capital city, Cusco is a hive of activity with the hustle and bustle of daily markets, tourists and locals dressed in vibrant traditional dress set amidst a chaotic local traffic system.
Located at over 3,000m above sea level and enclosed by mountains, the weather can be diverse and the altitude literally can take your breath away.
Due to the proximity of Macchu Picchu and the Sacred Valley, Cusco is a hub for tourists and hikers alike. The culinary scene therefore reflects this international feel with a selection for all tastes and budgets.
Be prepared to venture off the main square as the labyrinth style street plan hides many foodie gems.
Mercado San Pedro
You can’t go to South America and not experience a local market. From early in the morning until close at 5pm this Mercado (the Spanish word for market) is the place to be. Your initial step inside will be one of chaos and mania but as your eyes adjust to the wide array of things to buy you will begin to realise it is a very layered and organised market.
The juice counters are the perfect place to taste a freshly made drink from the wide array of local tropical fruits. Don’t miss out on the booth-style restaurants at the end of the market either where you will get a meal for under €5. Most stalls offer similar food with equal high standards. Check out the Lomo Saltado Mixto – Peruvian style beef stir-fry with fluffy rice, chips, fried plantain and fresh avocado.
With two locations close to the main square, La Valeriana is a perfect place to rest your legs after a mornings sightseeing while you sip a freshly made coffee and sample one of the delicious bakes or pastries on offer.
Part of the Belmond Hotel next door. In Deli Monasterio, you will find the best bread in Cusco – with a large variety of wholemeal breads expertly baked alongside a large selection of tasty patisseries. The Fruit and Nut Wholemeal Baguette provides a nice respite from the sugar-laden traditional breads.
Street Stalls and Snacks
Peru is famous for its grains and the locals love to snack. Hence every street is lined with street vendors offering a varied selection of corn snacks, popped quinoa bars, chicarrón (roasted bacon), lunch or dinner in the form of fried chicken and baked potatoes and every conceivable form of flavoured chicha (a traditional and very sweet corn drink).
Green Point Vegan Café
A cosy café open all day offering a vast amount of raw and cooked dishes including soups, salads, Peruvian classics and sandwiches and is 100% vegan. The staff at Green Point Vegan Café is extremely friendly and all food is made to order. Whilst you wait, sample some of the delicious freshly made olive and tomato bread with amazing dips. For starters, try the Vegetable Dumplings or Potato and Cucumber Rolls. While for mains, the Korma Vegetable Curry with delicious naan is not to be missed. The food is so delicious, fresh and creative and you will find yourself returning on a few occasions.
Definitely one of Cusco’s hidden food gems tucked up a steep and windy back street. Organika’s menu is not strictly vegetarian but provides a large selection of veggie friendly options with creative salads and vegetable based risotto and pasta dishes. All the ingredients are grown on the restaurants organic farm in the fertile and beautiful Sacred Valley. For the meat lovers – try the Alpaca (similar taste to beef) with homemade gnocchi.
Burgers and milkshakes are their speciality and they won’t disappoint. This is a Peruvian chain with restaurants throughout the main cities which serves Peruvian style burger toppings in an upscale New York diner style setting. The choice is endless but the Palenta burger with chimichurri and avocado was my favourite. A word of warning, bring your appetite as portions at Papacho’s are very generous. If you do have room for dessert, the Alfajor Sundae is a must!
My attention was drawn in immediately by the staff making handmade pasta. Everything on the menu at Carpe Diem is melt in your mouth so selecting just one dish is a chore from the selection of freshly made pasta options. In my opinion, any Italian restaurant that makes homemade pasta on the spot needs to be tried.
This restaurant is located in the pretty and less touristy San Blas square. At Pachapapa, you will find all the traditional Peruvian specialties of quinoa soup, lomo saltado (Peruvian style beef stir-fry), stuffed peppers, aji de gallina (shredded chicken in yellow pepper sauce) and guinea-pig. Yes, the Peruvians love guinea-pig! Try it roasted over a wood-fired oven whilst sitting al fresco in the courtyard dining area.
Close to the Plaza de Armas, this wine bar is a great option for a little respite from the hustle and bustle of the shop-filled alleys. My pick would be the finger licking Chicken and Soy Salad with Yuca fries. They also have a large cocktail and wine selection to accompany your meal.
One block off Plaza de Armas and overlooking a pretty square, Choco Museo is a must for chocolate lovers. The museum is run by a very friendly team of staff who will guide you through the process of chocolate making before allowing you to try endless varieties of chocolate. This includes chocolate flavoured jams, pisco and liqueurs. If you fancy yourself as a chocolatier, then try your hand at tempering and even creating your own bar in a chocolate making class.
Museo del Pisco
Pisco is the national drink of Peru and is produced in a similar process to wine. Museo del Pisco will guide through the manufacturing process of pisco, the endless varieties and most importantly allow you to sample the infamous Pisco Sour. Pisco Sour is a must try tipple when in Peru which combines pisco, lime, bitters and egg white. The museum is also a sophisticated wine bar and offers a variety of tastings and a great tapas menu.
When you are not enjoying the culinary highlights of Cusco, be sure to visit these spots during your trip:
– Catch some sun and a panoramic city view in San Blas Square.
– Join a city walking tour.
– Test your acclimatisation to altitude whilst exploring the ancient Inca ruins at Sacsayhuaman.
After work and the football field, the kitchen is generally where you will find chartered physiotherapist and ladies footballer, Sinéad Delahunty. A passionate lover of all food, she shares her kitchen creations through her food blog – Delalicious. She focuses on inspiring others to fuel their lives through healthy, wholesome and natural food with quick and easy recipes for all. She is currently on a year out from work and football, eating and adventuring her way around the world.
Check out her blog, www.delalicious.com for more recipe inspiration or follow her on social media for more Delalicious delights.