What is Peruvian food?
That’s the first question most people have when they are introduced to this South American cuisine. Let’s start with what it is not.
Peruvian food is NOT Mexican food or Tex-Mex! You will not find any tortillas, enchiladas, or tacos in Peruvian cuisine. You will find a lot grilled meat dishes accompanied with veggies / garnishes, seafood, corn, potatoes, yucca, and rice, usually served with delicious sauces. You will even find Chinese influence in the cuisine (I know, I was surprised too).
While I’m no expert, I have a feeling that most in Austin are not familiar with Peruvian food. This post is a quick intro to Peruvian cuisine in ATX, written by someone who has recently learned about the cuisine and has been introduced to these delicious new flavors by a couple of Peruvian friends.
Where to Find Peruvian Food in Austin, Texas
This guide has been newly updated for 2015 and is part of the Austin Food Bloggers Alliance 2015 City Guide. At the time of this update, there were 4 Peruvian places in town:
(my favorite Peruvian spot in Austin. They serve a variety of traditional dishes downtown)
7th and Trinity
Open M-T 6PM-1AM, W-Su 6PM-3AM
(Peruvian and Mexican food in the Highland Mall food court)
6001 Airport Blvd, Austin, TX 78752
Open 10AM-9PM M-S, Su 11AM-6PM
(Rotisserie Chicken Peruvian style)
1707 Wells Branch Pkwy, Austin, TX 78728
Open M-S 11AM-9PM, Su 12PM-8PM
(yes really… Peruvian Fusion food AKA “Chifa” in a Chinese restaurant)
500 W Canyon Ridge Dr, Austin, TX 78753
Open 11AM-10PM every day
Peruvian Dishes You Need to Try in Austin, Texas
Probably the most accessible Peruvian Cuisine is marinated rotisserie chicken (Pollo a la Brasa), served up with either french fries and sausage (salchipapas) or delicious yucca fries. This was my introduction to Peruvian food at a chain called Pio Pio in NYC. The chicken is similar to what you can get at the numerous Mexican holes in the wall in Austin, although the marinade sometimes contains distinctly Peruvian herbs that the Mexican variety does not. Both styles of chicken are seasoned with cumin, but from what I have read, the Peruvian variety leans on paprika and vinegar a bit more.
In Austin, you can find Peruvian rotisserie chicken at Inka Chicken on Wells Branch. If you go to Inka, make sure to get extra Inka sauce (it’s magical) and the yucca fries. I’ve been told by a Peruvian friend that Inka Chicken’s recipie is a little closer to the Mexican version than more authentic places but it still tastes pretty good to me.
Asian fusion isn’t just in America… many cultures combine ingredients from the East with local flavors. There’s a beloved subset of Peruvian cuisine called “Chifa”, which is basically the Peruvian version of Chinese food. In Austin, you can find a lot of Chifa dishes at Golden Wok on I-35 and Parmer Lane, but the Peruvian menu is by request only (secret menu!).
So what do Chifa dishes look like? A perfect example of the Chinese influence on Peruvian cuisine can be seen in Lomo Saltado, probably the most famous Chinese-Peruvian dish. It consists of beef stir fried with onions,tomatoes, green onioins, soy sauce, and vinegar – all over french fries or rice. I’ve had it at both Llama’s and Golden Wok – Llamas being the better of the 2 (Llama’s version is in the image above, and Golden Wok below).
Many Peruvian restuarants serve Arroz Chaufa as well, which is just fried rice (La Chapparita and Golden Wok both have it). Other interesting dishes on the Chifa menu at Golden Wok include deep fried wontons with a thick wrapper, deep fried chicken with oyster sauce, and fried pork with pineapple and tamarind.
Other famous Peruvian dishes include aji de gallina, which is like a shredded chicken covered with a cheesy sauce. At Llama’s the sauce was bright yellow, cheesy and rich. At La Chapparita it was a bit more gray and more gravy-like (see the very first picture above). Llama’s had the edge on this dish. To me Aji de Gallina tastes a little like the Brazilian chicken stroganoff (Estrogonofe De Frango) they serve at Rio’s.
Other notable dishes include the very acidic ceviche served with toasted corn nuts and steamed sweet potato at La Chapparita. The corn kernels are of the larger, less sweet South American variety that were in the anticuchos at Llama’s. Sweet potato with fish sounds a little weird, but it’s savory and creamy taste mellow out the acidity of the fish very nicely.
Wrapping up this post, there are a couple of Peruvian drinks you can get in Austin: Inca cola and Cusqueña beer (AKA gold of the Incas). Cusqueña, which we tried at La Chapparita, tastes almost exactly like Tecate – light, sweet, and refreshing. Inca Cola is extremely sweet and tastes like sugary cream soda or Big Red (for you Texans).
Well, that’s our intro to Peruvian food, and plenty to get you started. There are lots of other Peruvian dishes to try at each of the restaurants in our guide, so get to it! Have you had Peruvian food in Austin? Do you have any other dishes to recommend? Comment below!