All larger towns in Peru have a fair choice of restaurants , most of which offer a varied menu. Among them there’s usually a few chifa ( Chinese ) places, and nowadays a fair number of vegetarian restaurants too. Most restaurants in the larger towns stay open seven days a week from around 11am until 11pm, though in smaller settlements they may close one day a week, usually Sunday. Often they will offer a cena, or set menu , from morning through to lunchtime and another in the evening. Ranging in price from $1 to $3, these most commonly consist of three courses: soup, a main dish, and a cup of tea or coffee to follow. Every town, too, seems now to have at least one restaurant that specializes in pollos a la brasa – spit-roasted chickens. Tipping in budget or average restaurants is normal, though not obligatory and you should rarely expect to give more than about $0.5. In fancier places you may well find a service charge of ten percent as well as a tax of eighteen percent added to the bill, and in restaurants and peñas where there’s live music or performances the cover charge can go up to $5. Even without performance, cover charges of around $1 are sometimes levied in the flashier restaurants in major town centres.
Along the coast, not surprisingly, seafood is the speciality. The Humboldt Current keeps the Pacific Ocean off Peru extremely rich in plankton and other microscopic life forms, which attract a wide variety of fish. Ceviche is the classic Peruvian seafood dish and has been eaten by locals for over two thousand years. It consists of fish, shrimp, scallops or squid, or a mixture of all four, marinated in lime juice and chilli peppers, then served “raw” with corn and sweet potato and onions. You can find it, along with fried fish and fish soups, in most restaurants along the coast for around $2. Escabeche is another tasty fish-based appetizer, this time incorporating peppers and finely chopped onions. The coast is also an excellent place for eating scallops – known here as conchitas – which grow particularly well close to the Peruvian shoreline. Conchitas negras (black scallops) are a delicacy in the northern tip of Peru. Excellent salads are also widely available, such as huevos a la rusa (egg salad), palta rellena (stuffed avocado), or a straight tomato salad, while papas a la Huancaina (a cold appetizer of potatoes covered in a spicy light cheese sauce) is great too.
Mountain food is more basic – a staple of potatoes and rice with the meat stretched as far as it will go. Lomo saltado, or diced prime beef sautéed with onions and peppers, is served anywhere at any time, accompanied by rice and a few french fries. A delicious snack from street vendors and cafés is papa rellena, a potato stuffed with vegetables and fried. Trout is also widely available, as are cheese, ham and egg sandwiches. Chicha, a corn beer drunk throughout the sierra region and on the coast in rural areas, is very cheap with a pleasantly tangy taste. Another Peruvian speciality is the Pachamanca , a roast prepared mainly in the mountains but also on the coast by digging a large hole, filling it with stones and lighting a fire over them, then using the hot stones to cook a wide variety of tasty meats and vegetables.
In the jungle , the food is different. Bananas and plantains figure highly, along with yuca (a manioc rather like a yam), rice and plenty of fish. There is meat as well, mostly chicken supplemented occasionally by game – deer, wild pig, or even monkey. Every settlement big enough to get on the map has its own bar or café, but in remote areas it’s a matter of eating what’s available and drinking coffee or bottled drinks if you don’t relish the home-made masato (cassava beer).