Why Potatoes are so important to Peruvian culture and where to find the best dishes.
None of Peru’s many delicious and valuable crops shines as bright as the potato. This hardy crop is the most eaten vegetable in the world, but for those seeking cultural food in Peru – you’ll be hard-pressed to find a single ingredient used more often in the famous food of Peru.
Peru’s fertile land makes for especially delicious potatoes – and the experimentation of innovative farmers and agriculturists has meant that today there are now more than 4,000 kinds of potatoes grown in Peru. Here at Aracari, we have spent more than two decades connecting our clients to cultural Peruvian food – much of which features the many different kinds of Peruvian potatoes.
From the agricultural highlands of the Sacred Valley to the famous food of Lima, our privileged access allows our clients to gain an unforgettable insight into why potatoes are so important to Peruvian culture, and of course – where to find the best dishes.
Within this exclusive guide, you’ll learn how to spot one variety of Peruvian potato from another and hear of just a few of the exclusive foodie experiences available only to Aracari guests. All are designed to whet your appetite for your next food adventure to Peru with Aracari.
Cultural Peruvian Food: The History of the Peruvian Potato
Scientists believe that potatoes grew in the Andean highlands of Peru, Bolivia and Chile as far back as 13,000 years ago. But it was around 7,000 years ago, that people living in the Andes were harvesting the crop, successfully growing the vegetable in the challenging climates of the mountains. Then in the 1500s, potatoes were exported to Europe by the Spanish, and whilst the crop was initially met with superstition, it ultimately became a staple in most Europeans’ diets.
Fast-forward to today and the study of Peruvian potatoes is a serious business. At the International Potato Center in Lima, researchers study the ways potatoes might help to eradicate worldwide hunger due to their hardiness and ability to grow in difficult conditions. Peru is also home to a potato bank, which stores thousands of varieties of potato seeds in a secure vault.
Meet the potato pioneer of Huatata: Authentic Foodie Experiences in Peru
Potatoes are certainly delicious and filling, but they’re also not just used as everyday food – they’re deeply valued as a part of Peruvian heritage. Subsistence farmers and local communities cultivate a diversity of potato varieties to preserve historic local traditions.
Aracari is well-connected to potato experts across the country but one particularly special encounter available during a luxury Peru vacation is a visit to the potato pioneer of Huatata. It’s an unmissable foodie experience high in the Andes, where our guests spend a few hours in the company of a man putting Peruvian potatoes on the map. A man whose meticulous and inventive farming methods have produced over 380 varieties of native potatoes and put them on menus of Lima’s most renowned culinary institutions: Central and Maido.
A fourth-generation farmer, he improves each variety of potato by imitating bees with manual cross-pollination. During one of the most unique experiences in Peru, you’ll learn how this delicate process involves removing the pollen from one potato flower and sprinkling it onto a flower of another variety. This inventiveness achieves tubers with bright, intensified colors such as blue, purple, and red while enhancing the nutritional properties, textures, and flavors too. Such agricultural prowess caught the eye of Virgilio Martinez, the renowned Peruvian chef of Central fame – who sought out this unrivaled knowledge of potatoes and tubers.
During one of the most unique foodie experiences in Peru, our guests will sample the different types of freshly harvested potatoes cooked in a ‘huatia’, which is a traditional way of cooking in the Andes using the heat of the earth in an underground oven. Before discovering (and sampling!) the latest invention: a wine made from the ocas and mashuas tubers: including red, white, and sparkling wine which are all sold in Lima’s award-winning restaurants.
Outside of being the cultural food of Peru, potatoes are also sometimes used for holistic remedies and medicines. During our Wellbeing and Privacy itineraries such as Wellness and Machu Picchu outs will discover how different kinds of potatoes have medicinal properties for relieving headaches and treating skin irritation as well as being used as an anti-ageing tool in skincare.
Cultural Peruvian Food: The Different Types of Potatoes
While there are far too many varieties of potatoes to list here, there are some that stand out as especially popular in cultural Peruvian food. Here are some popular varieties of Peruvian potatoes you might come across, along with the colors, shapes, and textures that make them stand out:
Papa Blanca: A firm white potato with a pale white shade.
Papa Amarilla: Yellow potatoes that become very soft when cooked.
Papa Huamantanga: A potato with white flesh but a rich texture associated with yellow potatoes. It’s a common favorite, and Aracari foodie experts will share with you the best places in Lima to find it in a stew.
Papa Púrpura: A purple potato that turns slightly blue when cooked. This potato was especially treasured in the era of the Inca when it was eaten by royalty.
Papa Peruanita: A potato with a vibrant, multi-colored skin and a rich taste.
Papa Tarmeña: This popular potato looks similar to a papa peruanita, and it’s commonly used in causa, a tasty favorite dish. You might also munch on this potato fried.
Papa Cóctel: A small, sweet cocktail potato with an intense flavor reminiscent of white potatoes. They’re tasty on their own or as part of a vibrant potato salad.
Papa Rosada: Also known as papa canchan, a potato with pink skin and white insides.
Papa Perricholi: A popular and relatively new variety of potato that is white and sweet.
Papa Huayro: This potato is known for its rich taste and is often used to add extra flavor to a dish.
Chuño: These freeze-dried potatoes serve as a traditional ingredient in some Quechua communities. Chuño has been eaten since before the time of the Inca. To make them, locals spread a series of small potatoes on the ground and leave them outside overnight to freeze in chilly temperatures. In the daytime, as the sun shines down on the potatoes, locals trample over them to remove the water and skin.
Oca: This bright-colored tuber is something of a competitor to the potato – it offers many similar perks but is in a category all its own. The crop originally came from the high Andes, where it was enjoyed by ancient cultures. You can still find it in many Peruvian meals today. Oca grows in colors like pink, purple, red, white, or orange. It has a crispy quality to it, as well as an unmistakable sweetness that most people love. It tastes great as part of both sweet and savory dishes.
Camote (Sweet Potato): Sweet potatoes (or camote) might look similar to their savory counterparts, but contrary to their name, they’re not in the same plant family as potatoes. That said, camote has been part of Peruvian culture for thousands of years and has even shown up on ancient Peruvian ceramics. You can find camote in many different sizes and shapes, and it’s still grown in regions like Amazonia and Ayacucho.
How to Taste Authentic Potato Dishes in Lima, Peru
With more than 26 years of specializing in luxury vacations to Peru, Aracari has built many bespoke foodie vacations designed to take in the most authentic Peruvian dishes in Lima and beyond. One way we do this is via experiences such as Urban Eats.
Famed for its status as one of the best culinary destinations in the world, Peru’s distinctive cuisine is shaped by its diverse geography, long history, and rich cultural makeup. And during one of the most unique experiences in Peru – you’ll be introduced to many of the nation’s colorful dishes.
On the morning of your experience, our Friend in the City will collect you from your Lima hotel. These astute guides are Lima locals who share our passion for introducing travelers to authentic and meaningful experiences during their time in Peru. Together, you’ll journey take the short work to Mendiburu Market, located in the beautiful district of Miraflores.
Spend an hour exploring many of the traditional stands showcasing Peruvian produce and delicacies, before moving on to reach a venue that has been around since 1973. Sampling delicious juices made from Peru’s richest and most exotic fruits: passion fruit, lucuma, camu camu, and golden berry, you’ll learn how these fruits make for some of the key components in typical Peruvian gastronomy. And how Peru’s extraordinary geography provides the perfect conditions for them to grow – indeed, 84 of the 104 world ecosystems can be found in Peru.
For lunch, it’ll be a place popular among locals for its to-go Peruvian classics. It’s a must-see, and on your visit, you can sample cold dishes such as Ceviche seafood dishes, or classic Peruvian potato dishes such as the delicious Causa Limeña – made from Peruvian yellow potatoes, peppers, and tuna. Here’s a short insider guide to some of the other authentic Peruvian potato dishes you might expect to find during our Urban Eats experience:
Causa combines mashed yellow potatoes, aji pepper, and lemon juice with a variety of stuffing options. The final result has a trifle-like appearance and a delightfully fluffy texture. Causa is truly a work of art, both to eat and to look at.
A popular street dish, Salchipapas combines beef sausages and fries, topped off with a tasty sauce. It’s the perfect meal for anyone craving potatoes on the go and our foodie guides know exactly the kind of places to taste it authentically.
Papa a la Huancaína
This delicious dish can be found throughout Peru. Papa a la Huancaína consists of boiled yellow potatoes in a creamy (and spicy) Huancaína sauce. The dish also includes boiled eggs, lettuce, olives, and aji amarillo. The tasty meal is named after the highland city of Huancayo.
This beloved dish, which you’ll find just about everywhere in Peru, has its origins in chifa (Chinese-Peruvian) cuisine. It includes beef, rice, soy sauce, tomatoes, and – notably – fried potatoes. It’s every bit as delicious as it sounds!
The Best Restaurants in Peru to Sample the Cultural Food of Peru
You’ll find excellent potato dishes just about anywhere in Peru. That said, if you’re looking to see how a big-name eatery presents the ingredient, here are a few places to try during our exclusive foodie itineraries.
The Best Restaurants in Peru: MIL in the Sacred Valley
During our exclusive foodie itinerary Travel with Taste Peru’s Spellbinding South Aracari guests experience a trip to MIL– the Sacred Valley restaurant of Virgilio Martinez, the mastermind behind Lima’s world-renowned restaurant Central. With its simple and clean architecture, the restaurant is built right above the circular Inca terraces of Moray.
During the visit, Aracari guests can opt for the one-of-a-kind tasting menu. Each of the 8 courses within this exquisite menu reflects the 8 different ecosystems found at the restaurant’s high altitude of 3,600 m / 11,800 ft. Virgilio Martinez has been experimenting with cooking at this altitude for many years and has worked extremely closely with three nearby indigenous communities, exploring their techniques for farming, growing, and cooking in this remote region. Our guests will be invited to see the on-site food labs and hear how Virgilio has made close connections with the locals, investing in an irrigation system that cleans the water to feed the crops the communities grow. In return, the communities provide crops for the restaurant.
The Famous Food of Lima at Astrid y Gaston in Lima
A well-favored haunt amongst team Aracari, Astrid y Gaston features on our exclusive itinerary Peru with Flavor. The restaurant is a collaboration between chef Gastón Acurio and his wife, pastry chef Astrid Gutsche, and is a favorite among Lima locals. The menu focuses entirely on Peruvian favorites. The eatery’s grilled octopus with crushed potatoes and aji panca is a great example of how potatoes can be blended perfectly with seafood.
Tasting the Cultural Food of Peru at Isolina in Lima
During our foodie itinerary, Marisol’s Favorite our guests visit the intimate Isolina, tucked away in the charming bohemian district of Barranco. Isolina’s high-end take on comfort food draws heavily on potatoes to create cozy tastes such as the Cau Cau con Sangrecita, a rich potato stew.
The Best Restaurants in Peru: Central in Lima
No list of the best cultural food in Peru is complete without mentioning Central in Lima. During our itinerary, The Spirit of South America, Aracari guests spend their first evening at a much sought-after table here. Famous the world over, Central was recently ranked No. 2 in the World’s Top 50 Restaurants list for 2022. This gastronomic haven delivers ambitious and worldly fusion from chef Virgilio Martínez Véliz, whose signature menu is a series of modern, molecular dishes showcasing ingredients native to Peru.
Discover the Delights of Foodie Peru with Aracari
So, there you have our guide to the coveted Peruvian potato along with where and how to eat it when you visit Peru with Aracari. We hope that the scope and diversity showcased within it highlight the unrivaled uniqueness of a luxury Peru tour handpicked and curated by Aracari. But as ever, we are led by you too.
Aracari’s dedicated Travel Designers are equipped with all the specialist knowledge and contacts to weave a bespoke itinerary, tailored completely to your taste. Whether you choose to visit Peru as a single-destination trip or build a tailormade vacation around multiple destinations – we’d be delighted to connect you to your own private South American voyage.