A Vegetarian Food Guide to Peru
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Peru is not known for being vegetarian-friendly. Most of their cuisine centers around meat – a nice large slab of meat with some carby vegetables on the side. Even something labeled as vegetable soup will likely still have large chunks of meat attached to the bone in it. However, with a little bit of prior planning, it is actually quite easy to eat a vegetarian diet in Peru without starving. Most touristy cities now cater to vegetarian visitors, producing incredibly delicious food. Even if you are traveling off-the-beaten-path in Peru, this guide can help you identify what you can eat that is still traditional Peruvian.
Not every Peruvian may understand what being vegetarian means. When saying you don’t eat meat or are vegetarian, they may still suggest a meal with fish or one that uses a meat broth. Be sure to double check with the ingredients listed on the menu. Restaurants geared towards tourists or in touristy parts of town will likely have a green leaf signifying if it is vegetarian or vegan.
Most hotels include breakfast. We had no problems eating our fill at breakfast. There was typically fruit (mangos, pineapple, and watermelon), eggs, bread, potatoes, fried yuca, avocados, and cheese. Eggs were either scrambled or as an omelet. Coffee and tea are also common.
Traditional Peruvian Vegetarian Dishes
Due to the extreme variety of landscapes in Peru, local cuisine differs significantly region to region. The fresh ingredients available to locals is different in the rainforest than in the Andes mountains or down on the coast. That being said, many dishes include at least one of the following ingredients:
Corn – The corn found in Peru is unlike what is eaten elsewhere in the world. It is a lot sweeter with large kernels.
Potatoes – The Andes mountains contains over a thousand varieties of potatoes.
Quinoa – Long before its popularity elsewhere, quinoa has been a staple in Peruvian cuisine.
Beans – Fittingly enough, one of the more popular beans in Peru is the lima bean.
Many of the restaurants you’ll find in Lima are some sort of fusion, typically Peru-Chinese fusion. A lot of the more popular Peruvian dishes have Asian influences. For example, Ceviche is just a different take on sushi.
Quinoa has its roots in the Peruvian Andes Mountain range. Quinoa soup is made both with or without meat. The vegetarian version includes assorted vegetables (i.e potatoes, carrots, zucchini, peppers, etc) with quinoa in a vegetable broth.
Papas a la Huancaina
This cheap dish has sliced boiled potatoes covered in a thick cheese/ají pepper sauce. Ají peppers are a type of chili pepper native to Peru, not typically found elsewhere. They add a unique fruity flavor and a bit of spice.
The Peruvian take on rice and beans. Traditionally it is made with leftover rice and beans with a fried egg and salsa. The non-vegetarian version is served on top of steak.
Stuffed potatoes. The vegetarian version filling contains onion, eggs, spices, and various vegetables.
Another stuffed item, this time it is a stuffed bell pepper. As you might have caught on, relleno/a means stuffed. You also might encounter other stuffed things like avocados. These bell peppers are stuffed with eggs, cheese, and onions.
There are vegetarian varieties, typically filled with cheese, that are a common breakfast food in Peru. It can be sold alone by a street vendor or with a salsa mixture featuring ají peppers.
This appetizer is typically served cold is made of two or three layers of mashed yellow potatoes with egg or avocado in between. It is topped with olives or ají peppers.
Best Vegetarian-friendly REstaurants in Peru
Most of the restaurants on this list are not vegetarian-only but do have multiple vegetarian options.
Sunshine Cafe – Found near the Ollantaytambo ruins, this cafe serves large salads, wraps, fresh-squeezed juices, and breakfast. There is a nice rooftop dining area with 360-degree views of the town & ruins.
El Albergue – In the Ollantaytambo Train station, this is a great place for a nice restaurant on your way to or back from Machu Picchu. All of the fruit and vegetables are grown on their organic farm. Meals include pasta, soups, salads, and sandwiches – all plated beautifully.
Apu Veronica – Close to Plaza de Aramas, this restaurant has more traditional Peruvian food. Their vegetarian options include papa rellena, quinoa soup, a make-your-own taco.
Organika – This small restaurant tucked away on a quiet street has the most excellent looking and tasting food. Almost every other thing on the menu is vegetarian. They serve amazing vegetarian pasta, sandwiches, soups, and salads. It is a bit pricey for Peruvian standards but you’ll pay significantly less than you would back home for the same quality.
Chia Vegan Kitchen – Phenomenal vegan food with plenty of options. They have soups, salads, quinoa dishes, stir-frys, tacos, a burger, and a lot more.
Morena Peruvian Kitchen – Located very close to the main square, this place has several vegetarian options. The Peruvian options include chaufa (fried rice), vegetable ceviche, causa, and a quinoa salad. They also have a veggie burger made with pumpkin and pizzas.
Native Burgers Chakruna – In the San Blas neighborhood, this burger joint has amazing vegetarian burgers with a variety of topping combinations – served with tasty fries. It also comes at a great price – around 3 USD for burger and fries.
Vida Vegan Bistro – Large portions of delicious food with many vegan takes on traditional Peruvian foods – including a fish-less ceviche.
Qucharitas – For dessert, check out this Ice Cream and Crepe shop. It is close to Plaza de Armas and gets very busy later in the day. The ice cream is made-to-order with whatever combination of base and toppings you want.
Colors – Located on the Main Street, this restaurant has a large menu with food from all parts of the world, including a decent amount of vegetarian options. They have pizza, pasta, soups, fondue, curry, and salads.
Loving Hut Vegan – Fairly good vegan food in a not-so vegetarian friendly city. It is affordable and there are plenty of options.
La Veganessa – Another all vegan restaurant with tasty food, most of which featured fake meat. Affordable prices and plenty of drink options as well.
Honestly, there are too many to name. Lima has countless award-winning restaurants. Being a large city, you will likely find a vegetarian option at most of the restaurants in Lima.
Visiting a part of Peru that is not on this list? The website Happy Cow is a great resource to find vegetarian-friendly restaurants in pretty much any city in the world.
Spanish Words to Know
When reading through the menu, here are some important words to look out for when figuring out what you can eat:
Vegetarian – vegetarino/a
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
Vegan – vegano/a
Fish – pescado
Bacon - tocino
Sausage – salchicha
Egg – huevo
Dairy – lactose
I am vegetarian – soy vegetariano/a
Fruit – fruta
Raw vegan – crudivegano/a
While I cannot list every food-related word here, hopefully these will give you a basic understanding of the menu. When in doubt – look it up. Review all the ingredients using the google translate app.