What do we eat in Peru?

Guinea pigs and cats. Seriously.

The first time I walked past a restaurant in Peru that advertised guinea pig, I disregarded it as one of those funny translation mistakes that sometimes sneak into menus like additives. But no, dear children, the animals that you have as pets at home and of whom you don’t notice when your parents replace them after they die, end up on the plate in Peru.

And not in any sanitized or genteel way, but with heads and hooves.


Meerschweinchen mit Kartoffeln.jpg

As you may see from the photos, this is no emergency meal for poor farmers stuck in the mountains. There are expensive restaurants offering this barbarity.

If the chef runs out of guinea pigs, he snatches a cat. “Why not a cow?” you are wondering, but you forget that in Hispanic countries, cows are needed for bullfights.

Because cats have a stronger lobby, they are at least hacked to unrecognizability and served like a goulash. Allegedly you can also find barbecued cat.

estofado de gato.jpg

Admittedly, the cat food is limited in time and place. Each year in September there is the “Festival Comegato” in Cañete. Of course, like everything in Latin America, it serves to honor some virgin saint.

But the guinea pigs you can get anywhere and all year round.

Finally to something positive: rocoto relleno is, as I thought, stuffed pepper with melted cheese on top. It is pretty much the spiciest food I ever ate. Spicy, but good. Extremely good. It is also filled with meat, but at least you don’t recognize some cute legs or innocent eyes.


My assumption that this was bell pepper was confirmed by the same size, color and texture. The spiciness was due to some crazy spices, I guessed. So I went to the market to buy one kilogram of rocoto and prepared a salad with it, spicing it up lavishly with onions and pepper. Bell pepper alone might be healthy, but lame.

My mouth exploded! It was like eating fire. First, I thought that the onions had been damn spicy, but it was the bell pepper. Or rather the bell-peppery plant, which is fittingly called tree chili and which I as a European of course had never heard of before. During this research, I learned something else. You are aware of the problem that any debate about which food is more spicy suffers from subjective perceptions? Help is near in the form of the Scoville scale, which measures the pungency of peppers. Normal chillies have between 100 and 1000 Scoville points. A jalapeño, already the limit of what most people can bear, has between 3500 and 10,000 points. And the rocoto, which I cheerily snipped into my salad? Between 30,000 and 250,000.

If you ever get your hands on that vegetable, try it! Or even better, take it to some dinner party to innocently add to the salad. That’s gonna be a fun evening. But please hide your guinea pig when your Peruvian friends are coming over.

(Zur deutschen Fassung.)

About Andreas Moser

Travelling the world and writing about it. I have degrees in law and philosophy, but I'd much rather be a writer, a spy or a hobo.
This entry was posted in Food, Peru, Travel and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to What do we eat in Peru?

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  6. Colin says:

    Guinea pig is actually not that common in Lima, more of an Andean highlands dish. I’m not a big fan either, I describe it as a combination of fish and pork.

    Rocoto relleno is actually a very time-consuming dish to cook. You have to boil the pepper until it’s soft before stuffing it and then baking it. I married an arequipeña so I’m always visiting, and it’s not uncommon to get a rocoto relleno where the pepper is a little firm. My advice, even for guys like me who can handle the spice, just eat the filling. Eating an uncooked rocoto pepper will send you to the toilet for much of the next day.

    For a better experience with Peruvian food, I recommend sticking with the coastal stuff, specifically what comes from Lima and the north. See this list: http://limacitykings.com/peruvian-cuisine/

    • Although the rocoto was crazy spicy, I actually liked the taste and kept buying and eating it, adding it to salads, pasta and pizza, always uncooked (if only for laziness).
      Now that I am back in Europe, I really miss rocoto!

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  8. 43bluedoors says:

    We accidentally bought one of these rocoto to add to our fish last week. Just cooking it had us all almost crying. I ended up dousing each bit with evaporated milk (because regular milk here in Peru is harder to find) but was still struggling!!! HOT!!

    • Oh yes, that first-time rocoto surprise is like eating fire!
      Maybe even worse than eating it was when I cut the rocoto and then picked my nose or rubbed my eyes with the same fingers. That hurt like hell!
      But I actually came to like the taste of rocoto. Now that I am back in Europe, I miss it sometimes. And it would be such a good vegetable to sneak into a salad at some party. ;-)

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