Vegetarian Survival Guide to Peru

Was Peru better for vegetarians than anywhere else in South America? In a word, no. We still lacked the ability to be able to eat cheap, local food as it almost always contained meat. Peru is one of the most touristy destinations on the continent though (especially Cusco) so we were always able to find vegetarian food in restaurants aimed at foreigners. As we didn’t get to explore Peruvian cuisine this guide focuses more on the restaurants we enjoyed, including one particular gem in Lima.

Papas a La Ocopa

Papas a La Ocopa & Chicha Morada

Papas a La Ocopa & Chicha Morada

Papas a la Ocopa is the only typical Peruvian dish we tried. We visited one of the many traditional restaurants in Arequipa hoping we’d find something without meat and the waiter recommended this dish. It was listed as a starter so we ordered two, plus a salad but the portions were huge. Boiled potatoes are served in a creamy peanut sauce alongside fried cheese.It was pretty good but not something you’d want to eat every day.

A similar dish is Papas a la Huancaína, although strangely we more often saw this on menus in tourist restaurants rather than in cheap Peruvian places.

Chicha Morada

To make up for not sampling more Peruvian food we took a liking to Chicha Morada, a non-alcoholic drink made from purple corn boiled with apple, cinnamon and sugar. It is served cold and is very refreshing.

Fruit

There’s a fantastic range of tropical fruit available in Peru and the markets are always lively places to shop. Orange juice stalls aren’t as commonly found as in Bolivia but we did come across a few. The markets usually have fruit juice stalls willing to blend you up a treat. It’s not as cheap as Bolivia but still very reasonably priced.

Learn Spanish

We always say it but in order to communicate your dietary needs it’s important to learn some Spanish. That said, Southern Peru probably has the most English speakers of all the places we have visited.

Our Favourite Restaurants

Although we couldn’t try much Peruvian food we did find some good veggie-friendly restaurants in Peru. In general we found the vegetarian set lunch places terribly bland, although you get a lot of food for your money. We preferred to eat in non-vegetarian restaurants with meat-free options and more flavour.

Falafel Sandwich at Prasada, Cusco

Falafel Sandwich at Prasada, Cusco

Cusco: see our post on vegetarian restaurants in Cusco, including wonderful falafel, gourmet toasted sandwiches, curry and coca chocolate.

Machu Picchu Pueblo/Aguas Calientes: This village is packed with average tourist restaurants with identical menus. We splurged and found the only decent food in town at La Cafeteria in El Mapi Hotel on the main street. It’s expensive but the quinoa taboleh, hot sandwiches, waffles and chocolate cake were delicious.

Arequipa: We tried a few places but ended up alternating between falafel and roast vegetable wraps at Fez (San Francisco 229) and salads, crepes and sandwiches (with good bread) at Crepisimo (Santa Catalina 208).

Tasty AlmaZen, Lima

Tasty AlmaZen

Lima: The only place worth mentioning is AlmaZen. It’s absolutely worth the high prices and was the best food we’ve eaten since Buenos Aires.

Huaraz: Our favourite restaurant in town was Chilli Heaven (Parque Ginebra Lote 28) for surprisingly good spicy curry.

If you are in need of good home cooked food with lots of fresh vegetables then we recommend a stay up in the mountains at Lazy Dog Inn. It was just what we needed after too long eating in restaurants.

If you are travelling as a vegetarian around South America you can also read our survival guides to Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina and Bolivia.

Trail Wallet

What are your favourite vegetarian foods in Peru? Leave a comment and share your tips.

30 thoughts on Vegetarian Survival Guide to Peru

  1. Boiled potatoes in peanut sauce with cheese hey….??? The things we vegetarians have to endure! Although there are plenty of veggie restaurants/cafes here in Australia, in many other non-veggie places there is a huge lack of options which is odd. However, we can’t afford to eat out here anyway! Great to be able to cook again properly in apartment, without having to save young’un backpackers in the hostel kitchen from electrocuting themselves…. Enjoy your new aparto kitchen! x

    • I know, slim pickings… Having your own kitchen is such a luxury after months of travelling. In Australia we mostly cooked in our camper van- we found it so expensive after Asia. Enjoy your oven!

    • Actually papa in huancaina sauce and ocopa sauce are regional dishes ocopa being more typical to southern peru and they are both appetizers. They are both delicious. I too am a vegetarian and I guess I had better luck but I am fluent in Spanish and speak Portuguese well… Learn enough of the language before you travel otherwise you are just a tourist

      • We speak Spanish so it definitely wasn’t the language barrier that was the problem. One of our tips was to learn Spanish as it really helps to find food you can eat.

        Still, aren’t we all tourists unless we actually move to Peru?

  2. I am not a vegetarian, but I do enjoy a good veggie place and found one in Huanchacho. I believe it is called Otra Cosa and it also serves as the home for some kind of Dutch cultural organization. My Dutch friend had the (obviously veggie) burrito and said it was amazing while I opted for the daily special which that day was a giant stuffed zucchini with quinoa. Very delicious and reasonably priced.

  3. I know a few vegetarians that ended up eating fish in Peru because it was so limiting. I met a vegan today in Ecuador that decided she had to eat dairy because it was so limiting.

    On the brighter side, Papas a la Huancaína is delicious!

  4. Veggie restaurants in Chile are generally pretty too, unfortunately. I’m actually surprised that Peru wasn’t better for vegetarians, just because so many of their dishes are potato based. But I guess the key word there is “based,” and then they add on the meat from there.

  5. Unlike my brother, I can survive eating vegetarian meals. I actually found a place here where they serve synthetic meat for vegetarian people. We tried eating there, as expected, only me and mom enjoy the food. It can really be very difficult if you’re not used to it.

  6. I had to laugh, reading this post — three vegan months in Cusco left me desperately wanting to never see another potato again (or white rice, for that matter).

    That said, I was able to hack the heck out of the Cusco dining scene. I enjoyed lots and lots of free salad bars, street-vendor chocolo (oye, sabroso) and all the fresh juice I could drink (sin azucar, claro). I also enjoyed some terrific chifa, which was easy to order without meat. If I assured them I didn’t want a discount for leaving off the meat, they tended to pile my plate with veg.

    Glad you enjoyed Almazen, too! Did you meet the chef? He’s fascinating.

    • We found Cusco had the best veg eating options in Peru, but I can understand getting sick of potato! We never managed to try street choclo as it was never around when we were hungry, but it did look good.

      We did meet the chef at AlmaZen – he spent ages chatting to us and is a lovely guy. Love that place!

  7. Thank you very much for the very useful tips and for going through the bother to posts your veggie experiences in detail :).

    I’m a veggie and a rather picky one who enjoys good, healthy food that comes in generous portions and is good value for money.

    My husband and I are currently living in Arequipa, Peru and are our way to Cusco tomorrow. We would also like to travel through Chile, Argentina, Bolivia and Brasil beggining next month, so I’m glad I came across your blog before we set off on our journey.

    Thanks again :)

  8. I’ve been living here in Peru for over 10 years now, I’ve grown to like many of the traditional dishes here. Ocopa is quite similar to Papa a la Huancaina although I prefer huancaina a bit depending on how it’s made.

    In reality you can’t just try it from one restaurant to get the true taste as everyone makes it slightly different. Sometimes they make it with more Aji (spicy peppers) or more crackers (used in huancaina sauce) and the taste varies alot. I’d say in average 1 out of 3 places make it the way I like it.

    If you visit again you should try the large fried island bananas. Those are usually very cheap and taste rather well, a little bit on the sweet side.

  9. Try the Kichic hotel and restaurant in Mancora! Locro made of zapallo or pumpkin is an excelent typical peruvian dish…and there are several other
    soups and dishes and im
    sure Amaz has some
    amazonic vegetarian food
    too….i think you could have done better!!

  10. Pingback: Vegetarian Food in Turkey: Our Survival Guide

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