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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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
Another traditional vegetarian dish we found in Peru is Puca piccante. It contains potatoes with a slightly spicy sauce of beets and peanuts and it is served with rice. Sometimes it can come with meat, but it should not be a problem to get it without meat. We found this dish in the Andes in Ayacucho. It tasted delicious.
Hi. Thanks for the great info. We are flying to Arequipa tomorrow! Do you by any chance remember exactly the resturants you had the papas a la ocopa in the above photo?. Thanks in advance. Meghann
I just stumbled across your blog while planning a trip to Jordan. I’m a vegetarian, too, and traveled to Peru a couple of years ago. I’m totally surprised by your assessment of Peru for a vegetarian though (especially given that I’m definitely a spoilt foodie). I LOVED the food and didn’t feel that I really missed out on anything. Of course, I’m a HUGE potatoes fanatic, and they are amazing in Peru. Plus great quinoa dishes. We pretty much stuck to Peruvian restaurants (when in Rome… :) ), and never had any issues. In Cusco, we also did a cooking class, and the chef (Erick, working out of Marcelo Batata restaurant) was able to adjust the recipes for me (I made vegetarian causa and veggie saltada. I’m also pretty vocal (new yorker, LOL), so I pretty much asked chefs to modify existing Peruvian dishes that I wanted to make them vegetarian. At Aquas Calientes (which I agree, is generally a bit of a challenge), we had an AMAZING meal at The Tree House (quinoa risotto) and a pretty decent meal at Indio Feliz. Even when we were in the Amazon, the lodge was able to cook some great vegetarian food for me.
This is good information, I am an Indian and a vegetarian, planning on going to Peru, maybe with my parents, so I am scouring the internet for veggie options in Peru. The main problem in traveling as a vegetarian is getting food. Thank you for this post!
I’m heading to Peru in a few weeks and this is helpful information! Thank you.
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!!
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.
The bananas sounds great – we’ll look out for them next time.
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 :)
Glad you found it useful Ioana. Good luck finding veggie food on your travels.
Me encanta chicha morada!!!
Me encanta chicha morada!!!
It is tasty isn’t it?
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!
the chica morada sounds tasty, what a unique combination of flavors!
It is. Who would have thought purple corn would make a good drink?
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.
We actually don’t like synthetic meat, which makes eating in vegetarian restaurants even harder.
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.
Yeah, meat is added to pretty much everything. There are a few veggie potatoe dishes but it gets pretty boring and stodgy.
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!
Being vegan would be really difficult, we met a few who had converted too. We can’t bring ourselves to eat fish though.
it must be really hard to travel in third world countries if you are a vegetarian
It depends where you go. India is vegetarian heaven! South America is difficult though.
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.
Mmm, that place sounds good!
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!
I don’t know if any of you guys know about this, but I bought a vegetarian passport for S/5 from a veggie restaurant in Arequipa, Peru, called Dhamovar (Calle Rivero 603). It gives me discounts in several veggie restaurants around South America mostly. Here’s their website :):
Good to know – thanks!
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?