Peruvian cuisine’s variety, taste and freshness make it South America’s finest. Although Lima has Peru’s best restaurants and food festival (Mistura), Arequipa is the city most synonymous with food. Following are culinary highlights from my time in Arequipa, including my favourite food from the city, country and continent: a true chocolate delight!
For ease of navigation I have divided the article into the following sections:
- Baked Goods
- Chocolate Desserts
- Vegetarian and Vegan
Mercado San Camilo
Doña Julia giving the thumb up behind the fruit at her great juice stall in Mercado San Camilo
A hot and delicious Mercado San Camilo tamal garnished with onion salad
Central Arequipa’s Mercado San Camilo is a must-visit. Its variety, value and convenience cannot be beaten. Divided into sections, the exotic fruit in the centre and juices at the eastern end are high points.
Doña Julia: My regular San Camilo juice stall sells juice and smoothies from nineteen(!) individual fruit varieties and dozens of combinations. If what you want is not listed, Doña Julia can make to order. Give your glass back once finished and it will be refilled with the remaining juice at no extra charge. Ask for no sweetener (sin dulce) for no added sugar or other sweeteners.
My standby drink was the awesome lucuma and milk smoothie without sweetener (lúcuma con leche sin dulce) that tasted between a caramel and sweet potato thickshake. Lucuma is rarely found outside of Peru and the fruit’s intense flavour and texture mean it is usually used in ice creams and smoothies instead of eaten alone.
Other Mercado San Camilo highlights include:
- tamales served at specialist stands on the eastern side
- sell sugar- and sweetener-free yoghurt (a rarity in Peru) from the dairy stands in the centre
- 1 sol (US$0.30) stuffed potatoes (papas rellenas) from the booths in Parque San Camilo outside the northern end
Upstairs are restaurants preparing Peruvian dishes including typical Arequipeño stuffed rocoto chillies with potato cake (rocoto relleno con pastel de papa) and ‘cheese’ ice cream (queso helado). Queso helado doesn’t taste like cheese and is a yummy local dessert.
Location: 5-10 minutes walk south east of Plaza de Armas, Mercado San Camilo occupies a whole block bounded by streets San Camilo, Perú, Alto de la Luna and Calle Piérola. Google Maps.
If you are catering for several people, have time and want to maximise value, shop at the wholesale markets (mercados mayoristas). East of the bus station (Terminal Terrestre), these market complexes and stand alone shops sprawl over many blocks and sell almost everything.
Location: located around Avenida Andres Avelino Caceres in José Luis Bustamante District, the area is huge and broadly grouped into commodities. Ask your accommodation for specific places based on what you wish to see or buy. Google Maps.
On many footpaths and street corners vendors sells snacks, drinks or their own produce. Refreshing prickly pear (tuna), a cactus fruit, is commonly sold in central Arequipa. A lady on Consuelo Street sold fresh, unpasteurised milk and I relished this opportunity to enjoy fresh milk (after boiling it) as Peruvian supermarkets only sell long-life.
A scrumptious YES Arequipa banana pancake on their rooftop
My Arequipa home was YES Arequipa and the hostel produced awesome banana pancakes for breakfast. Topped with caramel and chocolate sauces and served in the courtyard or on the rooftop, there is only one catch to enjoy this – you must be a hostel guest.
Location: Lima 125 in the Vallecito neighbourhood, 5-10 minutes walk south west of Plaza de Armas. Google Maps.
La Cletería Bike Café and Tea House
Japanese green tea, imaginative herbal infusions, good coffee, lovely cakes and quiches and wifi all in a bicycle-themed café. La Cleteria also sells bike accessories. Rocío and I planned our Cuba trip in the cosy upstairs section.
Location: San Juan de Dios 206 Interior 21-22, hidden away in a courtyard only two blocks from Plaza de Armas. Google Maps.
Owner Elmer roasting coffee at Palacios Coffee
Carrot cake with chocolate sauce and a cappuccino with a condor pattern, Palacios Coffee
Palacios Coffee has the Arequipa’s best coffee. Owner Elmer is passionate about coffee and in addition to the café, also roasts coffee beans for wholesale and retail distribution. Two blocks south of YES Arequipa, I enjoyed many coffees and some nice cakes at Palacios. Barista Jonathon creates interesting latte art including images of Mount Misti and condors. Speciality coffee magazines are also available to browse.
Location: Lima 201, at the intersection of Lima and 28 de Julio. Google Maps.
Rayo de Sol
Rayo de Sol, Sun Ray in English, is a charity bakery that makes and sells great French-style croissants, pastries and bread at both its café and from international volunteers roaming Arequipa’s streets. Peruvian cuisine lacks decent bread so this bakery fills a gap. The pan au chocolat tastes even better knowing its purchase helps disadvantaged local children. Get to the café or find a street seller early for a full choice.
Location: Calle Sucre 205, just over a block from Plaza de Armas. Google Maps.
Cacao comes from South Americas and Peru is a significant producer. Thankfully Arequipa has two decent chocolate cafés to enjoy this special product.
Ocacao Chocolatería Café
Ocacao’s divine mousse cake accompanied by a hot chocolate – when too much chocolate is never enough
With a Belgian owner, Ocacao Chocolatería Café concocts lovely chocolates, waffles, desserts and hot chocolate drinks. The hot chocolates come in various purities and flavours including 100% cacao, with liquors and a lovely version with spices. However, if you can have only one thing at Ocacao, one thing in Arequipa, or even one thing in South America, my recommendation is Ocacao’s mousse cake (torta mousse). The cake melts in your mouth and one piece may not be enough. I introduced the cake to Rocío and many others and they all converted torta mousse lovers. Ocacao has wifi so before leaving the café you can rave online about how good this cake is.
Location: Palacio Viejo 205A, one block south of Plaza de Armas. Google Maps.
A Chaqchao double chocolate sea salt cookie
Chaqchao Chocolates is Arequipa’s larger, better known and pricier chocolate café. It has great brownies, choc chip biscuits and decent cakes but variable coffee depending on the barista. Chaqchao also sells craft beer, holds chocolate workshops and has a shop downstairs.
Location: Santa Catalina 204, two blocks north of Plaza de Armas and diagonally across from the monastery entrance. Google Maps.
VEGETARIAN AND VEGAN
Restaurant Vegetariano El Maná
Restaurant Vegetariano El Maná offers fresh, original, delicious and great value vegetarian lunches with vegan options. Menu of the day (menú del dia) includes entrée, main course, soft drink and dessert, all for only 8 soles (US$2.50).
Location: Calle La Merced 415, 4 blocks south of Plaza de Armas. Google Maps.
El Buda Profano
Vegan sushi at El Buda Profano
El Buda Profano serves vegan sushi and other Japanese cuisine. When an omnivorous Californian (thanks Rich!) recommends vegan sushi it must be good, and it is. With limited seating and no reservations, this place packs out, particularly for dinner.
Location: Calle Bolivar 425, 5 minutes walk north of Plaza de Armas. Google Maps.
Cevicheria Kantamar’s tirarito of fish in three creams garnished with corn and sweet potato
Cevicheria Kantamar is a seafood restaurant with the usual (for Peru) ceviche, seafood with rice and fried fish. However, its version of tirarito was Rocío’s favourite meal anywhere. Rocío specifically loved Kantamar’s tirarito of fish in three creams (tirarito de pescado en tres cremas). Similar to ceviche, tirarito, also known as tiradito, is sliced and sauced immediately before serving whereas ceviche is cubed and marinated. Kantamar’s three lip-smacking creams were olive, rocoto and green chilli, although rocoto and green chilli were the best and Rocío often requested only those two. One of Rocío’s ideas was to learn Kantamar’s tirarito in three creams recipe and open a tirarito restaurant in Japan. Unfortunately, on my last visit, the fish had been frozen – ask beforehand if the fish is fresh or not.
Location: José Santos Chocano 37, around the corner of Catholic University of Santa Maria in Yanahuara District. Google Maps.
Doña Elsita serving adobo from the clay pot at her restaurant entrance
Adoba is an Arequipeño speciality. This marinated pork dish is cooked in a clay pot and accompanied by bread and optional pickled or fresh hot rocoto chillies. Only served Sunday mornings as per tradition, Restaurant Elsita off Cayma Plaza has great adobo. Multiple other adobo restaurants also lie nearby and Cayma Plaza hosts an annual adobo festival in early August.
Location: off the southern end of Cayma Plaza, towards Calle San Martin. Google Maps.
El Ajicito con Hermenegilda (now Lago Restaurante)
A shared entrée of smashed potatoes at El Ajicito
El Ajicito con Hermenegilda, recently renamed to Lago Restaurante, has great typical dishes including pork belly, stuffed rocoto and ceviche along with super mojito cocktails mixed by their Cuban bar tender.
Location: Urbanizacion Valencia C-13, just off José Abelardo Quiñones in Yanahuara District. Google Maps.
La Sanguchería de Mercaderes
La Sanguchería de Mercaderes’s façade on one of Arequipa’s main shopping streets
La Sanguchería de Mercaderes is an Arequipa institution having served delicious pork belly (chicharrón) sandwiches from a small shop in the city centre for decades. Try one with a fresh papaya or pineapple juice. They also make their own sausages.
Location: Mercaderes 342, three blocks east of Plaza de Armas. Google Maps.
Menu of the Day
Two entree options from a menu of the day restaurant on Calle Sucre: corn with cheese (choclo con queso) and a broth (caldo branco)
Two main course options: chicken stew (esfalda de pollo) and pork chop (chuleta de chancho)
Menu of the day (menú del día) is not the name of a restaurant but a multi-course, great value lunch served by local restaurants in Arequipa, Peru and much of South America. The options change daily and a typical restaurant will have a whiteboard with that day’s options, progressively removing them as they sell out.
Rocío and I frequented a great menu of the day restaurant on Calle Sucre. It probably had a name but I don’t recall it and it wasn’t written on the building façade. Six soles (US$1.80) here bought an entrée, main course and soft drink. Come hungry as the meals are filling. Backpacker tip: If there are two of you without big appetites, buy one menu, split the entrée and mains and purchase an extra drink for one sol. Ordered separately, the mains and entrées are each almost as expensive as a menu combination
Location: Calle Sucre 423, 5 minutes walk south of Plaza de Armas. Google Maps.
Arequipa actually has a decent and somewhat authentic Turkish restaurant in El Turko. They do a good stew (güveç) and roasted vegetables, a variety of salads as well as the usual döner. Here I introduced Rocío to the joy of baklava.
Location: San Francisco 223, 2 blocks north of Plaza de Armas. Google Maps.
A scrumptious pork chop accompanied by craft beer at Ratatouille
French Ratatouille uses fresh ingredients to create tasty soups, salads, mains and desserts. Their menu of the day lunch is fantastic value.
Location: Puente Bolognesi 214, through a courtyard, 2 blocks west of Plaza de Armas. Google Maps.
Peruita Pizzeria & Vino
Salami pizza with a glass of red wine, part of Peruita’s lunchtime menu of the day
Peruita Pizzeria & Vino have good pizza, a rarity in South America. They also do a bargain lunchtime menu of the day. 10 soles brings bruschetta, a pizza or pasta (from a limited range), a glass of drinkable wine, soft drink or water and a small dessert.
Location: Palacio Viejo 321, 2 blocks south west of Plaza de Armas. Google Maps.
La Trattoria del Monasterio
A pasta dish with complimentary bread and butter and a juice at La Trattoria del Monasterio
La Trattoria’s fantastic dessert Teaspoons of the Convent (Las Cucharitas del Convento) provides a taste of seven different
Physically adjoined to Arequipa’s 16th century Santa Catalina Monastery, La Trattoria del Monasterio has a decent wine list and wonderful entrées, pizzas, pastas, main courses, salads and desserts, often with a local twist. This was my go-to Arequipa formal dining experience. Although not cheap, the meals still represented excellent value for their quality. Tip: if you are one or two people aim to get the table next to the window looking out to a monastery courtyard.
Location: Santa Catalina 309, 3 blocks north of Plaza de Armas. Google Maps.