Every time someone asks me about the best part of one of my trips, my answer is almost always, without hesitation, "the food." Peru was no exception. On our first full day in Lima, my friend and I got a two-course meal of fresh avocado salad, chicken with rice, beans, and potatoes, and tea for eight soles (less than $3 each). The rest of our travels throughout the country consisted of a mouthwatering array of food, without a single bad meal of which to speak.

Fantastic conversion rates aside, Peru has cuisine to offer for everyone, ranging from exotic fruits at the local markets to slow-cooked duck and lamb at farm-to-table restaurants. Here are some of my favorite dishes and drinks from the ten days I spent in Lima, Cusco, and Ollantaytambo.

1. Lomo Saltado

Laura Santi

As our guide explained to us on our first night in Cusco, lomo saltado is a classic Peruvian dish made up of rice, potatoes, and stir-fried beef and vegetables. You can sometimes substitute the beef for your choice of meat, so the picture above features lomo saltado con pollo (chicken). This is one of the more expensive dishes on the list, but still only comes to around $10.

2. Chicha Morada

A typical Peruvian drink, chicha morada can best be described as a better, less watered-down version of grape Kool-Aid. It is made from purple corn native to Peru by boiling the corn with spices, then straining the boiled corn to extract the juice. The drink can taste a bit syrupy, but goes well with dessert.

3. Churros

Laura Santi

I never have good self-control with buying food, and street churros tempted me every time I passed them. Your best bet is to find someone serving them hot, or to get them from an actual bakery, which will cost a little more but is worth the extra money. We stopped at a crowded store in Miraflores, where they served plain, Nutella, and caramel churros.

4. Empanadas

sweet, pastry, cake
Beatrice Forman

Another one of my hot, on-the-go favorites quickly became empanadas. They're like a better version of a calzone, often stuffed with cheese, veggies, or meat combos. My favorite was the empanada mixte, which contains a variety of vegetables and meat.

5. Fresh Fruit Juice

Laura Santi

As I write this from the U.S., I'm already missing fresh fruit juice that isn't outrageously expensive. I spent maximum $4 on a glass of juice, but usually ended up paying less. The flavors range from papaya to watermelon to passionfruit, and you can tell they aren't artificially flavored.

6. Stir-Fried Quinoa

Laura Santi

I've always eaten quinoa primarily for the health factor, but stir-fried quinoa was a real game-changer. From the way our guides described it, the dish is made similarly to stir-fried rice. You simply cook the quinoa, then add it to a pan with oil and veggies and mix it all together. I definitely kept coming back for seconds on this one.

7. Alfajores

From the moment I bit into them at a restaurant in Lima, alfajores easily became my favorite Peruvian dessert. Caramel lovers: these are for you. Topped with thick, rich caramel and coated in powdered sugar, alfajores melt in your mouth and add that sweet touch to the end of any meal.

8. Chirimoya and Granadilla Fruits

Going to the Cusco market with a local guide definitely had its perks. Our guide stopped at various market stalls and picked out fruits for us to try, which most of us probably wouldn't have sampled on our own. Chirimoya is a fruit native to South American countries that has a custard-like taste. Granadilla, pictured above, contains seeds in a sweet, gooey mixture. Both of these can be found almost anywhere produce is sold.

9. Inca Kola

Peru's twist on Coca-Cola involves a fizzy, yellow drink that may take a few sips to get used to, but that you won't be able to stop drinking. Inca Kola lines the shelves and menus of convenience stores and fast food restaurants, replacing the classic American-style Coke with a lemon flavor.

10. Papa a la Huancaina

With over 4,000 varieties of potatoes in Peru, you can expect to eat different forms of this vegetable on a regular basis. Papa a la huancaina combines boiled yellow potatoes in a spicy cream sauce, called huancaina sauce. Unfortunately not all 4,000 varieties of potatoes are edible, but you can't go wrong with those that are. 

11. Coca Tea

Laura Santi

A personal favorite, coca tea helps with altitude sickness while also waking you up in the morning. I drank several cups a day while in Peru, and felt no side effects of the 11,000 foot-high altitude in Cusco. Because coca tea contains very small amounts of cocaine, it is illegal to bring back to the U.S., so drink up while in Peru. Many stores sell other coca products, including candies and chocolate.

These foods and drinks are all cheap, tasty, and will leave you craving more. Whether you're touring Peruvian cities or backpacking in the Andes, these foods are all easily found around the country and are an essential part of the Peruvian experience. While some cuisine you sample may be unfamiliar or intimidating to try, you won't regret branching out of your comfort zone and tasting all Peru has to offer.