Traveling to Peru as a vegan is possible and quite enjoyable, as this vegan Peruvian chef recalls his last food-filled trip to Peru.
When traveling to Peru, family visits are always centered around food: at desayuno (breakfast) we plan our almuerzo (the main mid-day meal), then there’s lonche (an afternoon snack), and finally piqueos (small bites) or sanguches (sandwiches) for dinner. But the traditional dishes of Peru that I grew up with are not vegan-friendly. So as a vegan couple traveling to Peru, my girlfriend Alec and I explored vegan options in Lima and Cusco.
Here’s what we found when traveling to Peru as a vegan couple.
Eating vegan in Lima
In Lima, we met my mom and dad for almuerzo at Chifa Titi and ámaZ. The former is a Chinese-Peruvian restaurant and there we enjoyed stir-fried vegetables with tofu. The latter, ámaZ, serves dishes inspired by Peru’s Amazon. They don’t have a vegan menu, but we asked them to veganize three dishes: fried plantain baskets filled with onion and tomato salsa; stir-fried peppers and snow peas with coconut milk, and fried rice with peanuts and scallions.
After lunch, we walked to Parque Kennedy in Miraflores for dessert. There, you’ll find Limeños (Lima locals) gathered around food carts with signs announcing their specialty. We went for the picarones—sweet potato and squash fritters that look like donuts. My grandmother used to make this dessert, so it’s always been a favorite of mine. Fortunately, all the ingredients are vegan, even the spiced syrup.
On our own, we had lunch at Armonica, also in the district of Miraflores. Their health-focused menu has pancakes, smoothies, wraps, ceviches, salads, bowls, and dessert. They also indicate which items are gluten-free, lactose-free, plant-based, or sugar-free, so it seems they cater to every diet, vegan or non-vegan. We really liked the hearty Poke Vegano: a brown rice bowl with tofu, beets, carrots, avocado, mushrooms, and tomatoes with a coconut dill sauce.
Eating vegan in Cusco
From Lima, we flew to Cusco, where we combined our traveling styles. I like to plan ahead, but Alec is more spontaneous. So I made reservations at MIL in Moray for one lunch, while Alec led us to Carmen Bajo, a narrow cobblestone street perched high above the city with several vegan restaurants. We ate at three of them: Green Point, The Little Bake Shop, and Qura Bowl Bar.
Green Point is a vegan haven and all their dishes are plant-based. They are open all day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, plus they offer cooking classes. I wanted to try everything on the menu. On a lunch visit we shared a trio of ceviches and tacu tacu (a rice and bean fritter with Afro-Peruvian origins).
To make traditional ceviche, cooks marinate fish with salt, lime juice, hot peppers, and onions. At the Green Point, the trio of ceviches utilized mushrooms and different marinades: one was like a ceviche mixto, another was more traditional with a coconut milk leche de tigre, and a third was Nikkei style. Japanese immigrants created Nikkei cuisine after settling in Lima. They combined ginger, soy sauce, scallions, and seaweed with Peruvian hot peppers, for example. I really liked the umami-rich Nikkei ceviche with nori and avocado.
The Little Bake Shop is across the street from Green Point, and as part of the Green Point family, all their goods are also vegan. There, we picked up some empanadas to go. My favorite had a mushroom filling that resembled Aji de Gallina, a pulled chicken stew with an onion and aji amarillo (yellow hot pepper) base thickened with bread. One wonderful savory bite inspired me to make my own creamy version at home.
Qura Bowl Bar’s menu promises a farm to table experience and offers many vegetarian and vegan options. In vegan food culture, a Buddha Bowl is a popular one-dish meal and the house favorite (and mine) is their version: brown rice and quinoa with sweet potato, avocado, tomato, beets, lettuce, cabbage, nuts, seeds, and a passion fruit sauce. We also had the Lo Mein noodles with mushrooms and tare sauce.
Top vegan experience in Moray
MIL is a two hour drive from Cusco, next to Moray, an ancient Inca agricultural laboratory. Their tasting menu took us on a tour of Peru’s high elevation ingredients: tubers, corn, grains, plants, herbs, and fruits. The restaurant offers a vegetarian option but I contacted them to request that they make our dishes vegan. We enjoyed all the dishes paired with beer, spirits, and wines from high elevation producers.
Lunch at MIL was a feast, each dish a beautiful work of art. But what made our experience there so memorable is their approach: taking ingredients from the mountains, and bringing them in their purest form to the plate. Grilled corn. Earthen-oven baked potatoes. Creamed bean soup. Coca leaf bread. Chocolate dessert. This is the food of my ancestors, largely plant-based, and that brought me joy.
Our week in Peru was a culinary epiphany: we realized that with some planning it’s possible to find vegan food options in Lima and Cusco. But more than that, I discovered that it’s possible to truly enjoy vegan versions of traditional Peruvian dishes such as ceviche. We had more vegan restaurants on our list that we didn’t get to try. And that is a good thing. It means we need to go back for more.
All photos: Nico Vera (Cover photo: Buddha bowl from Qura)