One of the first things many travelers to Peru say when they sit down at a restaurant and face their first menu is, “I have no idea what any of this is!” And it’s not a matter of knowing how to speak Spanish or not… it’s just that Peru’s culinary diversity is as big as its cultural appetite! This characteristic and potential of Peruvian gastronomy has not been lost on the world; Peru is considered one of the premier places to enjoy the best meals of your life in all of South America.
When you’re in the jungle regions of Peru, then, be ready to be challenged to the extreme and try something new. Here are our top 5 recommended dishes to get you started in Iquitos, pre- or post-cruise with us:
- Chonta salad
The perfect way to start your meal is by opening up your palate and appetite with a fresh chonta salad (photo shown). Made from delicately shredded palm hearts, its flavor is incredibly subtle but undeniably rich. You may find it dressed with a light mayonnaise-based drizzle.
There are few menu items that elicit more “mmm”s than patarashka. Requiring skill and timing, this dish is best enjoyed right off the grill. A piece of fresh fish is marinated in a tomato and onion sauce, then wrapped in fragrant bijao leaves and cooked or grilled. The result is a dish that is crispy and succulent in all the right places.
Paiche, also known as arapaima, is a fish from the Amazonian rivers and the largest freshwater fish of South America. They regularly reach up to 2 meters (6.5 feet) in length and easily up to 100 kilograms (45lbs)! A paiche fillet can be prepared in countless ways: fried, grilled, steamed, you name it.
- Smoked cecina with tacacho and patacones
You’re on vacation, why not indulge yourself? A quintessential meal as part of any Amazon cruise or tour is smoked cecina bacon with a side of mashed banana balls called tacacho, and completed with fried banana chips called patacones. Likely your order in Iquitos will come with a ramekin of lightly spiced diced onion, cocona fruit, and lime dip. You can’t miss this one!
Simple in concept but complex in flavor, juanes are sure to please all ages and tastes. Lightly seasoned rice envelopes a piece of juicy chicken, half an egg, and a single olive. All of that is wrapped in an aromatic bijao leaf and slowly steamed until completion. You will also see juanes commonly sold in markets and on the street and enjoyed by locals for any meal of the day.
There are many nice restaurants in Iquitos especially along the malecon promenade that serve these local favorite staples. However, our favorite spot is the Al Frio y Al Fuego floating restaurant in the middle of the Itaya River where you can enjoy fantastic views of the city along with your unforgettable meal! Make way to Avenida La Marina N 134-B to find the restaurant’s private dock, and take the free shuttle boat transfer to the middle of the river for your meal. Don’t hesitate to try something new!