In the local slang of Arequipa, if you’re going to picantear, you’re going to visit a picantería, the traditional eateries of Arequipa that have been serving up their succulent stews and spicy dishes for generations, remaining ever loyal to the region’s colonial flavors. This week, they’re being honored by the Peruvian Ministry of Culture as part of the Patrimonio Cultural de la Nación, an honor and protection bestowed on different elements of national culture, from the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu to Scissor Dancing. The honor is being bestowed on the picanterías for their roles as guardians of traditional local cuisine and as social spaces where diverse social classes interact.
The picanterías don’t take these roles lightly. As Mónica Huerta Alpaca, owner of La Nueva Palomino said, “Arequipa has great responsibility in its hands.” Although they used to be in the city center, they’ve migrated to the outskirts and surrounding districts as the city has grown. The most traditional areas to visit for a picantería lunch are Characato, Sabandia, Tiabaya, Yanahuara, and Cayma. Those which are slightly further out have the benefit of more land, which is used to set up spaces for volleyball and other pastimes, as families often make an afternoon of their visit.
Regardless of whether the picantería you visit is large or small, old or new, you’ll be able to sample there some of the regional dishes which arequipeños have been enjoying for generations:
- Rocoto Relleno: red pepper stuffed with meat and raisins, topped with cheese and baked.
- Chicha: a bitter, naturally fermented corn brew
- Escribano: potato salad with chili pepper, vinegar, oil, tomatoes, and parsley
- Sarza de patitas: Pig’s feet covered in cebollated (sliced onion and tomato with lemon juice and parsley)
- Soltero de queso: chopped salad of country cheese, lima beans, tomato, onion, corn, and chili pepper, flavored with vinegar and parsley and often served potato
- Adobo: spicy pork chop soup
- Cauche de queso:
- Carne mechada:
- Chicharron de chancho: meaty fried pork rinds
- Cuy chactado: whole guinea pig, smashed and fried
- Lechon al horno: roast suckling pig
- Locro de pecho: boiled brisket in a spicy mashed potato sauce (often served only once a week)
- Pastel de papa: potato and cheese casserole
- Ocopa arequipeña: boiled potatoes bathed in a spicy, peanut-flavored cheese sauce
Soups often rotate by day, according to an old tradition: On Monday, it’s chaque de tripas (tripe, ribs, and veggie soup); Tuesday, chairo (beef and dried lamb soup with dehydrated potatoes, barley, squash); Wednesday, chochoca (ground corn); Thursday, chuño (dehydrated potato); and on Friday, chupe de Viernes (seafood chowder with squash, fava beans). On Saturday, there’s either caldo blanco (white broth with a variety of add-ins such as yucca, potatoes, chicken) or caldo de lomos (tenderloin soup) and on Sunday, puchero (boiled beef, potato, corn, etc) or chupe de camarones (crayfish chowder).
Many picanterías cater to the culinarily curious (or greedy) with offerings christened dobles, triples, or Americanos. These are combination platters that will allow you to sample more dishes at a time.
La Nueva Palomino: Plain, traditional eatery offering a large variety. The most popular dishes are ocopa arequipeña and chupe de camarones, chaque (on Mondays, as tradition dictates), chairo, and soltero de queso. Portions are enormous and it’s located in a scenic part of the city, close to Yanahuara Plaza. Live music on Sunday afternoons. Dishes are approximately 20 soles. (Don’t get confused: near “La Nueva Palomino is “La Palomino”, the latter is a little cheaper and not quite as good.)
La Lucila (Calle Grau 147): Very traditional, and famed for its seasonings, which are created in the stone mortars known as batans. Huge pots bubble away in a kitchen with free-roaming guinea pigs and hens. Specialties include chairo, chaque, cuy chactado, niño envuelto, chupe de camarones, ocopa arequipeña, rocoto relleno, and costillas a la piedra. Dishes are approximately 20 soles.
La Capitana (Calle Los Arces 209, Cayma, 12pm – 5pm): One of the most traditional, still serving the weekly rotating menu that the city once observed. Customers sit at long, shared wooden tables, and everything is still cooked on wood fires. Mondays are very busy, as people come for the chaque. Other specialties include the locro, patita con maní, solterito de queso, ají de calabaza. Dishes are approximately 20 soles.
Tradición Arequipeña (Av. Dolores 111, Paucarpata, 12pm- 7pm) Located outside of the city, in the Paucarpata countryside district. Boasts a beautiful view of Misti Volcano from the 2nd floor (as shown above). It’s popular with tour groups, but still cozy and simple. The most popular dishes are the cuy chactado, adobo, cebiche arequipeño, rocoto relleno, and the camarones. Dishes are approximately 30 soles.
Sol de mayo (Jerusalén 207, Yanahuara, 12pm-7pm): This colorful eatery is also popular with tour groups, and offers both traditional and novoandina (modern Andean fusion) dishes. Different rooms offer different themes and entertainment. The most popular dishes are the ocopa arequipeña, cuy chactado, rocoto relleno, pastel de papa, and chupe de camarones. Dishes are approximately 30 soles.