The word picanteria refers to a place serving picante (“spicy”), a one-plate dish of various stews. But where can you find picanterias in Peru and why are they so important to the Peruvians?
A picantería is a traditional lunchtime restaurant in Peru. These traditional family-run restaurants pop up in many parts of Peru, but they appear especially in Arequipa, serving the regional versions of the dishes women have been cooking for generations. These exceptional women hold the secrets to traditional cooking techniques. There is even a ´Picantera Society of Arequipa´, a group of 40 or more (mostly) women, who come together to organize and chronicle their knowledge and establish key rules on how to run a picanteria. Their knowledge and enthusiasm are limitless, and very important to assure important traditions are kept alive.
Picanterias were originally born in the countryside. A house with a red cloth out was the place where field workers knew there was food offered. Customers would enter via the kitchen so they could see what was being cooked and could place their order. The dining room was rustic, with benches ranged along large tables. The atmosphere was usually conducive to lively conversation, even among strangers.
Picanterias supplied the social space that bars provide in some countries. After eating, and following the conversation, liquor was served. In order to satisfy guests’ hunger, owners created the “picante”, the spicy dish, which is served only late afternoon and before closing.
It is common for a picanteria to offer a lunch menu of soup and a small main dish according to the following weekly scheme – Monday: Claque, Tuesday: Chairo, Wednesday: Chochoca, Thursday: red stew or black potato flour soup, Friday: Sopa de Viernes (“Friday soup”) made with fish, Saturday: Timpusca, and Sunday: white broth and adobo.
When asked about the current food trends in Peru, our culinary expert Marisol recently told us: ”We are going back to basics! Traditional recipes, traditional ways of cooking and natural ingredients. Small restaurants with family-style cooking are trendy right now!”. And the picanterias incorporate all of this.
Among the most traditional food served in Picanterias are Chupe de Camarones (shrimp), Ocopa Arequipeña, Rocoto Relleno (stuffed chili), Adobo, Solterito de Queso, Cuy Chactado (Guinea Pig), and much more. Common items for dessert include Queso Helado or Chicha de Jora which is made of black corn, beer and anise liqueur.
There are still original picanterias in the rural area around and in Arequipa city, but many picanterias have disappeared or are at risk of disappearing. Most have turned into restaurants serving traditional food but with modern settings. However, there are still a few with the kitchen open to the diners, traditional tables and furnishings – but they are becoming harder to find!
If you would like to know more about the traditional picanterias in Arequipa or our favorite traditional restaurants throughout the country, please do not hesitate to contact the Enigma team. We love eating at local restaurants and support only authentic food experiences!