Eating at Menús in Lima, Peru: Balling on a Budget
By: Zach Diamond
With world renowned chefs like Gaston Acurio and Virgilio Martinez, Lima has gained quite the reputation as a foodie city. Oftentimes before heading to Cusco to make the trek to Machu Picchu, tourists spend a couple days in Lima, flocking to upscale restaurants for ceviche and other classic Peruvian dishes. However, delicious and authentic food doesn’t only exist in high end establishments.
Midday in Lima, divey restaurants, convenient stores, and sometimes even homes open their doors to promote el menú del dia, their menu of the day. As a quick and affordable way to eat a quality lunch, restaurants offering menús appeal to the working class of Lima and are usually loud, disorganized, and void of tourists. In my time in Lima, some of my favorite dining experiences took place at los menús.
The most obvious benefit is the cost of the meal. A price fixed menu usually costing 8 soles (~$2.50 at the time of writing), you can order an entrada, typically a soup or salad, and a segundo, a main dish, all accompanied with a pitcher of emoliente or chicha to drink. Dishes served are Peruvian comfort food, oftentimes cooked and brought to the table by a elderly woman who, undoubtedly, has been cooking these dishes for decades.
Additionally, because habitual patrons of menús tend to be unaccustomed to dining with foreigners, I found my dining companions to be incredibly open and friendly. They were intrigued by my story, my thoughts on Peruvian food, and, over hot bowls of caldo de gallina, real connections were made. It is for this reason in particular that I was so drawn to eating at menús. To me, they seemed like portals into traditional Peruvian homes, where I could eat authentic dishes prepared by somebody’s grandmother and chat with people around me from backgrounds so different than my own. Finding a new menú for lunch became a daily mission. I scoured every backstreet behind each mercado following scents of of fresh cooking and sounds of people yelling orders in search of a new dish and new experience from the previous day.
While I never had a particularly bad experience dining at a menú, some were definitely better than others. After a while, I learned how to spot a worthwhile menú, where to look, and which dishes to order to ensure a good experience.
If you are interested in having similar experiences to the ones I had, check out the guides below: