Peruvian Fusion: Anticuchos

Peruvian food is one of the world’s great fusion cuisines, incorporating influences from the Andes and coastal Peru with Spanish, African, Chinese and Japanese flavors. One example of this is anticuchos, beef kebabs that are grilled and sold on many a Peruvian street corner. While skewered llama meat has been around in the Andes since Pre-Columbian times, it was African slaves in Colonial Peru who perfected the marinated and skewered beef heart kebabs that are so popular today.

During colonial times, the Spanish would give their African slaves the parts of the cow that they disdained: heart, stomach, organs, etc. The slaves took the beef heart and seasoned and marinated it heavily prior to grilling and over time the dish became very popular in Peru. Basically, the cow heart is cut into portions that easily fit onto a skewer and are heavily seasoned with ají panca, a full flavored but mild red chili and marinated in vinegar and spices (such as cumin, aji pepper and garlic). The meat is marinated for a day or two before grilling over charcoal, then the skewers are usually served with a boiled potato and a spicy dipping sauce. Anticucho comes from the Quechua word antikucho, meaning 'Andean cut' or 'Andean mix'.

Up until recently my experience with anticuchos was primarily through my nose. As I’d routinely drop the kids off for swimming at the Wanchaq pool, I’d walk over to the supermercado to do the food shopping. Just outside the pool, a woman sets up a tiny grill on a rickety stand tucked into a corner and the smell and smoke of grilled meat usually invades my nostrils as I pass by. Turning the corner and heading up Calle La Infancia, I always pass a small anticucheria that sets up their grill at the front door and a fan blows the smoke towards the street. After reading a bit about the Afro-Peruvian origins of anticuchos and getting a recommendation from a co-worker, I went to anticucheria called El Condorito on Calle Tacna. Inside the smoky restaurant, families sat at benches and devoured the skewers while drinking chicha morada or cerveza. I ordered a plate of anticuchos and sat down. I’d love to tell you how much I enjoyed them but I can't. While some people sing the praises of the “best-textured muscle in a cow’s body” and the delicious seasoning, I found myself wishing my anticuchos were made from a regular cut of beef.

Peruvian food in general is a combination of many influences. The Incas grew hundreds of variety of potatoes, corn, quinoa, barley and chili peppers, with cuy (guinea pig) and llama being the main sources of protein. The coastal Incas loved their ceviche, shellfish and various types of seafood. The Spanish added chickens, cows, pigs and goats to the mix, providing more meat and protein into the Andean diet. Africans came and added yams and peanuts, along with new dishes like anticuchos, tacu tacu (beans and rice with aji amarilla) and Cau-Cau (seasoned tripe). The Chinese came to build railroads and brought soy sauce and fresh ginger as well as stir-fry cooking, creating a blend of cuisines known in Peru today as chifa. The Japanese, who arrived in the early 1900’s to work on the sugar and cotton plantations, brought their love of seafood and their techniques for simple and beautiful preparations and opened cevicherias and shaped nikkei, or second-generation Japanese cuisine.

While I can’t in good conscience recommend the marinated cow heart, you can substitute regular beef cuts if you want to try anticuchos. Here is a recipe:


• 1 Beef heart or 2 lb of beef rump steak
• Salt and Pepper to taste
• 3 to 4 cloves of crushed garlic
• ½ cup of red wine vinegar
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 1 large chili peppers, finely chopped without seeds
• 1 tablespoon ground cumin


Firstly make sure the heart is clean of all veins and fat. Cut the heart or rump steak in small 3 to 4cm (1 to 1½ in) cubes. In a large bowl mix the vinegar, oil, salt, pepper, crushed garlic, chili pepper and ground cumin. Add the heart cubes and let the heart marinate for several hours or overnight. If you are using rump steak you do not need to marinate the meat for as long. Remove the meat cubes, lightly salt them and put 3 pieces onto each metal skewer. Cook over a hot grill for approximately 3 minutes per side, brushing them with the vinegar mix. Serve immediately with steamed corn on the cob and boiled potatoes.

This post was part of a Lonely Planet Blogsherpa Carnival at Kat's Tie Dye Travels, called Food Around the World.


  1. Sounds like a great recipe sans beef hearts! I will make it soon and let you know how it goes.

  2. Jennifer,
    Let me know how it goes. I haven't made them for a while, so I think it might be time to try them again.
    Thanks for checking in.

  3. Mmm, tasty.

    Nothing like street food to get the juices going - and learning a Quechua word along the way adds spice to it.