Picarones: Peru’s favorite late-night snack

LIMA, PERU — Lima is famous for its street food. Anticuchos (beef heart kebabs), pork tamales and arroz con leche (rice pudding) are among the delicacies sold on corners from Surco to Miraflores to the Centro Histórico. But no vendors are more sought-after than those frying picarones – a particular favorite of pisco-fueled night owls roaming the streets of Barranco, Lima’s bohemian nightlife district.

At first glance, they look like fat onion rings, but they’re actually more like a variation on the doughnut. Mashed sweet potato, squash and aniseed are made into an elastic dough with flour, yeast, egg and sugar. This is shaped by hand into rings and deep-fried until golden brown.

The rings are then scooped up with a stick run through their centers, and drenched in an aromatic syrup made from cinnamon, cloves and a sort of unrefined cane sugar called chancaca.

Peruvians have been eating picarones for more than 200 years. They originated with buñuelos, fried dough balls introduced by Spanish colonialists, and were reimagined by African slaves, who added squash and sweet potato to the recipe. The result is a warm, fragrant treat that’s crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside, with just the right amount of sweetness.

Good places to look for picarone vendors are Parque Kennedy in Miraflores, Parque Castilla in Lince and Parque de la Cruz in Barranco. El Tio Mario is a restaurant close to the Bridge of Sighs in Barranco that does exceptionally good picarones, and, importantly for the party crowd, it’s open til 2am every day except Sunday.

Published Dec. 11, 2016, in The Guardian.

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