10 August 2018
Indulge your senses with the amazingly rich and nutritious flavors of Andean cuisine, which is based on the Inca civilization’s ancient cooking techniques.
Cooking for the family can be tough. Different tastes and ingredients require a food-savvy cook to satisfy everyone’s appetite.
This becomes an especially important task when a family works the land from dusk till dawn.
To survive harsh weather and difficult farming conditions in the Andes Mountains, the Inca culture developed a range of cooking techniques that helped make the most out of the food they grew and ate. Many of those methods are still used today.
The Spice of Life
One food that has been used for generations and has endured since colonial times is the uchu. These mildly spicy, very flavorful chilies were used during the Spanish colonization in Peru’s Andean and Creole (or criollo) cuisine, in which spicier flavors were preferred.
Peruvian chilies, also known as ají, make food delicious for those who like spicier flavors, and are still widely used in modern-day Peruvian cuisine. Different varieties of ají are found in Peruvian kitchens, often mixed with meats, fish and other ingredients to make some of the most flavorful dishes our country has to offer. They’ve led to the popularity of picanterías (restaurants specializing in spicy native dishes), and cebicherías (where fish and seafood cebiche, a top national dish, is served).
Dried foods for preservation
Another method the Incas used was to dry meat or fish with corn, to make what is known as charqui. In fact, the Quechua term charqui is the origin of the name “jerky”.
These dried foods lasted longer in cold weather and maintained their nutritional value for long periods of time.
The dried meat strips were taken on long days of working the fields, and as nourishment on long trips.
Pachamanca, the Feast of the Earth
It makes sense that the best-known Andean cooking technique is centered on the Earth, given the close-knit relationship of the culture with the Pachamama, or Mother Earth.
The use of covered underground holes lined with hot rocks as cooking stoves for meats and vegetables was not only the Inca’s way of thanking and giving back to the Earth for the goods it bestowed upon them, but it also made the food rich in flavors and minerals from the ground.
Still today, after centuries of use of this technique, cooks who specialize in Pachamanca ask for permission and blessings before uncovering the earthen stove to serve the succulent dishes that the Pachamama has gifted to them, their kin and their guests.