Pachamanca: the history and preparation of the Andes’ most traditional food feast
12 November 2019
Peru has two essential attributes – delicious foods, and the earth that provides them. It is natural that these two elements have come together in a culinary tradition that goes back thousands of years, the pachamanca , which combines the best of traditional Andean foods , which are slow cooked to perfection in an underground oven.
History of the Pachamanca
The historic significance of pachamanca is profound. Pachamanca is more than just a style of cooking- it is a communal social rite in which eaters enjoy delectable vegetables and meats that have gathered the energy of the earth, from Pachamama, the Earth Mother.
No other style of cooking shows such a strong connection to the forces of nature. And the foods of this traditional Andean barbecue are so delicious!
In the Andes, the practice of cooking in the ground has a very long history. The remains of underground ovens up to seven or eight thousand years old have been found at archeological sites in the central Andes, and going back five thousand years on the coast.
Traces of pre-historic pachamanca type foods include potatoes and peppers. The term pachamanca in Quechua is a combination of “pacha”: earth and “manca”: cook pot; thus, “cook pot of the earth”. However, in the south’s Aymara language, “manca” is food, so then: “earth food”. Both interpretations clearly demonstrate the concept.
In the 19th century, pachamanca came into its own, with new recipes and many references in the literature. Pachamanca feasts in the Andes would sometimes last a week or two, accompanied by plenty of chicha, Andean corn beer, to wet the palate.
Today, pachamanca is prepared for special occasions, and different regions have developed their own diverse recipes using different meats and ingredients.
How is pachamanca prepared? The basic technique is to dig a pit in the ground, maybe a couple of feet deep, and three or four feet wide.
Inside the pit, large stones are placed upon a wood fire and heated until red hot. River stones such as schist are best for this, for their low sulfur content (sulfur could affect the flavor).
Andean recipes for pachamanca are varied. Depending on the region, the meats can include pork, lamb, beef and/or chicken. The meats are well marinated with herbs and spices, such as Peruvian hot peppers (ají), cumin, garlic, salt, chicha and two indispensable local herbs- huacatay and chincho.
The meats are well wrapped in chincho leaves, placed upon the hot rocks and covered with banana leaves. Wrapped vegetables are then placed into the pit, including potatoes, hearty Andean corn, fava beans, sweet potatoes, cassava and pre-prepared Andean corn tamales called humitas.
The food is covered with banana and chincho leaves, then burlap cloth. Once filled, the pit is carefully covered with several inches of soil and left to cook slowly, from 40 minutes up to an hour-and-a-half.
The wait is a festive part of the feast; it’s time to socialize, have a few drinks with family and friends, and feel your mouth water in anticipation.
At just the right moment, the lead cook orders the soil to come off, and the foods are carefully extracted and placed onto serving plates. The best way to enjoy pachamanca is outdoors sitting on blankets placed on the ground- as an Andean picnic barbecue, always close to the earth.
Pachamanca is a slow-food feast like no other. The meats are ever so tender and tasty, and the flavorful vegetables are the perfect compliment.
Andean cheese might also be served as a side dish, a perfect combination with the potatoes and corn. You can eat with your hands if you wish, and there is plenty of food for all. You may need to take a nap afterwards.
Pachamanca is the greatest gift of the Pachamama, the Earth Mother who feeds us all. And you deserve to savor all the mouth-watering flavors of the Andes.
Come to Cusco and enjoy pachamanca! Contact us at andeanlodges.com and we’ll help you plan your acclimatization program, which could very well include a pachamanca- the Andes’ delicious Food Feast of the Earth.