Zarza is a word with a lot of meaning in Cuzco, at the same time it is a traditional snack. As a dish it brings people together so they might enjoy it in a group. Today it is mostly found in the few traditional restaurants that continue to maintain alive the flavor and style of traditional Cuzqueño cuisine.
These are the type of restaurants that keep the knowledge of traditional food alive in a time where pollo a la brasa, pizza, hamburgers, and chifa spread widely. The stoke the flame of Cuzco flavor with exquisite offerings such as zarza. Generally they are open from 9 am to lunch time, since these are dishes people tend to eat in the mornings as breakfasts or snacks to keep them functioning as the day goes on.
These traditional restaurants flourish on San Andrés street. There those who love it can find the delights of Cuzco’s cuisine. All of the restaurants are good so you will not go wrong with choosing any one of them. Every day they fill with people from Cuzco, as well as some tourists.
People go to these hole in the wall restaurants with their friends and work mates. Many of the customers are lawyers who work in this colonial zone of the city. The owners of the restaurants told us that people will often come to eat a zarza after having stayed up late partying the night before. It is strongly recommended to help with hangover and general malaise from not enough sleep and too much partying.
The zarzas are easily prepared dishes that come in a variety on the traditional list of offerings. These include a zarza de patitas (beef feet), zarza de quesadilla, a zarza of cabeza (head), and a mixed zarza, Besides these, the restaurants also serve other dishes from Cuzco such as lechón, broths, and chicharrones (crispy fried pork and other meats). These dishes cost between 10 and 15 soles, about 4-6 US dollars, depending on the place.
Like many other younger people in Cuzco, I had never eaten a zarza. Nevertheless, I had heard of them and knew they offered them in these places.
My grandfather would mention zarzas in the diminutive, (zarzitas) with the accent of the old Spanish of Cuzco, The sound of the word sounded funny to me.
As a word, zarza means a thorn bush or thorns. Because of the shape it is also used for a common Peruvian dressing of onions sliced into arcs and mixed with lime juice. It is just a funny word.
But my cousin and I decided to try this food, as part of knowing more about the food of our culture. We decided to enter a place with the name of El Cubano, the Cuban. We had a great experience. It was wonderful to become acquainted with these traditional delights that are disappearing among our generation. The older people know them and eat them but we younger Cuzqueños do not know them. They are not commonly available and you do not see them on the menu of mainstream restaurants so we do not eat them.
The Zarza came all piled up on a plate. It comes with strips of onion, what otherwise are called zarzas, or thorns, and diced tomatoes, a kind of meat, and boiled potatoes. For this dish they use the huayro potato because it is fluffy and is a perfect companion. Then the mountain of food is decorated with sea weed and rounds of rocoto. These servings are meant to be enjoyed among family or friends.
The taste reminded me of an escabeche, the vinegared mix of pickeled vegetables and meats.
Cuzco’s cuisine seems infinite. It has many dishes to enjoy and a lot to learn about in its culture. We know that in these traditional restaurants we can find the traditional flavors of our city and our culture, such as zarzas.