Food Culture

Energy and Fun, Birthdays in Cuzco

Birthday Cake

For almost everyone, reaching another year is a special occasion.  It is a time for taking stock of what you have done and the goals that open before you.   Though increasingly similar around the world, Birthday celebrations also have different local traditions.

Cuzqueños celebrate birthdays in the company of family, friends and neighbors.  Friends will visit throughout the course of the day bringing beer to celebrate with the birthday boy or girl and their family.   While something completely understandable to outsiders, the gift of brew has deep roots in the Andes where it is a gift of something that is almost alive in the way it bubbles up.  As a result it is a gift of the effervescence of the good life.  At the same time it recognizes the ayni, the sharing with each other, mutual obligation and joy, that underlies all the rest of society.

The family or even the person whose birthday it is will prepare a feast as part of the give and take of Andean life for those who come to celebrate.  More than anything else the dish served on birthdays is cuy, guinea pig, either as baked cuy (cuy al horno) or as chiriuchu–Cuzco’s most typical festive dish.   Nonetheless there are other dishes that can be prepared, such as a stuffed hot pepper with baked noodles (rocoto relleno con tallarines); Cuzco’s cuisine is varied after all.  The goal is to prepare something that pleases the birthday celebrant, as well as having something abundant to share with friends, family, and neighbors.

Roast Cuy and Chicken for a Birthday
Roast Cuy and Chicken for a Birthday

Not only do people eat, tell stories, and laugh together, they also listen to music.  On this day they want to hear the themes that are most pleasing to the person whose birthday it is.  At the same time the food and music become “typical” of the person as melodic and edible symbols. Nonetheless, the day is about the person–in the midst of all their relationships–and only then the food and song that typify them.

As a result, the festivities are constantly changing as new generations develop new tastes.

Some people prefer to organize dinners at restaurants on the edges of the city that are considered good.  These include places in Tipón, Lucre, Saylla, Calca, Urubamba, and Ollantaytambo

After the grand meal, the party continues among friends and familys.  Now like much of the rest of the world–since this is a custom that has spread from Anglo Saxon lands to much of the world — they will sing “Happy Birthday”  while candles burn on a cake.  Then they will serve slices of the cake to the guests.

Music on a Birthday
Music on a Birthday

Young people often organize a party where finger food is served along with cocktails, pisco, rum, and other drinks.   Some people also like to go out to have fun at the city’s discotheques, bars, and Karaokes.

The guests also bring surprises and gifts, though above all liquor, and beer.  Chicha will also be served.  The point is that the the celebration should have a lot of energy so that the birthday girl or boy will be happy on this special day.

Celebrating birthdays, despite changes, continues a s a strong and burning flame in Cuzco, the flame of joy and energy.

Celebrating in Cuzco
Celebrating in Cuzco
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