Food Culture, Traditional Food

Boiled Eggs, Potatoes, and Ocopa: a Perfect Combination for the Morning

A Basket of Hot Potatoes and Egg (Photo: Walter Coraza Morveli)
A Basket of Hot Potatoes and Egg (Photo: Walter Coraza Morveli)

Boiled eggs are one of the foods children and adults in Cusco eat most. It is a star in Cusco’s homes since it is always available when we are in a rush since it is easy to prepare and has great nutritious value. Each egg has high quality proteins, vitamin C, fats, fiber, carbohydrates, calcium, iron, and potassium. It is perfect and tastes good.

From about 6 in the morning, boiled egg and potato sellers offer this food from reed baskets in our streets. They keep the boiled eggs and potatoes hot inside their baskets by placing them in plastic bags and wrapping those in white cloth. On top of the cloth and the basket you will see bowls of sauces they offer, such as spicy ocopa and one that is not spicy. They also have mayonnaise and salt. The vendors spread over the streets of Cusco and its plazas. They are not allowed to sell in the Plaza de Armas, the main square, however and the continuous traffic of police there keeps them from attempting to enter. They block any ambulatory vendor.

The majority of people who sell eggs and potatoes do not have a secure place. They walk around and offer their product to passersby and to workers in the various businesses. You will almost always find them at bus stops, plazas, doorways to our popular markets, and in the doors of schools. There they await their clients while wearing colorful aprons and cloth hats that also have various colors and designs.

Mariva Potatoes and Boiled Egg (Photo: Walter Coraza Morveli)
Mariva Potatoes and Boiled Egg (Photo: Walter Coraza Morveli)

Some three years ago, I remember, the price of an egg with potatoes was around 0.80/S. Because consumption went up they now cost 1.30/S, about 1$US.

When they make a sale, the vendors place the food on small, plastic plates. A whole egg sliced in four along with two potatoes fill the plate. The food takes on color from the sauce that the caseras, the vendors, place on the sides of the plates, according to the clients’ tastes. Buyers situate themselves around the vendors to eat and enjoy their boiled eggs and potatoes.

Three weeks ago I met María, a casera, and her two small children Tomás and Andrés. For some four years now she has sold boiled eggs in the San Francisco Plaza. One chilly morning I was walking through there and found myself sitting on one of the benches and from there I could see her clients come. Some of them already knew here and they exchanged words and smiles. Some five people stood around her while enjoying their food.

Hen's Eggs
Hen’s Eggs

I came up, hungry in the morning, and asked her to serve me up a dish of boiled egg (huevo sancochado). She answered me pleasantly: “ya casero, of course sir, I’ll serve you right away.” Her hands did not pause as she peeled the egg and the potatoes. When she served me she asked if I wanted spicy of not spicy ocopa sauce. I answered “the not spicy.” She gave me the plate and a spoon. It looked well presented. The color of the egg and its yolk, the potato, and the ocopa looked very tempting. Everything was hot and perfectly cooked. The first combination on my palate was great and I could taste all the different flavors. I especially liked the ocopa. It was full of flavor and I liked it a lot. I asked her what she put in it. With a smile she responded: “did you like it?”

“Yes,” I said.

“It is made with huacatay, fresh cheese, onion, garlic, rocoto peppers, vanilla wafers, peanuts, and milk. I grind the ingredients on a batan (a grdining stone) and they blend. According to people’s tastes I put in the pepper without its seeds.”

As I ate, two more people arrived with their small children and ordered three plates to carry away. I overheard the casera ask them where they were taking the food. They said they were going to the pharmacy. “Mommy wants it with lots of spicy sauce.”

While she served up the plates I asked her from what time to what time could she be found in the plaza. Though her hands were full she answered me. “From 5:30 in the morning till around noon or 1 pm. On Sundays, though, I stay home with my children.”

Boiled Potatoes and Egg for Breakfast in Cuzco (Photo: Walter Coraza Morveli)
Boiled Potatoes and Egg for Breakfast in Cuzco (Photo: Walter Coraza Morveli)

“What time do you start cooking everything, casera?” I asked her.

“I get up at 3 in the morning and prepare the food until 5 am when I start coming down to the plaza.

As I finished my dish of food, I asked her what kinds of potatoes she used.

“Huayro or compis. Those are floury and people like them,” she answered.

Thankful for the small plate of food, I said goodbye.

It is worth remembering that potatoes originated in Peru and have been developed from the time of the Quechuas. We have more than 3000 varieties of potatoes in Peru and we should be proud of that.

One of the best ways of eating eggs is boiled. They are best if accompanied by floury potatoes along with their Arequipa-style ocopa sauce. This food is good for athletes, young and old, since it provides all the amino acids that are essential for our bodies.

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