It is a tradition in much of the world for families to get together to share a meal and talk about all that has taken place during the week. In Cuzco, Sunday afternoon is the time. While the occasion may be any meal, in Cuzco we especially love a delicious grill of meat in which all help. Besides being fun, you do not need great culinary experience to obtain delicious grilled and juicy steaks, chops, or chicken. The challenge is one of lighting the coals and maintaining them lit. Though a challenge it is just lots of fun.
Luckily it is Sunday and all the family has gathered. “Light the grill” has been said. We have a variety of meats, sausages and fresh vegetables. We have all that is necessary so let us open a bottle of well chilled rosé wine to refresh the palate and begin.
Everyone has a different way of lighting the carbon, which in Cuzco tends to be carbonized planks of wood rather than the prepared briquettes one finds in the north. Some light them with paper, others with Doritos, and others with alcohol. No matter the way, it is recommendable not to use plastics so that the bad odor does not contaminate the meat.
We have the coals lit and ready. Now the action begins, the meat and sausages on the burning hot metal grill with sound and scent, all that you can imagine. While the meat cooks we converse, make jokes, and enjoy a radiant sun in the blue skies of our beautiful Cuzco.
In many places of South America grilled meat is accompanied by chimichurri and fresh salads. But in Cuzco, instead of the chimichurri, we make an uchucuta, a mix of blended ingredients in which Cuzcos wild ají and tree tomatoes dominate.
We also prepare a watia in a special form of rustic oven of earth made in the form of a dome that we make right then when we need it from clods we lift from the ground. Once ready and heated we place in it a variety of potatoes and other ingredients, such as ocas or broad beans, to cook. We then knock the oven down over them until they are done when we carefully pull back the earth and find the cooked food.
We can say that a complete Cuzco-style grill takes a bit more time to make. But that time has its reward as a family activity and the wonder of the finished food. The experience is unforgettable, I guarantee you.
The meat is ready and the vegetables are done in the watia. It is now time to sit down and enjoy this great family meal, what we call a parrillada after the name of the grill. With good wine let us begin enjoying the food. We lift food to our mouths between laughs and stories about childhood and other times. The food is even more delicious this way and little by little it all disappears. As my grandfather would say, “if you want to eat you have to work.” Since we all worked we can now all eat together.
In this way, cooking, eating, playing, laughing, and conversing, the afternoon has gone. It is time for each to go to their own home. Another incredible Sunday has been spent with its delicious food and company. Now it lives in memory.
This is a wonderful tradition that it seems to me should never disappear. May it continue to always unite families and friends.