Chicken, not the kind with feathers that run around your yard clucking and eating stray seeds and insects, but the kind that comes crispy and brown outside and juicy inside, on a plate with a pile of fries, is the most popular meat in Peru.
On Sunday, the country celebrated the Day of Pollo a la Brasa, the day of rotisserie chicken. This dish is truly loved and can well be seen as an icon of Peru and of Peruvian cuisine: potatoes and roasted, seasoned meat. Though chicken might change for pork, guinea pig, or even beef, the potatoes tend to stay even if prepared in different ways. Peru is very definitely a chicken and potatoes country.
Not only does this chicken not run around Peruvian yards, like hens still do, it is very young and grows up in large commercial businesses. In Spanish they distinguish pollo (young bird) from gallina (older bird). To consume on the plate pollo is liked. It is cheap (relatively), tastes good and with the potatoes brings lots of calories.
Nevertheless, it does not have the depth of flavor of a hen, nor is it as tough. Peru also loves its chicken soup and chicken broth, now made with gallina to bring richness.
In Cusco, chicken soup, a broth called caldo is a favorite for breakfast. People step up to stands and hold a deep and large bowl of broth with a piece of chicken, a potato and often a moraya. Its depth and substance from cooking the hen well gives people the protein to start the day with vigor and vitality.
Years ago, when I first came to Peru, chicken was expensive and not eaten much. At the time, I loved the pollo dorado, a young bird with golden and crispy skin, redolent of seasoning. The industrial raising of birds in long sheds was only beginning. Though it did start in the fifties, it took a while to grow enough to change the market, to make chicken cheap, common and ordinary. Those days, if a family wanted to honor you or celebrate something special they bought a whole hen and cooked it. Now, chicken is the daily, the quotidian, that which people here consume as often as Americans eat hamburgers or sandwiches.
Decades later, when I returned to Peru through Puno, I was surprised to see pollo a la brasa sold in small restaurants throughout this chilly lakeshore city. It had suddenly become not just common but a favorite. Chicken rules in Peru.
Of course being able to buy it has to do with the presence of a large number of pollerías, chicken shops. The offering is huge. In Cusco, initially there were very few pollerías. The economy of Peruvians was also less. Even today, though, chicken is a popular dish for celebrations and special occasions, or even just Sunday dinner, despite its ordinariness.