The feasts of Cusco would not be so joyful and so sumptuous, if it were not for its festive dish, the chiriuchu. It is enjoyed throughout the city during its feasts in which it is a faithful component. Nevertheless, it is most directly associated with Corpus Christi that will be celebrated with massive processions next week.
Chiriucho will be served throughout the city. Local restaurants will offer it at this time and chiriucho vendors will set up by San Francisco so that everyone, the people of the city and visitors can enjoy this exquisite and fascinating dish.
It’s name, chiriuchu, means hot pepper and, as a result, a dish prepared with hot peppers, as well as cold. It is a dish served up at room temperature during this time of change in which the frost will soon come and in which the Holy Spirit is honored. To it is attributed an old name, llaqwayuchu, a word composed of ají, a savory dish, and the verb to lick which functions as an adjective. As a result, it is a food that is licked.
Sometimes written, llajua, llaqwa is the name of a hot sauce that is served on Bolivian tables made of tomatoes and locoto peppers that are ground together with salt and perhaps an herb, such as quirquiña or wakatay. There is a strong relation in the dishes of the different regions of this Andean region.
Chiriuchu is a plate composed of different ingredients that shows fullness and the union of different regions. Both the abundance and the union are ritual values with great tradition in Inca and post-Inca Cusco.
The dish includes different meats, guinea pig, chicken, dried meat, sausage, and fish eggs. It also brings together ingredients made in different ways, boiled (the potatoes and corn), toasted (parched corn—canchas), fried (the tortilla), and baked (the guinea pig), once again a union of the classical cooking techniques from the past.
Furthermore, it brings together raw (the rocoto pepper and the algae) and cooked ingredients (almost all the other ingredients) at the same time it combines foods from different ecological levels, the high altiplano, the valleys, and the coast.
The food’s central idea is of a full cosmos, that is a complete dish, a union of differences.
As a consequence, the ingredients are not placed randomly on the plate. They build a cosmic model, a kind of mandala, of ordered combination of difference and of abundance. This model appears in Andean art in the image of the Virgin Mary who is shown as a mountain, and hence the earth.
People consume it by taking a small piece of one ingredient with their hands and eating it before eating a different food. Once again the practice insists on the union of differences, this time in the process of eating.
Before the Spanish came, chiriuchu might have played some role in high ritual. Its importance in contemporary feasts makes us think this is the case and notice that it still plays this role. Its basic idea is of co-participation in the formation of a proper cosmos and society. This implies union with difference and fullness. It is a very profound notion.