Distant from the Plaza de Armas (Main Square) and yet one of the most popular and recognized places in Cuzco is Anticuchería Condorito (Calle Pavitos s/n and Calle Diagonal Angamos). People come from throughout the city to eat anticuchos (skewers) of beef heart and choncholines (beef intestines) prepared on large Andean grills. It is key to the other Cuzco, not the tourist one.
This famous anticuchería (place that serves anticuchos) has been around for decades. But it is also well known because its name connects it with a comic that has been very popular since it first appeared in 1949. Though Chilean, the magazine soon became the most popular comic in Chile and indeed spread throughout Latin America. Its hero is an ordinary guy named Condorito– or little condor, surrounded by a colorful cast of characters, such as the insufferable Pepe Cortisona, who confronts all the crazy situations of a society filled with inequality and injustice.
The restaurant took the name of the cartoon figure to draw the public and connect a Cuzco tradition with popular culture. On the walls inside they have painted the cartoon figures lest someone not know that the restaurant claims a connection. Of course the Condor is also the great bird of the Andes and a quasi divine figure for the Incas and their descendants.
This play between something very local and a broader Latin American culture continues with the presentation of musical groups who play what is simply called “Latin American Music”. This genre picks up the folk music and protest music of the sixties and seventies that became very widespread across a continent struggling with military regimes and seeking democracy.
All of this, and especially the well prepared, succulent cuts of meat on skewers accompanied with Huayru Potatoes, a rocoto relleno (stuffed rocoto) and hot sauce, draws a good public. Rare is the Cuzqueño who does not have memories of good times in El Condorito.
Beef heart is tender and flavorful. Though this is not a cut of meat that Americans generally eat, it is loved by many Europeans and especially Peruvians. It has been argued that anticuchos in Peru were made of organ meats, such as heart and the intestines, because the fine meats were destined for the manor houses of the elite. So the organs carry an air of popularity. But, in any case, the heart is delicious.
The choncholines are deicious as well. In Argentina and Uruguay their famous grills often feature chinchulines, or intestines, but here in Peru they are special. These are large, well-cleaned, condimented and flavorful. Surprising to many foreigners, they are worth trying for their taste alone.
Condorito prepares a special hot sauce to accompany these meats. Made with roasted peanuts hot peppers, and the indigenous herb huacatay, this sauce compliments the meat and enhances its flavor with its own richness. Made on large batanes (grinding stones) this uchucuta sauce is something you will want to bottle and take home for your own barbecues.
Every afternoon Condorito fills with clients. As a result of its popularity it now has two restaurants, both open from 3 in the afternoon until late. As dusk falls, each fills with the sounds of music and of its clients talking, laughing, clinking glasses of beer, and eating. Especially on weekends, Condorito fills, since i is a tradition for many families and groups of friends to go to Condoritos to enjoy some time out and savor Condoritos exquisite anticuchos.
When people leave Condorito’s, they find waiting for them a cart selling emolientes, hot herb drinks. It is standard to drink a glass or two to chase down the anticuchos and, since it is hot, to prepare one to finish the night.
In contrast with the anticuchos sold on street corners and prepared on small grills, this restaurant is set up to provide seating and entertainment for lots of people. It only serves anticuchos, and so its product is meatier and larger, as well as more tasty.
Standing on a street corner and eating meat and potatoes from a stick as night develops is its own experience. But it is not the same as sitting in Condorito’s, with the famous cartoon figure looking out over the crowd from the wall, and enjoying a skewer of rich beef heart, one of tasty chunchulines, a rocoto relleno, potato, hot sauce, and the inevitable beer. This is Cuzco for Cuzqueños.