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Coyalawa, Corn Chowder in the Town of Coya

Coyalawa a Delicious Treat

In winter, rain and cold invade the city of Cuzco. To resist them the population has a hot soup, filed with flavor.  Like an elixir it comforts their bodies and immediately makes them forget the chilly environment in which they live. It fills their homes with laughter and happiness, unting the whole family around the table.

In the Sacred Valley of the Incas, once you pass by the town of Pisac, you reach the town of Coya. It is a pleasant place whose people dedicate themselves to working the land, herding their flocks, weaving cloth, and growing corn. Everyone knows everyone else and they know the history of all the families who live in the town.

Their culinary culture is rustic, based on soups and stews made from products that they grow for themselves.  Each of these traditional dishes has a signature of special flavor. But the main one they rely on in winter is whst they call their coyalawa de choclo (a Coya-style chowder of sweet corn). It is a very flavorful creme which has a thick consistency like fresh cooked polenta, but is much more finely ground and is flavored with an unusual herb called huacatay that grows fresh in the people’s gardens.  They add to this some fresh, green broad beans. As a final touch to balance everything, they add a bit of fresh cheese from their Valley.

Ingredients for Coyalawa
Ingredients for Coyalawa

All of these ingredients are cooked together in pottery pots in order to give everything a characteristic rustic flavor. Even if you do not believe the importance of the pots, the flavor comes from slow cooking the ingredients in rustic, well-cured, clay pots over a fire.

In the times of the Incas, all the Sacred Valley was filled with growing corn, carefully tended by the Valley’s people. Their type of corn is called paraccay. Its main characteristic is that it has gigantic kernels. In winter, when the grains are at their freshest people take advantage of their availability and flavor to grind the tender grains finely. After winter is over the grains begin to dry and become harder and harder to grind finely, though they can be stored for a very long time.

This kind of corn only grows in the Sacred Valley of the Incas. Other parts of the world do not have the right climatic conditions which led to the development of this land race over thousands of years. As a result, for hundreds, if not thousands, of years people have been making this chowder, lawa, of sweet corn, in order to overcome the cold.

In one way or another the people of Coya and Cuzco find ingenious ways to neutralize the low temperatures of the season. This includes the materials and design with which they build their houses. The homes of Coya are made from adobe and have straw roofs. These materials keep the heat in and the cold out in order to keep the people comfortable.

In their homes, the kitchen is the warmest part. It is designed with a fireplace in the center that is also used for cooking. You do not need gas, since the people of Coya collect wood from the trees on their hillsides. They use what nature has given them freely. By the sides of the kitchen walls, there are logs covered with sheep hides that serve as chairs. Besides being warm, they are also very comfortable. But the singular thing about the kitchens is all the small compartments between the logs that serve as homes for the guinea pigs that scurry from one side of the kitchen to another all day long.

While the coyalawa is cooking, the family takes advantage of the time to tell stories, legends, and myths that took place in the Valley.  These are stories their grandparents had told them and now the older adults transmit them to their children and grandchildren. They keep their traditions alive during the nights filled with stars. Finally, when the soup is finished cooking and everyone cannot wait to have some, a bowl is served to everyone.  Some people serve it with pieces of peasant wheat bread, made without yeast to have a good consistency.

Coyalawa Ready to Eat
Coyalawa Ready to Eat

But that is not the only thing that happens that happens in Qoya. In August it celebrates the feast of the Virgin of Asunta, its Holy Patron. During four days of intense happiness and fervor, twenty-two different dances are presented. This happens only once a year.

Every dance shows part of the Valley’s ancient culture in which myths and ancient religious customs are combined. On the date of the feast (from the 14th to the 17th of August) the town fills up completely. All the family members of the people who have migrated to other places return to enjoy the feast and, in some cases, to join the dance troupes organized by the people of the town.

During this feast, the people also show off their extensive gastronomy in its finest expression. In every home where the dance troupes gather, distinct and exquisite dishes are prepared to share with the dancers and visitors. In their way every visitor can go away pleased.

In this way, the people. Of Coya continue to please each other each August by offering much culture and their millenarian gastronomy for all who visit. At the same time they keep their culture alive, whether in Coya or in Lima, each time they lift a spoon of Coyalawa to their lips.


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