Chicken soup, called caldo de gallina, is one of the absolute favorite dishes of the people of Cuzco. They like it because of its irresistible flavor and because it lifts you up and gives you energy.
It is sold in many restaurants. There are even places that specialize in its preparation at the same time it is found among the menu of traditional plates that are sold in the wariques— favorite restaurants of the ordinary person, as well as in quintas–garden restaurants.
Within the monumental core of Cuzco, where tourists congregate, it is difficult to find. The tourist restaurants found on the Plaza de Armas, the Main Square, do not serve it. But only a few steps from the Plaza, maybe ten minutes of walking, in the San Pedro Marketit is found. That market is the perfect place to enjoy a real, concentrated chicken soup.
From very early in the mornings, within the market, in the soup section, the caseras (venders) offer these energetic chicken soups from their small stands. A line of clients enjoy its traditional flavor. There are almost no extra spaces nor seats available. That is how much people in Cuzco love their chicken soup. They even begin their day eating it while standing.
The venders display their best hens at the front of their tables to attract the attention of potential clients. They make the soup in large pots in order to serve as many clients as possible. The dish costs only 5/S (about 2$) which is relatively inexpensive in Cuzco. Even better, when you finish your bowl–and they are large bowls–they serve you seconds in what we call yapa.
At the same time these caseras, as we call them, sell another traditional dish called escabeche de gallina, which is made with pickled vegetables and a kind of sweet and sour sauce. On serving the soup, the caseras add a bit of pickled vegetable on top to give it the perfect touch of flavor and make it delicious.
The recipe for this soup varies from place to place and, as a result, its flavor changes. They add some new or different ingredients. It takes on new flavors.
But in Cuzco they say that the best hen for making our chicken soup should be a free range (de corral) or raised in the home garden. It should be no more than five or six months old, because when it is older the meat gets tough. The main ingredients for the traditional soup are whole hen, rice, garbanzos (chickpeas), moraya, yuca (sweet manioc root), celery, ginger (quión), pepper, and oregano. It should cook for an hour to an hour and a half in order for all the flavors to come together and concentrate.
Not only is this dish consumed in Cuzco, but throughout Peru. In the capital, Lima, chicken soup is very famous. It is strongly consumed in the commercial zones, especially by workers. They eat the soup in order to raise their spirits and augment their energies. Its preparation is different from in Cuzco. There they add pasta, cooked egg, potato, and diced green onion. More than anything else it is msot eaten in the evenings.
Just as every dish has places which specialize in them. On the road between Cuzco and the lowland city of Quillabamba, the District of Carrizales, on the eyebrow of the jungle (the point where the rich vegetation begins, is known for this soup and is very popular among travelers. It has an incredible flavor because of the way it is prepared. Most of the travelers who make their way through the area stop to have some soup. It gives them strength to continue their journey, people say. For many years now the drivers know this place. The soup is made on large wood-fired stoves which impart a particular flavor.
Many people eat the soups for its substantial flavor and the energy it gives. It is known as the soup which picks you up, makes you be reborn, or even for “raising the dead”. After eating a bowl of soup you feel much better, It makes me almost hyperactive.
If you find yourself in Cuzco it would be a sin not to eat a bowl of our famous chicken soup (caldo de gallina). That is what many people say who arrive in Cuzco. Many already know it and when they return on different trips the first thing they do is go for a bowl of chicken soup. “That’s how I know I am really in Cuzco” one traveler said while sipping soup from his spoon in the market.
This much loved traditional soup, eaten every morning in Cuzco, as well as on special occasions, Sundays, and family gatherings is great. It may be good in the restaurants and markets, but truly there is nothing better than having this delicious soup at home with your loved ones.