Inheritor of exquisite recipes and the tradition of making and selling the classic food of Cuzco, Mrs. María can regularly be found in Cuzco’s streets and gastronomic fairs serving up her succulent meats. Not only is Cuzco’s food found in homes and restaurants, but in the hands of vendors like María who feed the city from street corners and stands.
In Marías case, her stand is her volkswagen van. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday it rolls up to the regional hospital for lunch. She opens the back to dish up her food and the seats of the van become places were clients can sit and dine while listening to music from the van’s sound system.
On a sunny day, we discovered her. We were thinking about lechón and its classic importance for Cuzco while walking down the Avenida de la Cultura, one of Cuzco’s main streets. The day was sunny after a night of rain and the city seemed radiant with clean and fresh air. The mountains around Cuzco stood out dressed in green. As we got to the doors of the hospital, suddenly the tempting scent of lechón appeared around us and caused us to look out. We saw a large platter of lechón on the edge a volkswagen van parked in front of the hospital.
Seeing us look, Mrs María shouted out to us “Caseritos, it’s hot, just out of the oven. Only S/5 [$2 US]. It’s delicious.”
Along with the temptation of freshly cooked pork roast, Mrs. María was so enchanting that we had to stop.
We found out that not only did she have fresh lechón but also offered other dishes such as ceviche, escabeche de gallina (pickled vegetables with cooked chicken), and chiriuchu to give her clients a variety.
As she loaded plates with food for us, she told us that her grandmother, Gerónima Cruz, was the first street-vendor of lechón and chiriuchu under the colonnades of Cuzco´s Plaza de Armas.
Mrs. María continued telling us that she had worked as a nurse in the same hospital where she was now selling her food. “I am now retired. My mother used to sell here where I am now while I was working inside as a nurse. Many days I helped my mother make and sell her lechón. My mother would sell here every Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Those were often days I did not work in the hospital so I could help her. As a result all of the hospital workers knew me.”
María added with pride that she has five children and today they are all professionals. She was a single mother and from the time she was a young woman she worked hard. Through her work she was able to get an education for her children. She said it was the lechón that made the difference.
We first asked to try her dishes of ceviche and took them with us to the ample seats inside the volkswagen.
Mrs. María said that she arrived between 10:30 and 11:00 am on the days she sold in front of the hospital. Her son would drive her here in the volkswagen along with her partner, Ruth. Then in the afternoon, once the food was gone, he would return to take them home.
On Thursdays she did not sell. Instead she used that day to go to the market and to buy the ingredients for her delicious food. Everyday she would go through at least two entire pigs.
Friday and Saturday she sells in the Túpac Amaru gastronomic fair which draws large crowds to the main square of Wanchaq where it is held.
With a smile, Mrs. María said she made the best lechón in Cuzco and was known for the quality of her meat. She attributed this to her heritage from her grandmother. Reporters have written many notes about her and she has appeared in various local magazines. She claimed she is famous.
The ceviche was indeed delicious and left us wanting more. After hearing her talk about her lechón, and having other clients tell us we needed to try her advice, even though we love ceviche, we asked for servings of lechón. We were captivated. The meat was tender and juicy inside while crispy on the outside. It was perfect lechón and had an amazing flavor from the combination of seasonings in which she marinated the pork and from the time consuming process of making the dish.
Mrs. María said she will accept special orders for parties, weddings,and other events Her contact number, should you want to contract her, is 984116441.
As we climbed down from the van to leave more clients were arriving. In the midst of her laughter Mrs. María asked us to come back more often.
Even had she not asked we would go back. Her food was just wonderful and she is a captivating story teller.