Cuzco offers a magnitude of surprises, as one walks its streets and neighborhoods. There are so many details that they could easily pass unnoticed when one moves through the Imperial City, but in them is some of the brilliance of our culture. One such is the many women, through out the city, who sit in the market doors, street corners, and door stoops with cloth wrapped pots to offer cooked food.
Little by little this custom is disappearing. Modernization is bringing more snacks and fast food joints for those in a hurry. Even the traditional markets are being rebuilt into towers of stories. The traditions kept in our grandmothers’ stories are waning.
Nevertheless, if we go to the market of La Molina, outside Cuzco’s core, at ten in the morning and stick our head inside the main door we find a festival of movement. Many women are there, buying the ingredients for their home cooking. But in the Market’s doorway women dressed in colorful, broad skirts called polleras, are seated and offering a seeming endless variety of cooked meals right there.
These small servings of traditional, typical dishes are like snacks or fast food right there at the markets door. You can hardly resist when you see people standing or seated around the ladies and enjoying these delicious offerings. One can have yuyo jaucha, chicharrón, boiled eggs, mote and puspo, or trout with moraya (a white form of freeze dried potatoes).
In fact, the other day I was tempted when I went to the market with my mother. We bought what we needed for the week and then I saw a lot of people gathered around some women as if there were something surprising and new. But that was not the case. In the center were some women, in Cuzco we call them madres (mothers) selling home-made typical dishes. As people bought, they would sit, surrounded by the bags of food they had bought in the market, enjoying the small plates.
My mom and I ordered a chicharrón, after pulling our bags together and sitting down. I was served pork that had been boiled and then dressed with oil, accompanied with a salad of onion, yerba buena (mint), and salt), along with hot sauce (uchukuta). Wow. It was good. Just as they say, the smallest things have the best flavor.
I was surprised. The meat was falling-apart tender and everything went together so well.
Maybe these madres just have a good hand for cooking these delicious typical dishes, or maybe they just have lots of practice. But their recipe was not the standard one.
After finishing my food I asked the madre how come her food was so good.
She said that to make this chicharrón she prepared over a wood flame. She also did not fry the pork, as most people do. Instead she just braised it, and when it was done just added a little very good oil.
Despite how wonderful this food is, in many municipalities, such as in teh colonial core of Cuzco, there are officials who want to bring “order” to the city. Many times they will not let the madres sell their food. If they see them, they drive them out. But they do not realize that by driving them out they are killing a part of our gastronomic culture.
If you cannot find these dishes around Cuzco’s Plaza, you can go to the markets. There you will find women who daily make and bring these wonderful small paltes of food to sell. They are there to meet the needs of all the people who come to the market.
Every day they are there, seated in the doorways or inside the market, with their broad skirts and white hats, their colorful cloth wrapped pots, bringing to the public the best of Cuzco’s typical food.