Customs

Memories of My Grandmother’s Cooking

A Traditional Cuzco Grandmother

From ancient times when the sun would come out and its rays shine on Cuzco, its light would show a beautiful scene of radiant trees and Andean fields all around the city. Back then agriculture and food was one of its privileges.

My grandparent’s land was huge. They would always plant and grow necessary foods such as potatoes, broad beans, and corn. These were basic and necessary for the daily, midday meal.

Potatoes Growing by a Home
Potatoes Growing by a Home

Along with breakfast, lunch was the essential mean to stay active during the day, until the last rays of the sun around five pm. When the sun would set they knew they had a brief moment to go have a quick lonche (small evening meal of a hot drink and bread or reheated food, from the English “lunch”). Before it was completely dark they would go into their rooms and rest. There were no distractions to keep them up because in those days there was no light. They relied on rustic, kerosene lamps (mecheros) to have a little light at night.

Their land was very fertile. That enabled their crops to produce well and read full maturity. They would get a good harvest.

My grandparents always had hominy (mote) and boiled potatoes ready and waiting on the table. These would be in large receptacles. My uncles would eat them as appetizers before their main course at lunch, or whenever they had the urge during the day. Sometimes they would eat them with some cheese.

Stuffed Rocoto Pepper with Potatoes
Stuffed Rocoto Pepper with Potatoes

Lunch was always served at twelve noon, on the dot, not one minute early or one minute late. Their typical lunches would include soups like almuerzo de chuño, made from freeze-dried potatoes, chairo, lawa de maiz (corn chowder), or wheat soup. These were served in large bowls so that my aunts and uncles could fill themselves and be well nourished.

The main dishes were called uchus, the same word as used to describe hot peppers. There would often be an ají de lisas (ollucos), a main dish of tarwi, quinoa, a kapchi de habas, or others made from Andean products. They did not eat either rice or pasta.

Phesque de Quinoa, a Cuzco Favorite
Pesque de Quinoa, a Cuzco Favorite

All of their meals were cooked on wood fired fogones (stoves) and, as a result, they obtained particular flavors that are traditional in Cuzco and not available on modern stoves.

Most importantly, my grandmother would make sure their was more than enough food for everyone. It was the custom to have seconds and even thirds. And, in the evening, people would eat the left-overs from lunch.

Chicha was their main drink. It was never missing from the table for them to drink after having consumed their meals.

Cutting a Slice of the Traditional Lechón
Cutting a Slice of the Traditional Lechón

My grandmother would also raise animals around the home, such as guinea pigs, chickens, pigs, and ducks. These animals were kept because of their important for special dates, birthdays, and family gatherings. Every Sunday, when all the family would sit together, she would make something special. She would sacrifice one of her animals, maybe a delicious chicken that was well fed because it was cared for by her at home, or maybe some guinea pigs with which she would make a delicious pipian of cuy. She could also use other animals and make other dishes, depending on the event and the number of people.

She would serve the food in plates that were larger than those we use today. For my grandmother the plates had to be the largest ones she could find. Sometimes they looked like a medium sized wash basin.

Cuy Canka, Roasting before the Coals
Cuy Canca, Roasting before the Coals

As my uncles and aunts say, the food today can not compare with that of my grandmother’s times. Our food was unique and for that reason we have long lives. We were strong and healthy. When she was old, my grandmother would say “look at my teeth. They are the same today as they have always been. I do not have any cavities.”

The family tells of all these moments as if they were reliving them. They remember their happy moments and their family gatherings when everyone would be there to enjoy my grandmother’s traditional dishes that are typical of our beautiful city.

Canchitas, Parched Corn, with Hot Sauce
Canchitas, Parched Corn, with Hot Sauce
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