While the word sandwich is attributed to Lord Sandwich of Englnd and his excesses in the 18th century, in Peru there is a very popular sandwich called butifarra that is documented as early as 1768. Since then this combination of flavors has become a symbol of Peru. Not only is it very popular on the coast, but in Cuzco people love it as well.
Every morning it, along with the bread and chicharrón sandwich, the butifarra is served in Cuzco´s chicharronerías, it restaurants specializing in crispy fried pork. It is a much demanded breakfast and snack item for mornings, although it is also eaten at other times of the day.
In Cuzco the butifarra tends to be served with a glass of our purple corn and fruit drink, chicha morada. But that is optional. Other people prefer to have a different beverage such as soda, tea or juice with their butifarra sandwich.
To make a butifarra you first need crunchy bread, such as a good ciabatta, although most people prefer a roll that is crispy outside and soft and dreamy inside called pan francés or French bread. Peru´s main daily El Comercio insists that this bread despite its name is not found in France but is Peruvian. Its combination of textures and its warm, light brown color make it desirable.
Once cut in half, though not all the way through, people add slices of a traditional local ham called jamón del país. It is a pork loin or ham that is boiled with local seasonings until cooked and then either baked or finished in the hot pan in the remains of the evaporated liquid. A key ingredient is achiote, or ground annatto seeds, and ají panca, the red, flavorful hot pepper.
There are arguments about where this jamón del país, country ham, originated. While there is no doubt that it is Peruvian, people note that the Spanish brought pork, but that the Italian immigrants brought the knowledge and tradition of making hams and sausages. In this is another historical ambiguity, since the word butifarra is generally the word for a sausage from Catalunya. Somehow all this boiled down to Peruvian country ham and a sandwich with the name of the sausage.
This is not your ordinary ham known well in Anglo Saxon countries. It is neither pink nor does it have the same flavor. Instead it is a light brown and has its own distinctive flavor where you never forget it is pork, along with just a touch of Peruvian seasoning.
Once the ham is placed on the bread people then add a salsa criolla. This is onion sliced thinly in long plumes and “washed” in warm water. (You can soak the oinion in salted warm water for some five to ten minutes before draining and lightly squeezing out the excess liquid. This leaves the onion with a delicate and non-bitter flavor.) To this is added julienned strips of hot pepper, preferably red, salt, vinegar, and oil. The sauce should rest for a while, for the flavors to blend, something like half an hour, before you liberally top the ham with it.
In Cuzco, to this sandwich people often add sliced tomatoes. Many times they will lay down the tomatoes first, then the salsa criolla and finally the ham. Both ways are very good.
In the establishments on the Kuichipunku street the prices are quite reasonable. Sandwiches run from S/ 4 – S/ 6 ( US $1.50 – $2.30). In these places to accompany the crunchy and tasty butifarra they offer hot beverages such as coffee, various teas, although they also have cold drinks like sodas, juices, and chicha morada. The restaurants are open to the public from 7 in the morning to 7 or 8 at night.
Close to the Plaza de Armas, Cuzco’s main square, only three blocks away by the important archeological complex of the Qoricancha, the Temple of the Sun, there are two street carts where we can enjoy this creole sandwich. You can always find them because the woman in the carts are always shouting out to passersby “caserito, try a fresh butifarra.” They dress in their colorful aprons, hats, and sleeves to keep good order and good hygiene as well as offer a quality service.
In the display cases of their carts you can see the colorful hams and fresh vegetables attracting customers. For local palates as well as demanding tastes from other parts of the world it is a good option to visit these carts. As they say, the first taste we get of our food is with our eyes.
There are carts elsewhere as well. They are attractive and colorful in the creole style. You can find them on the most popular streets of Cuzco, especially in front of centers of study such as universities, institutes, and others. They always are surrounded by hungry clients.
For people who are short on time, finding these sandwich carts is a blessing. The prices for them is more modest, from S/2.50 to S/5.00.
Many people like to put various sauces on their sandwiches in addition to the salsa criolla. These include mayonnaise, mustard, and the delicious hot pepper from Cuzco, the rocoto, sliced in strips.
No matter where you get it or how you have it, a butifarra is a great Peruvian tradition. It is delicious and very satisfying.