Canchitas, Parched Corn, with Hot Sauce
“A woman was toasting corn.” In this way a ancient Peruvian story from the Huarochiri begins.
But it is not just a story, it is a reality. Toasting corn is something people do frequently.
When you go to a Peruvian restaurant you get toasted corn. It is a classic by itself. Called canchitas, it uses the same name whether what we might call parched corn or popped corn.
You pick it up with your fingers and feel, sometimes, a light coating of oil and sometimes not, though you do feel a few sharp grains of salt. It crunches in your mouth. Outside it is tight, crisp, and brown. Inside, fluffy and floury. It explodes across your palate with a mild but tasty flavor.
This really is one of the classic Peruvian foods and flavors.
You can buy bags of this pan-roasted corn to carry with you wherever you go as a snack to give you energy or just delight. You can also buy cancha with t’oqto, corn and toasted pig skin or fat. The latter has a bacon flavor though it is spongy and crisp. with the corn, it makes a total snack and is commonly sold at parades and football games throughout the city of Cusco.
In the story, the woman was sitting on the ground by her fire with a ceramic pot. She is the very image of womanhood, sitting on the ground by her traditional stove also low on the ground with a fire in it and dishes of ingredients ready to cook by her side.
A kernel popped. It jumped out of the pan and, given where she was seated, went right up her vagina.
Wow. Too much information, you might say. But the story is establishing a parallel between the act of cooking food and the act of gestating a child inside the woman. It is also comparing the corn to the seed of a man.
An earlier tale in the Huarochiri makes a comparison. A woman was weaving beneath a tree. Akin to cooking, or giving birth and rearing a child, the woman was creating and transforming by moving her fingers through and over the stretched threads to make design when another thread was pushed through.
The trickster hero, or god, Cuni Raya Viracocha, saw her and desired her. He probably felt a physical hunger, though not one of the stomach, even though genitals and food find a sort of equivalence. The Huarochiri stories are filled with desire, its frustration, and completion, as they tell about the creation of the landscape, the universe, around it.
The shaman hero made himself into a bird and flew into the tree. That is how we know he is a shaman and a hero. In the story, the translators speak of him acting with trickery.The Spanish would be astucia, which can also be wisdom, but the Quechua is llulla, a word that most commonly means lying, saying or dong one thing while there is another thing present and also contained in the words.
He flew into a lucuma tree. It has fat, round fruit that smell and taste hormonal not unlike genitals. The lucuma is a very popular fruit in Peru, served alone, in salads, smoothies, ice creams, pastries, and so on.
Cuni Raya Viracocha put his semen into the fruit and when it fell, the woman delighted with the refreshment, ate it up. It was a good, if traitorous repast.
In English tales, food can be used to speak about sex. Here, food is sex. It creates life and brings pleasure.
In the first story we relate, the woman removed the popped corn from her vagina, still hot though now more musty, and fed it to a man. The Catholic fathers who compiled the Huarochiri stories say she now became an adulteress, as if she had had sex with that man. He had eaten from her vagina. In the second, she became pregnant and had a child whose father was a mystery.
Out of these complex sexual acts, involving food, the Huarochiri stories continue and create a cosmos, where food as sex is key to the creation, and desire—love is there, and play / trickery abounds.
Happy St. Valentine’s Day and Eighth Day of Carnival.