Customs, Traditional Food

Raising Cuzco’s Passion, Chicken

Pollo a la Brasa

Both young chickens and older hens are indispensable ingredients for many of the dishes of Peruvian cuisine as well as many other products that are made from them. The sale of chicken is a big business in our markets. Its daily consumption is massive.

Who has never tasted a dish that does not have chicken as one of its ingredients?

The answer is found in each of us since the vast majority of us eat chicken at least once a week. Restaurants serve dishes made from chicken every day. Consumers in Peru like chicken.

A clear example is pollo a la brasa (rotisserie chicken). From midday on numerous chicken shops open for the general public so that they can enjoy this delicious dish. There are not just one or two chicken shops (pollerias) in the city. Hundred of these places open for customers to delight in this now classic Peruvian dish. Many more have also opened to give the others competition.

The huge market for chicken leads to another big business, raising chickens. Many growers dedicate themselves to raising these birds. We find, for example, businesses such as San Fernando, Rico Pollo, La Granja Quispe, and many more.

Technology for raising chickens from the moment they hatch to when they go to market advances daily in huge steps. Machinery now carry out tasks that used to require much labor, such as incubating the eggs and hatching chicks as well as the selection of good, healthy chicks. Hundreds of thousands if not millions of them are born each day to be distributed to the different enterprises that specialize in raising chickens for market.

Commercially Raised Chickens
Commercially Raised Chickens

These farms and agribusinesses take over the process of the birds’ growth, slaughter, and sending them to market. They have special buildings exclusively for this task and require a special type of feed so that the birds’ development is optimally fast. In this way they save money by getting their birds to market at a young age.
Thousands and thousand of birds leave the chicken farms daily to be distributed throughout the whole country. Businesses and markets which sell chicken open early so that the public can acquire chicken to take home to prepare for the noon meal, the main meal of the day.

Furthermore, the price of chicken varies according to demand. For example the price will rise in December around Christmas. It will also rise if their are strikes or work stoppages that impede the normal distribution of chicken throughout the country. Even when it is expensive people buy chicken.

Unlike these farm raised young birds called pollo in Peru, raising hens at home is very different. More and more people raise chickens for their family’s consumption. It is more difficult than raising young birds and their price is double or triple that of pollo.

Home raised hens have an exquisite flavor when cooked. Of course, our traditional dishes require these older, home-raised birds whose flavor is richer and more complex. We could mention chicken soup, or chicken escabeche. In Spanish there require what we call gallina, more mature birds, and not pollo. These are traditional preparations and represent the whole savor of a culture.

People raise these birds at home from the time they are chicks. We tend to let them roam freely so that they can pallarse, as we say, grow strong and tasty. They are free and eat bugs which the Pachamama gives them. We also feed them our traditional corn and water. They grow until they reach maturity and are roosters or hens. That whole process can last a whole year.

These birds do not get fat since they run around freely. They rest in our bushes, and so on. With every day their muscles grow strong. This makes them very different from pollos which are always in a cage and tend to get fat ev en though their whole life is brief.

We have different breeds of chickens we raise at home, such as the incubadoras (the incubators), the q’arakunkas (or naked necks, called Araucanas in English and native to South America), the chacharas whose plumage looks scattered as if they were like people who have not combed their hair, etc.

Chickens Raised at Home for Special Dinners (Walter Coraza Morveli)
Chickens Raised at Home for Special Dinners (Walter Coraza Morveli)

In Cusco, most families that live outside the historical center of town raise chickens for special family moments such as birthdays and to be able to enjoy a good family meal. This customs has been passed from generation to generation. But, as with so many things, it is disappearing because the youth of this generation with the advance of technology no longer like to raise birds. As a result, the obvious happens.

Of course their are risks in raising chickens. The birds can get sick with moquillo, a flux, because of the cold. Still, there are medicines for them. Many people rely on antibiotics such as amoxicillin, but a great traditional remedy is urine. This helps the chicks grow strong and healthy.

In places where there is a lot of land the birds are also exposed to dangers such as eagles. They can be taken and eaten by these raptors, especially when they are chicks. You must watch them and protect them from bigger birds.

The other day I saw some chicks which were wearing blue plastic capes on their backs. I wondered why, or maybe it was just a child hood prank.

What is going on, I am told, is that the plastic on their backs is a kind of camouflage so that eagles and hawks do not see them as something they can eat. It keeps the raptors away, I am told.

Raising chickens is a tradition that comes to us from our ancestors. It is very important and is part of our culture. If we lose this part of our culture then we will also lose the traditional food and taste that comes down to us from antiquity.

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