Cuzco’s suburban San Sebastian is known for its fiestas, tradition, and living culture. And, that is a description how it celebrates the feast of its patron saint.
Just like in earlier decades, the feast is being carried out these days. It is a living custom stemming from a tradition invested in folklore and our basic culture. In it we experience a great celebration, accompanied by colorful dance troupes, an exquisite gastronomy, and great concerts, but above all the art of drinking till the final consequences.
Saint Sebastian is one of the great festivities in the Cuzco area. It gathers large multitudes of people for its main days, allowing them to live a week of unforgettable activities in the old, colonial town of San Sebastian, now part of suburban Cuzco.
On its main day, when I arrived, the town was full. The whole district was celebrating. On every street and in every home people were partying. They were dancing chicha music or cumbia music, eating chiriuchu, and of course, drinking pilsen beer.
On the other hand, each of the many dance troupes gathered in the town had its own cargo, or person responsible. This word becomes synonymous with party, since the cargos would bring their people and guests together in large locales where they could drink, serve food, and interact. This would take place, of course, when the troupe was not coursing through the streets in costume representing Cuzco’s culture and folklore. The groups would especially dance around the main square of San Sebastian.
Although the groups used to be from the tradition of Cuzco, something of which San Sebastian is particularly proud since noble Inca families were settled here by the Spanish. Nevertheless, this year it seemed all the dance troupes were of sayas or tinkus, two dances that come to us from neighboring Bolivia in the massive spread of Altiplano culture, that of the high plateau by Lake Titicaca, to our city. These dances would fill the populace with joy and emotion.
Even though everything was marvelous, there was something that to me seemed not quite right. I wondered what had happened to our ancestral chicha, our drink of fermented corn. Has it somehow gone out of style? Have people forgotten the importance of this drink in our feasts? How has beer come to replace chicha in our feasts. Not even the traditional women, the mamachas, with their beautiful broad skirts and white hats were drinking chicha. They looked radiant with joy holding on to their bottles of beer and saluting and toasting their families.
As they say, in matters of taste their can be no distaste. But it is sad that we are losing our essence and especially this great drink.
Still, tradition continues in other ways. In this celebration people eat as a main dish the chiriuchu, with its mountain of meats, cheese, seaweed, and fish eggs, as well as the ever present potatoes and corn. It is the main actor that satisfies with its variety of flavors. Both locals and guests enjoy this great, festive food of Cuzco. Of course, you will also find a wide range of food present and available.
There were our delicious anticuchos (skewers of grilled, seasoned meat), the famous rice and egg, the chicharrón of pork, various saltados (stir fries), and the delicious desserts of the town. On sale was also seasonal fruit, such as capulí and the little pears they bring from the sacred valley. From them they make the amazing pear soup that is typical of this feast in particular.
Despite the large crowds filling the streets of San Sebastian there was no problem for the lovers of Cuzco’s food. The gastronomic fair satisfied them with its variety of dishes which perfumed and adorned the scene.