Food & DrinksStreet Food

Sandwiches Thrive on Cuzco Streets

Sandwiches dominate much of the food scene in Cusco.  This might surprise, given the current Peruvian emphasis on gastronomy, the growth of good restaurants in the city, and the overwhelming popularity of things like roterisserie chicken (pollo a la brasa) and chifa (Peruvian Chinese food).  Fast food firms, such and the Peruvian Bembos and the multinational McDonald’s and KFC, captured a large part of the market, but there is more.

While hamburger and chicken shops have claimed ever more of people’s wallets. they also train people’s tastes and desires in their easy association with fun and progress.  As a result, the idea of sandwiches, associated with ease and modernity, spread virally in today’s society.

Eating sandwiches has become common all over the world in recent years.  They fit the dominant values of ease, economics, and “good” taste.  They are also easy to prepare.  Ease of preparation and ease of eating caused sandwiches to take a name in the first place.

The origin of the term sandwich comes from England.  It is claimed that John Montague, fourth Earl of Sandwich was a committed gambler.  As a result, much of his time was spent at the gaming table.

History claims that his illness went to such an extent that one day he found no time to eat, since he was in the middle of a game.  For that reason he decided to call one of his servants and have him bring something to eat.  After a few minutes the assistant came back with a platter of food.  The count took two slices of bread and slapped a slice of meat in between.  Then he lifted it and ate.  In this way he created a new kind of food named for him.  Maybe the most curious part of all this is that in his will he stated that perhaps the most important legacy he gave was the creation of the “sandwich.”

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This story is interesting as a myth.  It locates sandwiches in the values of ease, but it also places them in the context of gaming and obsession, both of wich may be important values in today’s fast paced world.

Offering Sandwiches
Offering Sandwiches

But the story misses some important points.  People ate bread with fillings long before the Earl of Sandwich and his manias.  Furthermore, in the nineteenth century bread was the staple of life for Europeans, not in the sense of something to accompany a meal, but as the meal in itself.

Bread and beer were what the ordinary person consumed.  When the Earl of Sandwich lifted bread and meat he was following what became a goal of the economy, to take common things, brand them, and spread them as a mass phenomenon

Even in the city of Cuzco, the land of corn and potatoes, sandwiches have made strong inroads.  They are eaten all over the place, even in good restaurants.  They have even evolved in conjunction with gastronomic movements in the city, making them part of the city’s gastronomy.   For example, with the growing popularity among tourists of alpaca meat, even alpaca sandwiches are now offered.

Kinds of Sandwiches
Kinds of Sandwiches

But it may be at night that sandwiches have had the largest impact.  While strolling the streets on ones way to visit people, or go home, or later to go or come from a club, sandwiches tempt from streets corners in many parts of the city.  They are now part of what it is to eat in Cuzco.

For example, on Saphy Street, just off the main Plaza, beginning at 6 or 7 pm sandwich carts begin to arrive.  They set up, with their grill and flame, to offer  the tempting nocturnal hot sandwiches, such as made of hot dog, hamburger, grilled meat, chicken, egg, or chorizo.  Crowds form around the carts at night, especially on weekends, where they are perhaps the most consumed food there is.  It is fast, and easy.

Sandwich Cart on Saphy Street
Sandwich Cart on Saphy Street

One finds sandwich carts in all parts of the city of Cusco.  They also set up at the doors of discotheques. During any festival or other event, sandwich carts appear to fill people’s hunger for something to snack on without breaking the bank.

Wherever you go in Cuzco, from upscale to the streets, you will find sandwiches making even bigger the legacy of the Earl of Sandwiches, all the while making sandwiches ever more something typical in Cuzco.

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