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Stinging, Yet Popular and Delicious: the Rocoto Rellenos of Cusco

Rocoto Relleno Ready to Eat (Walter Coraza Morveli)

The people of Cusco desire their much loved rocoto rellenos (stuffed rocoto peppers). They are drawn by the absorbing color of the peppers, by the combination of ground beef, diced carrots, and peas, as well as by the spiciness that gives hot tickles to your palate.

They are popular treats. We find them in our daily paths on the San Agustin, San Bernardo, Ayacucho, and Maruri streets. The vendors go into the streets from 8 AM to offer passersby this wonder. In order to keep their freshly made merchandise hot they use a tray lined with paper from sugar bags on which they stack these delights along with boiled potatoes. They then wrap the whole tray and paper with white cloth or with colored cloth according to each vendor’s taste.

Besides in the streets you will find rocotos rellenos in the popular markets of Cusco, including San Pedro, Wanchaq, Ttio, and Rosaspata. Women dressed in colorful aprons and with cloth hats to protect them from the sun. They offer you this treat during the day at a price of 2 for 2.50/S or 1 for 1.50/S.

The last time I was struck by the sudden urge to have some rocotos rellenos on the street was at 12 noon. Before having lunch I just wanted a couple of these wonders so I went to the San Pedro market. I could not find anyone selling them. I thought that maybe the municipal police had come and scared them away. Then I realized that could not be the case since there were other merchants in the streets.

I did not want to quedarme con las ganas, as we say, just be stuck with my urges so I had to go looking. Luckily at the bus stop on Ayacucho street I found a vendor. I asked for a couple of these stuffed hot peppers and she served them to me in a white plastic bag. There were two rocotos and 6 small boiled potatoes. Happy now, I asked her why there were no other vendors out at that time.

The casera (vendor) Carmen’s face suddenly shone as she said “no, casero (customer), the majority of the people make up just enough rocotos so that they are all gone by noon, or certainly by 1 PM, before lunch. I fry up my rocotos rellenos beginning at 8:30 AM, a little later, because I have to first take care of my children until they go to school. I just barely get into the street to sell around 10 AM and I stay here, selling, until 2 or 3 PM. My caseros (regulars) know me. They know they can find me during those times.”

Her rocotos were hot and tasted very good. I loved the light spiciness in the ingredients and so I asked her if she always sold them at this bus stop.

“Yes casero. Here you will find me from Monday to Saturday. I only skip Sundays in order to take care of my house that day.”

After enjoying the rocoto and the potatoes I said goodbye to the casera Carmen.

In Cusco we also have a rocoto relleno with our traditional dish called Capchi de Habas. In our restaurants these stuffed peppers are also sold as a main dish where they may accompany some beans or lentils and rice. You will also find them in the anticucho shops. They are often served by themselves or along with a brochette of anticucho, whether one of beef heart or beef intestines.

You will find rocotos rellenos in many regions of Peru: Arequipa, Lima, Abancay. The imagination of those who make them flies freely. Some add ingredients and others just make them according to the traditions of each region.

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