Corn is a product that raises the name of Peru on high. It is one of our most important foods because of its relation to our ancestors and because we eat it every day.
While corn grows in much of Peru, one place in particular is very special for its cultivation. That is the Sacred Valley of the Incas where people dedicate themselves to growing a unique variety of big-grained, white corn. Nevertheless, corn comes in a wide variety of colors and of sizes.
There are many recipes that you can make from corn. You can cook soups and main dishes, as well as using it for side dishes. One clear example is the tamale. This ancient yet delicious food comes in two types: sweet and salty. You can obtain whichever you wish.
This delicious treat is about the same size as a cell phone. Wrapped in a once dried cornhusk it hides a delicious and delicate flavor. The sweet tamale, for its part, doesn’t have a filling other than the delicate composition like fine, soft, and sweet breadcrumbs.
In contrast, the savory tamale has inside it a small filling that consists of pieces of well-cooked onion, a little gravy, and an olive. This is what gives it that savory touch.
You can find tamales all year round in the city of Cuzco. The main ingredient, corn, is always available. Corn can be stored and so we have it to use the whole year round.
On the other hand we also have humintas. In Quechua these are called jumint’as. They are similar to the tamales but to make an huminta you need fresh corn and not dried corn. As a result you can only make humintas during the months when sweet corn grows on the stalks reaching for the sky.
Where do we find tamales and humintas? This maybe a question many people have when they come to Cuzco. You can find tamales in many stands around the city. Since tamales are made year round it is easy to find them.
On Cuzco’s main square, its Plaza de Armas, you can find excellent tamales under the Portal Belen. There is a stand there. A lady sits by big pots of hot sweet and savory tamales and is well known by everyone. The owner of the tamale stand and the maker of the tamales has participated in many national events, such as Mistura, and has won many awards and recognitions.
You can also find tamales on many street corners in the city. Look for a woman with an apron with white cloths covering big pots. You are probably seeing a tamal vendor.
But humintas are not so easily found. One of the places where you will find them is on the street Three Crosses of Gold (Tres Cruces de Oro), especially by the bus stop. Young people come up and offer humintas to passersby. This does not happen all year, however, but only in the months of fresh corn, like now.
In any case, these two foods, tamales and humintas, are very important within Cuzco’s traditional gastronomy. They please people’s palates with their flavors that go from generation to generation. Our ancestors have left us this heritage in our beautiful city of Cuzco.