Food Culture

The Famous Picantes and Chicha of Cuzco

Time of "Picante" in the Chicheria

Cuzco’s afternoons are every more beautiful as the rains get stronger. The combination of showers with son forms bars of colors we call arcoiris, or rainbow. During this time is when we are most like to see this figure that was so important to our ancestors that they venerated it.

During the afternoon, people go out to refresh their palate with a delicious Andean beverage called chicha. Both the normal corn chicha, called chicha de jora, and the version with strawberries, called frutillada, are drinks our people tend to have every day of the year.

The owners of the chicherias, places where chicha is sold, as well as the picanterias, places where also offer dishes of hot food, we call caseras and caseros. Every day they make up a large quantity of these drinks, especially the corn chicha. Some of these places open at ten am while others open only beginning at midday,

In all of these places, while they serve this famous drink that pleased our ancestors, they also offer small plates of food called picantes. In Spanish, the word picante means something spicy or hot from peppers, such as our ajies that elsewhere are called chiles. In Quechua, they are called uchu, a word which means the peppers and things made with them, such as dishes of food.

A Glass of Chicha (Walter Coraza Morveli)
A Glass of Chicha (Walter Coraza Morveli)

The owners of the chicherias make up the food, as well as the chicha, fresh everyday. They serve it at the moments of high demand, especially right after their establishments open.

People begin to arrive and drink the famous glasses of chicha. I should tell you that these are not ordinary glasses. They are very tall and wide and tend to contain more than a liter of chicha. We call these glasses caporales.

When the owners notice several people in their establishments then they serve the picantes. They plates rings when set on the tables. Sometimes the plates are filled with boiled potatoes and their green uchucuta, hot sauce. Other times they serve a delicious boiled corn we call mote. They might also set out a picante made from lisas, a native tuber different from the potato. You will also find various other preparations typical of our city.

A delicious Uchucuta (Walter Coraza Morveli)
A Delicious Uchucuta (Walter Coraza Morveli)

After the caseras have served the picante, the food, people begin to drink their glasses of chicha all the while conversing with their friends. The caseras do not repeat the service of plates when other people arrive. They only do this if the people are regulars. They make their experience in the chicheria just that much better by giving them some food to eat.

In this way the people of Cusco enjoy every day of the week doing what they find fun. Especially older people from our city cannot live without going to the chicheria to enjoy the famous Andean chicha and trading words, stories, and laughter with their friends.

 

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