Customs, Food Culture, Traditional Food

The Twelve Dishes of Holy Week and Good Friday

Oyuco with Fish Eggs

On Good Friday Cuzco commemorates the passion and death of Jesus Christ. It is a day of reflection, where everyone laughs, tells stories, shares experiences. Above all we consider it most important that the family gather together today to celebrate by enjoying a meal of the 12 traditional dishes. These include soups and main courses. This is the custom of the people of Cuzco who celebrate with immense faith, fervor, and devotion every year.

When dawn breaks over our mountains it is our custom to go out looking for cactus in the form of a cross. People will often climb up the mountains since it is there where these long and thorny cactuses grow. People keep them in their homes to bring blessings and good fortune as a good augery and because of faith in the mountains. They place the cross of thorns above their door. It is common for all the youth and adult to get up early and go looking for the crosses as well as to receive blows from a whip and forgiveness of sins.

Today we will eat the twelve dishes. These delights consist of a variety of flavors prepared with products from our region. The center of the meal is fish. It is the most popular and people seek it out, suffering immense queues to buy this food from the waters.

Each family will then make their preparations according to their customs and the fish they were able to obtain. Some will make fried fish and some ceviche. The goal is to eat fish. Instead of ocean fish some families prefer local trout in its various forms, fried, baked, or otherwise. It is most important the fish be fresh.

Corn Chowder (Lawa de Maiz)
Corn Chowder (Lawa de Maiz)

Among the soups you will find corn chowder, Friday soup, soup from lisas (ollucos), and shell fish soup. The main dishes may include commonly fish and broad bean capchi. Among the desserts one finds mazamorra (purple pudding), rice pudding, stewed peaches, empanadas, small breads, suspiros (sighs), and jurka bread.

It is also our custom to watch the special movies of Holy Week. Even though we already know them from memory, we still watch them. Sometimes we just have them on as background while we enjoy our food. Among the popular films are Ben Hur, the Passion fo Christ, The Ten Commandments, and others. The point is to spend time with your family while enjoying film.

Tarwi Aji with Fish
Tarwi Aji with Fish

Even though it is our custom to have twelve dishes in memory of the twelve apostles, often people will only have six because of limits on time and energy. They will just prepare the ones that are most available. Furthermore, twelve dishes is an awful lot of food. With six plates you can eat and get seconds still till full. There often remains food for the latter in the day.

Little by little we are losing the custom of having twelve dishes.

While thinking about Holy Week I decided to ask my colleagues Brayan and Arnold how their families celebrate.

Brayan said “ on Good Friday my family gets together from very early int eh morning to make the necessary purchases and prepare the twelve dishes.

“The day before we tend to go to the market of Vino Canchon. There we buy all the needed ingredients to prepare our dishes for Friday lunch. We eat lisas with fish eggs, corn choder, aji of tarwi, capchi of broad beans, fried fish with rice, and a salad. We also have deserts such as stewed peaches with apples, purple pudding, rice pudding, pudding with chancaca, and the delicious sweet empanadas.”

Stewed Peach
Stewed Peach

Walter: “Do you practice the fast in your house?

Brayan: “In the morning we fast to be able to finish up the twelve dishes at midday. When it arrives we gather with the whole family around the table to eat our dinner. While we enjoy each of the dishes we also are talking, sharing and reflecting a bit about Good Friday and enjoying the food.”

Walter: “What is your tradition of eating these dishes? With which do you begin to awaken your palate?”

Brayan: “We begin with the soups, such as the lisa lunch and corn chowder which is one of my mother’s favorites. She inherits the traditions of Cuzco and for us, as a result, enjoying this delicious creamy soup is a pleasure. Then we continue with the main dishes, such as fried fish with rice and salad, broad bean capchi, tarwi aji, and then our dessert. My mother serves us small portions so that we might eat some of all.

Rice Pudding with Purple Pudding
Rice Pudding with Purple Pudding

Walter: “What other traditions do you tend to carry out on this day?”

Brayan: “In the afternoon, after enjoying the delicious food of Holy Week, we enjoy movies about the passion and death of Jesus. We all get together and have a good time. In this way we make good memories to keep in the chest of our lives.“

Walter: “Thank you Brayan. Arnold? How does you family celebrate Good Friday?”

Arnold: “The whole family gets together the day before to make all the preparation. From very early in the morning people got o the market to buy all the necessary ingredients. As you know, Holy Week is one of the most important feasts of the year in Cuzco. These days everyone gets together to go out and purchase the things they need for their celebration, especially to make the twelve dishes which is an important custom for this feast.”

Holy Week Empanada
Holy Week Empanada

Walter: “What are your family’s traditions for celebrating Good Friday?”

Arnold: “When I was a child I would anxiously wait for Holy Week so I could enjoy teh pastries and desserts, especially the empanadas. I loved to eat the empanadas. When Good Friday would arrive I would get up early before any one else, and would then wake up my family. The first thing they would say was “Today we are going to fast until lunch time. So, feeling a lot of hunger, all of us would go out. The guys would go to the sports field where we would play soccer until twelve noon. The girls would prepare the parade of delicious foods. When we got back from playing soccer the table would be filled with food. We would enjoy it, all of us together, the whole family. At the same time we would watch television. We would watch various programs as well as the movies about Jesus Christ. The films would make many people in the family shed a tear or two.”

Cuzco’s families have a rich tradition for celebrating Holy Week. Wee invite you to come and explore it with us.

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