Food Culture

Two Types of Menus, A Modern Wayruru in Cuzco

Colorful Ravioles at Cicciolina

You go in to a restaurant, one of the some four hundred near Cuzco’s Plaza de Armas, and the server brings you a menu. It has pages of different dishes, as if it were an encyclopedia. You might wonder how a small restaurant could possibly keep on hand the necessary ingredients to make so many dishes. Sometimes, you might have the experience of asking for a certain dish and they tell you it is not available that day while directing you to a much smaller set of dishes than what is on the menu.

The next day, or later, you go into a different restaurant. The server brings you a menu. The first thing you notice is how much smaller it is. There are just a few appetizers, salads, soups, main dishes and desserts. Without taking into account the beverage list it may only cover a thin page.

Precise and Defined Offerings at Cicciolinas on Triunfo Street
Precise and Defined Offerings at Cicciolinas on Triunfo Street

Two different restaurants of the same quality–let’s just say for the sake of argument. Two different menus. Two different culinary cultures.

The one really is a kind of encyclopedia. In it you see what is currently popular in Peru, as well as what was popular, and what will soon disappear. You also see what it standard, the kind of offerings that signify that the restaurant is of quality and that it can provide you with what you desire.

While variety is a clear manifestation of quality, in this regard, there is another aspect of importance, abundance.

The menu reminds you of the aesthetic with which dishes are served in Cuzco. They carry ample portions and usually a mixture of ingredients to bring together the different pieces of the cosmos that are of importance to people. Often you will see colors, such as red and yellow, as if this were two cosmic colors like a wayruru seed that signifies the unity of oppositions. (The wayruro seed is red and black, though red and yellow are more common in foods.)

The abundance may also take the form of piling things up to make a hill or mountain, the image for the earth that gives us food, from which we come and to which we shall go.

In contrast, the other menu suggests formal culinary training and the classes of clients who would love such. It is spare, meagre, like the waistlines of elites who tut tut about the expanding waistlines of ordinary people during these days of concern for an obesity epidemic.

More Encyclopedic Offerings at Cafe La Paz on Triunfo Street
More Encyclopedic Offerings at Cafe La Paz on Triunfo Street

Like the menu and the waist lines, the portions also tend towards scanty. But they make up for that in quality of design, of cooking, and quality of presentation. Flavors are expected to be fulsome, such that a bite or two and you are satisfied.

The restaurant shows off its knowledge and culinary skill by offering just a few things that they know they can prepare extremely well and that are particular to them. When they serve dishes from the canon, whichever canon, they have to vary them so that they can show off authorship, and authority.

In these different menus, two very different culinary worlds confront one another. Without doubt, mixing will happen. But for right now, like an Andean dualism, these two present themselves as two side of the gastronomic coin in Cuzco, and much more broadly, in Peru.

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