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A National Tradition, Causa a la Limeña, Stars in Cuzco

One of the most typical dishes of Peruvian food is the “causa a la limeña” , (Lima-style causa). It is widespread throughout Peru and it is said that this is a dish that has roots deep in the Pre-Columbian past.

Causa is a layered terrine made from Peru’s yellow potatoes which have a beautiful, rich color with a filling of chicken, fish, or some ingredient depending on the creativity of the cook. The key is the layer of intense yellow, mashed potatoes that serve as a base and top with the filling inside.

This is a key dish in creole cuisine. It exemplifies the focus on insides and layering that is key in this mountainous terrain where potatoes and minerals lie inside the earth.

The name of the dish, causa, is Peruvian slang to address or name a friend, because two friends are said to be close like the layers of this dish. The name also draws them into something larger than themselves, a friendship with its own rhythm and dynamics.

The dish stems from Pre-Columbian potatoes, something as Peruvian as its mountains, and was well known in the Viceregal Period. The name is said to come from the Quechua word kausay, which means life, existence or those things that are necessary to maintain life, such as food. The potato itself is said to be labeled by this word.

There is another thought about its name. Wikipedia argues that though this dish was common during the period of the Spanish colony it did not have a specific name. However when the Liberator José de San Martin said “From this moment Peru is free and independent because of the general will of the people and because of the justice of its cause.” The word for cause in Spanish is causa. As a result, Wikipedia argues, the dish obtained its name and reference to the Peruvian nation. It continues as a symbol of Peruvian national identity and patriotism.

In Cuzco, causa a la limeña is offered in many of the various restaurants that are located in Cusco’s monumental core, the zone where tourists are commonly found. It has a life in Novo-Andean cuisine where restauranteurs refine it with different fillings and sauces, and in basic Peruvian food where it is served as a side or as an appetizer in restaurant after restaurant.

One of the most visited streets in Cuzco is the Marques street. This street begins one block from the Plaza de Armas, the main square, and connects it with the San Pedro Market. There you can find restaurants for both locals and tourists that offer causa, such as Dolce Vita and Johny Rocket.

Entrance to Dolce Vita
Entrance to Dolce Vita

If you go down this street you will see these two restaurants filled with people. You can also see people in the doors enjoying a causa a la limeña or maybe a dessert.

These two places are very popular with people from every social class, along with visitors to the city. Here they make the classic causa with a filling of shredded chicken with mayonnaise, and decorated with a slice of boiled egg, olives, anf two thin slices of aji limo. It is an attractive sight and along with its taste and nutritional value it makes causa a much demanded dish.

In order to write more knowledgeably about the causa limeña I decided to enter one of these two places. It’s name is the Italian Dolce Vita and so immediately my mind filled with sweet flavors.

When I went in the whole restaurant was full. There was no room and so I had to wait. Once I was seated in a table in the back I looked around. The restaurant’s decoration is simple. In the back there are only four tables with four chairs each. There is also a glass bar where there are small rotating stools where diners can also sit while enjoying their food.

Instead of pictures on the walls there are mirrors which reflect the tables and clients. From the ceiling hang orange and white lamps which give a brightness to the restaurant

The spot where they serve up the food is located by the door to the street. It is a bar with glassed in display cases for displaying the food. There are several desserts there waiting to be tried, but the dish that captures the most attention is the causa a la limeña, the waitress said when she brought the menu.

Causa a la Limeña at Dolce Vita
Causa a la Limeña at Dolce Vita

With that recommendation, of course I decided to try the causa. When the server brought it to me I was excited to taste it. In the first spoonful I could feel my palate be seduced by the creaminess of the potatoes, and the chicken and avocado combined well with the shredded chicken and mayonnaise. I felt a celebration start on my taste buds. By the time I was finished I was absolutely fascinated with the combination of tastes of the causa. To slake my thirst I ordered an orange juice. My experience was a good one.

Dolce Vita is a place where people take a pause in their daily round. The dishes offered there are perfect for these too brief breaks. They include causa a la limeña, as well as juices, desserts, stuffed rocoto peppers along with baked tallarines (noodles), and more. The attention is a bit perfunctory because of the large number of guests. Of all the offerings, the flavor of the causa a la limeña stands out.

This is indeed a popular dish on the coast and elsewhere in Peru. Its fillings can vary as can the dishes it accompanies. You can find many recipes for it on line (such as here).

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