Flavorful, Tender, and Crispy: Cusco’s Chicharrón
You can eat a plate of chicharron at any time of the day. It could be in the morning for breakfast, a dish of chicharron and a cup of coffee as a means of beinning the day with style. It could be in the afternoon for lunch, or at night you might have a few small pieces rewarmed with Oropesa bread and a cup of strong coffee. No matter, it is always a delight.
A good dish of pork chicharron has become a tradition in the Imperial City. You will find it in our markets, in the many fiestas we celebrate during the year, in gastronomic fairs, and in special occasions such as anniversaries or birthdays.
Its price e varies according to where you find it. In our fiestas it is often 8/S or more. In the established chicharronerías on Tres Cruces, San Andrés or Pampa del Castillo streets the dish runs 15/S.
You receive a portion of pork chicharrón which is pork that is braised and then fried till crispy outside. It is accompanied by mote (or soaked and cooked kernels on once dried corn), fried rounds of potatoes, and a salad of onion and mint (hierbabuena). Hierbabuena is from Cusco and has a sweet mint taste that combines beautifully with the rest of the ingredients. We love chicharrón and it demands we eat it all the way down to the bone.
Pampa del Castillo street is only two blocks from the Plaza de Armas, our main square. This street is famous for its chicharrón. Local and foreign tourists gather there to enjoy a good dish of Cusco-style chicharrón. The various establishments open around 9 AM when people start to come looking for chicharrón. Scents waft outward from each and entice people with each local’s flavor and stye.
During festivities the sales of this dish grow. You will always see the vendors there with their food. They will have their small stoves and pans ready to fry up the pork. These are an attraction to many people who love the sensation of cooking and who enjoy a good piece of pork.
I remember eating chicharrón in the sounthern part of the Cusco Valley, in Saylla. Among the variety of chicharronerías (restaurants specializing in this pork delicacy) an adobe house without a lot of signage caught my attention. It just had a small blackboard by the foor on which it said “Today, Chicharrón”. When I went in, I saw five tables with their chairs. On the walls it had pictures of Cusco’s archeological sites and a bowl of fresh ground hot sauce sat on the colorful table cloths. A woman quickly came out of the kitchen with a flowery apron above her skirt and wearing a hat. I ordered a portion of chicharrón. As she was leaving she told me to have a seat.
I waited less than 10 minutes and she brought out a plate of hot chicharrón. Just seeing it was seducing. However its first taste won me. It was flavorful and tender, as well as juicy. When combined with the corn (mote), the fried potato, the finely sliced onion, and the mint I felt an entire fiesta of flavors on my palate. I let the fork and knife on the table and ate as if at home, with my hands.
Saylla receives many visitors who come to eat there. It is known for its food and its natural scenery. Every weekend families escape the city to enjoy the countryside and its flavors. In this town, the sale of chicharrón has become a source of income for the townsmen. Small, family businesses have sprung up. The entire mains trip on the highway is filled with signs offering fresh chicharrón. They also offer cuy (guinea pig), trout, and adobo, but the traditional chicharrón is the largest and most succulent draw.
Cusco-style chicharrón is, in my opinion, one of the most underrated dishes in Peruvian cuisine. I would easily place it in the country’s top ten plates, a difficult list to make indeed.
It’s also special in that it can be prepared outside Peru without hard-to-find ingredients. “Country style” boneless ribs are how the stores name the cuts to use in the States. Fry in lard along with the potato halves peeled and sliced lenghtwise. Stack fried pork on top of potatoes, then sliced red onion, then fresh spearmint leaves and hit it all with the lime juice.
It was not too experimental for my American heartland family. Great crowd-pleaser.
My in-laws are from Arequipa and they have conceded that the Cusco-style is superior to Arequipa-style chicharrón, which basically rubs the pork with garlic and fries in oil, served with potatoes and cancha. The Lima-style is a sandwich topped with fried sweet potato and sarsa criolla which, in my opinion, takes third place of three, nothing to write home about.
Chicharron is indeed delicious. Thank you, Colin. I might note that some people just season and then fry the pork but the more classic style is to braise it in seasoned liquid until the liquid evaporates and the pork fries in its own fat.
No problem, thank you for the info on Pampa del Castillo. I had heard about Saylla and put it on the list for the next time I was in the area, but it’s nice to have an option without going too far.