Peru is in love with chicken. Not only is it passionate about its own pollo a la brasa, but it is devoted to Colonel Sanders. And, to promote that devotion, KFC recently opened next to the Cathedral on Cuzco’s Plaza de Armas. Despite Cuzco’s national pride, there is no pollo a la brasa on the square, only a faux Kentucky Colonel with his original or crispy fried chicken.
Located under the colonnade of the Portal de Carnes, KFC occupies a space with tradition that has been much contested. For decades this was the site of a Cuzco institution, the Cafe Ayllu, whose name is a Quechua word meaning family, community with all kinds of overtones of mutual aid and solidarity.
But the Archdiocese which owns the building refused to accept a renewal of their lease opening a public struggle over the space and the value of local, Cuzco institutions on the main square. It was widely rumored that Archbishop Ugarte, who as stated with perhaps unintended irony on the Archdiocese’s webpage “has Cuzco roots, as a child he spent marvelous vacations in the hacienda house of his grandmother in Yucay”, had arrangements to rent the space to Starbucks though that plan fell through because of the controversy.
Almost two years from the day the Ayllu closed its doors on the plaza and moved successfully to Almagro Street as well as opening a second location on Marquez Street, KFC opened in the remodeled space. Both Ayllu locations generally brim with Cuzqueños, showing the vitality of local institutions, but then the KFC also draws lots of people.
Just down from its sister global fast food chain, MacDonalds, and near the excellent restaurant owned by the Lima Chef Coque Ossio, Limo, with its pretensions of globalizing Peruvian food, the KFC seems to draw few foreign tourists. Its main clientelle, seems to be Cuzqueños and Peruvian tourists.
Indeed, KFC is one of the most recognized trademarks in Peru. It is the most recognized food trademark, if one removes Coca Cola’s beverages from that category. With some thirty years in Peru, KFC has become a favorite of the Peruvian market, even if it only recently came to Cuzco.
In the struggle on the plaza, or in the fingers lifting fried chicken and fries, we see part of a cultural and institutional struggle in Cuzco. KFC on the Portal de Carnes forms a line with the Cathedral, that contains many of Cuzco’s most sacred icons, such as the Lord of Temblors, the Mamacha Belen, and the Unu Punku–a place of origin. But they are aligned with icons of the new global society, The Church, golden arches and the Colonel.
Local identity and local culture seem to have been banished to the edges, unless they can fit into photos or displays for the walls of KFC and MacDonalds as “local color”.
Nevertheless, Cuzqueños like everyone else are drawn to these new global, trade-marked temples of fast food. KFC has arrived and, as a large billboard on the main entrance to the downtown says, it is happy to be here.