Food & Drinks

Cuzco’s Wondrous Variety of Breads

Cuzco consumes a lot of bread and that bread is still made artisanally and often in traditional ovens.  There is not just one kind of bread in Cuzco, but a whole range.  They are far more than food, they each have their distinctive taste and have, as a result, different uses according to the occasion.

Bread challenges potatoes for the place of most eaten food in Cuzco.  Without a doubt it is a key to Cuzco’s diet.  Nevertheless, people do not buy and store bread.  It is made and sold fresh each day.

In Quechua bread is called “t’anta” and in Spanish simply “pan” where it sounds more like a sacrament than a simple food.  In Inca times a bread of corn, sanko was one of the ritual offerings people made to the Gods.  In Christianity bread suggests the host in communion and the Last Supper.  It also remits to the Lord’s Prayer and the phrase “Give us this day our daily bread.”  Whether “t’anta” or “pan”, bread is so much more than merely food.

Our variety of breads that every day make their way into Cuzco’s markets and doors each day incllude:   pan huaro, pan trigo, pan ch’uta, pan Oropesa, and pan jurk’a, all made in the typical traditional ovens of Cuzco.

Wheat Bread For Sale at the Market
Wheat Bread For Sale at the Market

The flavors of bread, even though mostly flour and water, generally with some kind of leavening, can vary widely.  It changes according to place, the specifics of the ingredients, as well as the techniques of the bakers. For example in rural Cuzco the bread is a bit tough and sweet.  It is made from wheat flour but has no yeast.  Nevertheless, it is much loved by local people.

One of the most popular breads in Cuzco, pan ch’uta is widely recognized for it unique flavor,  It is the special pride of Cuzco’s Oropesa province where the bread is made every day and from where it makes its way to Cuzco.  The demand for this bread is strong and it is even exported outside of Cuzco.   When people come an go from Cuzco they often follow the traditions of buying the big rounds of pan ch’uta and carrying them as gifts to their family members as a symbol of gratitude brought from Cuzco.

A Woman Selling Chuta Bread
A Woman Selling Chuta Bread

Another bread from the town of Oropesa is simply called pan oropesa. It is also widely consumed in the city of Cuzco.  Not as sweet as the famous pan ch’uta, it is the bread of preference to serve with soups such as chicken soup or the famous adobo.  The people of Cuzco tend to eat soup every day.  This bread is also preferred for making breakfast sandwhiches of reheated lechón.  Together they make an excellent combination of flavors.

The pan jurk’a is a very important bread.  It represents the main value of social life in Cuzco, that of ayni or reciprocity —“today for me tomorrow for you.” This bread is only made for a special purpose.  The people who every year sponsor feasts and are called “mayordomos” give this breaad to those they elect (jurk’a) to help carry the bruden of feast sponsorship.   The bread is given as a symbol of gratitude to thank the people for accepting the responsabilityof helping carry out this important task.   This special bread is sweet and delicious.  Just as it is hard to turn down the jurk’a request, so it is hard to resist this wonderfully delicious bread.

Pan Huaro is the bread that is the most consumed in the mornings with a hot drink as part fo breakfast or in the evening as what is called “lonche” a light meal of coffee and bread.

Children Selling Bread in the Morning
Children Selling Bread in the Morning

Cuzco’s breads begin to be sold very early.  By four am the bakers and other workers are setting out the bread for sale.  The Bakery owners have other workers who come to distribute it to all the points of sale.  Most of these latter are children or adolescents.  They get up very early to go and sell the bread in huge baskets that they hang from their backs.   Called panachos or simply panaderos, they deliver the bread to every store, and even to many houses.  By buying bread from these panachos early in the morning people get a benefit called yapa, that is the addition of an extra roll or so.  When you buy retail straight from the stores you do not get a yapa.

In addition one can buy this bread from before dawn in the markets.  It comes from all the different places where it is made in reed baskets covered with hevy cloths to keep it warm.  The women with white hats that we just call “madres”  (“mothers”) offer it to the public.  They sell the delicious variety of Cuzco’s breads.

Huaro Bread in Baskets
Huaro Bread in Baskets

A dance in the city of Cuzco, called panaderos,  represents the bread industry.  Performed in days of festival, young people dress up in white costumes and dance through the crowd distributing  bread to them.

The town of Oropesa also has a festival every year in which their bakeries are opened to the public in general so that they can observe the process of makeing bread.  The most well known bread makersalso will share their recipies even though these have been handed down for generations as family secrets.  On the day of the bread festival there is also a pan ch’uta contest where they judges decide which of the Bakeries (called hornos) will have honor that year of being called the best ch’uta of the year.  For many people the flavor of ch’uta is so distinctive and that they see little difference between the different hornos.

Maybe we just need a really fine palate to be able to taste all the different ch’uta breads and distinguish which is the best.  In any case, Cuzco has an amazing variey of delicious breads.  Some are meant to accompany savory foods and others for sweet dishes.  Finally there are those that are eaten alone since they need nothing else, they are so good.

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