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Peruvian Gastronomy - History


The History of the Peruvian Gastronomy deepens its roots several centuries ago, producing one of the most precious cultural fusions in the contemporary world. According to the British magazine The Economist, the Peruvian Cuisine is one of the most kept secrets of the world.

The Incas - Quechua cuisine

A sortie of Peruvian red peppers In the 15th century the Inca Empire, building on earlier cultures, already had an ingenious agricultural system using elaborate terracing and irrigation to cultivate food on steep Andean slopes and in coastal river valleys.

What they grew mostly was the potato, the basic element in soups, stews and the pachamanca - a mixture of meats and vegetables cooked with hot stones in a covered pit in the ground. Leftover potatos from the pachamanca were put out to dry and, when the bits were re-hydrated and cooked in a stew, they became carapulca (p.172) (from the Quechua kala, 'hot stone'; purka, 'hole in the ground'), eaten throughout the country to this day.

According to the International Potato Center in Lima, the Incas cultivated over 1,000 varieties of potato. While many varieties have disappeared, of the staggering 2,000 varieties of potatoes presently identified, hundreds are still commonly found at market stalls in the Andes there are still wild potatoes and their relatives growing in rural areas.

Pizarro and his Spanish Conquistadores introduced this modern-day staple to the world when they took it back to Europe in the 16th century. The potato was to become such a common element in the diet of the Western world that in only a hundred years people had forgotten where it came from. Even so, as a linguistic reminder, in Finnish supermarkets today you'll find potatoes under the sign that says 'peruna'.

Another native food crucial to life in the pre-hispanic Andes was quinua. Held sacred by the Incas, they called it the 'mother again', and at sowing time the soil of the first furrow was ceremonially broken by a golden implement. Quinua is once again coming into it's own.

Inca farmers cultivated less frost resistant crops and fruits on the lower mountain slopes and river valleys. The most important of these was maize, the basic ingredient of Andean beer known in urban Peru by the name chichi, a Caribbean work brought by the Spanish - made only by women under the watchful eye of the corn goddess Mamasara. You can still see the chichera working her magic today in villages high in the Andes. She continues an ancient tradition of sprouting or macerating the corn, boiling it with water, sometimes adding bits of charcoal to ward off evil spirits and then fermenting the chicha in special large, round-bottomed clay jars, set in reed baskets to keep them upright.

The most significant inheritance from the Incas that continues to give contemporary Peruvian food its underlying signature taste, though, is the flavoring from different kinds of ají and rocoto, or hot peppers, and from herbs such as huacatay, which were, and still are, used by Andean peoples to season their boiled and roasted dishes.

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