20 December 2022
Why potato is so widely revered in Peru.
NOW the most commonly eaten vegetable in the world, potatoes shine most brightly in Peru. After originating from the wild Andes of Peru thousands of years ago, they have become a treasured crop worldwide and the star of Peruvian cuisine.
The humble potato’s story began more than 10,000 years ago on the shores of Lake Titicaca, in present-day Peru. The Incas are believed to have been the first to cultivate potatoes all the way up in the Andes mountain range, at 3,800 metres above sea level. Wild potato plants already grew around the lake, and communities of Inca farmers began domesticating the potato and learning how to preserve this sturdy veggie.
The Incas discovered that by dehydrating the potatoes into a substance called chuño, they could store it for up to 10 or even 15 years. Peruvian potatoes were versatile too. The Incans boiled, mashed, roasted, fermented in water to create a sticky toqosh, and ground to a pulp and soaked to create almidón de papa (potato starch).
Peruvian potatoes soon formed the basis of the Incan diet, sustaining great cities and Incan armies. It became a revered food, as the Incans also used potatoes to treat injuries, predict the weather, and make childbirth easier. The Incans even used the modest potato to measure time, as Incan units of time corresponded with the length of time it took to cook a potato to different consistencies.
It wasn’t until the mid-16th century that potatoes spread beyond the shores of South America. After Spanish Conquistadors ransacked Peru in hopes of finding gold, they instead discovered the potato.
Potatoes are more than just food in Peru, and are an important part of Peruvian heritage. Many local farmers cultivate different potato varieties to preserve historic traditions. Different communities trade special varieties of potatoes and gift them at weddings and celebrations.
Varieties like the Peruvian purple potato are incredibly high in antioxidants, making them super healthy.
Papa a la Huancaína is one of the most popular dishes in Peru. It’s made from slices of boiled potato drenched in a spicy cheese sauce that gets a kick from aji amarillo, a Peruvian yellow pepper. It is served with black olives and hard-boiled egg.
Causa Rellena, another traditional potato dish, is made with layers of mashed potato, vegetables, meat or fish and a spicy sauce with aji amarillo, packed into a round mould. It’s usually garnished with olives and hard-boiled eggs.
Lomo Saltado is the Peruvian version of a classic stir fry. Fried potatoes are mixed with marinated strips of sirloin, onions, tomatoes and soy sauce and served with steamed rice on cold winter’s days.
Chuño means ‘freeze-dried potatoes’ in the Quechua language, and it’s one of the oldest potato recipes in Peru. It’s made from potatoes that have been soaked in water, dried in the sun, and left to freeze overnight. You repeat the process until all the water evaporates and the potato fully dries. Once used as a reliable safeguard against crop failures, chuño can be stored for decades. Today, it’s a delicious addition to hearty soups and stews and can even be eaten on its own after rehydration.
Salchipapas is a fast food dish that is popular among street vendors in Peru. Potato French fries are teamed with thinly sliced, pan-fried beef or sausage and served with coleslaw, ketchup or mustard.
Source: Trafalgar.com Photo: Manuel Cerna Manrique