Peruvian Food And Textiles

In our welcome meeting, our guide promised that they wouldn’t spring any mystery foods on us, then tell us after what we’d eaten.

He lied.

Eating in Peru was part of the new adventure. We already had a couple of days to warm up to new flavors. That first day in Lima we tried a hamburger place and discovered the French fries were a little different than we were used to, the first of many potato variations we’d sample. We tried Inca Cola, thinking it’d be caramel colored and flavored like any other cola we’d had. But no, it was yellow, and sweet, and tasted like a cross between cream soda and bubble gum.

The first evening our tour group was together we attended a buffet, with stews of types of meats and potatoes. One of the meats was cow lungs, but no, they warned us up front, that wasn’t the source of the fib.

The next day, after flying to the highlands and visiting the school in Chinchero we also visited a weaving cooperative. As luck would have it, they not only demonstrated weaving, they demonstrated typical Peruvian food for our lunch.

Our menu included these small tastes:

  • Toasted corn – similar to corn nuts
  • A spicy green sauce, and a salsa of chopped peppers and onion
  • A paste, I think of potato, corn, and lima bean with diced potatoes in it.
  • Soup – a nice broth with quinoa and a small potato.
  •  A bread, probably deep friend
  • Lima and lupine beans
  • Chicken breast
  • Sweet potatoes – the best I’ve ever tasted
  • A mystery item, meat, about 1/2 inch by 1 inch
  • After lunch drinks: mint/coca tea and a half shot of anise liquor

Quite good, all in all.

Before we unveil the mystery, you may have noticed a mention of lupine beans. My ears did a double-take when I heard that, I always thought lupine was a flower. And so it is…

Lupine variety in demo garden at Huaca Pucllana, Lima, Peru

Not quite the same as its cousin I saw on Mt. Rainer.

Lupine growing wild on Mt. Rainier, Washington state

For all I know there could be a huge secret stash on Mt. Rainier once the flowers go to seed, but I’d assume that branch of the family isn’t full of beans. From what our guide told us of the Peru version their bean is highly nutritious once the bitter alkaloids are removed, an onerous process. They look similar to lima beans only light yellow, and have a mild flavor.

Now to the mystery. I’ve dropped a hint or two, in the lead off picture and a reference in the last post.

That’s roasted guinea pig featured in the lead picture. Called “cuy” by the natives, it’s considered a delicacy. My taste was less than delicate, it was mostly bone. I did get skin with a bare hint of meat, it reminded me of the skin of a Filipino dish called Lechon (pig, roasted over a pit.)  Perhaps our guide was reluctant to fess up because of the live cuy’s cuteness factor, or the thought that we could be eating someone’s pet.

The local ladies had demonstrated lunch, now it was time for the textiles.

The raw material for the yarn comes from the alpaca, a cousin of the llama, and a Peruvian form of cotton. After harvesting, clumps of dirt or twigs are removed by hand, and the fibers are washed using a root called Sacha Paraqay for soap. It is then hand spun into yarn.

Hand Spinning Yarn
Skilled Hands

Spinning yarn is a craft that takes a long time to master. Girls start learning young. In time, they’ll be using the drop spindle while walking, having conversations, etc. It’s said more than half of the time needed to create a textile is spent spinning the yarn.

Once the first ply is spun, the yarn is dyed using natural plants, bugs, and minerals.

I’d dye for that job
Natural Dyes

Leaves, bark, moss, corn, flowers, and seeds are all used to make varying shades of different colors.

For red colors, pigment from the cochineal beetle, which lives on the prickly pear cactus is used. The beetle’s raw pigment also serves as women’s lipstick and rouge. For yellow and green hues, the chilca bush is used. Indigo leaves and stems are used for dark blue. Aged lichen can also be used to dye the wool deep yellows and browns, and new lichen creates lighter yellows. Mineral salts like collpa can be used to create color fastness, alter hues, or intensify color saturation.

After the yarn is dyed and dried, 2-3 threads are respun together to add strength.

The yarn is now ready for the loom or the knitting needles.

Backstrap Loom

There are a couple types of looms. The backstrap loom can be used by one weaver, with one end tied off and the other tensioning the loom via a strap going around the weavers back. It is used for more complex patterns.

A New Trainee

Styles and patterns of textiles can be traced back to a village. Knowledgeable locals don’t have to ask other locals, “where are you from”, they can tell by the clothing.

Maybe they’ll be able ID me too, I picked up a sweater there. 80% alpaca, 20% cotton, soft and warm, and possibly knitted with some obscure Andean code hidden in its weave patterns. Quechan for “gringo.”

Food and clothing. The creative culture for both has a long and honorable history in Peru. Thanks to these cooperatives these ancient creative skills and techniques are being retained, both to the benefit of the Peruvians and those of us who come to visit.







31 thoughts on “Peruvian Food And Textiles

  1. pinklightsabre

    “I’d dye for that job,” nice. What about Oaxacan art? Did you ever get into that? Different I know, but I can relate to that more as my folks used to collect it and now I have a lot of it. It’s cool.

    Love the photo on your banner there, that’s killer. I’m hungry and this was no help Dave. Bill

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m not familiar with Oaxacan art. Google tells me it’s from Mexico, and despite all the places I’ve been, I’ve never been to Mexico. Sorry about the killer pun. 😉


  3. Love their hats!
    My brother and I had guinea pigs as pets growing up, but truthfully I think my parents were using them for a lesson in sex ed. I mean, why else would they deliberately tell us to get one male and one female (Arnold and Mitzi), put them in the pen together, and let’s see what happens? (Spoiler: they had babies.)
    So. Was that Arnold or Mitzi you were eating? 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s the sort of lessons I thought they were teaching at the school. If the tour company was coordinating with both the school and the coop, chances are it was one of the cousins of those cute little cuys in the coop at the school – maybe Pedro or Maria?

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m not sure if the whole pig is like that, but if you divide one of them into 20 pieces or so there’s not much in a piece. I think the boniest thing I’ve tried is frog legs, but I’ve never had sparrow. I have to wonder though, after you had sparrow, did you take up twitter?

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha! Them leaving the head on that little bugger is kind of off putting. I suspect that for many Peruvians, falling more on the poverty side of the ledger, that meat is more of an occasional luxury, and starches/vegetables/fruits rule the day.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s rich and on the oily side. The taste is unique and like a cross between duck and chicken. Even a whole one doesn’t have a lot of meat on it. I suppose they are popular in Peru because they are small and breed so easily. We saw many homes with their own guinea pig pens.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. The cover pic does not lead me to wish to eat a guinea pig! It looks like cooked road-kill ( hastily adding it’s my imagined road-kill). Love the weaving over-view, seems so labour intensive, but beautiful designs and tradition. Thanks for another great Peru post….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, the textiles do look seriously labor intensive. I can’t imagine what the price for some of their pieces would be if they were made in our economy given the hours it takes and the craft that goes into it.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. It’s always fascinating to learn about other cultures, especially when they have preserved their history so well. I do draw the line at eating guinea pigs, though….I can’t get the mental picture of the cute little pets out of my head!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. From what I understand some of the textile techniques were in danger of being lost. It’s only in recent years that a concerted effort has been made to record and pass on these techniques, some of them hundreds of years old.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. petakaplan

    Thanks for the description and photos on the textiles and dyes. Very interesting. The textiles from Peru are so beautiful.

    This post brought back memories of our trip to Peru many years back.

    Cuy was not my favorite exotic dish either.


    Liked by 1 person

  7. Aha, so there’s the torched cuy! I swear they make that thing looks about as unappetizing as possible. (Not that any version of a small cooked animal would be appealing to a vegetarian!) The textiles are so colorful and detailed; I’m always amazed at the kinds of apparel and handicrafts turned out in rural villages the world over.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, you’re certainly likely to taste more varieties of potato! What impressed me was that they still tasted good in the high altitude locations. The airline “it’s not as good because cabin pressure is at 8,000 feet” doesn’t wash anymore, we had tasty meals in Puno, at 14,200 feet.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I’d be wondering about field rat too, but field rats are probably a lot more sanitary than garbage rats, so it’s probably ok. Yes, the toasted corn was very good, I wouldn’t mind having a snack bowl full of it handy.


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