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