A few years ago, I went on a study trip to Peru. I wrote about it previously. Of course, I’m always up for a new adventure in eating, though I love interacting with people with different backgrounds from my own. (Which is every day, really! I don’t have to go to another country to do that!). My study group and I took many trips in-country, so I will talk about those from time to time. This story begins in Cuzco, and it includes food, too!
The Cuzco church bells pealed at 4:00 a.m. We ate a lovely breakfast of ham, cheese, eggs, fruit, granola made with puffed millet in place of our traditional oatmeal, liquid yogurt, and hot espresso. Espresso is the only type of coffee served in Cuzco! Having only been a consumer of coffee for a few years, this was strong for me, but it proved to be beneficial in the high altitude. Cuzco is considered the Peruvian Andes and is 11,152’ altitude. Coming from a mountainous region in Colorado, I adjusted quite well. As for the espresso and any coffee in Peru, I must say that there was no such thing as a bad cup of coffee in Peru. After a lovely breakfast, we chewed on some coca leaves for good breathing, and then, we boarded the bus to Patabamba.
Patabamba, in Quechua, means “upper flat. Originally, it was Patapompa, but the Spanish colonizers changed it to Patabamba. From what I could gather regarding Quechua, it is a complex language, which was largely replaced with Spanish after Spain’s invasion in the 15th Century. Many of the remote villages around Cuzco are functionally monolingual speakers of Quechua. It is a beautiful language with only three vowels (i, a, u), and in some words the vowels are completely devoiced (silence, a stop, or a sort of throaty sound). I was able to observe the language in action when village members relayed instructions to one another as they prepared our most sumptuous and interesting meal of the whole trip. At first, I did not understand that the, aforementioned, stops, hisses, and throaty sounds were part of the language. Then after, I learned to listen for the “devoiced” part of the language that is Quechua (Ketch-wah).
Our menu of lamb, chicken, llama, potatoes, sweet potatoes, lima beans (cooked in their pods), plantain, and blocks of farmer cheese were baked in a rock “oven” especially built for the occasion. We watched as the hole was dug, and then lined with the rocks. The most impressive was the dome built by the large stones leaning against each other. The crowing touch came when the “keystone” was placed in the ground oven.
The domed rock oven was filled with wood fuel and burned until the rocks were hot. When the rocks reached the target temperature, the dome was deconstructed by first removing the cap stone which held all the stones in place. The rocks that made the dome were removed, and the raw foods were placed on the hot stones. The cheese was wrapped in brown paper before being place on the other ingredients. When all the food was in place, green branches with yellow flowers still in place, were spread on top of all the foods. Then large sheets of heavy plastic were laid out on the green branches. Then the moisture-rich soil dug to make the cooking pit was spread out on the plastic until nothing, but soil was visible. The food stayed in the “oven’ for 35 minutes, and voilà! We ate the most agreeable meal with cups of coca tea to wash it all down. The meats, plantain, and vegetables cooked to perfection. We ate with our hands. I ate my potatoes with the peelings still intact, and I noticed that the villagers peeled their potatoes. It was my favorite meal of the trip.
While the meal was cooking, my fellow travelers and I met the elders of the village. The elders, male and female, invited us to try on their beautifully dyed and woven dresses, ponchos, capes, and hats for photo opportunities. One of the featured photos in a past blog was me and one of the elders.
After interacting with the village elders, we went for a walk to gather plants and flowers. That was followed by a lesson on the plants used for dying wools for weaving. The flowers gathered that day became the dyes of brilliant reds, yellows, and blues from which all other colors were made. After spending a fine luncheon with the villagers, they set up a store for us to purchase handmade clothing, wraps, and hats.
What struck me most was the happiness of the people. They seemed to be quite contented. As they told us about their plans for promoting the village for tourism, which includes home-stays, I wondered if the influences that would inevitably follow would interfere with the peace they appeared to possess. I wonder how they are faring these few years later.
Thank you for reading.