In Peru's rural areas, the way people dress makes an important distinction, as a result of the blend of pre-Hispanic influences with the European clothing that the natives were forced to wear during the colonial era.
The traditional Inca anacu was transformed by the local women into the brightly-colored and multi-layered petticoats known as polleras. Depending on the region, a black skirt is decorated with a belt which can come in a variety of colors and is decorated with flowers in the northern Piura highlands or a brightly-hued woolen lliclla in Chiclayo, further south.
In the highlands above Lima, the skirt is decorated with red and black embroidered edging, while in Junin, as in Cajamarca and Cuzco, women no longer use black skirts. Underneath their skirts, the women use layers of petticoats made from cotton which can be embroidered with gold and silver threads, featuring superbly-crafted drawings along the edge.The Peruvian poncho dates back to the seventeenth century and apparently is a variation on the unku used by men at the time. The heavy ponchos used in Cajamarca keep out the rain and are as long as those used in Puno, where they are died scarlet during festivals. In Cuzco, ponchos are short and feature elaborate geometric figures against a red background.
On the coast, ponchos were used by the plantation workers, and they were spun from cotton or vicuña fiber. In the jungle, both men and women from some tribes wear the cushma, a loose tunic stitched up on both sides and embellished with dyes and geometric figures typical of the region.
Traditional dress tends to be capped off by woolen or straw hats, sometimes in various colors. But in the coldest reaches of the Andes, the highlanders tend to wear the chullo, a woolen cap fitted with earflap decorated with geometric motifs. Regional dances require different forms of dress, depending on the area. Along the coast, exponents of the marinera dance replaces cotton with silk for their embroidered skirts. In the Andes, meanwhile, the danzantes de tijeras or scissors dancers decorate their fine outfits with small mirrors and embroider an image of their guardian deity on their backs.
Music and Dance
Thanks to the recent archaeological discoveries of musical instruments, experts now know that in Peru, music has been played at least as far back as 10,000 years ago.
This ancient tradition created quenas, zampoñas, pututos (trumpets made from sea conch) and a wide variety of other wind instruments crafted from a range of materials such as cane, mud, bone, horns and precious metals, as well as various percussion instruments.
Contact with the Occident has brought over a large number of instruments, which have been creatively adapted to the rhythmic and tonal needs of each region of the country. The clearest evidence is the many transformations that the harp, violin and guitar have undergone in the Peruvian highlands.
The encounter between the Andes and the Western World have given rise in Peru to 1,300 musical genres. But two of them have crossed the country's borders and have become symbols of Peru's identity: the huayno and marinera.
Today, Peru continues to assimilate new instruments such as synthesizers, electric guitars, drums and harmonicas. Local musicians are also creating new genres like chicha or Peruvian cumbia, which is enabling Peru's music to open up to new influences to expand both at home and abroad, beyond native folk music.
This capacity for musical fusion and innovation is a lively expression of the integrating force and dynamic character of Peru's culture.
IThis percussion instrument, of Afro-Peruvian origins, is used in most coastal variations of the marinera, as well as musica criolla (Creole) and musica negra (Afro-Peruvian) genres in general. The instrument is crafted from a wooden box which features a soundhole at the back. The musician sits on top and slaps on the front surface with the palms of his hands. Although of simple appearance, the instrument has built up a following outside Peru, including its recent incorporation into flamenco.
This Andean flute is the best-known wind instrument in Peru and dates back to pre-Hispanic times. It is made out of a tube of cane, wood, bone or even plastic, with one end beveled into a mouthpiece. The quena features five or six soundholes which produces a range of notes, depending on how the performer blows through the flute. Quenas come in different sizes depending on the region.
The creative flair of Afro-Peruvians turned the lower jawbone of a donkey or horse into an effective percussion instrument. It is held in one hand and hit with the other to keep the beat. The unique sound of the quijada is produced by the rattling molars in the jawbone and amplified by the bone structure.
Of European origin, and similar to the lute, the mandolin has undergone a series of changes in Peru, both in material and its soundhole, as well as in the number of strings. It is frequently played together with the guitar, forming duos to play huaynos and other musical styles popular in the highlands.
The most widely-played instrument in Peru. The most common shape is that of the modern Spanish guitar, but Peru features 10 variants on the theme which vary in shape, construction materials and the number of strings. The tuning also varies depending on the area. The guitar combines with several other instruments according to the musical genre being performed, including the vals criollo, marinera, festejo, huayno, zamacueca, tondero and even chicha.
This wind instrument belongs to the pan-pipe family, and is made up of a series of cane tubes of varying sizes bound together, forming one or two rows. The size of the tube determines the musical note. The zampoña comes in a wide range of variations, depending on the region, where the length, location and quantity of cane tubes vary. It is frequently played in nearly all the festivities in southern Peru, particularly in the department of Puno. One variation of the flute is the antara, which is made of finer carrizo reeds.
This instrument is modeled along the lines of a classic guitar, although smaller and featuring 10 strings. Its soundbox is made from an armadillo or kirkincho shell, although it is also often made of wood. It is very popular in the southern Andes.
This stringed instrument is shaped like a cone with a large soundhole. The arpa (harp) is of Western origins and has become highly popular in Peru, especially in the Andes, where it is widely played for its versatile ability to come up with high-pitched sounds. The harp has been modified and adapted in several regions, both in shape and tuning.
This percussion instrument is a small hand-held drum made from leather. It is widely played in the Andes, mainly by women. It is used in banquets, for dancers and ceremonies dealing with farm life, especially during the harvest season and cattle-branding.
This dance is a spin-off from the zamacueca and the mozamala. In 1893, Abelardo Gamarra "El Tunante" dubbed the dance the "Marinera", in homage to Peru's naval hero Admiral Miguel Grau, during a piano concert performed by a Lima maiden who was to become a major exponent of the genre, Rosa Mercedes Ayarza de Morales. This encounter gave birth to Peru's best-known marinera, called "La Decana" later rebaptized "La Concheperla". The marinera has steadily gained a foothold in the country's culture. In 1938, the genre was presented at the Independence Day concert at Lima's Teatro Municipal.
Today, there are marinera festivals held all over the country, although the best-known is held in January in Trujillo. The dance is performed in several styles, depending on its place of origin: marinera costeña (the south coast), marinera serrana (the highlands) and marinera norteña (the north). The dance is energetic, with elegant movements and a highly complex choreography of coordinated and synchronized sequences. The couple keeps time with a handkerchief clutched in one hand, which is also part of the courting ritual, even though the couple never comes into physical contact. Instruments used to perform the marinera limeña include the guitar and Cajon, a box-shaped drum, while a full-blown marching band accompanies the Marinera Norteña.
Held to be the most representative dance of the Andes. Its pre-Colombian origins blended early on with Western influences, spreading into dozens of regional variations. Its musical structure stems from a pentatonic scale with a binary rhythm, a structural characteristic which has made this genre the basis of a series of hybrid rhythms, running from huayno to Andean rock. The dance is performed by couples who perform turns and movements featuring hops and a tap-like zapateo to mark time. Instruments used to accompany the huayno include the quena, charango, harp and violin. Some variations of the huayno involve marching bands which have added trumpets, saxophones and accordions. At the same time, although they are different genres, in popular thinking, huayno is closer to the marinera than it appears, judging by this refrain from a marinera serrana: "There's no marinera without huayno / nor huayno without marinera / little Indian girl in the green skirt / the third part of this song is for you".
This is a popular dance along the central coast. It is performed by couples, both insinuating and at the same time avoiding physical contact. The dance movements, both joyful and teasing, give off a corporal expression redolent with sensuality. Backing instruments include guitar, cajon and the quijada, plus a lead vocalist and backing singers.
The Vals Criollo
This dance has its participants holding hands in a half-embrace, performing intertwined steps in a style recreated by Lima inhabitants from the Viennese waltzes. The Creole variation originated in the nineteenth century and spread to the urban middle class as a synthesis of the romantic nostalgia of the criollo class for the old Lima that was fast changing. Instruments used to accompany the dance include the guitar and the cajon.
The martial rhythm of the dance of the sikuris originated in the southern highland plain known as the altiplano. It is danced in large groups, forming troupes who join together in large circles around musicians playing zampoña pan-pipes of varying sizes.
The choreography of the dance is symbolic of the complementary nature and harmonious relationship that human integration should involve, as one group of flautists can only play half the notes, which means the other group is indispensable to complete the melody.
This rhythm and its dance is linked to the joyful fiestas that are held at harvest time in the central highlands. The energy and vivacious nature of the huaylarsh are highlighted by the leaps and demonstrations of agility by the male dancers, while the women perform nimble footwork or zapateo. During the choreography, the group of dancers break up into pairs to show their skill in a light-hearted competition. Instruments used in the bands include harps, violins, saxophones, clarinets, trumpets and bombo drums
This is a dance that, with regional variations, is performed all over Peru, particularly in the rural areas of Puno, Cajamarca and the Amazon. The dance involves troupes or comparsas who take to the streets together with the musicians. The lyrics, which usually follow a rhyming pattern, are often bawdy, satirical and irrepressibly joyful. Instruments include guitars, accordions, mandolins, Andean percussion (tinyas and tambourines) and charangos.
This musical style stems from shepherd customs. The Santiago is played in Andean ceremonies such as cattle branding and fertility rituals held for the herd. On these occasions, the musicians, especially women, perform a series of propitiatory songs featuring a simple rhythm yet of great sensivity. Instruments often include the tinya and the wakrapuko, or trumpet made from a cow's horn.
The Harawi o Yaravi
Also known as the yaravi, this is a musical style whose melodies are redolent with sadness and longing. The harawi is believed to be the oldest musical style in Peru's repertoire, and dates from the form of poetry recited in the Inca era. The somewhat drowsy music is interrupted by frequent periods of silence that lend a dramatic air to the piece. This rhythm is generally not danced, unless it is tacked onto a huayno or marinera, which often occurs in some of its mestizo variations. Backing instruments include the charango, mandolin and quena.
From a Western viewpoint, the danza de las tijeras or scissors dance is basically a major manifestation of art and physical dexterity. But Andean folk or the mestizo people who live in highland communities see it as a complex ritual. The danzaq, the dancers, are shrouded in mystery. In a show of force and elasticity, these men put their dexterity to the test with a series of gymnastic leaps to the strains of harp and violin.
Priests in colonial times claimed the dancers had made a pact with the Devil, because of the surprising feats they performed. These fakir-like stunts, called atipanakuy, include sword-swallowing, sticking pins through their facial skin, eating insects, toads and snakes. The main instrument played to accompany the dance is the pair of scissors, made up of two independent sheets of metal around 25 cm long and which together for the shape of a pair of round-edged scissors. The dance is performed at its best in Ayacucho, Apurimac, Arequipa, the Ica highlands, Huancavelica and Lima.
La Chicha o Cumbia Peruana
A new type of musical genre, chicha, has made major inroads across Latin America. Although it also draws from rock and other modern rhythms, the two musical genres that are the basis of the creation of chicha are the huayno and Colombian cumbia. It has become popular not just all over Peru, but also in neighboring countries like Argentina, Chile, Bolivia and Colombia.
The main characteristic of this genre is the constant fusion with new rhythms, both modern and traditional, as well as the use of a large number of instruments, particularly electronic ones.
Es un arbol de hasta 5 m de alto, con ramas abiertas y espinosas, corteza gris oscura y hojas terminales. Sus flores tienen forma de racimos y sus vainas, de aprox 10 cm de largo por 3 cm de ancho, son aplanadas y tienen un color rojizo al madurar. Cada vaina contiene de 4 a 7 semillas redondas y de color negro. Su habitat abarca desde Venezuela hasta Bolivia. En el Peru, desarrolla en forma silvestre o cultivada, en las lomas costeras y en los valles secos interandinos, entre 1,000 y 3,100 msnm.
• Medicinal: Actua contra la amigdalitis al hacer gargaras con la infusion de las vainas maduras y como cicatrizante cuando se lavan heridas con dicha infusion. Ademas, la tara es utilizada contra la estomatitis, la gripe y la fiebre
• Tinte: La tara se utiliza como mordiente. Asimismo, las vainas se usan para teñir de color negro y las raices de azul oscuro.
• Curtiente: Por el alto contenido de tanino que poseen las vainas.
• Tanino: Es un producto de exportacion que se obtiene de las vainas maduras pulverizadas.
• Goma de tara: El endospermo de las semillas contienen una goma que es utilizada para estabilizar y emulsionar alimentos.
• Cosmetico: El cocimiento de las hojas se utiliza para evitar la caida del cabello.
• Agroforesteria: La tara es usada como cerco vivo y para el manejo de rebrotes.
• Plaguicida: El agua de la coccion de las vainas secas es efectivo contra piojos e insectos.
Se desarrolla en climas tropicales y subtropicales, y en suelos que van desde arenosos hasta pedregosos, bien drenados y secos.
Uña de Gato
Tambien llamado uña de gato, paraguayo, garabato, uña de gavilan, jagua. Es unaliana de ramas cuadrangulares, espinas escasamente curvadas, hojas cortamente pecioladas con lamina foliar ovalada u oblonga. Su inflorescencia tiene pedunculos pubescentes, con 3 a 5 ramas con cabezuelas numerosas. Su fruto es capsular de 6 a 8 cm de largo y posee ramitas terminales de color verde palido.
• Medicinal: fortalece el sistema inmunologico humano, previniendo enfermedades y el deterioro organico. Favorece la actividad antinflamatoria en el organismo y puede prevenir el cancer gracias a sus propiedades antioxidantes y antimutagenicas. El cocimiento de la raiz y la corteza se utiliza como anticancerigeno. La raiz y el tallo hervidos actua contra la artritis. Beber el cocimiento de la corteza sirve como antinflamatorio, diuretico y depurativo del organismo. El zumo del bejuco y de la corteza cocidos, tomados como bebida, previene enfermedades venereas. El baño en el cocimiento de las hojas cura el sarampion y el emplasto de la corteza aplicado sobre la mordedura de una serpiente evita el envenenamiento
• Afrodisiaco: La maceracion alcoholica de la corteza.
• Madera: Con la madera de los bejucos se eleaoran muebles muy fuertes y resistentes a las polillas.
Se le cultiva en climas tropical y sibtropical hasta los 1,200 msnm, en suelos arcillosos y arenosos de origen calcareo. Se propaga por semillas y por estacas de raiz y tallo; tambien por criba, soplo, acodo rastrero y transplante. Se le siembra preferentemente durante la epoca de lluvias (de octubre a marzo). La uña de gato es una planta con un elevado potencial. Es una de las especies medicinales mas comercializadas y exportadas en el Peru. Se le presenta en forma de corteza seca, corteza pulverizada (capsulas), extracto acuoso liofilizado (pastillas), ungüentos, bolsitas filtrantes como infusion, caramelos, etc.
Es un arbol pequeño o arbusto con follaje denso y tronco corto. Tiene hojas alternas, acorazonadas y puntiagudas; y su inflorescencia tiene forma de panicula terminal. Sus flores son rosadas y sus frutos son capsulares, cubierto con apendices flexibles. Las semillas estan recubiertas por una pulpa de color rojo o anaranjado intensos. Esta dispersa en toda la region neotropical y se ha extendido a África y Asia. En el Peru, crece de manera cultivada en la Amazonia y la costa, hasta los 1,400 msnm. El achiote ha sido domesticado y cultivado en America Central y la Amazonia, desde epocas perhispanicas.
• Alimento y Condimento: Las semillas o el polvo de estas es utilizado en la elaboracion de platos criollos, especialmente guisos y asados
• Medicinal: Las hojas del achiote tienen propiedades medicinales: actuan contra los malestares de garganta, afecciones respiratorias, dolores renales, inflamaciones dermicas y vaginales, fiebre, hipertension, vomitos sanguineos, diarrea, hemorroides, angina, abscesos, cefalalgia, dolores renales, infecciones de la piel y la conjuntivitis. Sus semillas poseen propiedades estimulantes y digestivas, y su raiz en decoccion actua contra la malaria y el asma.
• Tinte: El achiote contiene un colorante llamado bixina que es empleado en la industria alimentaria. El colorante tambien es empleado en la elaboracion de cosmeticos, pinturas, ceras y en diversos trabajos de artesania.
• Madera: Se le utiliza en trabajos de carpinteria. Los amahuaca la utilizan en la fabricacion de las puntas de sus flechas.
Existen 3 variedades principales: 1) negra, 2) colorada y 3) amarilla. Se le cultiva en zonas con climas tropical y subtropical, en suelos pesados con abundante materia organica , buena agregacion, permeabilidad, aereacion, aunque tambien se puede adaptar a suelos de baja fertilidad. Requiere suelo bien drenados, prefiriendo los suelos aluviales en las margenes de los rios. Se propaga por semillas y se le siembra al inicio de la temporada lluviosa.
Sangre de Grado
Tambien llamado palo de grado, sangre de dragon, sangre de drago. Es un arbol de copa amplia y redondeada, cuya corteza, de color gris blanquecino, exuda un latex de color vino. Sus hojas son alternas y cordadas, y alcanzan los 20 cm de largo y 14 de ancho. Tiene inflorescencia terminal en racimos y sus frutos, de forma capsular, miden 3 mm de largo por 4.5 mm de ancho. Crece en la Amazonia Alta y Baja, de manera silvestre o cultuivada.
• Medicinal: El latex de la uña de gato se usa principalmente como cicatrizante de heridas. Esta planta tambien actua contra las ulceras estomacales, hinchazones reumaticas, afecciones dermicas, fiebre, leucorrea, cancer, diarrea, faringitis y amigdalitis, gonorrea, hemorroides, paludismo, tumores, anemia y ulceras estomacales e intestinales. Se le utiliza como calmante en el sobreparto, luego de una extraccion dental y como antiseptico vaginal
• Madera: para la confeccionde cajones y mondadientes, y la pulpa para papel.
• Agroforesteria: En asociaciones de cultivos tales como el pijuayo, zapote y algunas especies maderables. Asimismo sirve como sombra de especies como el cafe y el cacao.
Desarrolla en cilmas tropical y subtropical hasta los 2,000 msnm, en suelos arcillosos a arenosos, con buen drenaje y buena aereacion, y moderadamente acidos aalcalinos. Se propaga por semillas, las mismas que deben ser sembradas al inicio de la epoca de lluvias. Tiene gran potencial como medicinal natural debido a las propiedades de su latex. Tambien por las cualidades de su corteza y madera.
Ancestral knowledge in tribal communities of the Peruvian Amazon about how to use medicinal plants currently opens up new curing alternatives for the whole world.
Since the discovery of the American continent and the attempt to conquer its peoples, there began a constant denial of the New World's cultural contributions that might have gone against established religious beliefs of the day.
In the case of the Peruvian Amazon, difficult access and a wild geography frustrated contact with some groups by those eager to enslave the natives.
Although they were not free from abuse and exploitation during a period of their history, finally some natives managed to disperse in small groups deep into the jungle to avoid unwanted contact with foreigners.
Thanks to isolation from the modern world and in many cases due to governmental indifference, the Peruvian Amazon has managed to keep the traditional use of its resources.
Nowadays, contact is being established with a broader vision.
Today some of us are looking at the Amazon with sufficient understanding to value it. Perhaps because we are interested in learning why the intake of a beverage prepared in the middle of the jungle can cure a disease or simply improve our quality of life. We have to recognise that the future of humanity is to a large extent in our hands, and in this case it depends on how long we can preserve the Amazon in its original state so that we may access its secrets and products.
The Amazon, besides being one of the largest oxygen sources of the Earth, is a botanical emporium where we find countless medicinal plants that may be the possible cure to diseases and epidemics that we have not encountered yet, but one day may have to face. Currently the world can have access to traditional Amazon medicine, a proper method to interpret and use that apparently chaotic and entangled green world, but which really works as a natural laboratory without any room for errors.
Ayahuasca, Banisteriopsis caapi, is a liana which herbal medicinal plant doctors traditionally define as their master plant par excellence. Ayahuasca is combined with another plant, the Chacruna, Psychotria viridiris, to form a drink or "chicha", as Ayahuasca users call it, which is named Ayahuasca.
This chicha works as a physical purifier, it facilitates meditation, balances energies and awakens intuition. The "Ese ejas", an ethnic group who live on the margins of Tambopata River in Madre de Dios department, use this chicha to cure. In Ese eja dialect the liana is known as "jono pase" or "death's rope". When translated into the Quechua language, rope = huasca and death = aya, it gave as a result the term by which it is traditionally known: "Ayahuasca". he "Rope's mother" is the Chacruna, a female spirit which shows the herbalist the cause of diseases and the plants he must use to cure them.
This has a scientific interpretation:
An ancestral discovery of the Amazon natives, the mixture of both plants shows deep and fine knowledge, because the Ayahuasca liana is rich in carbolines (harmine, harmaline, and tetrahydroharmine) that inhibit the action of monoaminooxydase enzyme (MAO), which is naturally found in the digestive tube and the liver. This enzyme destroys dymethyltriptamine (DMT), a substance contained by the Chacruna plant, which competes with ser6tonin for 5-HT 1 and 2 receptors. When MAO is blocked, endogenous catecholamines and the levels of serotonin increase, while DMT is not destroyed and it can reach the brain where it produces an intense psychotropic effect. (Rosa Glove, The Dead's Liana comes to the Rescue of Life, 2002, 24-25).
The intake of Ayahuasca without Chacruna only has emetic effects. However, the master plant par excellence for herbal healers is the Ayahuasca.
How they reached this conclusion without the painstaking laboratory studies that would have been indispensable for any scientist is a question we will leave momentarily unanswered.
According to Amazon tradition, master plants are the ones which, properly consumed, can generate knowledge through dreams, visions, perceptions and intuitions about their healing properties and the healing properties of other plants. Besides, due to their endogenous properties, they also give us an introspective vision of ourselves and of life in general. They thus help us interpret events or actions that have influenced the course of our life.
Tribal societies in many parts of the world have accessed these master plants as a source of knowledge and wisdom. Such is the case in Northern Mexico, where they still use --Peyote today, and the ancient Mochicas in Peru with a cactus known as "San Pedro".
An important part of the treatment of body and soul with Ayahuasca is diet. Depending on the level of purification we want to reach, diets can vary from the most permissible, where we avoid consuming some types of food that do not help Ayahuasca to have the desired effect; to diets that include a retreat in the jungle to eat from the hands of an Ayahuasquero a master plant such as tobacco for an initial purge, austere nourishment, no salt or sugar, only being allowed to eat boiled green bananas, oatmeal or rice. In this case, the person on the diet isolates himself or herself from other people except for the traditional healer, shaman or "Ayahuasquero", as we shall from now on call the man who deals with Ayahuasca.
In the Amazon jungle there is a shamanic tradition; but shamans properly as such do not exist.
During the diet, we are isolated from personal relations but not from our senses, because nature is always present in the jungle, the birds' songs, the crickets, the glitter of fire-flies at night, the vegetation, the sound of the river, that living world which is present in the Amazon.
Austere nourishment leads to meditation, and it is through meditation that Ayahuasqueros learn how to cure. The patient's diet also facilitates contact between him or her and the Ayahuasquero. In those levels of purification, the Ayahuasquero manages to hear sounds emitted by nature. These sounds are reproduced by the Ayahuasquero during the Ayahuasca intake sessions. They are the so-called "Ikaros", melodious songs that lead the participants to a state of absolute relaxation.
The traditional use of the so-called diet has always been to cure diverse physical diseases, such as rheumatism, bone trauma and infections. Through the empirical work of traditional healers, the efficacy of this treatment for psychogenous diseases has been proven, since they aid the recall of events or past situations not metabolized by the individual. A space without time or worries is dedicated to introspection, and we retake harmonious contact with nature. (Jacques Mabit, Report of the Second Interamerican Forum about Indigenous Spirituality, 2001, 60).
It is worthwhile mentioning that there are several persons who have written about Ayahuasca. One of the first readings that made me understand that using Ayahuasca is not an exclusive reality of the original ethnic groups of the Amazon was "The Cosmic Serpent" by Jeremy Narbi. There I was able to understand that cement is more foreign to human beings than the forest is, and that Ayahuasca exists to teach "humanity".
Art in Peru
Peru boasts one of the largest varieties of arts and crafts on Earth, as can be seen from the growing network of exporters who each year exhibit the skill of Peruvian craftsmen in Europe, Asia and North America. The diversity, color, creativity and multiple functions of Peru's folk art has made it a fundamental activity not just for Peru's cultural identity, but also as a way of life for thousands of families and even entire communities, such as Sarhua and Quinua in Ayacucho.
Works of art, both big and small, spark admiration amongst Peruvians and foreigners alike, are steeped in centuries of history, imbued with pre-Hispanic shapes and symbols which have merged with others brought over by the Spaniards. Peru has forged a multiple and complex identity which is paradoxically one of the reasons why Peruvian arts and crafts are tending to shift towards naïf art, lending their works a touch of innocence.
The excellence of Peruvian artisans can be seen in the harmony of the geometric designs in weavings, the minute portraits of peasant farming life on the carved gourds called mates burilados, the cultural mestizaje or blend in the colorful retablo boxed scenes. There are also the finely carved Huamanga stone sculptures, the complex Baroque nature of the wooden carvings, the beauty of gold and silver relics and the many forms that pottery has shaped the clay into pottery.
These works are just some of the cultural manifestations of a people who communicate mainly through art, using a language whose fundamental aspects are abundance, fertility and confidence in the future.
One of the greatest attractions of the mystery of fleeting art is the long and patient effort made for a work of beauty that will last for just minutes and possibly seconds. Art forms of this kind include carpets of flower petals and decorated bread called t'anta wawas that can only be appreciated briefly, despite the fact it has taken artists a great deal of time and creativity.
Fireworks. The ancient art of fireworks is deep-rooted in communities in the highlands and along the coast, where artisans have wrought local variations such as images of giant flowers and animals. It is impossible to imagine a festival in honor of a patron saint without a dazzling display of fireworks.
Carpets of Flower Petals. Put together for big processions both in the highlands and along the coast, vast floral decorations are laid out on the streets of many cities and towns where the procession of the patron saint is to pass. The color of the flowers and the perfection of the motifs, generally saints, shields, maps, landscapes and all sorts of animals put together with great dedication, are aimed at providing a fleeting splendor before being crushed by thousands of marching feet during the processions.
T'anta Wawas. Another technique which is practically an art form is the baking and preparation of t'anta wawas, or decorated breads. The wheatflour breads represent a wide variety of motifs such as children (wawas), families, homes, crowns of flowers and animals. Styles range from impeccable simplicity to decoration that is quite complex. Every year in Lima, a t'anta wawas competition is held on All Saints Day. The departments of Junin, Arequipa, Cuzco and Huancavelica (Center and South of Peru) generally prepare the best prizewinners.
Candles and Giant Wax Candles. Wax art is another art form that is directly linked to religious worship. Cuzco, Ayacucho, Huaraz, Arequipa and Lima produce vast numbers of candles and decorated cirios, giant wax candles with religious motifs. During the Easter Week procession in Ayacucho, the litters used to carry the saints have their base richly decorated with wax figures. The most common motifs are flowers, leaves, the faces of saints, angels and barnyard animals. But the most common items in festivals all over Peru are candles and cirios, which come in a range of sizes and decorations. During the festival of the Lord of Miracles (Señor de los Milagros), the variety and decoration of the candles is impressive: it is a moving sight to see the cirios candles lit next to the image of the black Christ in the church of Las Nazarenas in downtown Lima.
Pottery is one of the most widespread art forms to be found in Peru. Ancient pre-Hispanic techniques used by the Vicus, Recuay and Pashash cultures, as well as styles known as Colombian and negative painting (by limiting the flow of oxygen in the furnace) are used today in the community of Chulucanas (located in Piura) and in the northern jungle by natives of the Arabelas community. Another technique used in Simbila, Piura, as well as in Mollepampa, Cajamarca, is that of paleteo, where the potter shapes the clay with his hands and by beating it with a spatula. Utilitarian and decorative pottery produced in Chulucanas -particularly in the district of La Encantada, where 250 artisans have been registered- is one of the finest to be found in Peru.
It has gained its fame from the fine motifs crafted by potters in the use of the black color and the glazing of their urns, as well as the portrayal of typical local characters (chicha vendors, musicians and dancers) and animals that spring from the hand-worked clay. Pottery is heavily traded in the markets of Cuzco, Juliaca (Puno), Arequipa and a network of arts and crafts centers and fairs held in Lima.
Ayacucho Pottery. In Quinua, a village located 40 km from Ayacucho, pottery is the town's main activity. The quality of the red and cream-colored clay lend these works a unique characteristic. Despite their simple, almost childish forms, they are highly expressive. Quinua is best-known for ceramic pieces such as small churches, chapels, houses and bulls called the toro de Quinua. Local potters have also become popular for figures such as peasant farmers, gossiping neighbors and a variety of religious themes.
Puno Pottery. The best-loved ceramic figure to come out of Puno is the torito de Pucara, the ceramic bull that is one of Peru's best-known pieces of pottery. The figurine was originally made as a ritual element during the cattle-branding ceremony. The bull figure, which is also a flask, was used to hold the chicha which was mixed with the blood of cattle and drunk by the high priest conducting the ceremony. Puno potters also make churches, country chapels and homes, whose apparently unassuming design is covered with a white glaze. The figures are decorated with flowers and dashes of ground glass. Other common motifs include musicians, dancers and various elements of flora and fauna from the Lake Titicaca area.
Cuzco Pottery. Cuzco's pottery is heavily influenced by Inca tradition. In a movement that has revitalized Cuzco art, known as Inca Renaissance, potters have created a vast collection of pieces. These include the Tica Curuna (a flower motif), ppucus (dishes) and various types of colorful crockery, such as keros, arybalos, qochas, ayanas and raquis. Another trend in pottery is the so-called "grotesque" tradition, originally created by artisan Erilberto Merida, and apparently inspired by the figures in Quinua pottery. This style comprises rough, unpolished figurines such as peasants and Christs, with deformed and even tormented facial features with oversized hands.
Shipibo Pottery. In the jungle, in addition to the Arabela, the Shipibo women living around the Ucayali River produce pottery from a highly malleable clay called neapo. The most common decorative motifs include the well-known geometric lines or designs, which artisans use to represent their vision of the world. The most elaborate objects include globets carved into shapes that are half-human, half-beast, which take on different positions, showing clearly-defined sexes. The potters also frequently craft huge jars shaped like animals such as tortoise and some of the local bird species.
Baskets and Straw Articles
This art form includes straw hats and baskets woven from native reed species such as carrizo, junco and totora. Baskets and hats are produced mainly in the departments of San Martin, Piura and Cajamarca, while totora reed is largely used in La Libertad and Lambayeque to make the reed rafts called caballitos de totora, vessels used for thousands of years by fishermen in the seaside community of Huanchaco, near Trujillo.
This art form dates back to artisan traditions during the Vice-regency, and involves the creation of objects linked to religious and even magical ceremonies. The departments of Ayacucho, Cuzco and Huancavelica produce the greatest variety of figures. These traditional images include the retablo de San Marcos or cajon, crosses, saints, Nativity scenes, the Holy Family and the many different portrayals of the infant Christ. These figures are made from a variety of materials, including dough made from potatoes, medlar seeds, plaster, glued cloth and maguey, the local fruit. The most common images produced by this art-form include religious images with long, stylized necks created by artisan Hilario Mendivil and his wife Georgina in the artists' quarter of San Blas in Cuzco.
Masks. Many Andean dances use masks as part of the dancer's costume. The most common motifs include demons, angels, blacks (negritos), Spaniards (españoles) and all kinds of animals. The most important exhibition of masks is held in the southern Andes, such as during the festival of the Virgen de la Candelaria. Junin is another major producer of masks, while a rich variety linked to myths and customs of jungle villages is manufactured in the Amazon area, like for example in the Bora community in Loreto. Masks are made from a range of materials that are as varied as their place of origin: plaster, leather, wood, wire sheeting and tin.
The most typical masks include those of the Piro culture, the parlampan (picaresque characters of the area of Huaral), the auquis of Ancash, the jija huanca (styled from gargoyle heads), the huacones of the central highlands and the famous demons of the seven deadly sins of Puno.
Retablos. Tiny human figures, animals from the highlands, images of Christian saints and pre-Columbian gods, stars, mountains and lakes are just some of the elements found in the colorful world portrayed by the cajon or retablo de San Marcos. This art form, brought over from Spain, dates back to the dawn of Western civilization and was preceded by Roman portable images made up of three slabs that closed over each other. In the rest of Europe, this art form was known by the name of frontpieces, giving way to the monumental friezes that featured in church altars between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries. The closest resemblance to the Peruvian retablo is the Caja de Santo, a sort of portable altar used in Spain as part of the paraphernalia of Catholic rituals.
The Ayacucho artisans saw the portable altars as the perfect means to bring together two religious traditions -their own and Catholicism imposed by Spain- without arousing suspicion amongst colonial authorities bent on stamping out pagan idols. The retablo features two levels: the upper level, which portrays the Heavens, with saints and sacred Andean beasts, and the lower world, portraying the world down on Earth. These retablos were originally limited to the area dominated by Ayacucho shepherds and peasant farmers. And in fact the Ayacucho artisans are the ones to have kept alive this tradition, that is such a vital part of Peruvian imagery. The best-known craftsmen who make retablos include the late Joaquin Lopez Antay, Florentino Jimenez and Jesus Urbano. These three men gave rise to three schools or trends of the retablo: one which features a magical-religious current, another that focuses on regional customs and another with historic and realistic content. Today, styles and themes have multiplied as Cuzco emerges as yet another major retablo production center.
Huamanga Stone Carvings. There are several kinds of stone that are used for carving in Peru: granite, basalt, andesite, piedra del lago (found in Puno), and the white alabaster known as piedra de Huamanga. Huamanga stone carvings started up in colonial times due to the scarcity of marble and porcelain. The early motifs dwelled on the infant Christ and other religious images such as saints, crosses, virgins and relics. Later craftsmen were to develop new religious motifs and images linked to the Creole culture (for example the image of the vicuña standing over the Castillian lion). Today, Huamanga stone carvings portray Nativity scenes within oval-shaped recesses, replicas of the monument of the Pampa de la Quinua (scene of a famous battle for independence), as well as other figures; all with a rough finish and mainly offered as souvenirs.
Wooden Carvings. Wooden carving as an art form heavily influenced by religious polychrome sculptures took off in colonial times. Artists made retablos, statuettes and decorated furniture in churches and convents whose complex Baroque style reached its peak in the famous San Blas pulpit in San Blas church in Cuzco. One of the current wooden carving centers is to be found in the town of Molinos, near Huancayo. There, artisans make a range of objects from utensils and decorative pieces to toys, featuring acrobats with movable arms, as well as a series of animals including roosters, ducks, horses, donkeys, lions and a veritable bestiary of mythical beats. Other finely carved pieces include the bastones de Sarhua, where the painted boards (tablas) are made.
Carved Gourds The legenaria bulgaris, the Peruvian dried squash gourd, is the basis of the pure art of the mate burilado. The oldest carved gourds date back 3 500 years and were found at the pre-Hispanic temple of Huaca Prieta in the northern coastal valley of Chicama. Recently, the technique has taken off in the Ayacucho region of Huanta, which has given rise to the mates huantas. These works of art are known for the vitality of their thick but sure lines, which the artisans employ to portray scenes from everyday farming life.
Another variation involves miniature drawings, which can often only be seen with a magnifying glass. The technique consists of etching fine lines into the gourd with a scalpel, in a comic book style to represent scenes from farming life. Today, the area of the central Mantaro Valley and specifically the districts of Cochas Chico and Cochas Grande are the areas where most mates burilados are made.
The abundance of minerals and semi-precious stones in Peru have made it possible to develop creative metalwork since pre-Hispanic times. The oldest example of goldsmithy in South America dates back to the Chavin culture (1 000 BC). Later, priceless pieces were found in the areas of Chancay, Paracas and Cuzco, as well as superb work done by the Mochica, Chimu and Lambayeque cultures. In the late 1 980s archaeologists discovered the Royal Tombs of the Lord of Sipan corresponding to the Moche culture (600-1 200 AD). The tomb of the warrior priest featured ceremonial dress and ornaments worked in gold with techniques that were highly advanced for the time. These techniques, used even today by artisans working with jewels, sculptured pieces and utensils, include alloys, smelting with laminated pieces, chiseling, soaking, smelting gold threads, filigree, and applications, incrustations and clasps.
The most important centers of silver artisanry are to be found in the departments of Junin, Huancavelica, Ayacucho and Cuzco. Silversmiths, who have kept alive the colonial tradition, develop a wide variety of shapes and motifs, crafting jewelry in the shape of barnyard animals, peacocks, horses and stars, as well as articles for religious and domestic use. Other important pieces in silverwork include wrought silver pinches in colonial Cuzco style, tupus, or brooches to pin together the llicllas, silver alloy necklaces worked in black onyx and bamboo, silver necklaces inlaid with obsidian, earrings fitted with opals of several colors, and burnished silver in colonial style, as well as framed in wood for paintings and mirrors.
Gold Filigree. This goldsmithy technique involves thinning the gold to minimum proportions to thread it together, creating jewels of extraordinary beauty. The town of Catacaos in Piura, heirs to the Vicus culture, is a major production center of the delicate art of filigree. The most commonly-produced pieces are dormilonas, a type of earring, and necklaces, which often feature the moon motif.
Semi-precious Stones. Other materials used in arts and crafts, especially in jewelry, are chosen from a vast variety of semi-precious stones, many of which found in Peru, while others are imported, like in the pre-Hispanic era, from elsewhere in the Americas in what is today Colombia and Ecuador. Generally these stones, the most spectacular of which are Peruvian turquoise, or crisocola, onyx, obsidian and opal, are used to make necklaces, earrings, rings and bracelets. Nor should one forget the use of the traditional red seashell called spondylus, once called "the sacred food of the gods", used to craft superb pieces of jewelry.
The first superb works of leather were made during colonial times: chests, armchairs and a tremendous variety of saddles, harnesses and other riding pieces. The decorative motifs were developed using painting, soaking and embossing, ever inspired by the dominating Baroque art of the era. Today, artisans continue to make the same objects, especially chairs, armchairs, tables and chests, where decorations involve traditional themes. Puno artisans also make leather horses featuring a beautiful and tender naïf style.
The Ayacucho community of Sarhua is now world-famous for its painted boards (tablas), one of the most original examples of what is known as folk painting, a tradition that includes drawings by Spanish chronicler Guaman Poma de Ayala (sixteenth century), watercolors by Bishop Martinez Compañon (sixteenth century), works by Creole painter Pancho Fierro (nineteenth century) and paintings by other anonymous artists who painted murals in provincial churches and chapels from colonial times up until recently. Sarhua boards are also called quellcas, for their similarity to the ancient drawings that the Incas had made to note down events during their regime. They are colorful illustrations painted on a flat wooden board, portraying the town customs, and accompanied by a written explanation. In the beginning, the tablas were drawn on the roof beams (where family trees were once notched), but today the art form tends to be rectangular or square to make the boards easier to trade. One of the driving forces who rejuvenated this art form was Carmelon Berrocal (1 964-1 998), who modified the established techniques without losing sight of the original features, creating paintings based on oral traditions that he himself compiled.
Modern Peruvian weavers are heirs to a long-running pre-Hispanic tradition that was developed across the length and breadth of Peru. Outstanding work includes the Paracas funeral shrouds and Inca and Ayacucho Wari weavings. The oldest textiles ever found were uncovered at the pre-Colombian temple of Huaca Prieta in the Chicama Valley, and are believed to date back 4 000 years. Preferred materials -which are still used today- include brown and white cotton; vicuña, alpaca and llama wool. Other materials occasionally include human hair and bat fibers, and more commonly, gold and silver thread. In addition, natural dyes are still used today, combined with aniline and other industrial dyes, while the vertical loom and pedal loom are still the most commonly used tool for weaving blankets and yards of cloth. Key weaving departments include Ayacucho, Puno, Cuzco, Junin, Apurimac and Lima. Cuzco decorative work often features the tika, representing the potato flower, and the sojta, a geometric design symbolizing the sowing season. Cuzco weavers produce a wide variety of chullos (woolen caps with earflaps), woolen cocaleaf pouches, blankets featuring geometric patterns, cummerbunds and chumpis weaved by the meter, like the ones sold at the Sicuani market, or in the Sunday market at Pisac. Ayacucho is another major textile center, as it is a region where over the past few decades artisans have gained a following for their tapestries of weft and warp with abstract motifs.
This form of artisanry is of contemporary origin, brought over from Chile in the 1 970s. Known locally as arpilleras, this cloth often features previously elaborated figures representing themes such as testimonies and local traditions. The portrayal of characters, animals and plants sewn into the main fabric lend the material a three-dimensional effect. Women quickly incorporated Hessian weave into artisanry, especially the highland migrants in the outskirts of Lima in districts such as Pamplona Alta, where in this technique they found a way to express themselves artistically. This artisanry, now common in Peru, has produced sterling work in areas such as Cuzco, where weavers have added traditional decorative elements such as dolls and Inca textiles.
The embroidery work of Chiqnaya, Puno, is famous for its lambswool or cotton blankets, large and small, which represent scenes linked to the sowing and harvesting seasons and fiestas. Other well-known embroidery is produced in the town of Chivay, in the Colca Valley near Arequipa. Their work is decorated with ribbons and backstitches. The arts and crafts fair in Huancayo, Junin sells petticoats called "centro" which are entirely embroidered and used underneath a unicolor skirt. Cotton Thread Inlays. The art of hilado, cotton threading, takes advantage of the natural color of brown cotton and the suggestive, sober tones of natural dyes, although now the native cotton variety is facing major competition from industrial cotton, especially in artisan areas of Monsefu (Lambayeque) and Cajamarca. The tradition dates back to pre-Hispanic Andean civilizations and artisan production mainly lives on in some communities along the coast and in the upper highland reaches. In the Amazon, craftsmen produce elaborate dresses and shawls or fine and flat threading, on which the Shipibo natives make drawings of geometric lines inspired by hallucinogenic visions brought on by the use of medicinal plants.
Tapestries crafted in the Ayacucho quarter of Santa Ana continue to use pre-Hispanic geometric designs, which have incorporated modern effects from an optical perspective. Another area that produces superb tapestries is San Pedro de Casta, in the highlands above Lima, where townspeople continue to use natural dyes from cochineal and plants. Needlepoint. The discovery of chullos, bonnets, sashes, dolls and other pieces from pre-Hispanic cultures along the coast (Paracas, Nazca, Chancay and Mochica) showed that Tejidos de Punto (needlepoint) is an ancient technique. This technique basically involves knitting pieces -mainly clothing- by crossing one loop through another. However, the technique allowed artisans to decorate the textile with haut- and bas-relief. Today, this knitting technique has become a flourishing industry in Puno, Cuzco, Arequipa and Lima. Puno is the country's largest producer of chullos and sweaters made from vicuña, alpaca and lambswool. In this area, the men are the ones who knit socks, stockings and chullos from alpaca wool. , calcetas largas y chullos de alpaca esta a cargo de tejedores hombres.
The artisan market produces a wide variety of decorative pieces and utensils made from painted glass, wood or clay that have drawn from the style and techniques found in the decoration of Cajamarca mirrors. Utensils include trays, boxes, jewelry cases, desktop articles, decorations in the shape of animals, pens, table centerpieces and other articles. Decoration is largely centered around tiny flowers and leaves in a variety of colors. Many of them have been artificially aged with special dyes and then given a layer of varnish. Cajamarca and Apurimac are the main areas that produce these objects.
Peru boasts one of the finest cuisines in Latin America. Recipes such as cebiche (raw fish marinated in lemon juice), pachamanca (meat and vegetables cooked underground), chupe de camarones (shrimp soup), aji de gallina (spicy chicken) and juane (cornmash pastries) are just a few of the mouth-watering dishes served up in Peru. The quality and variety of dishes in Peru are due to several reasons.
First, Peru's ecological and climactic diversity (Peru is home to 84 of the 104 eco-systems existing on Earth) has given rise to a major supply of fresh produce, which any chef would be ecstatic about. The rich Peruvian fishing grounds abound in fish and shellfish species, the heart of the succulent coastal gastronomy; rice, fowl and goat, meanwhile, are the key ingredients of Peru's north coastal cooking. In the Andes, meanwhile, delicious ingredients such as the potato and sweetcorn in all its varieties, plus cuy (guinea pig) and aji chili pepper are the basis of highland cooking and are to be found across the country. The jungle adds its own touch, wild game with a side serving of fried banana and manioc root. Local fruit varieties such as chirimoya (custard apple) and lucuma produce incomparable deserts.
The second reason is the rich mix of Western and Eastern cultural traditions. Over the course of centuries, Peru has felt the influence of Spain in stews and soups, Arab sweets and desserts, African contributions to Creole cooking, Italian pastas, Japanese preparations of fish and shellfish and Chinese culinary methods which have given birth to one of the most popular gastronomic traditions in Peru: chifa. But the originality of Peru's cuisine does not stem just from its traditional cooking -rather, it continues to incorporate new influences, preparing exquisite and impeccable dishes that have been dubbed the New Peruvian Cuisine. It is a veritable privilege to experience Peru's cooking. Bon appetit.
The Peru and their Kitchen
Following the trail of aromas and flavors, come along on a tour through the gastronomic regions of Peru.
Let's start with the Peruvian sea and seafood, which is the delight of coastal inhabitants. The indispensable ingredient here is without a doubt the hot chili pepper known as aji. Mixed with fish braised in freshly-squeezed lemon juice, it gives life to the popular dish cebiche. Aji lends color and aroma in the spicy shellfish stew called picante de mariscos, the parihuela chowder, arroz con mariscos (rice and shellfish) and the pescado a lo macho, where the fish is served with a colorful shellfish sauce.
The cuisine along the north coast is served and devoured with passion. Premier dishes include arroz con pato (duck and rice), seco de chavelo (fish stew with roasted green bananas), cabrito con frejoles (goat and beans cooked in the fermented corn beverage chicha de jora), shambar (beef and bean soup) and the sudado de cangrejos (steamed crab).
In Lima, meanwhile, gourmets can enjoy a wide variety of dishes that are the result of a wide range of foreign influences, as well as all the regional gastronomic variants. Aji de gallina, causa limeña (mashed potato and fish), arroz verde con pollo (chicken served over a bed of coriander rice), carapulcra (spicy pork stew), lomo saltado (sauteed beef) and the traditional anticucho (skewered oxheart) feature among the main favorites in Lima, no to mention the mouth-watering tacu-tacu, fried beans mixed with rice.
Highland cooking still maintains a pagan relationship with the earth, a notion that is ever present in all the local celebrations. The most typical Andean dish is the pachamanca, which is cooked in a hole in the ground over hot stones. Ingredients include green beans, potatoes, corn and several types of meat seasoned with herbs and spices. Soup dishes include pucheros, patasca and caldo de cabeza de cordero (sheepshead broth), which are favorites when the cold sets in. Beef is often freeze-dried into charqui, while cuy (guinea pig) is served up in a variety of sauces and stews. Irresistible entrees include papa a la huancaina (potato drenched in a spicy cheese sauce) or ocopa (in peanut sauce). The southern Arequipa highlands, meanwhile, is home to such temptations as rocoto relleno (stuffed chili pepper) and chupe de camarones, while in Cuzco visitors can try their hand at cordero al horno (roast lamb).
The food served up in the jungle has a lot to do with Man's harmonious relationship with nature. Recipes such as the juane (chicken-and rice tamale), inchi capi (chicken served with peanuts and toasted corn) and tacacho de platanos a la brasa (barbecued bananas) are a delight, surprising the uninitiated with their ingredients. The local game is also unusual: sajino en cecina (wild boar), lomo saltado de majado and apichado de gallina de monte (wildfowl) are just some of the magical specialties of the jungle and Peru's cooking in general.
Quality cuisine in Peru draws from a wide variety of unique products that Peru has bequeathed to the world. The rich Peruvian fishing grounds, the ancient agricultural techniques of the Andes and the rivers and cloud forest of the Amazon produce an endless variety of native ingredients which come together to create the peerless flavor and aroma of Peru's cooking. The best-known Peruvian products both at home and abroad are tubers and cereals.
Potatoes have been grown in Peru since the dawn of time, and its 4,000 varieties have adapted to several different climates. Peruvians are particularly fond of the papa amarilla, a potato with a yellow interior not grown anywhere else on Earth. Other popular tubers include the Peruvian camote (sweet potato) which is used to garnish a variety of dishes, plus the yucca (manioc), olluco and oca. Peru is also home to more varieties of maize than anywhere else on Earth, some 35. Corn is cooked in many ways in Peru: on the cob, ground with a mortar and pestle, boiled, toasted, ground into the sweet mazamorra jelly and fermented into the chicha beverage. Native Andean cereals such as kiwicha (amaranth) and quinua are also highly regarded abroad for their nutritional qualities. Another major contribution of the Andes is the aji chili pepper. Some varieties such as the rocoto are used in spicy sauces, while others like the brightly-colored aji colorado are boiled and gutted to soften the hot chili pepper taste for use as a mild seasoning.
The Peruvian sea teems with over 700 fish species, from flounder to Pacific Bonito, and 400 types of shellfish, including lobsters and sea urchins. Highland lakes, meanwhile, offer superb trout fishing, while the enormous paiche fish species abounds in the jungle rivers.
Peru has also made a major contribution to the world's dessert trolley with four extraordinary fruit varieties: chirimoya, guanabana, granadilla and lucuma.
The potato (Solanum tuberosum), a tuber which originated in the upper reaches of the Andes, has served as a foodstuff for Man over the past 8,000 years. However, it was not until the Spaniards took potato samples back to Europe in the sixteenth century that the tuber rose to become a universal foodstuff. In fact, slightly less than a century after the potato was brought over to the Old World, the potato was already massively consumed, and during the industrial revolution turned out to be a key energy source for the working class.
According to ancient legend, when the mythical founders of the Inca empire, Manco Capac and Mama Ocllo, emerged from the waters of Lake Titicaca, the first thing the god Wiracocha taught them was how to sow potatoes. Possibly due to this time-honored origin, the farmers of the Andes have managed to create a series of varieties that have adapted to a wide variety of climates.
Today, scientists have identified more than 4,000 potato varieties, many of which -such as the yellow potato (papa amarilla or papa huayro) are only founded in Peru. In fact, Peruvian potatoes are held to be matchless in flavor and texture: their noble yet delicate shapes fit perfectly into the cultural background this tuber enjoys in Peru: the all-powerful Quechua culture revered the potato not just as a crucial foodstuff, but as an icon.
There is even a popular saying: "That's more Peruvian than potato", a reference to the unmistakable stamp of Peruvian origin on the tuber. It is a compliment that does justice to this age-old fruit of the Andes.
One of the most widely-consumed foodstuffs in Peruvian cuisine. This corn has been planted in Peru since at least 1200 BC.
The ancient Peruvian farmers achieved a degree of sophistication in the selection and creation of new varieties which adapted to varying terrains and climates. Sixteenth-century Spanish chronicler Bernabe Cobo wrote how in ancient Peru one could find corn (known locally as choclo) in every color under the sun: white, yellow, purple, black, red and mixed.
Today, farmers along the Peruvian coast, highlands and jungle grow more than 55 varieties of corn, more than anywhere else on Earth. Native historian Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, in his Royal Commentaries of the Incas, wrote in detail on eating habits in colonial times. In those days, corn was a key part of nutritional needs, and the locals called it Sara, eating it roasted or boiled in water. On major occasions, they milled the kernels to bake a type of bread called tanta or huminta. For solemn events such as the Festival of the Sun (Inti Raymi), they would bake breadrolls called zancu. The Peruvian corn was also roasted and called the same today as it was then: cancha (the predecessor of popcorn). Today, Peru features regional varieties on ways to prepare delicious dishes based on corn.
In northern Peru, the locals are particularly fond of pepian, a stew based on grated corn kernels mixed with onion, garlic and the chilli pepper and which takes on a particularly heightened flavor when cooked with turkey. Arequipa inhabitants prepare a dish called soltero (beans, corn, onion and dressing made from fresh cheese). In the jungle, one of the most typical dishes, inchi cache, is made from chicken cooked in a stew made of roasted corn and peanuts. Desserts include the sanguito (made from yellow cornflour, cooking fat, raisins and a sugarcane molasses called chancaca).
Peruvian Corn is also used to make cornmash pastries called tamales and humitas, which can come in a wide range of colors and flavors (green, brown and yellow; sweet and savory); peruvian corn is also the main ingredient of the chicha morada (drink made from purple corn) or chicha de jora (fermented corn beer) and the sweet purple corn jelly called mazamorra, for special occasions.
El Pisco Sour
Pisco is a clear distilled grape brandy made from the quebranta grape grown in the Ica valley, and around the Pisco and Ica rivers. Located three hundred kilometers to the south of Lima, the favorable soil and mild climate of the Ica valley made an ideal home for the wineries which were established by Peru's Spanish and Italian immigrant families.
This is my own recipe which is really quite standard. The only difference is that commercially bottled jarabe de goma (sugar syrup) is more commonly used. I prefer the home-brewed variety.
To make the sugar syrup:
- ½ cup sugar
- 3 tbsp water
For the drink:
- 7 ½ oz (225 ml) Pisco
- 2 ½ oz (75 ml) key lime juice
- 1 egg white - Ice
- Angostura Bitters
To prepare the sugar syrup: Put ½ cup of sugar in a small saucepan with 3 tablespoons of water, just enough to moisten the sugar. Bring the mixture to a slow boil and while stirring, cook until all the sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat and set aside to cool for a few minutes.
To make the sour: Pour the key lime juice and the Pisco into the warm sugar syrup and stir thoroughly to blend the ingredients completely. Pour the mix into a blender jar and add just enough ice to double the volume of liquid in the glass.
Blend on high for an additional 30 seconds to crush the ice. Add one egg white and blend on high for one minute. Transfer to a pitcher and serve immediately in either old-fashioned or white wine glasses. Traditionally, a drop of Angostura Bitters is placed in the middle of the foam in each glass.
The essential mix is 3 parts Pisco to 1 part key lime juice and 1 part sugar syrup: you can use this proportion to increase the recipe to produce any number of drinks.
Tip: A fourth measure of pisco may be added for a stronger drink. If you like, the edge can be taken off this stronger version by adding a touch more sugar syrup. This recipe was taken from "El Arte de la Cocina Peruana" (The Art of Peruvian Cuisine), with the author's permission. The book features over 100m Peruvian recipes and has been prepared with help from some of Peru's top chefs. The book is available in English and Spanish. If you wish to buy a copy, please contact the Fundacion Felipe Antonio Custer at the following e-mail a: email@example.com or telephone (51 1) 261-0603. The revenue earned from the sale of the book will go towards the program "Aprendamos Juntos" (Let's Learn Together), created by the Foundation to provide pyschological and educational support for children with learning difficulties in schools on Lima's outskirts.
The five-ingredient cebiche is the most typical representative of Peru's cebiches. In addition, its method of preparation, thanks to the rich Japanese influence in Peruvian gastronomy, implies greater freshness as it is marinated only briefly in lemon juice.
Ingredients for one portion:
- 200 gm of fresh fish, with firm, white meat cut into chunks measuring 1.5 cm each side.
- The juice of three lemons
- Aji limo chili pepper cut into very small chunks
- Sliced purple onion, washed
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Boiled sweet potato, shucked corn kernels and a leaf of lettuce.
Marinate the fish in lemon juice for around three minutes. Add aji depending on how spicy the dish is to be. Season with salt and pepper. If the dish is too acid, it can be watered down with a couple of ice cubes. Serve immediately and garnish with onion, sweet potato, corn and lettuce.
This is the basis of any cebiche, but it leaves itself open to variations on the theme. Some like to add chopped celery, ginger, fresh aji paste.
Bolitas de causa para piqueo
- 1 k (2.2 lb) de papa amarilla
- ¼ de taza de aceite
- 2 limones (aproximadamente ¼ de taza de jugo)
- Aji amarillo fresco, molido, al gusto (para la causa y el relleno)
- 200 g (7oz) de queso fresco, cortado en trozos pequeños
- Perejil picado
- Salsa Cremosa de Aji ½ k (1 lb 2 oz) aji amarillo fresco
- 2 a 3 cucharadas de aceite vegetal
- ¼ taza de azucar
Cocinar las papas en agua con sal. Aun calientes, pelarlas y pasarlas por el prensapapas. Dejar enfriar y amasar. Condimentar con sal, pimienta blanca, jugo de limon, aji molido y aceite, al gusto, hasta formar un pure suave.
Tomar pequeñas porciones de la causa y formar bolitas. Achatarlas en la palma de la mano y colocar en el centro un trozo de queso fresco con ¼ de cucharadita de aji molido y perejil picado. Cerrar luego la bolita y colocarla en una fuente. Repetir hasta acabar con la causa.
Servir las bolitas con Salsa Cremosa de Aji, Salsa Huancaina o Crema de Palta.
Salsa Cremosa de Aji
Limpiar los ajies, retirar venas y semillas y cortar en trozos. Blanquear en agua hirviendo con azucar durante 5 minutos. Colar. Calentar aceite en una sarten y freir los ajies durante 5 minutos. Sazonar. Colocar el aji con el aceite en la licuadora hasta lograr un pure suave. Sazonar.
- 8 corns
- 2/3 cup (11 tablespoons) shortening
- 1 medium size onion, chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- Aji Fresh yellow / aji amarillo(chili), blended
- 4 oz (½ cup) blended cilantro
- Corn husks, washed and dried
- 5 oz (130 g) chicken meat
- 5 oz (130 g) pork meat
- 10 black olives, seeded and cut in 4
- 2 eggs, hardboiled
- Salsa Criolla
- Onion Creole Sauce
Place chicken and pork meat in separate pans, cover with salted water and cook until tender. Cut meat into small pieces.
Melt shortening in a pan and fry chicken and pork pieces until golden. Remove and set aside. Brown onions, garlic and aji / chili in same fat. Season and separate 1/3 of mixture for filling. Add meats, hardboiled eggs and olives to this mixture.
Cut kernels from cobs. Blend kernels with enough water or chicken stock to obtain a thick cream.
Add cilantro. Add corn to onion mixture in pan and cook, stirring, at medium heat until thick and shiny. Add more water or stock if necessary. Place one or two overlapping husks in palm of one hand. Spoon 1 ½ tablespoons of corn mixture spreading slightly.
Place 2 teaspoons filling on the center and cover with corn mixture. Wrap corn husks to enclose tamal. Tie with string.
Place tamales in pan with 2 inches of water and cook for 20 minutes.
Peel back the corn husks and serve with salsa criolla - onion creole sauce.
- 6 serving pieces of white firm fish
- ½ cup red vinegar
- 2 aji Fresh yellow/aji amarillo(chili), cut in slices
- 1 fresh hierbabuena sprig (mint)
- 1 ½ cups vegetable oil (aprox.)
- 2 garlic cloves
- 4 ground aji mirasol / sundried yellow aji (chili)
- 2 onions cut in thick slices
- 3 hard
- boiled eggs
- 2 sweet potatoes, cooked and thickly sliced
- 2 corns cooked and cut in slices (1 ½ inches or 3 cm)
- Lettuce for decoration
Combine vinegar, onion, hot pepper and mint in a bowl. Let stand for 1 hour. Wash and pat dry fish. Combine salt, pepper and flour and coat fish. Fry in hot oil (1 ¼ cups approx.). Save covered. In separate skillet fry garlic, ground aji, salt, pepper and dash of cumin. Add vinegar mixture with onions and yellow hot peppers. Bring to a boil. In platter place fish, top with onion sauce. Let cool. Decorate with lettuce leaves, sweet potato, hard-boiled eggs halved and corn slices.
To grind the aji panca soak in cold water for 5 hours. Then cut and remove seeds and veins. Boil for 2 hours, changing the water after 1 hour to decrease hotness. Blend with oil until a puree consistency is obtained.
Sauteed Beef Tenderloin
- 2.2 lb (1 k) beef tenderloin, sliced into thin strips
- 3 red onions, peeled and cut into eighths
- 2.2 lb (1 k) all purpose potatoes, peeled, cut for French fries
- 4 aji amarillo fresco / fresh yellow aji , sliced into thin strips
- 4 tomatoes cut in eighths
- 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 ¼ cups oil
- ½ teaspoon lemon juice
Heat ½ cup oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add beef and quickly saute until beef is seared and browned on all sides. Remove pan from heat and transfer beef to a plate. Save covered. Return pan to medium-high heat and add 1 ½ tablespoons oil. Add onions and saute until edges are seared and they begin to soften, about 2 minutes. Add aji amarillo, tomatoes, parsley, salt, pepper, soy sauce and vinegar. Saute until tomatoes have softened, about 2 minutes. Add beef and toss gently.
Optional: For a special taste pour ¼ cup Pisco over boiling meat and ignite. Cover and set aside. Heat ¾ cups oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add potatoes and saute until browned and tender, about 15 minutes. Drain on paper towel. Unmold rice in center of serving dish. Place beef and french fries on each side. Sprinkle with finely chopped parsley.
Freeze Dried / Potatoes with pork
- 1 lb (400 g) freeze dried potatoes
- 2 lb (1 k) boneless pork meat
- 3 ½ oz (100 g) peanuts, toasted and coarsely processed
- 2 tablespoons (50 g) crushed garlic.
- 3 tablespoons aji panca molido / sundried red aji (chili) paste
- 2 tablespoons aji mirasol / sundried yellow aji (chili) paste
- ¼ cup red vinegar
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 3 crackers
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- 1 tablespoon cumin
- 4 cups chicken bouillon
- ¼ cup port wine - Salt
Brown freeze dried potato in a skillet until golden. Transfer tp a bowl and cover with water for 30 minutes approximately. Cut ¾ of pork meat in large pieces and the rest in small pieces. Marinate meat in a mixture of vinegar, pepper, cumin, aji, garlic and salt. Fry pieces of meat (large ones) in ½ cup oil. Remove meat. Fry small pieces in same oil. Pour oil left from meat in another pan. Add ½ cup more. Pour marinade and cook for 2 minutes. Add bouillion and freeze dried potato drained. Mix. Reduce heat and cook for 1 1/2 hours stirring frequently. Add meat pieces and cook for another 1/2 hour until well done. Before removing from heat, add toasted peanuts processed with crackers, and port wine. Serve with white rice. Soak in cold water for 6 hours changing water twice. Then cut and remove seeds and veins. Boil for 2 hours, changing the water after 1 hour to decrease hotness. Blend with oil until a puree consistency is obtained.
Beef Herat anticuchos
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed )
- ¼ cup aji panca molido / sundried red aji paste(chili - Salt
- ¾ cup vinegar
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 beef heart, cleaned
- Fresh yellow/aji amarillo, blended
- Bamboo skewers
Combine all ingredients to prepare marinade. Set aside.
Remove fat and clean beef heart and cut in ¾ to 1-inch pieces (2 ½ - 3 cm.). Place them in a medium size bowl and pour marinade over beef heart pieces. Leave marinating at least 12 hours. Thread 3 pieces onto bamboo skewers. Heat barbecue grill and place anticuchos, brushing them with a mixture of blended fresh yellow aji and oil. Cook on one side, turn and repeat procedure.
Serve hot. Usually, 2 anticucho skewers are served per person together with a boiled potato, a piece of corn and blended fresh yellow aji, for a spicier flavor. If beef heart is not available, anticuchos can be prepared with tenderloin pieces. Proceed in the same way
Suspiro a la limeña
- 1 can (1 ¼ cups) condensed milk (or 1 can of evaporated milk and 150 g of sugar)
- 1 can or 400 ml of evaporated milk
- 1 stick of cinnamon
- 5 egg yolks
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 cup or 200 g sugar
- ¼ cup of port wine
- 2 egg whites
- Ground cinnamon
In a medium-size saucepan combine milks with cinnamon. Bring to a boil stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until creamy and thick. Let stand for 10 minutes. Beat egg yolks, add vanilla and gradually incorporate to milk preparation, mixing well. Pour into a serving bowl or individual cups.
In a medium-size saucepan combine sugar and port wine. Bring to a boil and continue until syrup reaches the soft ball stage (230° F on a candy thermometer).
Beat egg whites until stiff. Start pouring the hot syrup into the whites and continue beating until meringue is cool and thick. Top the cups with meringue and sprinkle with cinnamon.
Crocantes de Lucuma
- 250 g (9 oz) de pecanas, picadas
- 200 g (7 oz) de azucar
- 3 claras
- 2 lucumas de tamaño mediano
- ½ lata de leche condensada, aproximadamente
- 1 cucharadita de colapez en polvo
- 1 taza de crema de leche
- Crema Chantilly
- Chocolate rallado
Batir las claras hasta espesas. Agregar el azucar y seguir batiendo hasta que tenga la consistencia para un merengue. Bajar la velocidad y agregar las pecanas.
Colocar en un molde desarmable de 26 cm (10 ½ pulgadas) previamente engrasado. Llevar al horno de 300°F (150°C) durante 25 minutos. Retirar del horno y enfriar dentro del molde.
Licuar las lucumas con la leche condensada y la vainilla hasta obtener un pure. Pasar por un colador fino.
Hidratar la colapez en agua fria y disolverla a fuego lento. Dejar enfriar y mezclar la colapez con el pure de lucuma.
Batir la crema de leche como para crema chantilly. Mezclarla con el pure en forma envolvente.
Verter la mezcla de lucumas sobre el merengue horneado y frio. Llevar a cuajar al refrigerador.
Decorar con crema chantilly y chocolate rallado.