After Pizarro: Food in Colonial Peru and Today

Francisco Pizarro
Francisco Pizarro

In 1531, the world of the Inca of Peru changed forever. That year, Francisco Pizarro and his three brothers, from Estremadura, Spain, began their successful conquest of Peru. Not only did the Pizarros bring Spanish law, culture, and religion to the region later known as the Viceroyalty of Peru, which included all of South America until the 1776 creation of the Viceroyalty of Rio de la Plata. The Pizarros also brought a wide variety of foodstuffs previously unknown to the native Inca: wheat, pork, olive oil, wine, mutton, beef, rice, cabbage, bananas, peas, salt pork, and sugar. And the Inca in return exposed the Spanish to foods that are now indispensable to European and world cuisine; potatoes, squash, chiles, sweet potatoes, peanuts, corn, tomatoes, cocoa, manioc, coca, quinoa, guava, turkey, beans, and pineapple.

Roasted Guinea Pig and Potatoes

Dining in the early days was an adventure as the Spaniards and their Indian allies penetrated into the interior of Tierra Firme seeking gold and other wealth. Hunger was often their companion until they learned to incorporate native foods into their diet. As the social niceties of civilization increased along with the population of women in the area, food took on a more glamorous role. But still as late as 1833, Briton Edmund Temple recounted the meager food he encountered in the mountains far away from Peru’s regal city of Lima: “A morsel of delicious mountain mutton, roasted in the ashes, and a fowl cooked in the same manner, with some very small, but very good potatoes were served up by the mistress of the post house in a deep silver dish; neither knife nor fork, however, appeared, and only one wooden spoon.” A day or two later, the post cook presented him with the same meal, only this time it was roasted guinea pig, not mutton. Travelers like Temple during the colonial period sought out the houses of the local priests, too, where they might dine on chupe (mutton broth). Certainly always potatoes graced the menus, but sometimes just potatoes and salt steamed on the plate. Peruvian cuisine of the time followed Inca practices  in that thick soups and stews abounded, while roasted meat tended to be prevalent only where large number of animals were raised, as in Argentina. One exception in Peru was the pachamanca, or pit cooking, using hot stones to roast vegetables and meat, considered an ancient Andean ritualized celebration of Mother Earth (Pacha Mama).

Quinoa, Amaranth, Corn, Wheat, Dried Potato, Tubers (Photo credit: Jay Joslin)

(Continued on December 8, 2008.)

© 2008 C. Bertelsen

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