In Lima, a city more Spanish than perhaps any of the other seats of Spanish viceroyalties in the New World, the Spanish elite built huge mansions from the money raised by the tribute demanded of the natives and other less noble members of the society. Tribute usually consisted of the ubiquitous silver, but also included potatoes, corn, fish, and coca. The class differences imposed by traditional Spanish social structure elevated the Spanish born in Spain above the Creoles, or people of Spanish blood born in the New World. Then came the humbler Spaniards and Creoles not of noble blood, followed by freed Blacks and natives (called Indians in historical accounts, as that was the word used, politically correct or not: see below), with slaves clinging to the lower rungs of the social order.
At the top of the social ladder was the Spanish Viceroy and his wealthy entourage. Ostentatious displays of jewelry and ornate silver sets appeared at grand banquets in the European style, with centerpieces often designed using live animals like squirrels or massive displays of fruit. The arrival of a new viceroy or archbishop became occasions for grand celebrations, but everyday celebrations of saints’ days, name days, weddings, christenings, and the like also required magnificent parties and banquets. Spanish noblemen who came to the New World took their cues from Emperor Charles V when it came to parties. Charles’s extravagance was so well known that the Grand Inquisitor Torquemada made a point in his Colloques satiriques (1553) to reprimand such excesses and recommended instead the frugality and simplicity of the Spanish past.
Throughout the Viceroyalty of Peru, as the Roman Catholic Church proselytized over the vast distances and founded convents, where nuns and their Indians servants soon became known for intricate sweets and other confections. Lay sisters did most of the cooking in the convents, where class differences determined much of the protocol. A typical day’s food for an abbess in a convent might include an early breakfast at 6 a.m. featuring punch, chocolate, and maté. Later, mid-morning, the nuns drank misetlas or sweet drinks made from fruit juice and a liqueur. At noon, there was a large lunch. A tea-like snack appeared at 5 p.m. and at 9 p.m. a substantial supper was served before bedtime. Nuns not of the same social class or otherwise out of the favored circle ate greens normally fed to animals, with some potatoes and very little meat.
Scholar James Lockhart emphasized that social class led most of the Spaniards, and others, in Peru to dream of what he called the seigneurial ideal: “… casa poblada, an occupied or peopled house. This simple term meant something very definite to the Spaniards of the time. It implied a large house, a Spanish wife if possible, a table where many guests were maintained, Negro slaves, a staff of Spanish and Indian [native] servants, and stable of horses.” This sentiment evolved into the ideal image of the Spanish gentleman with land, horses, and wealth enough not to have to do physical labor, and the leisure to feast and entertain friends and family lavishly.
The Pizarros and their followers — essentially a gang of illiterate cut-throats and thugs — changed Peru forever. But the foodstuffs they brought with them and the mixing of these foods with native foods gave birth to the fantastic Peruvian cuisine we eat today. As for the taste of history, well, we’d best not forget the price paid for the fusion of food and culture.
Burns, Kathryn. Colonial Habits: Convents and the Spiritual Economy of Cuzco, Peru. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1999.
Crosby, Alfred W., Jr. The Columbian Exchange: Biological and Cultural Consequences of 1492. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1972.
Custer, Tony. The Art of Peruvian Cuisine. Lima, Peru: QW Editores S.A.C., 2005.
Ferreira, César and Eduardo Dargent-Chamot. Culture and Customs of Peru. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2003.
Lockhart, James. Spanish Peru 1532-1560: A Colonial Society. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1968. p. 21.
Marks, Copeland. The Exotic Kitchens of Peru: The Land of the Inca. New York: M. Evans and Company, 1999.
Palma, Ricardo. Translated by Helen Lane. Peruvian Traditions. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.
Temple, Edmund. Travels in Various Parts of Peru. Vol. 1. New York: AMS Press, 1971, p. 163.
Books in Spanish about the era, especially Carlos V, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain:
Carlos V à la mesa : cocina y alimentación en la España renacentista, by L. Jacinto García Gómez.
La mesa del emperador : recetario de Carlos V en Yuste, by Jose V. Serradilla Muñoz.
À la mesa con los reyes de España : curiosidades y anécdotas de la cocina de palacio, by María Emilia González Sevilla.
La cocina en el Virreinato del Perú, by Rosario Olivas Weston.
Conquista y comida : consecuencias del encuentro de dos mundos, by Janet Long.
Delicias de antaño : historia y recetas de los conventos mexicanos, by Teresa Castello Yturbide.
© 2008 C. Bertelsen