Friday, August 1, 2014

Peru 3: Pachamanca

One day we trekked two day's worth of distance with the purpose of having a rest day at the Alpamayo campsite. The trek is also called the Alpamayo Circuit, and this mountain is not visible from any major points in civilization. We wanted extra time here in case of bad weather obscuring photo opportunities, the natural spring in the camp ground, and more time to prepare and eat Pachamanca, a national Peruvian dish. 

Pachamanca is a Quechua word that means earth (pacha) and earthen pot/cooking vessel (manca). As you will see, it is cooked underground by hot stones. This dish has been made since the rule of the Incas and is specific to the cuisine of Peru. It is often eaten after the harvest as a thanksgiving celebration. Apparently it is also popular to make during or at the end of lengthy treks. After eating this amazing meal, I teased the mountain guide that I had found out why he leads long treks: who wouldn't want to eat the best meal in the world every two weeks? 

Early in the morning, our donkey driver prepared the earthen pit and stacked the stones for heating.

Note the pepper (barely visible) in the top left corner of the stove. When it was completely black and roasted, it was one of the signs that the stones were hot enough.

The fire was built under the stones and kept stoked for a few hours. Pepper is more visible in this picture (top right).

When the stones were hot enough, they were moved (with bits of cardboard!!)  so the fire could be removed. The stones were rearranged to create an evenly heating oven.

The cook is loading up the bottom with whole potatoes and yams, then laying the meats, and finishing with the trout, which needs the least amount of heat. The meats are marinated with herbs grown in the area, in this case huacatay leaves, which is a cousin of the marigold. Traditionally the meats are wrapped in banana leaves, but our cook used aluminum foil. 

More loading and arranging, but let's just pause and admire the donkey driver's sandals. They are made entirely of old rubber tires. The treads are underneath, and it often looked like someone had driven a vehicle on the trails, because he wore them while hiking and donkey driving!!!! I would be scared that a large animal would step on my feet and do some major damage. In addition, it was often freezing in the morning. Didn't seem to bother him at all! 

After the food was loaded, a last layer of rocks placed on top, grasses that were growing in the area in abundance were placed on top of the stone oven. The blue tarp on the left was used as a wind barrier.

The grass was covered by another cloth and then lots of dirt.

Cooking time is around an hour. Nothing to see here.

Time to unload the food!


View from the top of empty oven.

YUMMY LUNCH! Several different potatoes, yams called oca (the skinny ones), chicken and beef. As the pescatarian, I had the honor of getting the freshly caught trout. 

As if that plate of loot wasn't enough, there was a tray of sides that featured fresh cucumber, tomato, and broccoli. There was a corn and cheese salad, a red pepper salad (made with the "test" pepper up above) and a delicious dipping sauce. 
Bon Appetit! Let me know if you can and will make this for me. I will come visit immediately!

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