We all know that a good trip is nothing without good food, and if you are thinking of visiting or learning a little more about Peru, you have to read about the Pachamanca, the typical dish of the Incas. Peru is one of the countries with the best gastronomy in the world and has an incredible variety of products, dishes and drinks. However, the pachamanca is not just another delicacy, but an ancient practice that expresses the love and the strong union that the Andean culture of Peru has with Pachamama (Mother Earth). Here, we tell you all about it!
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The Pachamanca (Quechua Inca word meaning Earthen Pot) is the preparation of various tubers and types of meat that, instead of using an oven or stove, are cooked under the ground. That's right, no kidding! A hole is made in the ground, the fire is lit, the food is put in and covered with hot stones or earth so that it serves as a subway oven.
Even the meaning of Pachamanka in Quechua means "earthen pot", because pacha is earth and manka is pot or oven; while in the Aymara language, manka is translated as food, so Pachamanka can also be interpreted as "earth food".
As we will see below, the pachamanca is not the same throughout Peru, it is prepared mainly in the regions of Ancash, Huanuco, Pasco, Lima, Junin, Huancavelica, Apurimac and Ayacucho, each with its own ingredients. The pachamanca is not a technique unique to Peru. The use of fire is universal as it allows for better digestion of food, while stones are excellent heat receptors. In addition, gastronomy is perhaps the oldest art that exists, so it is not surprising that in various parts of the world food is cooked underground.
Very similar dishes and techniques are found throughout Latin America: in Bolivia there is the Pampaku and the Wajañaña, in Chile the curanto of the Mapuche people, in Mexico they use ovens in the ground called píib and the indigenous peoples of Brazil and Paraguay make the Paparuto. Similar techniques are also found on various islands in the Pacific Ocean from which the inhabitants of South America are believed to have migrated.
In Peru, since 2003, the pachamanca is considered Cultural Heritage of the Nation and since 2015, every first Sunday of February is celebrated the National Day of the Pachamanca. to celebrate its importance in the national gastronomy.
The Pachamanca is prepared as follows (Summary):
The pachamanca begins by digging a hole in the ground where the fire will be lit and carefully placing the stones in the shape of a dome to heat them up. Once the stones are hot, the food is placed on top of them.
First go the tubers (sweet potato, potato, yucca and oca) that take longer to cook; next, the meats are placed, which can be chicken, beef, lamb, pork or guinea pig. This first layer of food is covered with grass or banana leaves and the rest of the ingredients are placed on top: corn, beans and sometimes sweet corn humitas. Then it is covered with more condiments, with more grass or leaves, with thick blankets and finally with a mound of earth that will concentrate the heat. The food can be left from one hour to two or four hours.
What gives the pachamanca its unique flavor are the condiments that are used to season each ingredient and that are also put directly into the pit with the rest. As mentioned above, the seasonings are not always the same. In the northern departments of Ancash, Huanuco and Pasco, herbs such as chincho and huacatay are used to give a green color to the pachamanca. To the south, in Ayacucho, Apurímac and Huancavelica, ají panca and ají colorado are used, so the color is red. In the center of these two traditions, Lima and Junín make a mixture that produces brown tones.
Additionally, the regions of Cusco and Puno have a sister practice to the pachamanca called huatia, in which chincho and huacatay also predominate, and which differs by making a shallower hole and using clods of earth instead of stones to cover the food.
Once the pachamanca is ready, the soil, leaves and condiments are removed, and finally the corn, meat and tubers are carefully extracted, which come out with a mouth-watering smell. For us, the most important thing about the pachamanca is to share with the people we love the most and celebrate life on a table or on blankets on the ground, with a delicious plate of food and a glass of beer or chicha de jora in hand.
There are archaeological remains up to 11,000 years old that give evidence of the use of techniques similar to the pachamanca in the central Andes. In the Inca Empire, the meaning of the pachamanca was a ritual offering to Pachamama (Mother Earth) to ensure the fertility of the earth and the regeneration of life. Traditionally, it is performed at harvest time, when families choose the best products to thank the earth and the cosmos for providing them with food. Before being consumed, the food must return to the earth where it was generated.
Not all cultures consider land as a suitable medium for preparing food. In Western culture, for example, we seek to distance society from nature and the earth is commonly seen as dirty. We have already realized how dangerous this thinking is, which has led to the depredation of ecosystems and the pollution of our planet.
Meanwhile, the Andean culture perceives itself as the daughter of Pachamama, of the sun Inti, of the qochas or lagoons and of our mountain range. It is taught that we must take care of nature because we are just another part of the cycle of life that governs the plants, animals, rivers and mountains.
A pachamanca is always a collective act in which different families and communities coexist with fire, earth, rocks and food, basic elements of the Andean cosmovision. This is why, in addition to being a ritual to the earth, the pachamanca currently serves as an accompaniment to various festivals, events and special occasions. It is the perfect reflection of the Peruvian culture that gives great importance to collectivism and food. And it allows to feed many people in an entertaining and delicious way.
The pachamanca implies social cohesion among the participating groups, who must organize themselves and exchange work and food. Some carry the meat, others the potatoes and condiments, others prepare the oven and there is even a master of ceremony who asks for the blessing of the apus with coca leaves, chicha or a cross of flowers. And the musicians cannot be missing in a pachamanca, because it is not strange to see all those present dancing on top of the buried food, showing the joy and zest for life that characterizes the Peruvian.
Today the pachamanca is a practice that extends throughout Peru and is used both by farmers in the highlands and the upper classes of the capital. Any tourist visiting our country is obliged to try this delicious dish, even if it is in a traditional restaurant. However, nothing compares to the experience of living the pachamanca and enjoying the whole preparation ritual that makes it even richer.
At Tierras de los Andes, we seek to offer authentic cultural experiences to people who are truly interested in seeing the traditional ways of life that still exist in Peru.. That's why we are offering an incredible PACHAMANCA TOUR! In our treks and tours we offer lodging with indigenous communities that will share with you their ways of seeing the world, rituals and food. If you want to experience the authentic pachamanca that has been passed down for thousands of years, contact us and don't be afraid to ask, we will help you in every way possible to ensure you have the best experience in Peru!