Pachamanca, the classic Andean meal
A variety of meats are cooked, with spices, potatoes and lima beans, by placing them with hot stones in a hole in the ground.
Now eaten throughout Peru, the modern recipe is derived from Andean traditions stretching back almost 10,000 years.
Ceviche may be widely viewed as the national dish of Peru but there is another that perhaps best sums up the essence of local Andean traditions here, pachamanca. The name in the indigenous Quechua language means “earth pot” and that’s an accurate description of this delicacy that involves slow-cooking a variety of meats by wrapping them in leaves and then burying them for several hours in a hole in the ground with hot large stones taken from a camp fire.
The archaeological record shows similar early cooking techniques from around 7,500BC in San Pedro de Cajas, in Junín, in Peru’s central mountains. The Incas are also known to have used this method of preparing food in another recipe called huatia. Typically, pachamanca involves a selection of beef, pork, lamb, chicken and guinea pig (although the latter is usually not served to tourists unless they specifically request it) all seasoned with a variety of Andean herbs such as huacatay (known in English
as “black mint”), and cumin, and local ajies, as chili peppers are known in Peru. Potatoes, green lima beans still in the pod, and sometimes sweet potatoes, corn or even cassava from the Amazon are also placed with the meat.
For traditional Andean communities, pachamanca is not just a recipe but a rite, one that expresses their deep reverence for the natural habitat on which they depend. Yet even for visitors to Peru, pachamanca usually requires a little more commitment than most dishes. It is cooked in large quantities, and because of the time it takes, most restaurants need to be notified in advance and have minimum numbers of diners, starting at around four but sometimes being as much as a dozen, before they are able to prepare the dish. Pachamanca is now eaten across Peru, including in some of Lima’s top restaurants, and sometimes prepared in pots rather than in the earth. But, the best time and place to enjoy this rich, comforting dish is on a brisk day in the Andes, after working up a real appetite.
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