I am still thinking about the food in Peru.  Today my obsession is quinoa.  I had heard of the grain before I traveled to Peru, however, I had not tasted it.  Quinoa is not a commonly used grain by most people in the US.

To the Incas, quinoa was considered sacred. In Quechua, it is referred to as chisiya mama or “mother grain.” Every planting season, the Inca emperor broke the soil with a golden spade and planted the first seed.

In the Altiplano region, quinoa is still a staple. For many it is their major source of protein, and its protein is of such high quality that, nutritionally speaking, it can and often does, take the place of meat in the diet. Outside the highlands of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru, however, the cultivation of quinoa  is virtually unknown.

In ancient times quinoa helped sustain the Inca armies as they marched throughout the empire towards new conquests. Today, it is made into flour for baked goods, breakfast cereals, beer, soups, desserts, and even livestock feed.  It has an extremely mild taste and a firm texture like that of wild rice. Traditionally, quinoa is prepared in the same manner as we prepare rice or can be used to thicken soups.  Some varieties are also popped like popcorn.1

My favorite dish in Peru with quinoa in it was a soup.  It was a chicken and vegetable broth with quinoa.  It was the first course at lunch.

If I haven’t mentioned it before, lunch the largest meal of the day.  Lunch in Peru is akin to dinner in the US.  Lunch always entails a soup as the first course, the main meal with a meat, starch (or two), and a vegetable.  Sometimes the vegetable portion is simply a ½ avocado sliced or a leaf or two of lettuce.  The meal always ends with desert.  Dinner on the other hand, is more like a light snack.  It usually consists of rolls with either cheese or butter and jam and hot tea.


All this talk of food make you hungry or interested in trying quinoa for yourself?  If so, try this tasty recipe: Lemony Quinoa and Kale with Pine Nuts.

Lost Crops of the Incas: Little-Known Plants of the Andes with Promise for Worldwide Cultivation (1989) Advisory Committee on Technology Innovation, Board on Science and Technology for International Development, National Research Council The National Academic Press . (page 149)


Okay, I am still obsessed with food.  I think it is because I just made some fabulous maple bacon scones from a recipe that I found on latte and leggings.  Mmmm!


I digress, today I am contemplating maize.  For all my archaeology friends out there, you know that we spend a lot of time thinking about maize, particularly if you are a New World archaeologist.

In ancient times Inca farmers grew more than 500 different kinds of maize.


The most common ways to prepare maize was either roasting it or boiling it.  On special occasions maize was milled into a flour to make bread called Tanta or Humita.  During Inti Raymi it was made into an even more special kind of bread called Zancu1.

Today, Peruvian farmers still grow more than 55 varieties of maize.  Modern Peruvians roast and eat it, make tamales from it, make chicha from it, and make a geletain-like desert from it called Mazamorra Morada.

Mazamorra Morada is a thick Peruvian purple pudding-like made with the purple corn, fresh fruits and spices.  I tasted this particular dish at a Peruvian restaurant called Machu Picchu in Raleigh, North Carolina.

I think my favorite way to eat maize in Peru was as Cancha.  Cancha is toasted corn.  Cancha is serves as a snack or precursor to a meal.  It is salty and crunchy and very delicious!

 Peru, South America—People and Placeshttp://www.imagesofanthropology.com/Peru_South_America_People_and_Places_page_1.html

¡Buen provecho!

Let’s talk about Peruvian cuisine!

If you remember, I am a food anthropologist.  More specifically, an archaeobotanist, which is just a fancy way to say that I study the old, burnt seeds and plants that people ate in the past.  I also love to try new foods and styles of preparation for foods I commonly eat.  So, I am completely infatuated with how other people eat, what other people eat, and whom they eat with when I travel.

While visiting Peru, I learned much about their cuisine, both ancient and modern.  In fact, our guides throughout the trip – Luis in Lima and Al and Victor in the Sacred Valley – often spoke about food traditions.  The following information is based on what I learned listening to our guides talk while we rode the bus from one spectacular site to the next.   Here is just a taste…

Did you know that there are more than 3000 varieties of potatoes indigenous to Peru, and more than 700 in Cusco alone?

Most Andean potatoes are vastly different from what we think of as a “normal” potato. They have skin and flesh that are often colored bright yellow or deep purple. Some varieties are long and thin, and others wrinkled. Many have a high nutritional quality and a strong potato-y taste. Many Peruvian varieties are less watery than common potatoes or have nut-like tastes and crisp textures. Moreover, most of these less recognized types of  potatoes are adapted to marginal growing environments and possess considerable resistance to various troublesome diseases, insects, and frost1 .


There are many traditional dishes made from Peruvian potatoes, but one in particular stands out in my mind at this very moment.  One afternoon at lunch my homestay “Mom” made a delicious vegetable soup.  The star of the soup was a crisp fingerling potato that I have never tasted before.  The texture and flavor were quite different from the potato varieties I have tasted before and very yummy!

Peruvian Potatoes & Indigenous Varietals. http://nissa.ger-nis.com/2010/10/07/peruvian-potatoes-indigenous-varietals/

Ancient Tomb Built to Flood—Sheds Light on Peru Water Cult? National Geographic News

Ancient Tomb Built to Flood—Sheds Light on Peru Water Cult? National Geographic News.

Academia Latinoamericana de Español

It recently occurred to me that I have been remiss in describing our experience at the language academy in Peru.  I spoke very briefly about our Spanish classes and service project while in Cusco, however, I do not believe that a few short paragraphs have done justice in explaining what the Academia has to offer.

To begin, let me say that the entire trip was a collaboration between Craven Community College and Academia Latinoamericana de Español. The Academia has three program locations – Cusco, Peru, Quito, Ecuador, and Sucre, Bolivia.  They offer a variety of program focuses for varying lengths, from short-term excursions like the one we took to semester or year-long directed studies.  The Academia was our in-country coordinator for all of our excursions and activities while in Peru. We will again partner with them in May of 2013 when we explore Quito, Ecuador.

To check out a more complete summary of what the Academia has to offer visit:


As part of the Study Abroad Committee for our college, I and my partners in all things Peru, spent the better part of last academic year working with Diego del Corral, President of the Academia to plan and execute the Peru trip.  From our homestay families, to language lessons, to cultural activities – all was coordinated by our in-country partners.  He worked tireless to build a wonderful itinerary for us.  Once we arrived in Peru, I found the entire Cusco staff and faculty even more wonderful.


The Spanish language classes were very interesting.  On our first day of “school” we all took placement exams, which allowed the staff to identify our varying degrees of skill.  Based on what we already knew, or more aptly what we didn’t know, we were placed into classes.  Those with no experience went into the beginner class, and others into classes based on where they were in the progression of learning the language.  No class was larger than 5 people.  In fact, my class was myself and one other person – Patrick, aka Pacha Gordo


The Academia uses an immersion technique to teach our classes.  Our instructor only spoke Spanish to us unless there was no other way to get us to understand.  Sometimes we used gestures and pictures to clarify, instead of falling back on English.  We also played games like Pictionary, hangman, charades, and 20 questions to learn vocabulary and practice tenses.  Some of the classes went to the market to practice with vendors as well.  I felt that I was able to increase my abilities immensely by taking the classes.


It was also nice to go to our homestay families and practice what we learned in class.


Our service project through the Academia was also a wonderful experience.  I am not sure what I expected before we arrived, but it was a unique experience.  We separated into 6 groups of two people and went to act as teacher aids in preschools.  Some of us went to preschools in Cusco and others went to the neighboring city of Santa Rosa de San Sebastian.  Many of our schools had no running water or bathroom facilities, or barely working sanitation.  A portion of the fees we paid to the Academia went directly to the schools to help them acquire better facilities and more supplies.  Seeing the challenges that Peruvian teachers faced within their educational system was an eye-opening experience.  We take much for granted in the United States.  Spending time getting to know the children in the schools touched all our hearts.  And while I am not sure how much my signing songs or helping to color affected them, the time I spent there definitely affected me.

Chair of Social Science, Humanities,
& Foreign Languages

Liberal Arts & University Transfer
Craven Community College

800 College Court
New Bern, NC 28562
Email: bellaceroc@cravencc.edu
Phone: 252.638.7328
Fax: 252.638.3231

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