Nectar of the Gods


In Ancient Latin America the term Chicha can be used to refer to either a fermented or unfermented beverage made primarily from maize.  Chicha can also be made from manioc, quinoa, grapes, apples, or other types of fruits.

I have tasted chicha several times in several different places, since it is drink that is shared throughout Latin America, both in the past and present.  The first time I tasted chicha, was at a Peruvian restaurant in Tallahassee, FL whose name now eludes me.  It is sweet and viscous, a cross between juice and a thin grain-based porridge.

Chicha is a maize-based, fermented beverage with both sacred and secular uses in pre-Hispanic Andean society.  Maize kernels are soaked and allowed to germinate for several days.  The germinated kernels are then dried and ground on milling stones similar to the manos and metates found in Mesoamerica.  The ground maize is then cooked in water for anywhere between 12 hours and two days.  The cooked maize is fermented and strained to create a potable beverage.

Who brewed chicha in Andean societies depended upon the context of its production.  If the chicha was produced for the Inca state, a communal group of “chosen women” were provided the ingredients for brewing and were given food in return for their labor.  Specialists, usually men, brewed chicha for exchange.  Households also brewed chicha for personal consumption (Moore 1989:682, 686-689).

High status individuals in Andean societies procured communal labor for public architecture, transportation of materials and goods, warfare, and agricultural activities through the redistribution of chicha.  Commoners gave their labor, and elites reciprocated with chicha.

Drinking chicha was a ritualized social event.  The first toast, along with a portion of the beverage, was offered to the gods.  Deceased rulers were toasted with chicha to honor them (Valdez 2006:53-58).

In Peru, the unfermented version, called Chica Morada, was and still is consumed.  It is a sweet beverage made from purple maize native to the Peruvian Andes.  The corn is boiled with pineapple, cinnamon, clove and sugar. I have even seen it in the bodegas in bottled form next to the refrescos.

Moore, Jerry D.
1989        Pre-Hispanic Beer in Coastal Peru: Technology and Social Context of Prehistoric Production. American Anthropologist 91:681-695.
Valdez, Lidio M.
2006        Maize Beer Production in Middle Horizon Peru. Journal of Anthropological Research 62:53-80.

Peru’s Answer to Mexico’s Mole?


I am still stuck on the tastiness of the aji amarillo.  The dish I like the best made with this yellow pepper is Aji de Gallina.  I had the opportunity to sample this dish twice, once at Machu Picchu in Raleigh and again when my homestay “Mom” made it in Cusco.  Now, the time I tried it in Raliegh it was delish, however, no comparison to the scrumptiousness of the  Aji de Gallina I had in Cusco.  Nothing like homemade!

I found this great recipe below under South American Food at as well.  It reminds me of Mexican moles – with a pepper and nut base.  Maybe it is Peru’s answer to the moles of Mexico.  Which I am a fan of by the way – chocolate moles, red moles, green moles, black moles – but I digress, to the recipe!  I will give it a whirl this weekend,  I think.

Peruvian Spicy Creamed Chicken – Aji de Gallina

Aji de gallina is a delicious Peruvian classic – slightly spicy and bright yellow from the famous aji amarillo peppers, and rich from the unusual cream sauce made with ground walnuts. This dish is traditionally served over rice, with boiled yellow potatoes and black olives. You can buy frozen yellow aji peppers (they often look more orange than yellow) at Latin food markets. You can also find jarred aji amarillo paste, which works well too. If you can’t find aji amarillo peppers, then substitute another hot chile pepper and add a yellow bell pepper for color.

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour


  • 1 1/2 pounds chicken breast
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 3-4 yellow aji peppers
  • 2 gloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons chopped walnuts
  • 3 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
  • 4 slices white bread
  • 3/4 cup evaporated milk
  • 4 yellow potatoes
  • 2 hard boiled eggs
  • 10 black olives, halved


  1. Cook the yellow potatoes in salted water until tender when pierced with a fork. Let cool, peel, cut into quarters, and set aside.
  2. Place the bread in a small bowl and pour the evaporated milk over it to soak. Set aside.
  3. Place the chicken breasts in a pot with the chicken stock, and bring to a simmer. Cook for 10-15 minutes, until chicken is just barely cooked through.
  4. Set chicken aside to cool. Strain broth and reserve 2 cups.
  5. Remove stems and seeds from the peppers. In a blender, process peppers with the vegetable oil until smooth.
  6. Sauté the garlic and onions with the puréed peppers and oil, until the onions are soft and golden. Remove from heat and let cool.
  7. Shred the cooled chicken into bite-size pieces.
  8. In a blender or food processor, process the evaporated milk and bread mixture with the nuts and parmesean cheese until smooth. Add the cooked onion mixture and process briefly.
  9. Return onion mixture to pan, and add 1 1/2 cups of the reserved chicken stock. Bring to a low simmer, and stir in the chicken. Heat until warmed through, adding more chicken stock if sauce is too thick.
  10. Serve over rice, garnished with the yellow potatoes, slices of hard boiled egg, and black olives.

Serves 6.

“The Soul of Peruvian Cuisine”

Chile Capsicum frutescens                                                                                                                              

One of the Peruvian foods I found particularly tasty was the Aji Amarillo. In Spanish Aji means chile pepper, and of course, amarillo means yellow.  Aji Amarillo is a spicy yellow chile pepper that the magazine the Atlantic called “the soul of Peruvian cuisine.” I had the opportunity to sample this pepper is a couple of dishes both before I went to Peru at Machu Picchu in Raleigh, NC and while cavorting around Lima, Cusco, and Tambopata. The two dishes that are mostly commonly associated with the aji amarillo are Papa a la Huancaína and Aji de Gallina.

Below are some fabulous recipes for making the spicy pepper sauce that tops the Papa de la Huancaína, as well as the that recipe, I found in entry on South American Food at

Inti Foods                                                                                                                                                     

You can even buy the Huancaína sauce online.  I wonder if I can find it in a specialty store as well?  Hmmm… I will let you know if I find it.

Spicy Cheese Sauce – Salsa a la Huancaína

Huancaína (wan-kay-eena) sauce is typically served over cold sliced potatoes in the famous Peruvian dish Papas a la Huancaína. Made with aji amarillo peppers, it is a versatile sauce that goes with many flavors. Serve it as a dipping sauce for bite-size boiled potatoes or raw vegetables. You can adjust the spiciness by using fewer or more yellow chile peppers.

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 5 minutes

Total Time: 20 minutes


  • 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 3-4 yellow aji amarillo chile peppers (frozen is fine), or 1/2 cup jarred aji amarillo paste
  • 2 cloves garlic, mashed
  • 2 cups white farmer’s cheese (queso freso)
  • 4 saltine crackers
  • 3/4 cup evaporated milk
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Remove seeds from yellow chile peppers and chop into 1 inch pieces.
  2. Sauté onion, garlic, and chile peppers (or paste) in the oil until onion is softened, about 3-5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.
  3. Place onion/chile mixture in a food processor or blender. Add evaporated milk and blend.
  4. Add cheese and crackers and blend until smooth. Sauce should be fairly thick. Thicken sauce with more saltines or thin sauce with milk if necessary.
  5. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

Cómo Hacer Papa La Huancaína                                                                                                                             

Papa a la Huancaína – Potatoes in Spicy Cheese Sauce

Papa a la Huancaína is dish of sliced potatoes covered in a spicy cheese sauce that is typically served cold, as a first course or luncheon dish. It’s delicious made with yellow or white potatoes. If you prefer a spicier sauce, add an extra yellow chile pepper (aji amarillo).


  • 8 yellow or while potatoes
  • Huancaína sauce
  • Lettuce leaves
  • 2 hard-boiled eggs
  • 8 large black olives, halved


  1. Heat a large pot of salted water to boiling and add the potatoes.
  2. Boil potatoes until tender when pierced with a fork.
  3. Drain water from potatoes and let cool.
  4. Slice potatoes and arrange on top of the lettuce leaves.
  5. Pour huancaína sauce over potatoes, and garnish with slices of hard-boiled egg and black olive halves.

Serves 4 to 6.

Lomo Saltado – A Tasty Treat!

I am still obsessing over Peruvian Cuisine!  One of the dishes I enjoyed several times is called Lomo Saltado.  According to our guide in Lima, Luis, the name literally means to toss in the air.  It is beef with tomatoes and onions that is served over fried potatoes with a side of rice.  (Yes! A double starch!)

The first time I tried Lomo Saltado, was at a Peruvian restaurant we visited in NC, called Machu Picchu, as a preview to our trip during the spring.  The second time I tasted the dish was at a restaurant in Lima.  I enjoyed the dish both times.  However, the most tastiest version of the dish I had was when my Peruvian “Mom” made it for us at lunch during our home stay in Cusco.


Here is a recipe, courtesy of the food network,  for those of you who are adventurous enough to try it!



Cut the steak in long pieces 1/4 by 1 1/2 to 2 inches. Season the steak with salt, pepper and garlic, to taste.

In a deep-fryer or heavy-bottomed pot, heat enough oil to come halfway up the sides of the pot, to 350 degrees F. Add the fries and fry until golden. Remove them to paper towels to drain.

Add 1/8 cup of vegetable oil to a medium skillet over medium heat. Once the oil is hot add the rib-eye. After the meat has browned add the onions and cook until they soften. Add the tomato, vinegar and the soy sauce. Pour in the beer and simmer until the vegetables are cooked through. Remove the beef mixture to a serving plate and top with the fries. Garnish with parsley and serve with white rice

Is It Good To Eat?

I was on vacation last week.  (Sorry for neglecting my weekly post on all things Peru.)  I did not go anywhere, but instead had family visit me here at home.  I have to say that seeing your home from someone else’s perspective in interesting.  I take Eastern North Carolina for granted because I live here, but I had a chance to see it from a visitor’s perspective as well last week.

My brother, sister-in-law, and 13 month old niece spend the week with us.  They are foodies as well.  We spent a good portion of the week eating and drinking, as well as talking about eating and drinking.  Because “Baby D” is trying new foods each day, we began talking about what we would or wouldn’t eat.  It spurred a conversation on trying new foods.  I recounted by experience with cuy in Cusco, Peru.

Cuy were domesticated as far back as 2000 BC in the Andean region.  Cuy, or guinea pig, was considered the meat of the common folk during Incan times.  Today in rural areas of Peru cuy are still raised by families as a food and for ritual purposes.  In urban areas it is a traditional dish that is considered a delicacy.

On our visit to Ollantaytambo we visited the home of a local woman who had a slew of guinea pigs in her home.

She raised them for both as a food resource and for ritual purposes.

Al, our guide at Ollantaytambo, spoke briefly about one of these rituals.  Black guinea pigs are considered special.  They are used to cleanse people of illness and evil.  The animal is passed around the entire body of the affected person to absorb the illness or ill energy.  Once the transfer is made, the animal is sacrificed as a way to heal the individual.  Al, explained much more detail than I recount here, but alas this is all I can remember.


On our last night in Cusco, several of us went to the Plaza Grill in the Plaza de Armas to try some of the traditional cusine, including cuy.  The restaurant had both fried and baked cuy on its menu.  We opted for the baked cuy.  Sadly, I did not find it enjoyable.  However, I think it had more to do with the meat being over cooked than the fact it was guinea pig.  I would try it again if I had the opportunity.  We also tried some Alpaca (another domesticated animal that dates back to Inca times) chili and chicharrón.  Traditionally chicharrón is a dish made from fried pork rinds, but there are a variety of cuts of pork that are used which are meatier.  If you have never tried it, I suggest you do, MMMMM….YUMMO!




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 Places

Chair of Social Science, Humanities,
& Foreign Languages

Liberal Arts & University Transfer
Craven Community College

800 College Court
New Bern, NC 28562
Phone: 252.638.7328
Fax: 252.638.3231

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