When I lived in Peru, I had the pleasure to discover Pachamanca, a fascinating Peruvian dish.
In Quechua, Pachamanca means “earth pot”. It is an ancient recipe and today it still is the Andean dish par excellence. In Andean culture, there is a strong link between food and the cult of nature. Pachamama, in Quechua Mother Earth, is the one who gives men the products to cook, and is a source of fertility and life. Pachamanca is actually cooked and eaten mostly between February and March, at harvest time. This is the moment to thank Mother Earth for all the products she generously offers us. It is also a dish usually reserved to important religious or community celebrations, or events like weddings and birthdays. It is prepared all over Peru, but mostly in the area around Ayacucho and the Mantaro Valley.
To prepare Pachamanca, the first thing to do is dig a hole in the earth and combine several kinds of meat (beef, pork, chicken) with vegetables like potatoes, beans, corn, camote (sweet potato), and then cover them with melted cheese and corn puree. The flavour the ingredients absorb from the earth, together with the seasoning, is really unique.
It is true that the meat for Pachamanca was introduced in Peru by the Spanish, but the origin of the dish dates back to the pre-hispanic era. Pachamanca, is cooked upon volcanic porous stones that soak up the heat. The first step is to get the right kind of stone (the ordinary ones would explode with the heat) and heat them. In order to do so, they are placed in a pyramid and heated up for a couple of hours.
Preparation takes time, and requires the participation of many members of the community. Each one is given a specific task: collecting stones, heating them up, separate the ingredients, prepare the seasoning.
All ingredients are placed in the pot in layers, and their positioning depends on their cooking time. Tubers are placed at the bottom, and covered with a layer of hot stones. Then comes the meat and another layer of stones. Corn, beans, cornmeal patties are placed on top, and the pyramid is tightly covered with wet jute bags, and subsequently covered with earth.
In traditional celebrations, Pachamanca is the symbol of community, happiness and gathering. A godfather and a godmother are nominated to direct the celebration. They are the ones who place a cross of flowers on the mound where the Pachamanca is cooking, and who decide when the pot can be taken off the earth. Traditional music always accompanies the event, and women decorate their hair with wreaths of flowers.
In the capital or in less traditional occasions (like in restaurants), Pachamanca is sealed with a lid and wet earth or with wooden tables. Some expats love to invite their friends and show them how Pachamanca is cooked. In Lima, it is very easy to hire a group that quickly sets up a Pachamanca in your house garden!
Text and photos Claudia Landini