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Four Corners of the World

Huancaína Potatoes

Cultural Perspectives

By Tim Hazell

The Inca were the last inheritors of an empire begun by the Moche, Nasca, and Chimú. From their capital city, Cuzco, their rulers presided over 25,000 kilometers of roads, suspension bridges, and 6,000,000 subjects from many nations. The entire kingdom was a single republic governed by the same laws, privileges, and customs, rigidly controlled through an ingenious system of socialism that gave everyone the basic necessities of life in return for their work on behalf of the state.

The Inca had no writing system but were able to preserve a wealth of information and oral traditions using quipus or knotted woolen cords. These were stored and “read” by their official interpreters, the quipucamayocs. The official language of the empire, Quechua, or more accurately, Runasimi (People Mouth), had great powers of expression and flexibility and is still spoken extensively throughout the Andean region.

Pachacutec Inca Yupanqui was supreme ruler of the “Four Corners of the World,” comprising Peru, Equador, Bolivia, northwest Argentina, and most of Chile by the end of the 15th century. Social reformer, architect, engineer, poet, and administrator, his genius for design can be seen today in the great agricultural terraces climbing the steep faces of the Andes which are still in use. His sacred hymns, or “jaillis,” were performed during the annual ceremony of the Situa Raymi, held at the first new moon after the spring equinox and are among the world’s great religious poetry.

“Oh Creator, root of all, Wiracocha, end of all, Lord in shining garments who infuses life, saying, ‘Let there be man! Let there be woman!’ Molder, maker, to all things! Watch over us, keep us living prosperously, fortunately in safety and peace. Where are you? Outside? Inside? Above this world in the clouds? Below this world in the shades? Hear me! Answer me! Take my words to your heart!”

Here is a version of one of Peruvian cuisine’s most delicious side dishes. It’s called “Andean Potatoes” and comes from the city of Huancayo. Enjoy with shrimp, ceviche, or chicken!

Papas a la Huancaína
1 lb. small potatoes, scrubbed
4 eggs
2 tbsp. oil
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 onion, chopped
2 yellow bell peppers, chopped
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tsp. turmeric (for color)
1 lb. ranchero cheese
1 can unsweetened evaporated milk
Salt and pepper to taste
Lettuce leaves
Parsley sprigs and pitted black olives
Cook potatoes in salted water. Drain and cool. Cut into slices. Hard cook the eggs, leave in cold water, peel and halve when cool enough to handle. Heat oil in a skillet. Saute the garlic, onion, and bell peppers until tender. Add cayenne and turmeric. Purée vegetables with cheese and evaporated milk in a blender. Mixture should be smooth and fairly thick. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. Arrange potato slices over lettuce leaves. Pour cream mixture over potatoes. Garnish with egg halves, parsley, and black olives.


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