Note 3: A Matter of Traditions.
Only when we look at the details can we see a brief inscription on the emblem carried by the girl: ‘Hermandad del Sr. de Ccoyllur riti’ (Brotherhood of the Lord of Ccoyllur riti) over the image of a Christ. The pilgrimage allows us to observe this type of details that clash head-on with the Andean tradition, but at the same time are so integrated that they are part of it. Only from a romantic position will we find traditions intact. So, is something that has been around for 500 years more traditional than something from 50 years ago?
The answer is no. By studying and analyzing the details of traditions, we always realize that they are dynamic and doomed to change and evolution. So, in order to place every aspect of each tradition in context and not get lost in the maze of its complexity, we must ask ourselves how we can evaluate these details over time. One way to do this is to detect the impacts that a tradition has received over time.
Cultural impacts can be exogenous elements that have been integrated into a culture or endogenous evolutions that have transformed the way of seeing or doing a certain activity. We can see a cultural impact as present in gastronomy as in clothing or rituals. Following the case of Ccoyllur riti, there is commercially a series of elaborations, mixtures of ingredients or elements that make up a complex fusion that responds to the very essence of what we find there today: a sometimes confusing cultural mix that has become generalized. Mates de muña and coca leaves are mixed with chicharrón and grilled chicken; as well as ch’ullus and synthetic anoraks or the way they venerate their god, Christian or pagan.
I was especially struck by the example of caldo de cabeza, a ‘traditional’ dish that we find today in the Peruvian highlands, mainly Cusco and Puno, and which is composed of boiled lamb, beef or pork head, potatoes and aromatic herbs, to which occasionally you can add mote or yucca. This preparation sounds interesting because recent evidence of its consumption in Inca times has been found. It is therefore a perfect example to show how outside impacts can affect ‘tradition’ in gastronomy.
First of all, cooking technology, which is advancing irremediably. It is easy to see that gas has won the battle against firewood in a majority way and that metal pots have done the same with ceramic ones. This is the European impact after the conquest, which introduces the smelting of various metals. Pots are an interesting factor of change. There are areas of the world where some traditional dishes must be cooked in ceramic despite the option of metal, for example: elvers in Spain and the specific crockery in which they must be cooked.
Secondly, the area of consumption. Several writings have been found that speak of the consumption of head soup throughout the length and breadth of Tawantinsuyu, being a dish also widely consumed in Lima. Today, however, it has been relegated to certain areas considered traditional, such as Cusco or Puno.
Thirdly, ingredients such as potato, mote, yucca and aromatic herbs have maintained their presence, but the main ingredient of the dish, the head, has been substituted. Today we find beef, lamb or pork head meat, all of them imported from Europe, while archaeological evidence tells us about the use of llama for this preparation.
Finally, evaluating it from the preparation technique, the sancochado still prevails over other ways of cooking the head, potatoes, hominy and, occasionally, yucca. Other influences such as Chinese or French have not made an impact with their different cooking techniques (fried, smoked, sautéed, etc).
It is possible to extend this analysis and ask ourselves what happens with other preparations such as potato, which is cut and fried or ceviche, which is cooked with lemon and seasoned with onion.
Every time I try a ‘traditional’ dish I try to disseminate it into these kinds of questions. It is an interesting exercise to take perspective on what we eat and, consequently, how we identify and act as a society through our consumption habits over time.
The meaning of restaurant is changing in these times, and in some cases, this means understanding the different moments of a tradition. This is the only way to decide and shape a coherent discourse around a dish that existed, in addition to generating endless creative possibilities in the design of the experience that avoids false ‘traditions’, unmet expectations or concepts that need to be grounded if there is to be an authentic cultural or identity connection.