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Thursday, March 9, 9:20 a.m. I arrive at Yovana’s house in Kacllaracay, a rural community near Mil Centro where I have been working for less than a month. Unlike the previous days, the sky is overcast and it is very cold. It is the day of the Yunza [1] and I have volunteered to help the women who are in charge of the kitchen. In the inner courtyard of the house a potato peelings and some unpeeled carrots are already spread out on the potato pot.

I give Yovana some breads that I brought to share and without more conversation than a greeting she hands me the knife and sits me on a stool “you are going to peel the carrots, all of them”. After a couple of peeled carrots Eva Saire, Segundina Kafuro, Juana Atau and Yolanda Atau arrive with a wheelbarrow in which they load some jerry cans with the water that will give life to the Ttempo, a preparation that is only seen in February because of the carnival season.

With their arrival, a synchronized dance of peeling, chopping, washing, passing from one pan to another begins, while little by little a large container of chicha, which is in the middle of the patio, is filled with the contributions of those who arrive. It is a choreography where there is no director. A cuisine that goes beyond the collective, the flavor is built through dialogue and constant negotiation. Everyone contributes to the pot with their knowledge and ways of preparing this dish.

In a corner the wood stove rings, its smell transports me to Colombia. The initial broth with onion, garlic and celery is already boiling. Then Eva sends me to add the sweet pepper, carrots and asnapa[2]. Then we all sit down to scrape the sweet potato, they speak in Quechua and I don’t understand anything, but from their tone and laughter I know they are telling happy stories. The meat goes into the pot, and it seems like a kind of ritual because, although Juana is the one who puts the meaty bones into the pot, we are all very attentive, silently observing. It’s time for the salt, my favorite part, because after the first two handfuls that Yolanda adds, everyone’s spoons enter the soup to taste and approve the taste of the broth. “It has no taste” I taste and agree with Eva. At that moment a series of negotiations begins around the pot about flavor and salt. We all taste, give our opinions and decide (this last part more them than me), it is a constant and collective negotiation of the taste and the steps to follow.

At about 11 o’clock the chicha begins to circulate and Segundina is in charge of distributing it. She hands me the glass filled to the top with lots of foam and stands in front of me until I finish it so she can drink some before passing it on to someone else. The chicha, like the cooking, happens in a circle, breaking with the order I know. A vertical kitchen governed by recipes in books, or people who lead the steps to follow. In Yovana’s house we chop, peel and drink chicha in a circle, around the pans or the pot that fills up with products of many colors and smells.

We peel the chuño and undress the corn. They start to count how many corn there are, Segundina counts 64 and then we count them all, there are 63. So that the potato does not fall apart in the broth with the other ingredients, they cook it separately in another pot, but to give it flavor they take the meat out of the big pot and put it in the pot with the potatoes. It is the turn of the yucca, sweet potato and corn, they enter the pot one by one between several hands. We taste the broth again and we all decide if more salt is needed or if it is okay. At the end they take 3 cabbages out of a bag to remove the leaves and it is very difficult for me to do it, not only because I don’t understand what they are going to use them for, but also because the leaves break when I take them out. What I thought was going to be a soup turns out to be more of a “dry dish”[3], as we say in Colombia. We cover everything at the end with the cabbage, cover the pot. After a while, Yovana sends two gentlemen, who have been sitting early watching the women work while drinking one glass of chicha after the other, to help take the pot off the fire.

The chicha continues to circulate while Yovana and I prepare the frutillada[4]. For this we blend the wild strawberries with a little chicha, then mix it with the rest of the chicha and a little sugar. Little by little the women begin to arrive with their respective contributions of chicha, which are added to the huge container in the middle of the patio and Eva writes down the names of those who have arrived in a notebook.

I am impressed that the patio is filled only with women, the only men are Fredy and Erick who work with me at Mil and were also invited to the Yunza celebration. When it’s time to serve, as there are so many things in the pot, so much variety, so many species coexisting and complementing each other, it’s easy to forget to put something on the plate. However, that is not a problem because there is always a cook reminding the list of foods that should go in the collage of the plate “yucca, yucca, carrot…sweet potato, sweet potato!”. At the end all these elements are bathed with the broth in which everything was cooked, and this is taken a few at a time while with the hand is chopping, shelling, separating and bringing to the mouth bits of cassava, bites of meat, then a leaf of cabbage and finally a new sip of broth.

More than a recipe or a preparation for the carnival, Ttempo is a dish that allows the continuation of collective practices in the community of Kacllaracay, it is a broth in which Ayni relationships, collaboration and sharing are cooked.

[1] It is a celebration that takes place during the carnival period in February. It usually consists of filling a tree with gifts and then it is taken down by the people who participate between dances and songs. In the different regions of Peru it is celebrated differently. Nowadays the tree is filled with plastic objects, however, in the past the tree was filled with fruit.

[2] Asnapa: Quechua word meaning herbs. Asnapa is a bunch of herbs that are very important in Andean cuisine. It usually contains parsley, coriander, mint, huacatay, oregano and sometimes rosemary and muña.

[3] Plato seco is also called by the ladies in the community but it can be understood as a second or main course.

[4] Modern preparation of chicha de jora, to which wild strawberries and a little sugar are added.


Photos by Erick Andia

In addition to Eva Saire, Segundina Kafuro, Juana Atau, Yolanda Atau and Yovana Franco who shared their knowledge with me, I am grateful for the information that Cleto and Maria shared with me at the time of writing this text.

Silvana Kovalski
Mater team author

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