Fair play to the Peruvians, they know how to get maximum use from their home grown produce. Corn or maize for example is popular in both eating and drinking forms. I generally stuck to the eating rather than the drinking of it. In its toasted form it is known by it;s Quechua name ‘Cancha’.
When I joined my hosts at Hostal La Casa Del Abuelo (Ollantaytambo) for breakfast or lunch, Cancha was usually part of that meal. Rugged particles of corn toasted in oil, salted and served warm, went well with slices of soft white cheese. I didn’t think I would develop a taste for this at first but as time went on I had to put the bowl of cancha on the part of the table furthest from me. It is a tasty snack, probably a lot healthier than chocolate.
Chicha on the other hand is a drink made from corn/maize. It can be fermented and alcoholic or non-fermented and sober. If you see a pole with a red plastic bag tied to the top of it sticking out from the side of a building, this is a sign that Chicha is available in this dwelling place. In the little town of Ollantaytambo, where I spent nine weeks, there was plenty of red-plastic-bag poles to choose from.
I didn’t quite tap into the chicha sampling during my stay, I am generally cautious with substances that can play havoc with my stomach or my security. Depending on the particular brew, the alcoholic form could be quite strong and you could be misled into thinking that its not alcohol at all.
One day my friend Alex at the Coffee Tree restaurant decided to treat a few of us to a large jar of Chicha which he divided amongst us. It had a strawberry flavour and mine had a whole strawberry in it. We had worked hard in the cafe that week and it was a Sunday so I thought, why not give it a go. It is a taste that is on the sour side, normally straw coloured but this one with a little pink and sweet from the strawberry addition. If you read my post about the Urubamba market you will be shaking your head at me and possible shouting…’DON’T EAT THE STRAWBERRY!’ (O; Well I did…and I did suffer a little the next day with extra trips to the loo.
The Peruvian culture from its Inca heritage is steeped in the practice of rituals. One such ritual is the use of Chicha to give thanks to Pacha Mama / Mother Earth. The workers in the fields for example may bring a jug of Chicha to sustain them during their breaks but the first offering is to Pacha Mama by pouring a generous drop on the soil. Similarly in the Coffee Tree restaurant Alex poured a few drops on the floor and I did the same before we set about tasting it ourselves.
Chicha Morada on the other hand is a refreshing non-alcoholic juice made from purple corn and I have read some interesting articles which attest to this particular corn as having healthy benefits and hence it is being investigated for medical purposes.
I was chuffed when during one of my last evenings in Ollantaytambo, an elderly local woman wearing the more traditional style of dress, engaged me in conversation in Spanish. I am sure that Quechua was her first language but I had said hello in Spanish as she was about to overtake me on my evening walk along the cobbled stoned path. She was really speeding it. ‘Where are you going friend?’ she asked me in Spanish. ‘For a walk,’ I offered. ‘Where are you going?’ I asked in return. ‘To buy chicha,’ was her reply. ‘This house here has really good chicha,’ she told me pointing to a nearby doorway with a red-plastic-bag pole outside. ‘Are you coming?’ she enquired. I kindly refused, but I was secretly happy because she had treated me like a local and it seemed I had become one after all.
Copyright ©Caroline Cunningham Author of Wild Star Landing Blog
An Irish Woman’s journey living in the little town of Ollantaytambo, in Peru’s Sacred Valley, Cuzco Region.