The Humble Potato Is Exalted in the Mountains of PeruOn April 16, 2018 by Margot
There was a time when Incas used only wild Peruvian herbs, but today, after centuries of Spanish influence, they go to the market and buy an asnapa, a bouquet of herbs that could include the New World huacatay but also gifts from the Old World like cilantro, mint, oregano, parsley and tarragon.
Potatoes come in every texture and color. You can see them in the markets: reds, blues, purples, yellows and pinks, sometimes ringed with two colors when sliced open. The texture of some varieties can be changed by putting them out in the sun for a few days before cooking them. This turns them softer and silkier.
Some are shaped like a puma’s paw; others, an alpaca’s nose or a cat’s claw. Native to the Andes in Peru and northwest Bolivia, potatoes were domesticated more than 10,000 years ago. And yet new varieties are being discovered all the time.
Potato banks — like the one in the Pisac region of the Andes that stores seeds in a climate-controlled vault for 1,300 varieties of potatoes — are always searching for new varieties, as are dozens of creative Peruvian chefs on the lookout for wild and unusual indigenous ingredients.
Freeze-drying the potato for chuño was just one method used to increase its life after harvest. Running or walking was the chief mode of transportation for most ancient Andean peoples (certainly the Incas); they could easily carry dried potatoes with them and make a quick stew with local herbs, chiles and water from a mountain stream whenever hunger called.