Croissants, Bread, and Charity in Cuzco
By David Knowlton
Bread has changed in Cuzco over the last twenty or so years. A region with its own very strong traditions of baking, Cuzco’s bread used to mostly be the round and flat rolls to accompany meals or coffee, and the famous large rounds from Oropesa. Since then, international traditions of bread making have penetrated Cuzco along with new ways of organizing bakeries. QosqoMaki on Tullumayu Street 465 and El Buen Pastor on the Cuesta de San Blas 579 lead this trend.
Bread makers can be found in every neighborhood of Cuzco. Mornings the inevitable and enticing smell of baking bread identifies them. Though each is slightly different they generally follow the standards of regional bread. The focus is on small rounds, some made with a little corn meal, some with cheese on top, and so on. They are a staple of people’s diet, far more so than bread in the United States.
But the demand for loafs with their fine grain and square slices for toast that arose with tourism, as best I can tell, created a change. In Spanish the bread is called “pan de molde”, bread from a mold. A different concept from the English loaf, this semantic difference exemplifies the differences between an international culture and a local culture with hundreds of years of development such that each city in the highlands has its own breads that not only taste different, they have different textures. In Cuzco the focus is on small, individual breads, mostly rounds, or secondarily on large rounds that are sliced and served.
Local breads not only are eaten at every meal and become the meal when accompanied by a hot drink, they fit into the city’s ritual life, while the new breads do not yet.
Toast may have opened the door, but a slew of international breads and pastries followed. Among them is the croissant.
In Argentina, from which many tourists come, the media luna — a local version of the croissant– is standard for breakfast. Croissants also found a demand in Cuzco.
Generally, instead of the flaky layering of dough and butter that makes a light, flaky and crisp croissant, one finds a bready, slightly sweet bread shaped in the form of a half moon. Such are the Croissants of El Buen Pastor, The Good Shepherd.
Although the breads have a distinct international style, El Buen Pastor is a bakery with a religious mission that fits into another important tradition of Cuzco.
The bakery forms part of a set of services carried out by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, along with a home for needy girls. Not only do Catholic sisters perform much needed social service in Peru, including education and anti-poverty programs, they have a long history of baking. Many deserts were developed in convents which then sold them to the public and they entered into local canon.
Though fitting into this tradition, El Buen Pastor also fits another. In the nineties not-for profit after not-for-profit (called non governmental organizations in Latin America) entered into crisis as international donors pulled back and the groups found themselves needing to develop profit-focuses to help fund their projects and provide training for populations they served.
So, when one walks up the Cuesta de San Blas, one of the main tourist strips in the city, it is worth taking a break at El Buen Pastor, for a wonderful sandwich or simply a bready croissant. The purchase not gives you energy, it helps maintain the social work of the Sisters in this city with such great needs.
Qosqo Maki, whose name means Cuzco Hands, is a similar combination of social service with baking. In this case, instead of being attached to a religious order, the bakery is attached to an existing non-governmental organization, a group of the same name that serves street kids, as well as the Catholic organization the Centro Bartolomé de las Casas.
Named after a sixteenth century Bishop who fought for the Indians in a classic debate in Spain’s court and who writings quickly became an indictment of the Spanish colonial system, the CBC has a long history of working with other organizations and in serving Cuzco’s rural population.
The Qosqo Maki Bakery has what are probably the best croissants and other french pastries, as well as baguettes, in the city of Cuzco. This should be no surprise given that the bakery has a long relationship with French bakers who have come to Cuzco to render training and assistance.
Besides offering wonderful pastries and bread on the long sunny stretch of Tullumayo Street, the bakery serves to train disadvantage youth in the art of baking, especially French baking and fits into the broader project of its parent organization with the same name Qoso Maki. Besides the bakery, the group runs a workshop for training youth in carpentry skills and has a home for street kids.
Following another current trend, one can volunteer with both organizations to render additional help to these important social services. But one also can simply go to the bakeries, while in Cuzco, order some bread or pastries, especially a croissant, and know that while enjoying each crunch one is helping Cuzco’s disadvantaged youth.
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