Traditional Mud Stoves and Ovens Make the Best Food
By Walter Coraza Morveli with a help of Brayan Coraza Morveli (translated by David Knowlton)
The traditional dishes of Cuzco represent us and all our culture. That is why we call them typical. But it is more. These dishes captivate us with their unique flavor that, in part, comes from the traditional wood burning ovens and stoves on which they are cooked. They give our food an incomparable flavor that helps attract and win over those who visit our beautiful city.
Where ever you go in Cuzco everyone is enchanted with our traditional food. That is because we still make it with the important Andean, wood fired stoves and these make it taste so good.
Typical Andean stoves, flaming hot from wood and charcoal, are still used by the people since they feel that you need them to make the best traditional food, including: chicharron, adobo, soups (such as from cow’s head, lamb, and knuckles, and others), chairo–cuzco’s famous soup made from chuño–freeze dried potatoes, lawas–pureed cremes from different things such as corn and chuño among others, mote and puspo, humintas, potatoes, camotes and other tubers, and ponches(hot drinks from fava beans and more.)
When prepared on the stove, called qoncha or fogón, you get a special flavor, in addition to the fact that the food cooks amazingly quickly. That is not easy at the high altitude of Cuzco.
The fogones, or qonchas, are made from a base of mud and clay, straw, animal hair (such as from the guinea pigs that scamper around traditional kitchens and often live in the space under the oven or stove). These last serve to tie the mud and clay together so that it will have more strength to resist the heat from the fire so that the fogón will not fall apart. Once the qoncha is made it is burned in hot fire so that it will become solid. When it is used to cook frequently, the fogónjust gets harder and stronger.
To cook typical food, the special dishes of Cuzco, people prefer pottery pots, although some people do use aluminum cook ware. But they cover the base fo these with mud. They add the clay so that the pan can resist the high heat coming from the fogón–which in Spanish means “big fire”. Otherwise the pot will blacken and weaken from the flames. For that reason it is best to use clay pots.
The fogones also serve as pre-heating areas since they heat up the whole space where they are found. This is particularly good in the cold areas and cold nights of Cuzco. People will often gather in that space, making it like a family room, since it is warm. Furthermore, in this warmer environment people can raise guinea pigs. They grow so much better near an oven or fogón. This is important since guinea pigs, cuyes, are one of the most important typical dishes of Cuzco. People love cuy al horno, baked guinea pig.
Though more and more people are using modern, commercial gas stoves, still many people keep a fogón in order to prepare on it Cuzco’s traditional food. In addition, chicherías (places where chicha and food are sold,) as well as picanterías (traditional restaurants serving spicy dishes, ) use fogones in order to prepare corn chicha which must be boiled before being fermented in large mud pots. Tourist restaurants near the Plaza de Armas, Cuzco’s main square, often have fogones to make themselves distinctive, to claim the label of “typical”, and for preparing the typical dishes of Cuzco.
Fogones have been used from ancient times until today. Nevertheless, under the impact of modernity, the custom is slowly giving way. Technology and industry are replacing them with industrially made stoves. Though people may note realize it, they are losing their tradition. The flavors and satisfaction of enjoying food from a fogón is unique and food prepared on a modern, commercial stove just can not compare. The fogón is what gives our traditional food its particular flavor.
Just like the fogones, the traditional ovens are important for preparing Cuzco’s typical dishes.
These ovens are especially used to cook the most representative dishes of our city of Cuzco, such as lechón al horno (baked pork) and cuy al horno (baked guinea pig.) When cooked in wood fired, clay oven these foods take on a unique and enjoyable flavor that you cannot resist. You just have to give in to it.
In these ovens are also made the traditional breads of Cuzco, such as he pan ch’uta from Oropesa, as well as the pan huaro and others.
These stoves are made from adobes, straw, and mud, although some are made with fired bricks and mud. They can be found in every neighborhood and use wood to heat the ovens and cook the food. From them the food comes out delicious, crispy and perfectly cooked. The owners heat up the ovens well before they are used to that there will be the perfect level of heat for good cooking.
On weekends, especially Sudays, when families gather in Cuzco to spend the day together, typical dishes are prepared in the home and then taken to the neighborhood oven for cooking, before the prepared dish is returned home. In this way families can spend the day together with eating these special dishes a central rite. The main dishes cooked in the ovens are lechon al horno and cuy al horno, as we have noted, a well as rocoto relleno (stuffed hot rocoto peppers,) cabrito al horno (baked goat,) tallarín al horno (baked noodles,) baked turkey, baked potatoes, pizzas, empanadas, cakes, and other traditional dishes.
Some families like to leave the city for this special day. They will travel to places like Tipón, a province of the city of Cuzco, some twenty to thirty minutes from the city by car. Besides being a National Archeological Park, it is the principal and best place to enjoy our representative dish, cuy al horno(baked guinea pig) made in traditional ovens that are typical in Tipón and other similar towns.
Famous for its baked guinea pig accompanied by baked potatoes, Tipón is visited daily athough it is crowded on weekends. On arriving at the town one notices lots of cuyerías, restaurants that served baked guinea pig. At them you can enjoy garden like setting to eat in the open air while tasting the best the restaurant has to offer.
These traditional mud ovens and fogonesof Cuzco are not only an important carry over from our past, they are the main places where our best typical food is made. They give Cuzco’s dishes just the right touch of flavor to win over the most demanding palates.
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