Issue - November 2009

November 2009


In this issue: Justin Gouin interviews a talented young artist; The Fijate Project, a new initiativein Cochabamba by Petra Vissers; reclaiming the culinary tradition for Cochabambinas by Alejandra Ramirez; Octubre Azul, nine years after the water war By Petra Vissers; finally, the Molle’s presence dominates Cochabamba’s countryside by Walter Sánchez.

November 2009

The Power From The Kitchen

Women working in the kitchen today have begun to think of themselves quite differently

Alejandra Ramírez S.

Translation Edition
Carol Peredo Justin Gouin
Marianela Pinto
Verónica Castro
Cynthia Valverde

Food represents an important and privileged role in the daily lives of people from Cochabamba. Who are behind the rich, varied, and important throne of this culinary kingdom? The Women. They determine what is eaten, how it is eaten, at what time, and with which seasonings. The kitchen is a space where women are able to display their excellence; in many cases, depending on family income, they manage their homes from the kitchen, meet their families, and define their routines (How many women have fed future professionals with their daily cooking or sold their food in the streets?). Their hands are essential in this process: women cook with both hands, mixing, kneading, tasting, and even dictating which pieces each person gets, who gets more, and who gets less. This practice has created the false belief, however, that women are more tactile and less intellectual.

From the hidden site of power of the kitchen, women are the ones who handle the rituals, the procedures, and decide the time at which each dish is served. All of these are linked to the pleasures of eating, as Doña Gaby Vallejos has said. We define the ingredients that are for lunch and the ones that are for dinner, if these dishes are eaten with llajwa or chili, and whether it is served at mid-morning or at mid-afternoon. Meals are eaten in groups or individually. They are served at special occasions and those that depend on daily whim: Those meals at which we have to eat with our hands, those at which we are allowed to “make noise” as we eat, or those that must be served on earthenware plates to keep the flavor. So the meal involves a whole “know-how”—almost a science, I would say—that is managed by us women and shared with others without their knowing.

If traditionally men have been associated with the occupation of being a chef, a profession of distinction, then it is paradoxical that the women’s role of making food and cooking daily in the kitchen lacks the same distinction—even though it is more important than being a chef. This distinction is related mostly to writing even though while men write about how rich meals are, Cochabambina’s write voluminous books of recipes. Hence the number of books with recipes published by women exist some of them like Doña Nelly de Jordán with more than 20 re-editions, and among them, envious of the writers. Some like Dona Nelly from Jordan with 20 re-editions. Women do not criticize the pure flavor, women put pure flavor and we expect criticism.

It is necessary to emphasize the hundreds of anonymous manuscripts, kept in the drawers of many homes in Cochabamba, that contain “secret” family recipes, all of which have their own characteristics and codes that other women are figuring out little by little. Those who write “3 Bs. of eggs, two packages of butter,” (just imagine what three Bs. of eggs or a package of butter will be in a year) or those recipes recovered from old country ladies that teach us everything about, for example, how to kill, prepare, and cook an animal: “to kill a pig and peel it, since the pig was cut open and washed for the whole day. In the night it is put in brine for three days; after removing it, rub it with lemon and place it where the sun reaches it for a whole day. The next day, you butter it and put it in the oven until it is cooked and gilding (family recipe).” Another suggests, “twenty days before cooking the turkey—or better a month before, when the turkey is still alive—put it in a closed place where the turkey will not be able to move much. Boil potatoes everyday, crushing and kneading them with flour. From these you will make pills the size of a walnut and then force the turkey to open its mouth and swallow them. At the beginning, you will only be able to feed the turkey two or three potatoes, but with each passing day you should increase the amount until it reaches eight to ten potatoes. In addition, you should also give the turkey corn or bran with chopped green onion to eat. To kill it, you must get the turkey drunk with singani, a strong liquor. After which you peel it and put it into brine until the next day, at which time it must be taken out for one hour so it can drain before it is put into the oven. Five hours before lunch, or before serving the turkey, rub it with sweet orange both inside and out. Sprinkle the turkey with salt and pepper, pour about two spoonfuls of English sauce, squeeze orange juice over it, put little bits of butter on the outside, and put it inside the oven. From time to time, take the turkey out of the oven to pour more orange juice over it. Continue this until it is cooked and gilded on top. Finally, cover it with paper until it is time to serve. This is so it will not get brined and so it will be kept warm. To serve cut in slices, put a little juice on the slice and pour the rest of the juice into a saucer”

These recipes, often unshared, are true treasures that circulate as family relics, some more valuable than others, that are used, supplemented and elaborated generation after generation. In fact, a routine activity for Cochabambinas is to gather recipes in oral or written form, in some cases simply to learn them or to share them with their friends. There, they set-up circles of recipe transmission, using their own and those of ‘scientists,’ which quote the sources: Pollo Chapru, Paila Antuquita, Arroz Albina, o Aji de Lengua Doña Enrriqueta.

The kitchen is not only a privileged place from which women assume both culinary and social definitions, but also a space of power that is managed and is taken advantage of to influence vital decisions. This power of the kitchen is reflected to the public through the following names of restaurants: Chota Flora, Chola Flora, Wistupikus, las Carmelitas, Doña Pola, etc . . . They are not attributed to the cooks; it is the power of the women that cook for a society.

The Gift that Belongs To Everyone And No One

Over 1 billion people on this earth do not have access to clean drinking water, more then 5000 people die everyday because of lack of it and almost two million children die each year from diarrhea caused by contaminated water. And to add to these aleady stagering numbers, almost half of the world population suffers from diseases that are related to polluted water. Although water is the main source of life for everything on this planet, we still do not recognize it as a basic human right. Instead,

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