October 2012

The art of cooking and eating in Cochabamba

The complex of the culture, sociality and gastronomy of meals, heritage of the women, forms part of the gastronomical knowledge of Cochabamba and is not only performed in a daily routine, but forms part of the art of eating “deliciously, plenty and cheaply” in Cochabamba and an indescribable culinary art.

By: Walter Sánchez C.
Instituto de Investigaciones

Fritanga with red pepper
Photo: Walter Sánchez

There i s an art that can be considered a heritage of the women of Cochabamba; it is the art of cooking or the preparation of meals. This skill is accompanied by a natural female tendency of being able to write down recipes just by knowing how to smoothen the taste of a meal through a huge repertoire of formulas for seasoning. The man, being gourmets and experts of this cuisine, are in charge of poetically admiring the dishes intending to be appreciated by the cooks of those fine tastes who get little recognition although having put such determination in cooking a good meal.

The dualism of the system of foods in Cochabamba is temporal, sensory, but other than that ritual. Therefore food is aritualized matter for the people of Cochabamba.

Asserting -even contemptuously- that in Cochabamba “the people live for eating, instead of eat for living” this is a perception of Non-Cochabambinos. It is, without doubt, insensitivity of cultural codes towards those who established the cuisine of Cochabamba.

In short: the food prepared by the women of Cochabamba divides into various complete cultural systems going from the administration of flavorings and spices to a rigorous temporal use of them and a calendar being set up as to determine the time of the day, the week and festivities and holidays that are being celebrated throughout the year.

Grinding Llajua
Photo: Walter Sánchez

Combining Christian and Andean traditions

As an effect, a day has a certain time for a certain meal. Just like everywhere in the Andes, the system that arranges the meals i n Cochabamba is dualism. On one side you have the “Christian” or normal meals. There are three of them which follow the Hispanic tradition: (1) the umajampiqu(head healing) at daybreak (6-9 a.m.) mainly consisting of the “caldos” meaning la ranga, riñón, jolk’e, cardan-caldito (2) lunch (12-14 p.m.) in which soups (lawa), ch’aqe and a big variety of chupes are being eaten and (3) dinner (7-10 p.m.) which contains of the silpancho and other dry courses. These meals are being accompanied by llajua(locoto and tomato salsa).

On the other side there are the saxra (“devil” in aymara) meals. There are two of them and they bond in the Andean; the moment in which you eat your meals are called “saxrahora” (hour of the devil) and are the same as forenoon (10-11 a.m.) in which salteña, menudito, fidiusuchuor ají de fideo are being eaten, and late afternoon (3-5 p.m.) in which a great variety of plates (spicy mix of chicken, rabbit etc.) exists. These meals are generally called “picantes” as there is a lot of pepper (uchu in quechua) in them and they are being associated with Andean rituals. To conclude, the dualism of the system of foods in Cochabamba is temporal, sensory, but other than that ritual. Therefore food is a ritualized matter for the people of Cochabamba.

These systems also extend into days of the week that are associated with certain meals linked to the calendar and Christian and Andean rituals. Here, Tuesday and Friday are considered to be saxra (devil) days and the time being sunset and night. Therefore Tuesdaysexcept the “Martes de Carnaval” which is a saxra day, and Fridays until nightfall people hold “mesas” which are nothing else than ritual meals in which the people sacrifice a “payment” to the Andean deities and principally to the Pachamama. These sacrifice-meals or “mesas” are accompanied by scents which are characteristic for the saxra deities such as la q’oa (an aromatic plant). The other days of the week are considered normal or Christian days. Their smells are being associated with sacrificing incenses of the Catholic divinities: Virgins, God and the Holy Patrons.

Ritual table to Pachamama
Photo: Walter Sánchez

Different foods in different seasons

The year can also be found divided culturally and gastronomically into two large parts that assimilate with the food harvest which depends on the climate and the agricultural cycle: the “rain season” and the “dry season”. Ritually, the rain season (parantiempo in quechua) begins with All Saints Day (1st November) and lasts until Carnival. The dry season (ch’aquítiempo in quechua) starts with the Carnival (movable: February-March) and ends again with All Saints Day. During the rainy season- assisted by the Andean deities, the saxra, the devils and the deceased- the communities retreat and dedicate themselves to agricultural work. In this time there is an increase of spicy and non-salty foods like the qorpacho (chili with meat and wheat without salt) in Tarata, the uchucu in Aiquile (a chili chowder with different types of meat and croquettes filled with the flowers of a tree called chillijchi) or the jarwichu(a dish which is served with a variety of meats). The chili is red or yellow and lacks salt, which makes it the link to the world of the “devils” and the deceased; therefore this type of food is also a typical meal to cook when a person died. The celebration of Carnival not only closes one cycle, but begins another: the one of the harvest and the abundance of fresh products. During this feast, in all valleys many stews, plates filled with beef or lamb and fresh seasonal fruits, combined with yellow chilies placed on rice can be found. Both festivities linked to the Andean deities have the chili as a principal condiment.

The celebration of Carnival not only closes one cycle, but begins another: the one of the harvest and the abundance of fresh products.

The cycle that begins with the Carnival starts a different period which again ends at All Saints Day. It is the period of abundance and it is associated with the Christian deities, and the festivities involving Holy Patrons, Virgins and Tatas. In this time the communities open themselves up to trade and to inter- ecological journeys. The production circulates and the foods become more diverse according to the time, being recognizable by their tastes and smells. Therefore, during Corpus Christi, “when even the poor people are well dressed “fruits stand out. In the Holy Week 13 plates which include various types of pumpkins (zapallo, lacayote, escariote) and fish are being eaten. The feasts and festivities of the patrons are full of candy, sweet dishes, fresh and dried (dehydrated or k’isa) fruits, masitas como maisillos, ankukus, etc.

The unwritten rules of eating

Other important linking cultural codes about the consumption of food in Cochabamba are known by all women and man. Hence, there are meals which should be eaten in groups (with a pique macho or a bachelor) and some individually (for example “platitos de la tarde”(afternoon snacks)). There are meals which should be eaten with hands (like chicken or chicharrón: “chicken and pork should be hold on to like women: with the hands” says an old and patriarchal popular saying k’ochalo) and others with cutlery (el silpancho or spicy foods). In some meals it is permitted to make noises (like the salteña although getting the plate dirty is losing the right to be called a k’ochalo); in others noises are not well liked.

Behind all this the saxra, the “devil”, can be found, tempting the people with all his tastes and aromas.


Instituto de

Translated by
Joanna Filejski

Calendario OCTUBRE 2012

> Ciclo de cine
“Palabras ac tuadas”

1º de octubre
“Cyrano de Bergerac”
(Director Jean Paul Rappeneau)

2 de octubre
“Vipère au poing”
(Director Philippe de Broca)

3 de octubre
(Director Jean- Jacques Annaud) Subtítulos en castellano
Organiza: Alianza Francesa

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