The Ancient Wonders and Aromas of Peruvian Cuisine

My study abroad program and I arrive on the outskirts of Lake Titicaca at the Paramis fishing village nestled on a terraced hill. The straw roofed cottages sprinkled along the coast serve as our respite for the night and a little exploring soon reveals a field of colorful grain-like plants reaching for the breeze. The colorful plants are no other than quinoa, the superfood that is now a health sensation across the globe. People have good reason to worship the food; quinoa is a good source of protein, fiber, iron, copper, vitamins, fat, antioxidants, and fatty acids. It tastes good too. However, the superfood has much deeper roots than the most recent health fad, it derives from an ancient Incan food culture.


Quinoa originated in the areas surrounding Lake Titicaca and was domesticated by the Pre-Inca civilizations around 5,000 BCE. Later on, the Inca’s claimed it as a sacred crop and the mother of all grains. The Incan emperor would plant the first quinoa seeds each year with prayers for a bountiful harvest. Today, the crop is still a staple for indigenous and local populations and can often be found in cakes, cookies, drinks, breads, and one of my personal favorites, quinoa soup.

DSC_3222As part of the Rural Tourism Association, my study abroad program was able to stay with the locals in Paramis and participate in a traditional quinoa cooking demonstration. Quinoa directly from the fields behind the kitchen were hand-grinded into a powder, transformed into dough with some water and salt, and molded by our hands to create uniquely shaped quinoa cookies. The freshly baked aroma similar to rising bread, paired with the earthy and nutty taste of the warm crisp cookies brought a sudden awareness to the true delicious superpower qualities of the crop.

The warm welcome by the Paramis village into their community and their gastronomical culture was an incredible opportunity to reach back into time and experience ancient Inca wonders. The food tour however was far from over as Lake Titicaca brought more traditional divine cuisine to our tastebuds. We traveled to the Amantani island, home to native Quechua speakers, stunning lakeside views, and many farmers. After a slight ascent and pass some bellowing sheep, we arrived to a small field with two dug out pits which we learned would serve as our stoves.

DSC_3270Pachamanca is a traditional Peruvian cuisine which in quechua means “earth oven”. The meal involves cooking food underground, covered with stones and large leaves. The hole is dug first, a fire started, and then the stones are heated. Once hot enough, the stones are placed inside to line the hole and soon meat, potatoes, and corn, are layered in between more layers of stone. Finally, the pile of food and stones is buried with dirt and leaves and left to cook for an hour or so. This technique again derives from the Inca civilization who believed that by cooking the food underground, they were offering respect to mother earth.

As the food was unearthed and served, the smoky flavor from the meat intertwined with that of the warm browned potatoes to create a meal worthy of Mother Earth. The Amantani community informs us that they usually only cook the sacred meal for weddings or important gatherings and I could not help but feel so fortunate for the opportunity to try another one of Peru’s ancient wonders.

Initial Challenges Become Great Opportunities While Abroad

After arriving in Cusco, Peru my breath was taken away by the mountainous landscape, the warm air, and the open arm welcome by the ISA staff and my host family. The first week is a blur of meeting my peers, exploring the local area, starting classes, and spending time with my host family. As I reflect on this exciting time, I realize how much happens in only a week and the importance of taking the time to process the excitement of being in a new place. The first week can be overwhelming and overstimulating, but taking a little time each day to ponder the days coming and goings is essential to making the most of any study abroad experience. In my first week in Cusco, Peru I have integrated reflection into my days and found common themes about what excites and challenges me the most!

  1. Homestay Food

    Cusco from Christo Blanco

    Cusco from Christo Blanco

Since starting college, I can’t remember the last time I had three home cooked sit down meals, every day, with long conversations, and loosing track of time in the aroma of various dishes. This is a major perk of living with a host family. My host mom, Mamma Jube as we are told to call her, is like the quintessential grandmother. Every meal is served hot off the stove with a cup of tea, a smile, and a hug. No matter the dish, I seize the opportunity to try new foods and immerse myself in the gastronomical culture of Peru. From quinoa breads and smoothies, to potatoes in various forms and colors, to apricot jams, rice and vegetables, moriche palm fruit, and many more, each dish offers a new chance to try something new. I may like some more than others, but nevertheless, meal time is a great way to learn about the culture through taste, smell, and listening to Mamma Jube’s stories.

  1. Learning Spanish

In the first week, the excitement also comes with challenges, for instances, being in a country where the primary language is Spanish. As someone who has taken Spanish courses in high school, and in my first year of college, now as a junior, I am certainly a little rusty when it comes to speaking the language. This has certainly been a challenge for me in my first week as I try to tell my host family about my home, what I learned in classes each day, and generally expressing myself. However, this challenge is also a great opportunity to become better at a different language and to push myself to work at it not matter how hard it may be. There are also great resources through ISA to help with this endeavor as I will be seeing a native speaker once a week for tutoring sessions. Between classes, tutoring sessions, talking with my host family and various taxi drivers, I can’t wait to see my Spanish improve!

  1. Remember, you are here for three months!

In the first week, it is both exciting and challenging to remember study abroad lasts three months. On one hand, it is challenging to be away from family and friends for an extended period of time. On the other hand, it is exciting to think about all the time you will have to explore a new country. The key here, is remembering you have plenty of time to explore all the things you hope to see. In the first week, I found myself overwhelmed by the endless amount of “Must See” site lists for Peru, the multitude of guided tours, and the endless Inca Trails. I soon learned, the first week is not the time to try to plan every activity you hope to do while studying abroad. Give yourself time to adjust to living in a new place, design a schedule for talking to friends and family back home, and start to compile a list of your own top five must see sites. Three months in a new place will be filled with sensational and difficult undertakings, but each one can be seen as a new and marvelous opportunity!

Jessica Kaufman '18: Cusco, Peru

Jessica Kaufman is an Economics major and International Relations minor from Portsmouth, Rhode Island. Jessica will be studying abroad for the 2017 spring semester in Cusco, Peru with International Studies Abroad.

Why did you decide to study abroad?

As an economics major and an international relations minor, my coursework sparked my interest in the global interconnectedness of markets, politics, and cultures. After taking a developmental economics course my sophomore year, I knew I wanted to visit a developing country to learn about the difficulties they face in the socioeconomic sphere and also the progress they have made thus far in achieving sustainable growth. Peru provided the perfect combination of sustainable development, environmental economics, and a rich culture that will help to inspire my career and my passions.

Jessica Kaufman '18What do you hope to experience/accomplish while you’re abroad?

While I am abroad I hope to become integrated into the local culture and gain a better understanding of the challenges the local community faces. Through my service learning experience, I hope to make, at least, a small positive impact on the organization I am working with by alleviating some of their daily stresses and promoting whatever their mission may be. I hope to make lasting friendships and bonds with fellow students on the program, my host family, and Peruvians. I plan to experience the outdoors and the incredible environment that Peru has to offer by going on hikes and excursions. Lastly, I look forward to the unexpected surprises of a new adventure and seeing all that Cusco has to offer.

What obstacles do you think you might encounter abroad?

While I am abroad I think I will encounter some obstacles like adjusting to different social norms and learning to be flexible with a different way of life. Peruvians are known for being fashionably late, which is greatly different than the American culture I am used to of extreme punctuality. I will have to learn to adjust my own social norms and embrace the unique lifestyle of a different culture. I will also have to learn to be more disconnected from technology. In a place where Wi-Fi may not be super strong or very prevalent, it will be a great opportunity to disconnect from the constant “refreshing” of social media pages and the constant threads of junk emails. Studying abroad in Cusco, Peru will be a new and incredible experience that I must enter with an open mind and open arms.

Why did you choose this particular program?

I chose the ISA Cusco, Peru program because it offered a service learning component, classes taught in English, excursions to some of the most iconic places in Peru, and scholarship opportunities. Being able to integrate into the Peruvian culture through service learning, and having the chance to live with a host family, will allow me to enhance my understanding of the native people and society of Peru. The classes offered through the program align with my coursework at Saint Anselm College and have more hands on experiences by integrating field trips and site visits into the courses.

What are you bringing with you that you absolutely can’t live without?

On my trip abroad, there will be more than a few items that I will have to part with and leave at home, but there are some that will have to be in my suitcase no matter what. First is my journal, I love to write and I hope to record as much of my experience abroad so I can remember every detail. Second is my camera, what better accompaniment to a detailed journal than photographs to bring the written word to life. Third, is a picture of my family, I am sure I will miss them while I am abroad and their support is a huge reason why I have the opportunity to go on such an incredible adventure!