Cuzco Cafe

Cuzco Cafe is a micunahuasi (“food house”) or restaurant created for roleplaying purposes on Panhistoria. Honovi Yupanqui is the head yanuq or chef.

Did you know there are over 4000 types of potatoes? They vary in size, shape, color, taste, skin, pulp, and texture. In contrast, European potatoes are considered watery, bland and lacking in variety. (Domesticated potatoes were found in central Peru by 8000 BC. They were widespread in the highlands by 3800 - 3000 BC and on the coast by 2000 - 1750 BC).

Potatoes are an important part of Incan cuisine but roots and tubers are not as highly regarded as maize. Maize, which only grows in the valleys, is used to make the all important chicha or beer. (The nixtamalization of maize (soaking maize and cooking maize with lime or wood ash) was known in Guatemala by 1500 - 1200 BC. Maize was grown in Spain by 1498 and Venice by 1554).

In Incan times, the rulers commanded that food be stored in great storehouses. The rulers then redistributed the food in great feasts. Cobo said, “They did not have the right to eat whatever they wanted but what the Inca felt they should eat.” The Spanish admired the accounting ability of the Inca. The main meal was in the morning. Everyone got up and ate in the plaza. The women served their husbands and ate back to back with their husbands. Everyone shared their food and everyone had a little bit of everything. They ate on mats. The Inca or lord was served by his principal wife and by male and female servants. If it was cold then there was a fire and if it was raining then they ate in a great house. They did not drink until after they ate. If it was a fiesta day then they sang and danced and enjoyed themselves all day. If it was a working day then they went off to work. Some say the communal meals, held in front of the local chief, were held every day and some say once a month. Some public storehouses also served as inns or corpahuaci for foreigners, pilgrims, and travelers. They were free of charge. The disabled were fed and clothed from public storehouses.

They ate dinner, the only other meal, at night in their homes. The people felt the Spanish were strange because they ate alone and did not share.

You can choose to eat Incan style, back to back, or Spanish style. You don’t have to share with others if you do not want to.

Cuzco is 70 or 80 leagues from the sea but as you will see below we enjoy eating foods from the coast as well as from the highlands.

Potato Varieties

We offer the following potato varieties in our dishes:

The most common way of cooking is putting hot stones by the food in a huatia or earth oven.

Note: While cuy (guinea pigs) are commonly eaten, we do not serve any cuy here*. Guinea pigs were domesticated by 2000 BC in the highlands.

We also do not serve penguins. They are too cute to eat.

Llamas (Lama glama) were domesticated in the highlands around 4550 - 3100 BC. Alpacas (Lama pacos), cousins to the llamas, were also domesticated. Their wild cousins are the vicuna (Vicugna vicugna) and the guanaco (Lama guanicoe). The meat of llamas more than 2 years old is resinous but the resinous taste disappears in llama charqui (jerky). Young llama meat is very delicate but llamas are usually used for their burden-carrying capability rather than for food.


Cañihua bread - Cañihua is related to quinoa and paiko. The seeds are ground up and made into bread.

Quinoa bread - Quinoa seeds are toasted and ground up and used to make bread.

Steamed Cañihua Balls - See below.

Steamed Quinoa Balls - Toasted quinoa seeds are mixed with condiments, fat, and salt and formed into balls. The balls are then steamed. Condiments include cañihua (both the seeds and leaves are used), paiko leaves (a hot herb), quinoa leaves, tarwi seeds and leaves, and ullucu leaves. Caui is a sweetener made from sun-dried sweet oca tubers. Caui is said to taste like dried figs. Ciclla yuyo is an edible herb eaten by the coya of the third Inca with raw maize so it would probably taste good with quinoa. Be adventurous and try them with an edible clay like chaco or pasa, which are normally used on tubers. (Note, the list of condiments are compiled by me so I don’t know for sure they went with quinoa or cañihua.)

Sweet manioc cakes - Sweet manioc roots are roasted, peeled and pressed into cakes. It is less popular than maize.


Achira roots - This is a sweet, starchy root that is roasted or baked in earth ovens. Its sweet flavor was highly regarded by the early Spanish. Achira grows on the coasts (below 2000 meters.)

Chachapoyas almonds - These almonds are brought from the province of Chachapoyas to Lima. They are larger than the almonds of the Spaniards.

Kachun - The Spanish call this pepino. Some fruits are larger, some smaller, and some are egg-shaped, round, elongated, etc. The most common are reddish with stripes of another color or with dark red sides but others are white or yellow. The skin is thin but tough. The fruit can be eat either peeled or unpeeled, like an apple. The flesh is yellow, sweet, and watery. The fruit is tasty and fragrant but the fruit is not considered to be easily digestible. It can be eaten when one is thirsty. They are grown in the coastal valleys, especially at Trujillo, Ica, and Chincha. Huayna Capac ate them in the valley of the Chayanta near Chimu where Trujillo later stood. He saw an old Indian in the field who gave him some pepino. “Ancha atunapu micucampa.” “Great lord, eat these.” He replied, “Xuylluy, mizqui cay.” “They really are very sweet, aren’t they.”

Llakhum or Yacon roots - These roots can be eaten raw but they become even sweeter when they are dried. We serve dried yacon roots, which are sweet and juicy. Even the Spaniards like them.

Paqay fruit or guaba - These are pods 2 or 3 fingers wide and one finger thick. The skin is green, tough, and leathery. The inside has a row of seeds that are the size of broad beans. Each seed is covered with a sweet, white, spongy substance like cotton dipped in syrup.

Passionfruit - This is a coastal fruit and comes in different varieties.

Rukma or lucuma fruit - These are the size of a medium pomegranate and are round with a thin, tender skin that is greenish yellow. It can be eaten without peeling. The fruit is yellow, hard, and not juicy. The meat inside the pit is like a chestnut and can be roasted, although its flavor was called insipid by the early Spaniards.

Soups, Stews, and Gruels

Stews and Gruels are soups that have been thickened with arracacha root, maize, potatoes, or quinoa. Boiled maize grains are called mote. Maize that is lightly boiled and sun-dried is called chochoca.

Choose your own vegetables and tubers:

Achira (Canna Indica) - This is a sweet, starchy root that is roasted or baked in earth ovens. Its sweet flavor was highly regarded by the early Spanish. Achira grows on the coasts (below 2000 meters) and are carted up to Cuzco for the ancient festival of R’aimi, which later became the Spanish festival of Corpus.

Arracacha root (Quechua raqacha) - This is a plain, starchy root like a cross between celery and a carrot. It looks like a fat, short carrot. It was usually described as a purplish but its flesh can be white, yellow, or purple. It can be used anytime you could use a potato. The plants are related to carrots. They come from the coast. [It is eaten from Venezuela to Peru to Brazil].


Chile peppers - The best are asnac uchu or “fragrant chile”. Chile can be red or green.

Dried seaweed or cochayuyo are sheets or blocks of dried seaweed that are traded far inland. Seaweed types include Porphyra in southern Peru and Gigartina, Ulva lactuca, and Durvillea antarctica in the north.

Lima Beans - These are a product of the coast. (They were grown in coastal Peru by 3000 BC and the highlands by 6000 BC.)

Llakhum or Yacon - These roots are said to be the size of turnips. They are sweet and watery. They are white on the outside and earth-colored on the inside. They are tender like turnips. They are tasty when eaten raw. They are eaten better when they are dried. They can keep on sea voyages for 20 days. They are refreshing on hot days because they are sweet and juicy.

Maize - Maize has a higher status than roots and tubers because it is so difficult to grow. There are tales of it growing more widely in the far north (ie Mexico).

Mashua - Mashua or añu (Aymara/Bolivian isaño) (Tropaeolum tuberosum), which are related to nasturtiums, are another tuber that is eaten. The root has a sharp taste when eaten raw but is sweeter when cooked. When it is boiled like carrots or potatoes it becomes watery but it has a pleasant smell. The taste takes getting used to. We offer ours (in the Bolivian fashion), where they are frozen after boiling to improve the flavor. This turns them into a delicacy. Others eat them when they are half-dried. [The French seed firm, Vilmorin, tried to introduce exotic crops like oca, mashua, and ullucu to France in the 19th century.]

Nostoc - Nostoc is blue-green algae that can be eaten raw or processed so that they keep.

Oca - Oca is a tuber that is the next most important crop after potatoes. The roots are white, yellow, or reddish. They can be sweet or bitter. Sweet oca can be eaten raw, cooked, or sun-dried. Sun-dried oca is called caui and is said to taste like dried figs. It is used as a sweetener. Bitter oca is freeze-dried and made into chaya, which stores well. Chaya has more protein, niacin, and minerals than chuño. We serve our sweet oca as cooked or as caui. We also serve chaya.

Peanuts - They are found in coastal Peru. (They do not grow above 6000 feet. They were domesticated in Bolivia.)

Potatoes, fresh or served as chuño (freeze dried) - Choose from one of the types listed above.

Quinoa - Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa) is a domesticated plant grown at high altitudes. The seeds may be whitish, red, bi-color, or yellow. Wild quinoa seeds are dark. Both the seeds and the leaves are eaten in soups and stews and gruels. Quinoa is second to maize in popularity.

Sweet manioc - The fresh roots are roasted and peeled. They can be served as cakes. It is less popular than maize. (This was grown in coastal Peru by 2000 BC.)

Ullucu root, boiled - The name of this tuber comes from the Quechua ulluku (ujuku). It is also known as olluco, ulluco, milluku, or papalisa. It is firm, like jicama, even when cooked. It is orange/yellow with red/pink/purple freckles. Large freckles can give the tuber a blotchy look or make it quite colorful. It has a lot of water so is never fried or baked. When boiled or broiled it remains moist and tastes like a boiled peanut. The early Spanish called it gluey and insipid. Ullucu remains firm when boiled and is even crunchy. It can be freeze-dried or fermented. It is often cooked with dried meat or served in a soup with potatoes. Ullucu leaves can be eaten like spinach (and in fact the plant is related to the New Zealand spinach, being part of the Basellaceae. Ullucu is eaten from Venezuela to Bolivia. Bolivian varieties are quite colorful).

And your own meat:

Meat was not as commonly eaten by the common folk as it was by the chiefs.

Chanque - This is an abalone-like animal.

Charqui/Sharqui - This is freeze dried meat. Cuy or guinea pig is the most common but instead we offer other meats, like llama and wild vicuña, guanaco, whitetail deer, huemul deer, and viscacha, a rabbit-like chinchilla.

Dried fish (Sun-dried) - Choose from bonito, limpets (aquatic snails), mullets, mussels, and sea-catfish.

Llama meat - We usually serve this as charqui or jerky. Llamas are high status animals.

Salted fish - Choose from bonito, limpets (aquatic snails), mullets, mussels, and sea-catfish.

Add some seasonings and sauces:

Cañihua - Chenopodium pallidicaule (related to quinoa and paiko) is a semi-domesticated plant that can grow up to 3,600 meters in the Andes. Its seeds and leaves were used for food.

Chaco is a white earth or clay that is also used as a condiment.

Paiko - Chenopodium ambrosioides is called Paiko in Peru and epazote in Mexico. The leaves are dried and use as an herb. The taste was described as “bightyng” or “very hotte” by early writers. It is related to quinoa.

Pasa is an edible clay. It is white with brown spots. It is mixed with salt and used as a condiment with roots.

Tarwi/Chocho - This is a high-altitude lupine (Lupinus mutabilis) called tarwi or chocho. It is not related to the chocho of the Caribbean. The seeds and leaves are eaten. The seeds are bean-like and high in protein. Lupines are part of the family Leguminosae, as are peas and beans. Peruvian lupine seeds must be boiled and soaked for days to remove the bitterness. The water the seeds are boiled in can be used as insecticide! But don’t worry. We know just how to process lupine seeds. Tarwi is good with chile and onions.

Uchu - Uchu is used in stews. The Spanish call it pimiento or chile.

Potatoes / Root Vegetable Dishes

Tubers with pasa sauce - Pasa is an edible clay. It is white with brown spots. It is mixed with salt and used as a condiment with roots. Choose from one of the many types of potatoes, fresh and dried. Or eat Pasa sauce with Arracacha root, oca, or boiled Ullucu root.

Ullucu roots with dried meat - Ullucu roots are boiled and then served with your choice of dried meat, llama, wild vicuña, guanaco, whitetail deer, huemul deer, and viscacha, a rabbit-like chinchilla. Or choose sun-dried fish, bonito, limpets (aquatic snails), mullets, mussels, or sea-catfish.


Chicha or Asua - Chicha is a fermented, beer-like drink that is part of important ceremonies. There are many varieties of chicha. One kind of chicha is made from maize and little red molle fruit from the pepper tree. Chicha made with molle fruit is very potent. Other types of chicha use maize and seeds. Most chicha is made from chewed maize but it can also be made from toasted maize, or from maize that has been buried for a few days until it sprouts (this is called sora and is very strong). The saliva in chewed maize turns it into a yeast-like substance. Others are made from oca, yuca, and quinoa. The best kind is made from maize. Chicha can be red, white, yellow, grey, or other colors. The Guañape valley near Trujillo and Lima was famous for its chicha. A special chicha was aged for a month and was very smooth. It was used by the Incan rulers. When lords and ladies went visiting the lords and ladies they visited gave them chicha to drink. Both the visitors and the hosts drank. Chicha could be drunken from cups of gold or silver (the favorites of the Spanish) or painted wooden cups called keros. But they could also be drunk from trick cups that made sounds as the chicha curled around. (Chicha is actually a Taino word. The Quechua name is asua).

Mulli - Mulli (molle) fruit are red berries which are rubbed in hot water until all the sweetness is removed. The liquid is strained and kept for three or four days until it is ready. It is a flavorful drink. Maize can also be added to the liquid.


* We had pet guinea pigs when we were young. Their names were Tonya and Silver.


America’s First Cuisines, by Sophie D. Coe, Austin, Texas: University Press of Texas, 1994,1995. This is an excellently written book with phrases like, “So much for the animals and the minerals. The third kingdom, the vegetables, merits separate treatment.” and related pages

Created October 22, 2016

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