100 years ago, on July 24 1911, Hiram Bingham re-discovered Machu Picchu, the ancient Inca city on top of a mountain at 8,000 ft. above sea level some 50 miles from Cuzco. In a span of several decades, I have been very fortunate to have visited Machu Picchu 3 times. The first time, it’s sheer beauty took my breath away, and the last time, I was out of breath from running the Inca Trail marathon that finished in Machu Picchu. But both times one thing was certain — the land of the Incas is my home.
By any measure, Machu Picchu was a marvel of architecture and to this day no one knows for certain how the large stones in the buildings were carried up the mountain or shaped to fit perfectly with one another. But to me the real legacy of the Incas is in their food. From the cultivation of hundreds of types of potatoes, and the hot peppers that are the base of so many dishes, Peruvian cuisine pays homage to its roots — the Inca people, their language, and the land.
Many Peruvian dishes are named after words in the Quechua language. For example, ceviche means “fresh fish” in Quechua. The “Anticucho”, or Peruvian kebob, comes from the Quechua “anti” for mountain and “kucho” for cut. The name “Tacu Tacu” for the spicy refried rice and beans comes from the Quechua “tacu” for mix. Even the word for potato in Spanish comes from the Quechua “papa.” The term jerky comes from the Quechua “charqui” which means to burn or dry meat. And of course, there is the “Pisco”, which is Quechua for a little bird from the Ica Valley where Pisco was first produced.
One of the most touching moments in the video about the town of Peru, Nebraska, occurs around minute 10:15. Before cooking a “Pachamanca”, Quechua for an earthen pot used to cook meat and potatoes over hot rocks buried in the ground, water is poured over the earth with the words “a la Pachamama” — to Mother Earth. A beautiful reminder, that though Peruvian cuisine today is a fusion of many cultures, including Europe, China, Japan, and Africa, its origin, and thus its soul, is Inca.