190 years ago, on July 28, 1821, Peru declared its independence from Spain. And history books will tell you that Jose de San Martin, the Argentine born general, played an instrumental role. But recently, I discovered a story in the Peruvian Traditions by Ricardo Palma, that narrates how San Martin was able to triumph without having to go into battle. It should be no surprise that this story involves cooking.
During the time of the colony, it was a tradition that street vendors would come by at a specific time. The day started with the milk lady at 6 AM, followed by the herbal tea lady at 7 AM, pastries at 8 AM, and so on until the fruit man at Noon, and eventually ending with the ice cream man at 8 PM. Each vendor would also sing a song announcing their arrival. The hero of this story, however, was the cooking pot vendor.
A month before the independence, San Martin was wandering the streets of Lima, trying to come up with a way to safely carry secret letters throughout the city without being caught by the Spanish army. And one day, he saw the cooking pot vendor and recruited him on the spot to join the revolution. San Martin requested that the vendor make a cooking pot with a false bottom to carry messages on behalf of his army.
At the same time, San Martin instructed his soldiers to use a secret phrase — known only to them — to be sure that no Spaniards would intercept the messages. The phrase was “with days, and cooking pots, we will triumph.” I wonder if Gaston Acurio was thinking of this story when he expressed that Peruvian cooks are soldiers of our culture, but we don’t carry guns or drive tanks, we win people’s hearts with our food.