The Humble Potato Is Exalted in the Mountains of Peru ~ NYT

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Nazario Quispe Amao, an agriculturist, planting potatoes on the outskirts of Chahuaytire, a mountain village in southern Peru. Potatoes were domesticated in the Andes more than 10,000 years ago. Credit, Guillermo Gutierrez Carrascal for The New York Times

Chahuaytire, Peru — Gumercinda Quispe is a descendant of Peruvian Incas and here, high in the Andes, more than 12,500 feet above sea level, she has prepared a nourishing, spicy potato soup, quacha chuño.

She has made it with both fresh potatoes and chuño, the dried, hard white potatoes that are still prepared just a stone’s throw away. The ancient preservation process includes soaking them in an icy stream, stomping them by foot to remove the skins and drying them in the sun.

The ancient Incas farmed the mountain slopes using terraces. Credit, Guillermo Gutierrez Carrascal for The New York Times

I love potatoes. They are not a staple in my native India, as they are in Peru. In India, they are a beloved, cheap treat. Cooked in thousands of different ways, almost always creatively burnished with selective spoonfuls from a treasure chest of seasonings and spices, potatoes are served in every town and village at mealtimes and as chutney-augmented street snacks. I wanted to learn more about potatoes here in the land of their birth.

In the little mountain village of Chahuaytire near the town of Pisac in southern Peru, Ms. Quispe and I sat down at a table close to the warm, sooty hearth in the rustic restaurant where she works. The sun was shining bright outside, and the sky was a clear, cold blue.

“Put some sauce in the soup and drink from the bowl,” she said, motioning to the verdant uchucuta sauce she had prepared. “Uchu” means “chiles” in the Quechua language of the Incas, and “cuta” means “ground.”

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