Taos Restaurateurs Bring Peruvian Cuisine — And Their Llamas — To Santa Fe

Sometimes the best way to introduce yourself to a new world is to eat it. At Santa Fe’s newest Peruvian spot, Quechua Peruvian Restaurant, Andean cuisine is served with a side of language and music (as well as, of course, potatoes).

Quechua Peruvian Restaurant is helmed by Trotsky Barreto, who originally is from Lima and studied classical music (specializing in trumpet) at the Peruvian National Conservatory of Music, and Gloria Hidrogo, a well-known Mexican artist who has toured the world with her paintings of pop icons rendered on tortillas. The couple have lived in Taos for the past five years, where they opened the Taos version of Quechua a year and a half ago. The Santa Fe location opened Friday on Vegas Verdes Street on the south side, a smaller — but just as tasty — central node of Peruvian culture and cuisine.

The menu at the Santa Fe location is almost the same as the Taos version, with a few additions. You can, of course, get chicha morada, a sweetish drink made from Peruvian purple corn, maracuya (passion fruit) juice and imported Inca Kola, a fruity Peruvian soda as patriotic as the flag. Starters include things such as aguadito de pollo, or Peruvian chicken soup (flavored with cilantro), crunchy fried yuccas and Peruvian quinoa salad, toasted and served with avocados. You can also get ocopa, a traditional dish of boiled Peruvian potatoes served with a creamy sauce made from the aji huacatay pepper (Peru’s many distinctive chile peppers are refered to as aji) and a boiled egg. Peru is the ancestral home of potatoes, and it has about 4,000 varieties, four of which you can try at Quechua, all imported from Peru.

Main courses include items such as aji de gallina (chicken served in a bright yellow sauce flavored with Peru’s quintessential and piquant aji amarillo chile peppers), rice and a boiled egg (the standard sides), arroz con pollo and pollo a la brasa, a distinctly Peruvian rotisserie chicken dish prepared according to Barreto’s “secret family recipe.”

“It’s very heavy but very important,” Barreto says. “The chicken is marinated for days beforehand, and it’s totally different than [rotisserie chicken] here.”

Despite having a strong indigenous culture, Peru also is a melting pot of Spanish, Chinese and even Japanese cuisines (Chinese and Filipinos were brought over as slaves, and Japanese immigrants arrived prior to World War II), giving many Peruvian dishes a distinctly Asian bent (there is even a specifically Peruvian-Japanese fusion cuisine called Nikkei, which is hard to find stateside). At Quechua, you can try lomo saltado, which is essentially a Chinese-Peruvian beef stir fry, or arroz chaufa, Peruvian fried rice.

And because Peru is a coastal country, seafood dishes are paramount, particularly ceviche. Peruvian ceviche also involves a kind of byproduct — after the fish is marinated in lime and spices like salt, pepper and the piquant aji limo, the resulting liquid is considered a drink itself, called leche de tigre, or tiger’s milk.

“It has a lot of protein,” Barreto says.

The Santa Fe location includes two new menu items that Barreto thinks Santa Feans will be more receptive to than Taoseños, both of which involve organ meats. One is anticuchos, grilled skewers of beef marinated in vinegar, spices and Peruvian chiles like aji panca. An Incan dish, this was originally made with llama heart but has since been largely replaced with beef heart, which is how it will be prepared at Quechua, served with Peruvian potatoes and Andean corn called choclo served like elotes. The other is mondonguito, a stew-like dish made with beef stomach/belly cooked with potatoes, vegetables, chiles and spices and served over white rice.

But for Barreto, Quechua Peruvian Cuisine is more than a restaurant — it’s a grassroots cultural hub. The food is only one facet of Barreto and Hidrogo’s vision, which is to create a delicious portal into Peruvian culture for Santa Feans. Barreto is enthusiastic about helping people find their way to Peru, be it by giving travel advice, handing out literature from the Peruvian consulate in Colorado or even talking about cheap flights with customers. Right now the restaurant is only open from 11 a.m. to 5, but dinner hours will be added as things get rolling.

“We see it as a cultural place,” Barreto says. “[Eventually] we’re going to have Quechua classes” (Quechua is the dominant indigenous language of Peru), “and we’re going to have some dance classes too. We’re going to form a Peruvian ballet for kids.”

The couple even raise llamas and alpacas in Taos, mostly for community outreach and, well, the fun of having llamas and alpacas.

“A lot of people are discovering the Peruvian culture,” Barreto says. “In the last 50 years, Peru opened the doors for the world.”

Where: 1374 Vegas Verdes No. 4

When: Open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Saturday; closed Sunday

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Peru Debuts Quechua Language News Broadcast

Of all the remaining indigenous languages of South America, Quechua is one of the most robust. It has approximately 8 million speakers distributed across areas once belonging to the ancient Inca empire; about half of them live in Peru.

But despite its relatively healthy numbers, Quechua is threatened by the same forces that indigenous languages in many places face. It is marginalized and looked down upon as a language of the poor and provincial, and children who grow up in Quechua-speaking households increasingly abandon it in favor of Spanish. Now, reports The Guardian, in an effort to raise the profile of the language and reach out to its community of speakers, Peruvian television will air a regular news program in Quechua for the first time. It is called Ñuqanchik, which translates as “all of us.”

The broadcast team for the program is made up of native Quechua speakers who will report the news not only in the Quechua language, but from a Quechua cultural perspective. Prime Minister Fernando Zavala hopes that this effort “will transform the relationship between the government, the state, and those people who speak a language different from Spanish.”

More news programs are planned for other native languages in Peru, including Aymara, Ashaninka, and Awajun.

[h/t The Guardian]

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Peru Travel Log: On Quechua, Consciousness, And Coca

By: Noah Franklin

Raul, our guide, stands suavely at the helm while we catch our respective breaths. We sit under vined slats of wood, our backs to the Urubamba River which snakes below us, brown from landslides. The path ahead blurs into peaks and valleys. A small, old woman emerges from a house I hadn’t even noticed to bring fruit. “No tengo plata,” says Raul. He turns to us. “You don’t have money, right?” I squirm, but smile. Raul plucks a passionfruit off of a tree.

I later learned he had made this trek three or four hundred times. He points at one of us eating chips and chirps, “your snack is processed. Mine — ” he flashes a green grin — “is all natural.” True. He‘s chewing on coca leaves. All of the guides chew obscene amounts of coca. The porters too — local Sherpa-like men who lug tourists’ belongings in packs bigger than themselves, and still sprint past us on the trail. Refined, this could make cocaine. In this form, well, I guess they are just leaves. But we Americans struggle to dissociate the two.

My mom, my dad, my sister, and I are among 16 hikers in our group on this four-day trek to Machu Picchu. We are on the Inca Trail, the route that the Incas took once or twice a year as a spiritual journey to the holy Mecca of Machu Picchu for ceremonial cleansing — we think. The only reason this path and this mythic city remain is because the Spaniards never found any of it. It remained tucked under the mountains and foliage for centuries, the stones almost exactly as they were 500 years ago.

I think about that ancient headspace a lot on the trail. I try to put myself there, and method-act as an Inca for a bit. Unsuccessful. There’s too much learned crap up there in my brain, and I’m too goddamn tired. This may be the most physically exhausting thing I’ve done in my life. My lungs are not big enough nor experienced enough to make use of what little oxygen is up here. I do try the coca, but it tastes pretty nasty, and I don’t want to choke on the leaves while I’m heaving and gasping for air. It is pretty good in tea-form.

Since I’m going to talk about perspective, I suppose it is worth mentioning at this point that the “Inca,” was not an empire or a people. The word referred to one man, or being — the leader of the empire, and the human manifestation of Inti, the Sun God. They called themselves the Quechua people, and they called their empire Tawantinsuyu. I’ll use these names from here on out.

The most puzzling thing about Tawantinsuyu is this: no record of a written language has been found. This is largely why the empire’s history is so speculative. We rely solely on Spanish chroniclers. But when the Spanish arrived, Tawantinsuyu had wrangled and tightly organized some 15 million people. Scholars have marveled at how this was done with no written language. Well, every guide I had in Peru thought it obvious that they did have one; all records must have been destroyed by conquistadors. A different perspective. A local one. Maybe they thought their language sacred, and only communicated on gold and silver, which was lost when the greedy Spaniards ransacked and melted it all down. I don’t know.

We visit several sites with precise, staggering, megalithic structures. The Quechua people used no mortar here, and did not even know of the wheel, and yet made walls more resistant to time and earthquakes than their colonial conquerors could. They had no iron, no drills, yet perfect, rounded holes and immaculately chiseled stones abound. Boulders weighing hundreds of tons were dragged miles from their original resting places, sometimes up mountains. All of this has led some to consider aliens. I consider aliens. That seems like a cop-out.

I credit the cosmos, but differently — as inspiration, rather than an extra-terrestrial labor force. Raul points out that there are many, many, ancient megalithic structures: Stonehenge, Easter Island, the Pyramids of Giza. I don’t know what to make of that. Was everybody in the world on the same spiritual trip? Were these the grandest statements humanity could make? He explains that the Quechua religion was tactile and immediate. They worshipped a Creator God, Mother Earth, The Sun, The Moon, The Stars, Rainbows, Mountains, The Sea, etc. They saw the sun traverse the sky every day, and they witnessed it bring life to everything. I mean, it does.

I remember being veritably scared in AP World History when it became clear how much of the world was shaped by religion. I have never been religious. It frustrated me. But now I see that religion was not an aspect of Quechua culture. That is a strange style of thought that I think I’ve been trapped in. Religion was not an aspect of Quechua culture — found in between food and economy in a table of contents, perhaps — because it was everything to them. Their lives were in service of the Gods. This was the natural order. They owed so much to their creation. I realize this is the life of many today, still. I succeed in a tiny shift in consciousness.

They built such marvels because nothing else was important. They were part of the Earth, a natural cycle, and any pursuits of their own were simply extra. If it took months to move and carve a giant stone for a sun temple, then so be it. Their empire was a willing labor force. Machu Picchu is 8,000 feet up on a mountain ridge. It is shaped like a condor, the Quechua symbol for the heavens. It’s all purposeful. Were they stupider than us? I don’t think so. If you measured on an IQ scale, then sure, but that is a test made to assess thinking in a very specific way. Their context of thought was much different, and they lived fulfilled lives. Perhaps capitalism and hedonism have since gotten in the way.

The coca is odd because of American systems, and schemas, and because drilled into our heads over and over is “don’t do drugs.” Keep your mind clear, whatever that means. Tawantinsuyu ran on Chicha, a type of fermented blue-corn beer, and probably some hallucinogenic beverages, like ayahuasca. And coca. Cocaine is addictive. I don’t know if coca leaves are or aren’t, but I’m in the Andes now. And it seems pretty negligible in a society where physically climbing higher meant getting closer to the Gods. They had to elevate their minds, too.

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