Getting corn-y in the streets of Peru

kitchen monarch
Last Updated : 07 October 2016, 18:36 IST
Last Updated : 07 October 2016, 18:36 IST

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In Peru, getting corny is as easy as counting up to 60. Do not go by the dictionary, please. In this South American country, corny is not being trite, banal or mawkishly sentimental.

There are 60 varieties of corn grown in this region that are nothing like the yellow variety we see everywhere. Here, they come in a riot of colours – purple, black, orange, white, red and more.

Corn kernels are the size of a dime and are used to dye wool. In food, they are boiled, steamed, popped or toasted to make snacks, meals and even drinks. Corn is even milled to bake cakes and bread. Cancha, the Peruvian roasted corn, is the ancestor of modern popcorn.

In Peru, corn is the kitchen monarch. Peruvians sure know a thing or two about corn — they have been growing the grain  since 1200 BC. Maize cobs and husks from archaeological sites in the country hint that the grain’s popularity dates as far back as the Incas. In 300 AD, the inhabitants of Peru’s northern coast invented the world’s oldest known corn popper — a shallow vessel with a handle and a hole on top. That was 1,500 years before the first popcorn machine made its debut at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. In Moray,

Peruvians had a circular open-air terraced laboratory to hybridise and create various kinds of corn suitable for different terrains and climate. The ancient economy – and the food – was driven by corn.

At the heart of Peru’s corn call is choclo, a giant white grain with kernels the size of a dime. Known as Cuzco corn (after the city of Cusco, the capital of the Incan
empire), choclo is an Andean variety with extra large, bulbous kernels almost five times bigger than North American corn. Choclo’s chewy kernels, though large,
do not get stuck between the teeth.

So, there is no need to floss after biting into a large cob! Not surprisingly, the Incans (of the mid 15th to mid 16th centuries) widely toasted this creamy textured corn as a snack.

The purple corn is used to make chica, a local drink. Chica morada is a non-alcoholic purple corn beverage; while chica de jora is the alcoholic version. If you see red plastic bags hoisted on large poles outside a Peruvian house, walk in for a drink. That’s a welcome sign. And before you knock down the fermented beverage, swirl it.
In ancient times, women would chew the corn in their saliva-filled mouths to ferment it. A saliva-fermented drink. Imagine that. Do not be grossed out — the purple corn drink has more antioxidants than blueberries; its phytochemicals reduce the risk of heart disease and obesity.

In Peru, corn is baked into cakes and bread, and added to ceviche, the national dish. Boiled or roasted corn, with a dash of chilli and crumbled feta, make for the perfect street food.

“Corn can grow several inches in a single day; if you listened, you could hear it,” said writer Laura Ruby.

Peruvian corn dishes

 Tamale and humita: Corn mash cooked into dishes of a wide range of colours and flavours (green, brown and yellow; sweet and savoury)
 Chicha morada: A drink made from
purple corn
 Chicha de jora: Fermented purple
corn beer
 Mazamorra: Purple corn jelly
 Inchi cache: Made from chicken cooked in a stew of roasted corn and peanuts
 Sanguito: Made from yellow cornflour, cooking fat, raisins and sugarcane
molasses called chancaca
 Pepián: A stew based on grated corn kernels mixed with onion, garlic and
chilli pepper
Chuta: A large corn sweet bread



 White corn: 1 lb
 Dry chillies: 6
 Spice: 1 tbsp of pepper &
cumin (ground)
 Salt: 1 tbsp
 Peeled garlic cloves: 4
 Vinegar: 2 tbsp
 Water: 2 cups
 Egg yolks: 6
 Hardboiled eggs:
2 (quartered)
 Chicken: 1 lb ground or diced. (You can replace it with mushrooms and other vegetables)
Corn husks: 6


Blend the salt, pepper, cumin, vinegar and dried chillies and marinate the meat in it for about an hour. Saute the meat with the leftover marinade, add water and cook until tender. Set aside. 0Grind the corn and set aside. Add water, egg yolk and salt and knead into roti consistency. Soak corn husks in warm water for 30 minutes until they are pliable.

To put the tamale together, take 3 tbsp of corn dough and place it in the centre of the corn husk. Dig a hole and place cooked meat and boiled egg in it. Close the dough by adding a little more dough or folding and tapping it closed. Wrap the husks tightly with corn strings. Set the tamales and steam them over a double boiler. Cook until done. Let them sit uncovered for 10 minutes. Serve hot.

Published 07 October 2016, 16:23 IST

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