The Humble Potato Is Exalted in the Mountains of Peru

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The Inca guide who traveled with me through the Andes still hikes carrying dried potatoes (sometimes in a powdered form) and llama jerky, essential ingredients for a soup he considers a part of his cultural inheritance.

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Potatoes were given superb treatment wherever I traveled. At the Sumaq Hotel in the town of Aguas Calientes, there was pastel de papa, a meltingly soft potato cake with layers of thin-sliced potato, bacon and cheese.

Photo

Potato chips served at the Sumaq Hotel.

Credit
Guillermo Gutierrez Carrascal for The New York Times

Papa a la Huancaina, which originated in the town of Huancayo in the central highlands and is considered by many to be Peru’s national dish, was everywhere, including the cafeteria at Machu Picchu. Boiled, sliced potatoes and boiled, sliced eggs were placed on top of lettuce leaves with some olives strewn about, and dressed with a Huancaina sauce that brought the dish together. Its main ingredient was the long, aromatic orange chile, aji amarillo.

Perhaps my favorite dish of all was causa. Like lasagnas, causas are layered terrinelike dishes, generally served cold, though room temperature can also work for some of them.

Instead of pasta, potatoes — mashed and seasoned with an aji amarillo paste, lime juice, olive oil and salt — are the most important element in a causa. They can provide one, two or even three of the layers in the dish. The other in-between layers could include seafood salad, vegetable salad, chicken salad or, as in the Amazon region, pork-and-onion salad made with the addition of the fiery, round charapita chile.

Whichever way it is served, causa is always soothing — and refreshingly delicious. For the hotter regions of Peru, it is just as cooling and satisfying as that warming soup is in the Andean mountains.

Recipes: Peruvian Cheesy Potato Soup With Spicy Herb Sauce | Uchucuta Sauce | Causa With Shrimp and Avocado

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