It’s 12:30pm on a Sunday in Huaraz and the afternoon sun is shining bright through a cloudless sky, highlighting the glaciers that blanket the mountains in the city’s backdrop. Church services have come to an end and the congregation has moved to the streets in search of Sunday lunch. If you were to pass down the bustling Confraternidad Oeste Avenue, you would hardly notice the narrow, rustic alleyway flanked by colonial-style adobe facades. As you enter the alley, the paved roads give way to a cobblestone path as your senses become inundated with the savory aroma of home cooking, Andean-style.
The José Olaya Barrio where our hotel morales is located is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Huaraz and one of the few survivors of the 7.9 magnitude earthquake that razed the city in 1970, toppling nearly 95% of all standing structures. Many Huaracinos frequent José Olaya not only for the traditional dishes served on Sundays, but for the sake of nostalgia, as the neighborhood has retained the aesthetic and old-fashioned atmosphere of “Old Huaraz”.
Authors’ Top Picks for MUST TRY Dishes in José Olaya
Taking a stroll through José Olaya on a Sunday afternoon is a full-frontal assault on the senses. Traditional music plays in the background as friends and family come together over local dishes. It can be easy to get overwhelmed by the multitude of options when deciding what to eat for lunch in José Olaya. Here are four of our favorites that you MUST try before leaving Huaraz.
Picante de Cuy:
For many foreigners, it can be difficult to suppress memories of that beloved pet guinea pig you had as a child while staring at a fried little leg on top of a mound of potatoes. However, guinea pig or, “cuy,” has been a staple of Andean cuisine for thousands of years and continues to be a contemporary delicacy reserved for special occasions. Each region of the Andes has its own special way of preparing cuy, but in José Olaya, Picante de Cuy is the way to go. The plate consists of a ¼ – portion of fried guinea pig accompanied by boiled potatoes and topped with a chili-based sauce that provides a delightful kick of sweet heat. Feel free to leave the fork and knife aside and use your hands for this dish!
Pachamanka de Tres Sabores:
Literally translated as “cooking pot of the earth,” pachamanca is an ancient, rural culinary-style totally unique to the Andean highlands. First, stones are collected and stacked together making a small hut and then heated from within by a eucalyptus fire. Once the stones are red hot, the ashes and coals are removed and replaced by a variety of potatoes and local tubers such as olluca, camote and oca, as well as cuts of chicken, pork and beef wrapped in large green leaves. From there, the rock hut is made to cave in, leaving the sizzling stones to cook the ingredients left within. To preserve heat, the pile of stones is then covered by fresh eucalyptus branches and earth. The mound is left untouched for upwards of an hour, allowing plenty of time for the potatoes and meat to cook all the way through while retaining plenty of moisture. Once complete, the earth and branches are removed, and finished potatoes, tubers and meat selections are fished out of the steaming pile of stones. The hot meal is then enjoyed by hand, often accompanied by a spicy dipping sauce, “ají”.
Chicha de Jora:
An essential element of rural Andean cuisine, chicha de jora is a low-alcohol, beer-like beverage produced by the fermentation of germinated corn kernels. The dark-yellow, foamy drink is another pre-Inca Andean tradition that continues to thrive within contemporary highland culture, often served in local fiestas or as a refreshment while working in the fields. Chicha pairs well with any savory local dish on a sunny afternoon in José Olaya, so make sure you give it a try!
No meal is complete without dessert! In José Olaya you can find a variety of options to indulge your sweet tooth. For a post-lunch treat, we recommend that you try one of the several styles of mazamorra, a dish with a base of sweet squash or fruit (traditionally pineapple, membrillo and/or peach), which are boiled and later thickened with sweet potato flour and sweetened with chancaca (a local syrup). Most mazamorra dishes also include dried fruits such as dehydrated plumbs, peaches, raisins or a medley of freshly sliced fruit. To be sure, the consistency is difficult to describe and tends to lay somewhere between a gelatin and pudding with hints of cinnamon and clove. You may also order a “combinado,” a base of rice pudding or, “sambito,” a rice pudding enriched with chancaca syrup and topped with mazamorra.
The Old-Guard Bakeries of José Olaya
If climbing expeditions, day hikes and tours hinder you from planning a Sunday lunch in José Olaya during your stay, a visit to the neighborhood bakeries is a great little-known option for an authentic cultural experience.
As the rest of the city lays fast asleep, the bakers of José Olaya are busy feeding wood-burning adobe ovens with cords of eucalyptus and methodically kneading dough to meet the daily demands for fresh bread throughout Huaraz. A family practice, some of the home-operated bakeries are over fifty years-old, utilizing the same oven that great-grandfather built, and techniques developed over multiple generations. Proud of their trade and traditions, the bakers tend to be welcoming to curious visitors and impromptu tours of their workspace. We highly recommend you pay them a visit, for if bread-making is an art, then the José Olaya bakers are the Picassos of Huaraz.
Whether it be an early morning bread hunt or Sunday lunch, we encourage you to take advantage of the gastronomic and cultural opportunities in José Olaya, Huaraz’s oldest neighborhood!