A beautiful morning in the Tierra de Los Yachaks Community with our instructors, Pablo and Tsering, as well as our Tisch College of Civic Life dean, Diane, and her daughter, Caroline. Pachamanca was the topic of discussion as the day unravel itself. It was a new word in my world; perhaps it would become a new vocabulary and possibly a story to tell back at Tufts University or in my home, Samburu. As a curious and voracious learner, I couldn't wait to learn the science behind Pachamanca. Curiosity got the better of me. At first, I thought it was just a type of food, but that's not the case because it has a rich history and a lengthy process before the beautiful end result.
After about two hours of learning about the Yachaks organization, my long-awaited part of our visit arrived: learning about pachamanca. Pachamanca is a traditional Peruvian dish baked with hot stones, I discovered. Pacha is the word for earth, and Mancha is the word for pot. This was handed down from Inca civilizations.
Moving outside of a modern structure, there was a hole dug into the ground filled with hot stones. I couldn't figure out what the stones were for or why they had been burned at first, but I was determined to find out. I volunteered to assist the men as they removed the hot stones from the hole, specifically to assess how hot the stones were, and believe me, the heat was so intense that I could feel my body sweating. Instead of asking questions, I decided to mimic what they were doing whenever I had the opportunity, and to pay close attention to every detail of how Pachamacha was made.
Aside from the fire, there were small pots of skinned guinea pigs, bananas, sweet potatoes, and chicken, as well as others with habas; fresh green lima beans in pods. Marinated with herbs and spices, the meat was wrapped in Marmaquilla leaves. Growing up in a nomadic community where one of the most common meals is meat cooked with firewood, I assumed the skinned guinea pigs and chicken would be roasted in the Wathiya's small hot red remaining charcoal, which was, of course, insufficient to cook anything.
However, it was not what I expected; this is Pachamanca, and this is Wathiya, an Inca-era earthen oven. The gentlemen placed sweet potatoes in the Wathiya, then covered them with hot stones, followed by bananas, wrapped chicken and guinea pigs, and covered with another layer until everything was completely covered in the small Wathiya. Because of how everything was mixed with the stones, you might not have desired the final product.
All of the food from Wathiya was unwrapped and served in the dining room after a two-hour wait. I started with my favorite food, chicken, then bananas, and finally had almost everything. It was exquisitely prepared and extremely tasty.
This method of baking food is so effective in my opinion that no sophisticated skills were needed; everything was natural. You might give it a try if there is no gas or electricity available for cooking because it saves time and energy.
And as I'm writing this article, I imagine myself on that day, hoping for time travel so I could have Pachamancha once more.