In Praise of the Peruvian Papa
WITHIN THE TRANQUIL, cloistered courtyard of Belmond Hotel Monasterio, Cusco, something’s causing a stir. Capturing guests’ attention is a curious display: knobbly, dappled, striped, spotted, long and thin, short and squat, bright gold, deep purple and almost black, a selection of bulbous clusters are enjoying a day in the spotlight. For it is National Potato Day in Peru and farmers from the Sacred Valley and Cusco countryside have assembled here to showcase their wares.
Nearly 4000 varieties of potato, or papa, are grown today in the land where the tubers were first cultivated. Each year, on May 30, they are celebrated in nationwide parades, exhibitions and tastings. Belmond Hotel Monasterio has long purchased its potatoes direct from farmers in the Huama community—a fair trade arrangement that guarantees the growers a fairer price—and each year the hotel invites a dozen or so of the suppliers to exhibit the fruits of their labour.
Stroll around the stalls admiring the vibrant displays, engage with the growers, listen to an expert talk about the ins and outs of the potato world, and indulge in a refined, three-course, papa-themed menu at Illary Restaurant.
But there’s no need to restrict your potato passion to May. Many of Peru’s most popular dishes are easily replicated at home all year round. Try causa, a delicious layered dish comprising mashed yellow potato, chicken, chilli and eggs, which can be assembled to make an elegant starter or a light lunch.