This dish is an unmissable classic of Peruvian cuisine that is a perfect combination of many of Peru’s usual culinary suspects: ají amarillo (the yellow Peruvian chili pepper), potatoes, garlic and fresh cheese. Almost everyone that tries this cold starter is won over by its creamy texture and its spicy touch which, fortunately, is balanced out by the base of sliced potatoes.
There’s even a saying in Peru: “el gringo que come ají, no se mueve de aquí”, which loosely translates to “the foreigner that eats hot peppers, will never leave Peru”.
Whereas this includes the whole colorful array of chili peppers present in Peruvian cuisine, after trying Papa a la Huancaína, you will certainly identify with the saying and might just book a one-way ticket to Peru, hungry for more!
Before we move on to the recipe itself, let’s delve into the history of this dish. Papas are potatoes and Huancaína refers to a lady from the Andean city of Huancayo. This gives us an idea of its origins, although historians haven’t quite managed to agree on one single version. The most popular story goes that the dish was prepared for the men working on the construction of the railroad connecting the capital city of Lima with the Andean city of Huancayo, located at approximately 190 miles away, at around the turn of the 19th century.
It is said that a lady from Huancayo came up with this recipe originally using a different type of pepper (rocoto instead of ají amarillo) which is more prevalent in the Andes. The dish became popular quite quickly during the construction and must have travelled with the first passengers of the train when the railway opened, taking it to Lima and beyond.
It isn’t known whether it was served hot or cold or whether it was a starter or a main dish back then, but its unique flavor has made it survive and thrive up until this day. It stands strong as one of the most popular dishes throughout the country and is a staple offering in Peruvian restaurants in all corners of the world.
A secret revealed
You might ask yourself how this brilliantly inventive lady from Huancayo managed to achieve the consistency of this sauce that we can now only make with a blender? Well, she would have used a batán, a traditional giant pestle and mortar made out of stone common throughout South America.
In fact, many traditional and top-end restaurants in Peru, especially in the countryside, still choose to use the time-consuming and bicep-building bátan to prepare the sauce since it gives it the perfect texture.
Your stomach might be rumbling by now so, without further ado, let’s roll up our sleeves and prepare our very own Papa a la Huancaina!
Course: Lunch, Starter