What is a Pachamanca Lunch in Peru?

***Author’s Note: While staying at the El Albergue Hotel in Ollantaytambo, my friend Nina & I had the great pleasure of meeting Chef Gabriel, who runs their main kitchen & oversees their beautiful organic garden.  He helped us answer the question, “What is a Pachamanca lunch in Peru?” not only by explaining it, but by offering us a gorgeous, colorful feast set in the shadows of the Andes Mountains.  I revel in remembering this experience, & highly encourage anyone traveling to Peru to partake in this unique & delicious culinary adventure.

What is a Pachamanca Lunch in Peru? El Albergue Hotel in Ollantaytambo, Girl Who Travels the World

Welcome to the magical gardens of El Alberge Hotel in Ollantaytambo, Peru ~ where we’ll partake in a traditional Pachamanca feast!

What is a Pachamanca Lunch in Peru?

Pacha = Earth

Manca = (Clay) Pot

Literally translated, Pachamanca means “pot of earth,” & denotes an ancient technique dating back to the time of the Incas, when they cooked food underground using hot stones.  Pachamanca isn’t a traditional Spanish word, but comes instead from the Quechua language, which was the language of the Inca Empire.  Quechua is still used today in many of the indigenous, mountainous regions of Peru.

What is a Pachamanca Lunch in Peru?

Where can you partake in a traditional, Peruvian Pachamanca?  Answer: at the El Albergue Hotel in Ollantaytambo, Peru ~ which is about half-way between Cusco & Machu Picchu.  The front desk of the hotel is located right at the Ollantaytambo train station.  You’d never guess that such a gorgeous organic garden lies so close to such a bustling train station.

And this is where we met Chef Gabriel…

What is a Pachamanca Lunch in Peru? Girl Who Travels the World

Nina (wearing a Peruvian shawl) & the awesome Chef Gabriel. The gorgeous gardens of the El Albergue Hotel are literally within a few hundred yards of the Ollantaytambo Train Station.

El Albergue Hotel in Ollantaytambo

Food with views of the Andes Mountains, in the Sacred Valley of Peru.

What is a Pachamanca Lunch in Peru?

Chef Gabriel met us at the large, wooden gate that separates the hotel from the garden ~ & took us on a tour of the organic gardens, which offer breathtaking mountain views in every direction.  Happy dogs lounge in the sunlight while he explains the significance of Pachamanca; essentially, it’s a way of honoring Pachamama, or Mother Earth, for her bounty & good harvest.  It’s a way of giving thanks to the land, & though it’s typically performed after the harvest ~ it can also be used for any type of celebration. 

What is a Pachamanca Lunch in Peru? Girl Who Travels the World

Pachamanca is a way of giving thanks to the land…& the land in the Andes just happens to be beautiful.

Why is the Food in Peru SO Good??!

During our tour, I ask Gabriel why food across-the-board in Peru is SO dang good!  Nina & I keep having meal after staggeringly good meal, from mouthwatering ceviche (the best I’ve had anywhere in the world), to the famous Peruvian dish “Lomo Saltado,” to the gorgeous fruits at breakfast, that taste SOooo incredibly different (& better!) than the fruit we have at home.  Why is that?! we wonder.

He tells us that Peru has outlawed genetically modified food (GMO’s) for the next 40 years.  Cultivation & use of GMO crops is banned, as is their import.  One of the primary reasons for the ban is to protect their biodiversity (which ranks among the Top 10 in the world) & native species, which could be harmed by the introduction of GMO’s. 

Could this be why the food here tastes so radically different than what we eat in the States?  

Peru has outlawed genetically modified food (GMO’s) for the next 40 years.  Could this be why food here tastes so radically different compared to what we eat in the States? 

They have 3,000 varieties of potatoes in Peru, he tells us.  Thirty varieties of sweet potatoes.  Each is unique.  And that enormous biodiversity is exactly what they hope to protect, in banning GMO’s, which tend to move cultures towards larger mono-crops (i.e. soy, corn, etc.).  The soil is richer & more loamy, he says, when a wide diversity of crops is planted ~ vs. planting one or two.

We had a mango our first morning in Peru, that was SO incredibly, deliciously sweet…we couldn’t help but cry out with joy.  It was one of the best things I’ve ever tasted.  I never write about food ~ but this food, I could write sonnets about.  It bursts with life, & tastes more real than 99% of what I eat in the States. 

Gabriel tells us that Peru does not import any food ~ none AT ALL.  This seems miraculous to us.  They simply produce everything they need.  And they produce it all without GMO’s.

What is a Pachamanca Lunch in Peru? El Albergue Hotel in Ollantaytambo, Girl Who Travels the World

Our Pachamanca lunch, being cooked in the earth at a staggering 850 degrees.

Peru = A Food Lover’s Paradise

American food tastes impotent when compared to the food we’ve been eating here in Peru.  If it’s not already, I predict that Peru will become an absolute foodie destination: people from all over the world will travel here to remind themselves what food should really taste like: it’s that good. 

Dogs bark, protecting the farm from unwanted critters, then go back to basking in the sun.  As the day warms, they move over to more shaded areas.  They don’t beg for food (they’re too smart for that), but they do wait patiently; Gabriel tells us they sometimes get chicken bones or other goodies following meals.  A new puppy plays with his mama in the sunshine, rolling around in the grass, playfully biting his mother’s ankles. 

What is a Pachamanca Lunch in Peru? Girl Who Travels the World

“Mama:” One of the many happy dogs hanging out in the El Albergue garden. Not a bad spot to call home..

Pachamanca Lunch….Al Fresco

It’s impossible not to smile here, being outside on the farm, in the sunshine, watching the men prepare our “Pachamanca.”  Gabriel chose a selection of chicken, vegetables, & of course, some of those famous Peruvian potatoes, all cooked together in our “pot of earth.”  Mother Earth is literally cooking our lunch today, at a sweltering 850 degrees, covered by rocks.  After a quick fifteen minutes, lunch is ready & removed from the earth ~ then brought over to a large table shaded by the sun.  

Lunch is served. 

El Albergue Hotel in Ollantaytambo, Girl Who Travels the World

Prepare to feast…

Practical Info

 What is a Pachamanca Lunch in Peru?

If you’d like to partake in a Pachamanca lunch during your trip to Peru, book a night or two at the El Albergue Hotel, & tell them you’d like to reserve the Pachamanca lunch (approx. $40 US).  It’s the perfect stop between Cusco & Machu Picchu.  If you can’t stay, you can still call & reserve lunch only.  Their main restaurant, right off the train platform, is also phenomenal!!  And super convenient to stop by when passing through Ollantaytambo.

Have you stayed at the El Albergue Hotel, or enjoyed a traditional Pachamanca lunch in Peru?  Tell me about it in the comments below!

xoxo Noelia 

Read Next: Review of El Albergue Hotel in Ollantaytambo

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