The fertile Andean valleys still produce the same ingredients as they did in pre-Inca times: tubers (there’s said to be as many as 4,000 varieties of potato), corn, grains, llama and alpaca meat, trout and guinea pig.
In Cusco’s 16th-century cathedral, an indigenous artist’s depiction of The Last Supper has guinea pig on the menu, washed down not with wine but with chicha morada, made from purple corn. But the former Inca capital’s cuisine is getting ever more cosmopolitan.
I met Martínez again at his restaurant, Senzo at Palacio Nazarenas. Following a meticulous four-year restoration involving architects, archaeologists and local artisans, the Inca stonework and cloistered courtyards of this 16th-century convent-turned-mansion have been seamlessly blended with a luxurious spa, an outdoor swimming pool and a restaurant serving cutting-edge cuisine.
Martínez only sources ingredients from within a 100km radius, grows his own crops in the Sacred Valley, encourages the local farmers to grow organic and takes age-old ingredients – black quinoa, tarwi beans – and gives them a contemporary twist. He taught me how to make an Andean ceviche, marinating trout in lime juice, coriander and yellow chilli for no more than five minutes, then adding tree tomato to the resulting tangy liquid known as tiger’s milk.
On a journey through the Sacred Valley, I stopped off at Urubamba’s colourful market. Here you can buy regional specialities such as pink salt from the Maras salt pans and potatoes resembling withered mushrooms that have been freeze-dried in snow.
The Inca economy was based on farming and Machu Picchu’s agricultural terraces and crop stores have revealed that produce was also central to their spiritual life. At the less-visited Inca site of Moray, three enormous amphitheatre-style pits have been carved out of the earth. The temperature between the bottom and the top can alter by more than 15°C and some researchers believe that it was a place for agricultural experiments.
In the bucolic setting of the Hotel Rio Sagrado, I indulged in a typical Inca barbecue, or pachamanca. A hole lined with hot stones was filled with several types of potatoes, yucca, herbs and various meats that were covered in earth and slow-cooked for hours. But it’s more than a way of cooking, it’s a centuries-old celebration of fertility and life.
Photography: El Comercio Newspaper