In Peru, It’ Time to Chug Chicha!

Have a thirst for a real native experience? While traveling in Peru, stop at a house displaying a red flag on a long pole. There you can join the locals in a glass of chicha, an ancient Andean drink made from fermented corn.

California Native founder, Lee Klein, chugging chicha with villagers in a Peruvian chicheriaThe strange-tasting drink, yellowish in color with a bubbly froth, is served warm for just a few coins, and is quite strong. It is not usually found in restaurants (a similar drink, chicha morada, made from blue corn, is sweet and sold everywhere like a soft-drink), but is sold by individuals, usually in the lower socioeconomic bracket, who have passed down the traditional recipes since pre-Inca times.

Recently, in the mountaintop city of Cerro Baul in southern Peru, archeologists from the University of Chicago unearthed remains of an ancient brewery dating back to the Wari Empire (AD 600-1000). It is believed that the brewery was used to produce massive amounts of chicha, which was used both for ritual purposes and festivities.

The ruins indicate that the last gathering at this brewery ended with a ritual burning of the entire facility. As the Wari’s threw their cups into the fire, the beams and thatched roof collapsed, leaving what was underneath in very good condition. Scientists have found remains of fire pits and fifteen-gallon ceramic vats.

The first step in preparing the chicha is boiling the fruits and grains (now corn) with water. After boiling, the liquid is transferred to fermenting jars and is ready in two weeks. It must be consumed soon after—it does not have a shelf life!

So, join your Peruvian neighbors in a glass of chicha, if you dare, and carry on the ancient tradition. There is also a musical form called chicha, inspired by the drink, but more on that in another post.

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