One of the questions that always in the back of my mind as I travel to learn about food is what makes a dish “good”. To find the answers that I was looking for, I decided to be an extrovert for a day and ask the customers at La Capitana, a popular picantería in Arequipa, who had eaten this food their whole lives what their favorite dish was and why. Also, I wanted to know they like La Capitana in particular and why their version of a dish was especially good.
While picanterías have their root in the drinking culture, they have evolved into civic places where men, children, and women gather to celebrate their culinary heritage. It happened to be a holiday when I conducted my interviews which meant that I was able to capture a cross-section of the patrons of La Capitana and their opinions.
If you haven’t already, read my first article about La Capitana provides gives an overview.
As I am unpacking my camera at a table, a family asks if the other seats are free. They become my first interview subjects.
Juan Carlos Fuentes explained to me that there is a soup for every day of the week and that this soup of the day is his favorite. For example, on Monday, there is chaque soup that is made with the inside of the cow and on Tuesday, it’s chairo, a coup that has beef, potatoes, and barley.
The soup comes with a choice of a segundo (second dish) from a list of six or seven options. He says that he likes food at La Capitana because it is cooked like food was cooked 100 years ago with a wood oven which gives it a natural, smoky flavor.
The son doesn’t tell me his favorite dish but tells me he’s bored. His dad explains that since it’s a holiday, he doesn’t have kids his age to play with today.
Juana Rivera Coayla said that Picante de Cuy is her favorite because cuy is “muy sabroso” or very flavorful. Many people told me that a particular dish was their favorite because it was flavorful.
I tried to probe deeper. It took me some practice and creativity to ask the question from different angles in Spanish before I could get people to elaborate any further. However, the answer always seem to come back to the flavor.
Mario Adelqui Paz Caceres said that his favorite dish was the special of the day but went on on to list other dishes including recoto relleno, cuy, and papas (potatoes). Then, he summed up his opinion by saying, “younger people have preference but old people eat everything.” I really respect that.
Lizardo Salas Carpio said that his favorite dish is chaque because it is a dish that is substantial. He says that this dish is particularly good when cooked with the natural flavor of the wood fire.
Alvaro said that Chupe de Camarones is one favorite and that the quality depends on the river where the shrimp are from. He says that he also likes Locro because it is a very old dish.
Iwo Ortega also likes Chupe de Camarones because it has a lot of flavor and is a very traditional dish for special occasion. He points out that the shrimp in Arequipa are different from the ones in the US. [Actually camarones are more similar to crawfish than shrimp, which is what it often translated as]. He echoes that the point that the quality of the shrimp depends on the river.
Jennifer Ramon Qwintazi had a hard to picking a favorite but says that chancho horno has a unique flavor and especially likes the combination with the salad that comes with it. She likes the version at the La Capitana because it is more traditional.
Silvio Roman Medina said that his favorite dish is Senca. He explains that it is a dish made with meat from the nose of the cow. He likes the mix of flavors-peppers, onions, and the meat. It’s juicy and flavorful. He likes the Capitana because it has a lot of history and captures the traditions of the people [in Arequipa]. He likes come here because families sit together in the same table even if they don’t known each other.
Marco Delgado likes Caldo Blanco because of its flavor and Locro de Pecho because of the meat and potato combination. He says that you can tell good Locro by its color and that La Capitana has the right color and texture.
Next time … hear other perspectives including some of the people who work at La Capitana.
Thank you to to all of my Spanish teachers in Cusco especially Fabriz who taught me how to interview people in Spanish. Also, many thanks to Giancarlo Palao Díaz for allowing me to interview the customers at La Capitana and helping me with the translation.