The Food Historian: Meat and Potatoes- On the Inca Trail

The next time you eat some French Fries or dig into a baked potato, remember to thank the Peruvians for spending thousands of years developing different varieties of potatoes that the Spanish and British ended up distributing all over the world. The impact of the potato was so great in Europe that today, when you go to normal restaurants in Spain and order the plate of the day, it will often include meat like chicken and some form of fried potatoes, a crop unknown to them until Columbus discovered the Americas.

Of course the Spanish learned from living with the Incas in Peru that they could feed their armies and people by growing potatoes and combining potatoes with meat and vegetables. Thus they brought the potato with them to their possessions in France and Holland, watching farmers and business people adopt the new food. Simultaneously, England and Ireland began significant growth in Potatoes.

As time went on, the irony for the Peruvian Incans was that even thought they had painstakingly developed over 2000 varieties of potatoes for different climates, altitudes, and affects, the Europeans failed to consult them when the varieties that they had planted ran into trouble. The Great Irish Potato Blight of the 19th century could have been avoided or ameliorated if the growers had remained in touch with the experts in South America.

One of the largest surprises for foodies regarding potatoes is that freeze-drying potatoes is an ancient Incan tradition that allowed their culture to store their food for years, something that gave the Incas a definite advantage over other cultures in the area.

Conosces Llama?

Of course, potatoes are often paired with a meat dish in most countries that they are served. If you are a purist when it comes to eating foods in a traditional setting, you might therefore consider eating llama with your next meal that features potatoes. Llama is actually one of the main meats that the Incans relied upon in the Andes. Often less expensive than beef in the United States, it’s flavor is similar to beef, but has a slightly different texture- as well as being an animal that is native to the Americas, which means that it fits in with its environment- just as the environment in the Andes nurtures it.

For wine drinkers, llama is often paired with Malbec when ungarnished and with a drier red when glazed.