Ají is an old friend in the Peruvian Gastronomy. Ají is best known around the world as chili- from the Nahuati language. Maybe we could guess that the word aji comes from the ancient Peruvian language Quechua, however chili in Quechua is called «uchu».
Making a little of History
According to Valdermar Espinoza Soriano, a Historian of San Marcos University, the chili was used as a trade measure. For instance, in the ancient Peru someone could trade two pots for ten chilies.
The truth is that “uchu” was growth on the coaster valleys and was together with salt the main and nearly the only savouries in the pre-Hispanic Andean world. This is because the Peruvian chili is not just hot and spice it also got flavour.
Varieties of Chilies in Peru
Let us come back to our topic. If a gastronomic teacher ask a distracted student about the number of chilies known, It is quite possible that the student will do a quickly memory exercise trying to remember what does a stall in the local market have and then will mumble: Ají amarillo, ají mirasol, ají limo, rocoto, ají charapita, ají mochero and, then maybe will add ají «pinguita de mono»
Acording to the Sociedad Peruana de Gastronomía (Apega) –Peruvian Association of Gastronomy in their book Ajies peruanos. Sazón para el mundo, there are at least fifty different types of chilies. Yes, dear reader , we know about chilies varieties as less as we know about the potatoes ones. (I encourage you to find out more about this topic).
Maybe the best way to illustrate the importance of chili in the Peruvian Gastronomy can be found in an interview with Héctor Solís, a director of Apega, to Andina news Agency:
«Looking at the Peruvian Map, there is not a place— in reference to a local market—without a stall selling ají Amarillo blended and in the same way we would not be able to find a Peruvian family without a pot of chili in their refrigerator. This is unthinkable ».
Chili as the main (basic) ingredient in the Peruvian Cousine
After half millennia, Chili is still the preferred ingredient for the Peruvian when cooking. It is used in the well-known and prestigious cebiche — If it is not hot, then it is not a cebiche— to the aji de gallina (a sort of Peruvian curry). The ají( chili) is also used in other delicious dishes such as: carapulcra, tacu tacu, sopa a la minuta, causa, papa a la huancaína, olluquito with charqui and thel arroz con pollo. The chili is and will be the king in the Peruvian cousine, used in marinates, enriching meals colours and imprinting an special touch in regards to flavour. We will not be able to talk about Peruvian Cousine without mention aji, because aji have a very special place in it