Each year on May 30th, Peru celebrates Dia Nacional de la Papa, "National Potato Day." It’s the special day that marks when the potato was established into law in 2005. Just an hour’s drive northeast from Cusco, you will find six Quechua communities who have maintained the integrity of the biocultural traditions of their ancestors.
These six communities established the Parque de la Papa, the “Potato Park;” it is a protected 12,000-hectare agro-ecological region meant to conserve traditional Quechua cultures and livelihoods. It is located within the Cusco Valley.
National Potato Day is a special day to pay homage to one of the most important vegetables in Peruvian culture and the primary ingredient in many Peruvian dishes. It is a day to celebrate the potatoes different colors, shapes, tastes, and textures. Throughout the country, you will find many fairs and festivals celebrating the potato by offering various dishes and drinks. There are cooking classes and contests. Many restaurants in the big cities such as Lima offer special menus and beverages proudly using their native Peruvian potatoes as a prime ingredient.
Celebrating the Diversity of the Potato
The potato has been cultivated in the High Andes of southeastern Peru for over 10,000 years where there are now over 3,000 – 4,000 varieties of native potatoes grown. The Andes farmers produce important potato species: Rucki, Limena, Andigena, Pitiquina, and Chaucha.
Andean potatoes are unlike any most people have ever seen. In a single field, you will find farms where 200 different species are cultivated. These potatoes are brilliant in color and come in shades that range from deep purple to pale yellow. They come in all shapes and all sizes, each with a rich flavor. Because the farmer’s value tradition deeply, they generally do not use synthetic pesticides or fertilizers to produce their crop.
Potatoes and the Ancient Inca
It is believed that the Inca Indians first cultivated the potato in Peru. Its name derived from the Quechua word papa combined with Indian word batata. Potatoes were the staple food for Inca Empire, providing them with their primary source of energy.
The Inca loved the vegetable so much that they even buried their dead with it. In fact, they had more than one use for the potato that went beyond eating it. The Inca believed that placing raw potato slices on broken bones promoted healing. They even carried them around with them to prevent rheumatism and help a toothache.
When treating frostbite or sunburn, potatoes would be grated; the raw vegetable and its juices would be applied to the affected area. In fact, any time they had any aches and pains, they would rub the area with water that their potatoes had been boiled in.
Beyond celebrating the diversity of the delicious potato, National Potato Day also aims to create awareness of the importance of managing natural resources and preserving agriculture traditions. Don't miss the special potato menus in Peru's cities this May 30th. Or take a trip to the Potato Park and immerse yourself in its rich culture and enjoy potatoes straight from the source.
Planning a trip to Cusco, and would like to include a visit to the Potato Park just