Sunday, March 26, 2006

Recipe: Papa a la Huancaí­na

This is the story of the little potato and cheese dish from the central Andes region of Peru that traveled around the world.

Almost every Peruvian restaurant anywhere in the world serves a variation of this dish.

Papa a la huancaí­na is a cold starter made with boiled potatoes served on a bed of lettuce leaves. The potatoes are covered in a creamy, spicy huancaí­na sauce made with fresh, white country-style cheese and ají­ amarillo. The dish is garnished with black olives and hard-boiled egg slices.

Papa a la huancaí­na means potatoes covered in a sauce in the style of Huancayo, a city located in the fertile Mantaro River Valley.

About a six hour road trip from Lima (involving a climb from sea level to 15,80 feet ---4,820 meters-- at the Ticlio pass, and down to the Mantaro Valley, located at only 11,000 feet ---3,300 meters) Huancayo is famous for its Sunday market, the many festivals in the outlying villages along both banks of the Mantaro River, and the quality of its cuisine, made fresh with local products.

This papa a la huancaí­na is made in the traditional way at
Huancahuasi, a bastion of local cooking in Huancayo.
The sauce is so thick you can't even see the potatoes.

Photo from Perú Llacta.

Huancayo itself is not a picturesque city; rather, it is a bustling commercial hub, busy building for the future. Having said that, Huancayo is also rich in Andean traditions, and papa a la huancaí­na is part of that tradition.

I admit to having a soft spot for Huancayo and the Valle del Mantaro; as a child, I lived there with my grandparents, the first two people to instill in me a love for Peruvian cuisine.

When those who form part of the Peruvian diaspora began opening Peruvian restaurants in cities as disparate as Boston, Madrid, Tokyo, and Sydney, they began to include papa a la huancaí­na on their menus.

Nowadays, it's hard to find a Peruvian restaurant anywhere in the world that does not offer some variation of this classic Mantaro Valley dish. Part of its appeal is its adaptability, the main ingredients can be easily located or substituted in most parts of the world. The sauce is easily made in a blender.

This papa a la huancaí­na has a very creamy sauce.
Photo from USA Peruvian Restaurants.

The papa a la huancaí­na I eat at my local Peruvian place here in Los Angeles may not be my grandmother's papa a la huancaí­na, made by hand using a stone mortar and pestle to grind and mix fresh country cheese and recently harvested ají­ amarillo, but it still evokes that piquant freshness featuring the key Andean crop, potatoes.

As I've mentioned before, I myself am not a chef, but a good Internet researcher; so, I have compiled here the best recipes in English for papa a la huancaí­na that I have found online. Let me know how they turn out.

If you have your own variation or a link to a different one, feel free to leave a comment or send me an e-mail.

This is another creamy papa a la huancaí­na.
Photo from TQNYC.

When preparing a jaw-dropping papa a la huancaí­na, make sure you use the most flavorful potatoes available. In my area, I prefer organic Yukon Gold potatoes. The lettuce should be crisp and fresh. Use the tastiest eggs you can find.

And now, the recipes:

This is the easiest variation of a papa a la huancaí­na recipe I found, from Chef 2 Chef, using feta and cream cheese (and peanuts, which is more reminiscent of an Ocopa sauce).

This more elaborate recipe from Chef 2 Chef, using evaporated milk, fresh cheese (or if not available, mozarella or munster), is evocative of the real deal.

This recipe is from the Goya company, so it promotes the use of its products, but it's easy to follow if you can get
ají­ amarillo (and better yet, real papas amarillas, the famous yellow potatoes of Peru), but skip the salsa on the side this site recommends, that doesn't seem very Peruvian at all, at least not to accompany papa a la huancaí­na:

The following recipes are best for large gatherings, as they call for large quantities of papa a la huancaí­na, which is a perfect party dish.

This recipe from serves ten, and uses cottage cheese:

This easy-to-follow recipe for a large-gathering is from Astray (It calls for two pounds of potatoes). The author has even included a Bolivian variation:

And, this is almost the identical recipe as above from Food Down Under, with a different format which may be a little easier to follow:

Yet another recipe for ten, this one from Recipe Bazaar. It seems easy to follow, and includes a review from a satisfied customer at the end:

Update: Now, you can read César's excellent recipe for papa a la huancaí­na by clicking here. He and Sury have a blog they say is about, 'All things FOOD from Peru and India.' Intriguing, isn't it?

Enjoy the papa a la huancaí­na!

Click here for the Peru Food main page.

TAGS: Peru, Peruvian, food, cooking, cuisine, cocina, comida, gastronomía, peruana


Anonimo said...

Nice post; makes me want to get back to work on my blog.

::Alejandro:: said...

Thanks Anónimo, it really takes more time than I thought to keep a blog updated, but I'm trying my best.

Hope you try one of the recipes.

Gracias por la visita!

Anonymous said...

Authentic Peruvian papa a la huancaína is made partly with queso fresco, aji amarillo, evaporated milk, and soda crackers. Feta cheese IS a good subsitute, perhaps a little saltier...

Stephen Stamper

LMGM said...

Tanks for posting this! (Obviously I'm a bit late on this post, but I just found this off of Google.) I'm going to try making making huancaína with Corsican brousse/braccio cheese instead of queso fresco.

LMGM said...

Gracias otra vez para la receta! In your list of Peruvian restaurants outside Perú, don't forget "El Bodegón" in Toronto. I think it's on College St.

Anonymous said...


sumpittsauber said...

how nice

Anonymous said...

Papa a la Huancaína Sauce
2 Dried Yellow Chiles
3 Green Onions
1 clove of minced garlic
3 tablespoons of oil(preferably vegetable or corn)
Tablespoon of turmeric
3 cups of milk(2 percent or whole for creamy texture)
6 oz of Cream cheese
1 1/2 packs of crackers

Start off by soaking the Chiles until soft. Once soft seed them(taking off the stem) and let them dry. Once dry heat 3 tablespoons of oil in medium size pan. Add green onions and sauté for a little bit. Then add garlic and do the same. Finally once garlic is ready add chiles and Saute, add salt to taste. In a blender add your mixture of green onions, garlic, and chiles, along with turmeric and 3 cups of milk. Blend evenly. Add cream cheese and blend again. Once done add a packet of crackers into mixture and blend. Consistency should be like pancake mix, if not keep adding crackers till its so. Best served over lettuce, boiled eggs, and boiled potatoes.

PS this is my familys recipe which was handed down to my mother. Its different from most others but its still very good and is worth trying!

::Alejandro:: said...

Thank you Anonymous for that recipe, and everyone else for commenting on this post.

Anonymous said...

With hundreds of traditional peruvian dishes we are certainly talking about more than just Papa a la Huancaina, which is, judjing by our experience at Productos Peruanos
one of the most remembered dishes by all those who miss nice peruvian culinary moments.