The place to be this week in Bolivia is Cochabamba/Quillacollo for the Virgin of Urkupiña festival. Can't make it to Bolivia right now? Then read all about the festival, the legend behind it and get a recipe for a Cochabamba specialty, chicharron.
One thing Bolivians do well is assimilate. When Catholicism arrived in Bolivia, the indigenous people didn't reject it nor did they abandon their own beliefs about natural gods, spirits, the sun and earth. Instead, they combined aspects of Catholicism with their folk traditions and created a hybrid of Catholic and folk religions. I admire the strength of the native cultures to maintain their traditions while still welcoming the new idea of Catholicism.
The Virgin of Urkupiña festival, which takes place in Cochabamba/Quillacollo during the third week of August (Aug. 15-17, 2010), is a key example of this fusion of religions. The festival combines honoring the Virgin of Urkupiña with honoring Pachamama/Mother Earth. This three day festival opens with a parade of energetic folkloric dancers dressed is colorful traditional costumes then moves on to the Calvario. Thousands of people flock to Quillacollo for this festival.
The legend behind this festival is that the Virgin appeared to a poor girl and told her to gather some stones from the hillside and take them to her family. By the time the girl arrived home the stones had turned to silver thus lifting the family out of poverty. It became a tradition for people to go to the Quillacollo hillside to gather stones.
These days you don't just walk along the hillside and pick up stones, you borrow a pick, climb down into a pit and hack away until you have your stones. You then have the stones blessed by Pachamama and stand in the sun in a very long line to have them blessed by the Virgin. Bring a sun hat and sunscreen! In addition to the stones people buy miniatures of all the material things they need or want, just like they do for Alasitas, and also have those items blessed. One very important thing to remember is that the stones symbolize money borrowed to help you but you must return the stones (repay the loan) to the hillside at some point in your life.
While in the Cochabamba area stop in to have some of the famous Doña Pola Chicharron. Doña Pola is a woman who has made a living out of making some of the best Chicharron around. I'm not sure what her secret is but it might have to do with the large copper kettle she uses. If you would like to try making Chicharron yourself, try the recipe below and remember that long slow cooking is best.
Recipe: Chicharron/Crispy Pork
4-5 lbs pork ribs or pork shoulder
1 lb of canned hominy or dried mote soaked in water overnight
2 medium white onions
2 T ground aji colorado (or to taste) or other dried red chile
Salt to taste
Black pepper to taste
2 t cumin
1 T oregano
4-5 cloves garlic, minced or to taste
Juice of one lemon
Beer or Chicha, optional
- If using dry mote, soak in unsalted warm water overnight then without changing the water bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer until tender.
- Grind the black pepper, cumin, garlic, aji de colorado, lemon and oregano together to form a paste
- Rub the paste over the pork ribs and let sit for about 15 minutes.
- In a large dutch oven, add enough canola oil to cover the bottom of the pot 1/4 inch deep.
- Salt the pork ribs and add to the pot.
- Cook slowly over a low flame, turning occasionally. Cook until pork is crispy. Add a little beer or chicha if desired for flavor.
To learn more about Noly's World Cuisine or to order Salteñas visit www.nolys.vpweb.com