Chicha / Peruvian Food

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The term chicha originated in Andean culture. The oldest available data indicates that it was used to refer to an Andean drink from 5000 B.C. that was made from corn. The term chicha has a cultural meaning related to the mixture of mixtures. It is a symbol of syncretism for Peruvian people. Despite the positive associations of the term with cheerful music and unity, it also has negative connotations. It is also associated with all the poor, ignorant, and bad people of Peruvian society.

History of the Term Chicha

  • The term chicha came from an Andean indigenous society residing in Colombia and Panama, the Kuna. It is thought to have originated from chichab, a Kuna word that means corn. Originally, it began as a ritualistic beverage for young females to consume to become women.
  • Archaeologists that were working in the Andean region found pottery, which was used to carry and store chicha. Experts dated these vessels at around 5000 B.C.
  • The term chicha was used before the '60s in Peru to refer to several ancestral and traditional Peruvian drinks. The most traditional chicha in Peru is obtained from corn fermentation. This drink is available with and without alcohol.
  • The term was also used to denominate a music genre native to Peru. It is a union between Colombian cumbia and North American rock and roll from the '70s. It is essential to mention that this Peruvian genre arose in the more disadvantaged social classes.

The Cultural Meaning of the Term Chicha

  • The general cultural meaning of the Chicha term in Peruvian society is a mixture of mixtures.
  • Culturally, the chicha drink is like the cacao. It turned into a cultural signifier for many Andean groups, including for Peruvians. It not only inspires songs, rituals, and festivals but recently social division as well.
  • Chicha is seen by the upper class of Peru as something that is beneath them due to its strong association with the lower class. Any member of elite Peruvian society would want to hide any relation with the chicha term.

Positive Cultural Associations

  • The positive association of term chicha arises from the "tecnochicha" or "tecnocumbia." This musical genre means democratization, as despite it being born in the lowest social strata of Peruvian society, it is heard by all as it is present in all communication media.
  • The term chicha unites most of Peruvian society in the same culture. Being chicha means being Andean, Peruvian, creole, and from the city. Chicha is, in many ways, a symbol of Peruvian society.
  • The chicha genre is cheerful music. It is always associated with party and country life themes, as well as with happiness and no problems. Despite this cheery tone, it's important to remember that chicha music was born in difficult times in Peru for the lower social strata. It feeds the spirit of people in difficult times.

Negative Cultural Associations

  • The negative connotations of the chicha term is determined by three factors: the special characteristics that were present over the development of chicha music, the people who the music attracted, and the social circumstances present around this music genre.
  • The negative connotations of the term chicha increased when chicha music was associated with parties in which the assistants frequently ended the party with a brawl. These people were commonly called "achorados" or "chicheros," and they were associated with poverty.
  • The chicha music genre was popular with young people from low social sectors and populous neighborhoods. Many such people were poor, indigenous Andean migrants, acclimatized or completely new in Peru. The chicha term became the symbol of the lowest social sectors in Peru.
  • Unfortunately, the term is currently used by all sectors of Peruvian society, mostly with a negative connotation. For example, in the words of Abelardo Sanchez Leon from Quehacer magazine, "...this Peru deeply corrupt, chichero, lax and deranged."

Research Strategy

Our research began in trusted sites like Researchgate. A recognized Peruvian magazine called "Interculturalidad" published an article about the Chicha culture and why the term is currently used in a wide range of situations in Peruvian society. Other websites like Red Literario Peruana gave important insights about the general meaning of Chicha word to Peruvians. On the Yaconic site, we found information about how Peruvian people positively associate the chicha term with music and drink. On the Ohio State University website, we found crucial information on the origin of this important term for the Andean culture, including the Peruvians. It is crucial to mention that some sources are more than two years old. However, the information is not affected since this information is reliable and some insights found in these sources are mainly focused on historical data concerning the use of the chicha term.

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Peruvian Food Fans in the US

Peruvian food is growing in popularity in the US. Today, there are more than 400 Peruvian restaurants in the US. However, after a thorough review, only two main groups could be identified as the customer base for Peruvian restaurants in the US — Peruvian-American immigrants and their families and urban American foodies.

Peruvian Immigrants

  • The main fans of Peruvian food in the US are Peruvian immigrants and their families.
  • This is due to the increasing number of Peruvian immigrants that have migrated to the US for work. The number of Peruvians in the US doubled between 2000 and 2012.
  • There is also an increasing number of second and third generation Peruvians opening more Peruvian or Peruvian-influenced restaurants in the US.

Urban Foodies

  • Peruvian food is also becoming popular with non-Peruvian urban foodies in the US, thanks to the increasing notoriety of Peruvian food.
  • In any US city with a large enough Peruvian immigrant community, Peruvian restaurants or food trucks have opened.
  • Some of this popularity is due to national culinary heroes that have gained global attention, like Gastón Acurio, and through awards like the National Restaurant Association’s trend report.
  • Children of Peruvian immigrants to America are also targeting non-Peruvian consumers through American menus, more inviting restaurant atmospheres, and English-speaking servers.

Research Strategy

In determining groups of people that are fans of Peruvian foods, the research team reviewed media articles, websites of Peruvian restaurants in the US, and interviews with owners of Peruvian restaurants in the US. We attempted to review website viewer statistics of the website of popular Peruvian restaurants in the US, however, these websites did not have enough available data for analysis.