A light dish made of Peruvian potatoes and aji amarillo (yellow pepper), Papa a la Huancaina is slightly cheesy, spicy, but also refreshing. This incredibly simple recipe for Papa a la Huancaina can be made at home anytime using yellow potatoes.
Literally translating to Huancayan style potatoes, Papa a la Huancaina is one of the most iconic appetizers of Peru, next to ceviche. Every time I visited Peru (and so far I’ve been to Peru three times) I had this dish in various spots.
Most people think potatoes arrived from northern Europe, but potatoes actually originate in the Andes mountains. Archaeologists have found the remains of potatoes in Peru dating as far back as 2500 BC. Potatoes were also the main food for the Incan Empire in the 13th century.
European explorers brought them to Europe only after Columbus discovered America.
And that’s why potatoes are more often than not present on Peruvian tables.
But that doesn’t mean you have to go searching for Peruvian potatoes to make the Papa a la Huancaina. Any yellow potatoes such as the Yukon Gold will do.
The only thing you might need to buy (if it’s not available) is aji amarillo – Peruvian hot pepper, but I was able to find a paste on Amazon.
There a saying in Peru: “el gringo que come ají, no se mueve de aquí”, which loosely translates to “the foreigner that eats hot peppers, will never leave Peru”.
You can later use the same sauce recipe for a chicken dish – aji de gallina, sirloin, or other Latin American recipes.
History Behind Papa a la Huancaina
The story of Papa a la Huancaina is a bit controversial, as there’s no one version of events. Most stories, however, are centered around Peru’s Ferrocarril Central Andino, plunging eastward from Lima to Huancayo in the Andes. It was the highest railway in the world before the Tiber was constructed by actually a Polish engineer called Ernest Malinowski.
Some believe that the dish first came about in the 1870s during the construction of the railroad, served to the laborers by a local woman. However, the original recipe didn’t use aji amarillo, but rocoto – a different type of pepper.
The potato sauce became so popular that everyone would wait for the Huncayan lady’s potatoes. Over time the recipe for the Papa a la Huancaina traveled across Peru and the world!
Recipe Pointers For Recipe
- Serve on a bed of lettuce with black olives.
- If you want to cook this dish old school, use a mortar and pestle to grind the chilies. In Peru, it’s called a batan.
- If you cannot find queso fresco, use a mild feta cheese or a ricotta salata.
- For a thicker sauce, add more crackers.
- Spicy yet served cold, this is the perfect dish for potlucks or picnics.
- The Huancaina sauce also goes well with chicken or other meat-based dishes.
- Store the leftover sauce in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days.
FAQs about Papa a la Huancaina
In Latin America, the Spanish derived word for potatoes is papa instead of patata. So the dish was simply named papa a la Huancaina, or Huancayan styled potatoes.
Queso fresco is a soft and crumbly white cheese from Peru made from cow’s milk.
Papa a la Huancaina is traditionally eaten cold.
It’s preferable to use yellow potatoes because they have a creamier texture and are fluffier than other potato varieties. The Yukon Gold potatoes are a great choice.
There’s no need to throw away the potato skin. Potato skins contain more potassium than the potato itself. So as long as you have washed the potatoes well, it’s a good idea to eat the skin too.
- 3 yellow potatoes
- 1 lbs queso fresco
- 3 aji amarillo peppers (or 2 tablespoons of paste)
- 1 egg
- 3 cloves of garlic
- 3 salty crackers
- 2 spoons of milk
- Boil the potatoes (you can peel or not peel) and hard boil eggs.
- If using peppers: clean the ribs, lightly fry them with garlic.
If using paste: skip this step and proceed to blend.
- Blend peppers/paste, garlic, queso, crackers and milk. You can adjust the milk and crackers to achieve the desired thickness.
- Slice the potatoes and put on a plate, then cover with blended sauce and sliced boiled egg.
- Serve on its own or on lettuce leaves with a few black olives.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 163Total Fat: 6g