Spice level: 4/10
Meet one of my favorite street foods in the entire world: the Peruvian super food secret – Chocho!
What is Chocho?
Chocho is probably the healthiest street food I’ve ever found. Basically, it is a salad made up mostly of the tarwi bean (we’ll get to that), mixed with tomato, onion, lime juice, cilantro, cancha (Peruvian popcorn), and maybe a spicy sauce and some MSG. Peruvians still love MSG. Either someone forgot to tell them how hidious that stuff is for you or they just don’t care. Give me flavor or give me death.
Mix all the ingredients up and you get a super simple, super tasty salad. The street vendors here come out to the markets early and sell it till it’s gone, usually by lunchtime.
Though I had seen the white bean, tarwi, while living near Cusco, the first time I ever tried this snack was not until I met a Peruvian family while hiking a little off the tourist trail in the Cordillera Blanca. One of the daughters gave me a big bag of the stuff and I could not stop eating it.
Now, what makes this street food so special? Its main ingredien: tarwi. Tarwi, scientific name Lupinus Mutabilis, is a white bean that grows all across the high Andes. The plant itself is a beauty.
Here I am haplessly researching tarwi thinking “hmmm I wonder what the plant looks like?”
It looks like the beautiful purple flowers that I have seen on literally every hike I have been on in Peru, ever. They are ubiquitous throughout the Peruvian Andes. I thought tarwi was this mysery bean that came from some secret tarwi bunker, but I was wrong. It grows everywhere.
The plant itself is a hero. It grows well in soil with low acidity and helps replace nitrogen in the soil.
More importantly for our gastromic journey, the plant then produces these little white beans that are a health bonanza. They are 40% protein and 20% fat. That is richer in proteins than either quinoa or soy.
I used to see the local women doing this in the markets in Urubamba and I thought the idea of beans sitting in tepid water was a bit gross. Having done a bit of research, turns out it’s totally logical.
In Cusco, they mostly grind the tarwi into a paste and eat it like a stew. Nutritious, but I find the Huaraz region’s Chocho a much more delicious way to ingest the magical tarwi.
Today I bought a bag of Chocho (2 soles) and a bag of pre-shredded lettuce in the market (1 sole). Total cost of my (very filling) lunch today? 3 soles, or about $1.