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Taste the Incan culture at Lake Titicaca

Topic Food and Wine Travel

Taste the Incan culture at Lake Titicaca - Image

A catalyst for laughter that fills middle school history classrooms, Lake Titicaca is the highest commercially navigable lake in the world that lies on the border between Peru and Bolivia. It's a wonderful destination for South America travel, regardless of which country you're exploring.

Although many people head to Lake Titicaca to discover the various islands and experience the well-maintained cultures that surround it, there's a lesser-known reason to visit the lake. The shores of Lake Titicaca are considered to be the birthplace of potatoes, not to mention the world's largest supply of quinoa. Foodies around the world should head to South America for history-steeped and culturally rich dishes made from these staple foods.

If you had to associate a country with potatoes, it would likely be Ireland. Although the Emerald Isle is famous for the potato famine that caused mass emigration and disease, potatoes aren't native to Ireland. In fact, the first potatoes were grown in Peru as many as 8,000 years ago. The harsh weather and high altitude around Lake Titicaca was the perfect place for potato plants to thrive, which resulted in about 200 strains in the beginning.

The fatal mistake that allowed the potato famine to become such a tragedy in Ireland is the lack of crop diversity. This wasn't a problem in Peru, since the locals created thousands of varieties of potatoes from the original 200 strains. SA Luxury Expeditions explained how many of these potatoes are named in Quechua, the Inca language that's still used by a small percentage of Peru's residents. There are currently seven species of potatoes that are recognized worldwide, but you can try more varieties than you ever imagined at local eateries near Lake Titicaca. One especially popular meal is papa rellena, a fried potato that's filled with meat, eggs and cheese.

Its increased popularity in the past few years has placed quinoa on pantry shelves and in consumers' hearts, but that wasn't always the case. This superfood has become a favourite of vegans, vegetarians and clean eaters as its nutritional value gains more attention. But before this grain was sold in large bags at every supermarket, it was the main food for South Americans living near Lake Titicaca. However, it's important to note that quinoa isn't actually a cereal grain. In fact, the kernels are more closely related to spinach, chard and beets than wheat or barley, the Whole Grains Council explained.

The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations deemed 2013 the International Year of Quinoa, further elevating its status as a superfood. The FAO explained how there are five main regions where quinoa is produced. Lake Titicaca is home to altiplano quinoas, which grow best in variable conditions that include low precipitation.

According to the University of Minnesota's Center for Alternative Plant and Animal Products, the name means "mother grain" in the Inca language, because it was the base of the tribe's diet. The food has nutritional qualities that can't be compared to any other singular crop based on the high levels of calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, potassium, copper, phosphorus and manganese it contains. According to the Whole Grains Council, quinoa is a complete protein, meaning all of the healthy amino acids are naturally present.

With more than 120 varieties of quinoa, there will be plenty of local dishes to try near Lake Titicaca. It's especially popular as a base for meals made with fish caught in the lake. Many of the original crops were destroyed in the 16th century when Spanish explorers tried to dismantle the Incan culture. As a result, the fields that survived were those found at high altitudes.