Toasted dried chulpe corn, salted and crunchy, has been eaten in Peru for centuries instead of bread. Up in the mountains, farmers and peasants always carry this snack and some firm cheese with them to have for lunch, especially when traveling. The highly addictive corn, is called cancha, which is how we call popcorn too, although it is completely different from popcorn, because it doesn´t pop, but remains whole with a somewhat floury inside, and a crispy exterior. In the last decades, it has become the traditional nibble in restaurants while waiting for the food to be served, and there’s no cebicheria that doesn’t offer this, as it is the perfect complement to a juicy cebiche. Cancha also takes the place of the usual peanuts or chips in most bars, and some say that because it’s salty it increases the desire to keep drinking. I think it´s true.
Many years ago, there was a TV commercial in Peru, of a slender and handsome guy walking under the heat of the sun, through the desert. He was wearing a suit and sweating, and as he walked he started taking off the tie and then the jacket. Suddenly, like a mirage, he spotted a kiosk in the middle of nowhere, and once he arrived, instead of begging for a glass of water he demanded some salted cancha, gobbling the toasted corn while his lips looked drier and drier. It wasn’t until he was unbearably thirsty, that he asked for an icy cold bottle of a famous soda, and drank it in one sip. The commercial was very popular at the time, and I always remember it because the actor was stunning!
To make cancha at home you will need dried corn (ask for chulpe if you’re in Peru, or find a Latin American grocery store where they sell it), a little bit of oil or lard, a clay or metal pot, and salt. Over high heat melt the lard or heat the oil, add the dried corn, and stir constantly until the corn is golden and starts to crack on the surface. Take it out of the heat, transfer to another pan, and add salt to your taste.
Serve in little containers while having a beer, or before dinner is ready. You will immediately get why we love it.