Chilcano de Carachama

Chilcano de CarachamaSomething I learned about myself since arriving in Peru is that I am not prone to eating soup or fish for breakfast. My stomach just can’t handle it first thing after waking up. I have learned this mainly because these are things that have been served to me on a variety of trips. I admit, after years here, fish that has been breaded and fried is a little more do-able now than it was before. Not my favorite, but do-able.

Chilcano de CarachamaI was on a trip to Pucallpa several years ago to visit my then friend/now husband’s mom. She lives 2 hours by boat from the main city. No stores or restaurants provide a variety of choices. People “choose” to eat what they grow, fish or travel a good distance to purchase.

Chilcano de CarachamaOne morning, a neighbor had borrowed my MIL’s boat to go fishing in order to feed his family. His payment for lending the boat was leaving a few fish for her to prepare and eat. For breakfast.

Fish. Soup. For breakfast.

Chilcano de CarachamaI watched from afar as my MIL prepared Chilcano de Carachama. Carachama is an an armored catfish and something I had never seen before in my life. First, she knocked them on the head to kill them, then cut open the belly to clean it out. To prepare the seasoning for the soup, she added garlic which had been mashed with a rock. After all the ingredients we ready, she collected some wood and started the fire she would cook the soup with. The salt and mashed garlic were added to the boiling water.

Chilcano de CarachamaThen, one by one, she started to place the fish into the pot. Each time, she would put one in and step back. Soon, I figured out why she placed them in one by one and stepped away between each. It seemed that if the fish were not “completely” dead, they would splash upon contact with the boiling water. The fish were left to simmer for some time while other daily chores were taken care of. Once everything had simmered together, sachaculantro was added and the seasoning was adjusted. Then, I met my breakfast fate. Fish. Soup. For breakfast.

Chilcano de CarachamaBecause the fish is “armored,” you cannot just eat it as you might other fishes. The outer shell must be removed in order to get to the white flesh inside. The tail is pulled off and bit by bit, the scales easily fall away with the slightest tug. At this point, the fish can be eaten. If you are lucky (like me!) you get the whole sack of eggs boiled right inside your fish. I did my best to enjoy it for breakfast, although I think I ate more bread than soup or fish.


Gretchen Noelle

My love of food was cultivated early on by my family but has come alive while living in Peru. During the 12 years of living in Lima, Peru, I have also enjoyed numerous trips to other areas of the country. Here on Provecho Peru you will find Peruvian recipes in English, American favorites prepared overseas, news about Peruvian Cuisine and interesting tidbits about life in Peru.

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3 Responses

  1. I LOVE this! What a treat to have this experience. But I agree with you, I don’t think I could stomach this meal first thing in the morning. Those fish look so cool though. Thank you for sharing this story….

  1. March 26, 2012

    […] by some of the fish he caught. He dropped off less than a dozen carachama, an armored catfish. These were boiled to make a broth based soup, Chilcano. For breakfast. Oh, and the best part was that one of my fish still had the egg sack inside. And […]

  2. January 10, 2013

    […] a bartender in Chilca with the last name of Cano, thus creating the “Chil-Cano.” The “Chilcano” soup was something eaten long before the drink was created and is said to be a great hangover […]

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