During the week I was in Aucayacu, the community celebrated “Juane Day” on June 24th. The day before was full of preparation in all of the homes in the neighborhood Primero de Mayo. I enjoyed visiting them all, taking pictures and asking questions about how they prepare their juanes. Juanes are likened to be the jungle way to prepare tamales – with rice instead of corn.
Why are they called Juanes? It is said that June 24th is a day to celebrate of John the Baptist, Christ’s disciple who was beheaded. The traditional form of the Juanes is a form which eerily resembles a head. I much prefer to eat those that are shaped more like tamales, in a rectangle package.
The markets are full the days before San Juan and extra stands have the ingredients that everyone needs to make Juanes in their home over the next couple of days. The process starts with live chickens which are killed, cleaned, cut up and then boiled until cooked. Rice is then cooked in the chicken broth. It is only partially cooked because it cooks the rest of the way inside the Juane. The rice is spread out to cool quickly, usually in a batan, a large wooden tray. Once cooled, a seasoning mixture including palillo (Peruvian turmeric), oregano and sachaculantro, a wild cilantro, is made and added to the rice.
Bijao (bee-how) leaves are prepared by heating the “spine” of the leave which makes it bendable. Two leaves are stacked and then filled with rice, a piece of chicken, black olives, and pieces of hard boiled eggs then they are very carefully tied up. If they are too loose, water will seep into the package and make the rice soggy instead of moist. The packets are boiled until they change color from dull to bright green. The leaves themselves can be used as a plate of sorts when no other can be found. Typically they are served with aji and boiled sweet plantains.
In each home, I found people at a different point in the process. Each woman seemed to have their secret way of preparing them. Even within families, the different women prepare them slightly different. I suppose that makes them all the better to share with one another…