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Prepared Foods

Ram's Head Soup

This widely varying dish may come with half a face, a lone floating jaw, or a chewy tongue.

In the Andean highlands of Peru and along some parts of the coast, few dishes are considered more invigorating and nourishing than caldo de cabeza de carnero, or ram’s head soup. High in vitamins and minerals, the warming broth is perfect for cold mornings in the chilly heights of the Andes, as long as you don’t mind half a face staring out of your soup.

The first step in making caldo de cabeza is the removal of leftover bits of wool from the head. Any tufts are burned away, then the head is cut into sections and boiled for at least two hours. Other ingredients thrown into the mix typically include potatoes, onions, garlic, and salt.

Depending on the cook, the soup might also be flavored with ají peppers, paico (an herb also known as wormseed or Mexican tea), mint, and cilantro. Carrots, yucca, mote (corn), and sometimes chuños (Andean freeze-dried potatoes) are sometimes added to bulk up the broth. The finished soup normally has a strong flavor from the combination of the rich meat and spices.

Some restaurants try to hide the more obvious features of the ram’s head when serving the dish, considering that some customers might not want their soup staring back at them. But rustic restaurants, and especially market stalls, don’t see what all the fuss is about. Many diners prefer to suck on a juicy jaw or cheek bone, or to chew on a meaty ear.

Since vendors often ladle out portions haphazardly, one bowl could look vastly different from the next. You could have a row of teeth and some tongue floating in your broth, while your friend gets a complete side of the ram’s face.

A smart (or stingy) market stall cook might hold back juicy bits to offer them at an additional cost. You want the tongue? Six soles. An eye or an ear? A bargain at just five soles.

Need to Know

Any traditional market in the highlands should serve the soup. Ask around at the food stalls in traditional markets in places like Juliaca, Puno, Cusco, Huánuco, and Huaraz.

Where to Try It
  • El Soperito
    Julian Arce 469, La Victoria, Peru

    This restaurant in Lima specializes in soups. Go during the day, as the area is sketchy at night.

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Contributed by
Tony Dunnell
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