Old New World: Inca chilcano de pirana

chilcano de pirana with fauxrana

Over the course of reading up for my Old New World Vegan MoFo project, I've mostly been focused on naturally vegan pre-colonial/pre-contact food. However, I couldn't resist the intriguing siren song of this simple chilcano de pirana - a piranha soup from Iquitos. I think in Quechua, the language of the Inca, this would be called challwalawa - challwa meaning "fish" and lawa meaning "soup." The Incans did eat "small, white fish" in a broth and a common ration in the Inca army was dried fish, so this brothy piranha soup seemed entirely plausible. I mulled for a while, debating if I should use thinly sliced marinated and baked tofu as a substitute, lightly mashed lima beans or something else altogether. It's been over 20 years since I ate any kind of fish and I have to confess: I've never eaten piranha. When I remembered that Kittee Berns had a recipe for chickpea fish in Papa Tofu Loves Ethiopian Food my path became clear.

Inca chilcano de pirana

makes 4 servings

  • 4 servings recipe fauxrana of your choice
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 4 cloves garlic, ground to a paste
  • 1/2 tsp salt or to taste
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 2 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped

Prepare your fauxrana, in advance if necessary, and keep warm or warm up.

Bring your vegetable broth to a boil; add the garlic and salt and cover. Cook over medium heat for 8 minutes. 

Add onion, parsley and fauxrana and cook for 2 minutes more, uncovered. 

Ladle broth into individual bowls, dividing the fauxrana equally, and serve. 


Thinly sliced tofu, marinated in sunflower oil and toasted, crushed nori would also work, as would thinly sliced and lightly fried tempeh, lima beans or small navy beans for different kinds of proteins.

The original chilcano recipe calls for 2 springs of fresh cilantro, chopped, to be added. Cilantro tastes like terrible soap to me, so I substituted parsley.

Recipe adapted from The Exotic Kitchens of Peru: The Land of the Inca by Copeland Marks. 

Can't find PTLEF available for sale? Never fear, Kittee has a book deal!  You'll be able to get your hot little hands on her amazing recipes soon. Congratulations, Kittee!

 *This post was featured in the September 10 roundup on the Vegan MoFo website!


extra fauxrana: as portable as an Inca dried fish ration