What Is Sancocho?

Karize Uy

Sancocho is a dish popular in many regions of South America and in the Caribbean. The term can be loosely translated as “stew,” in which different ingredients can be put in the dish, depending on their availability or the cook’s preference. The dish can use different meats such as chicken, beef, or even fish, and then added with vegetables that complement the flavor of the meat. The popularity of sancocho has led to the many varieties it is cooked in according to the country.

Cassava is often part of sancocho.
Cassava is often part of sancocho.

It is said that the sancocho originally came from the people of Canary Islands, a Spanish colony in the continent of Africa. The Canarians brought the dish with them when the Spanish colony transferred them to Puerto Rico as slaves. The story goes that the Canarian women would leave a large pot of the stew simmering away until their men would return from work and have a hot and fulfilling meal to come home to. Soon after, farmers and other laborers took to the idea and would cook the stew themselves.

Malanga is a hairy tuber closely related to taro root.
Malanga is a hairy tuber closely related to taro root.

The original sancocho in the Canary Islands used fish as the primary meat, as the country was an archipelago surrounded by water, and most probably had fish as one of their staple foods. The Puerto Rican version of the dish, on the other hand, also uses chicken and beef aside from the fish, probably because of the availability of the meats. Ecuadorians usually make their dish with pork, while the El Salvadorans would cook theirs with cow innards. Many countries such as Colombia and the Dominican Republic tend to use whatever meat is available. The Dominican Republic even has a “sancocho de siete carnes” with seven different meats like goat, ham, and longaniza included in the dish.

Aside from the meat, other sancocho ingredients that are typically included are starch vegetables. Potatoes, cassava and malanga are the usual choices. Garbanzos, or chick peas, are sometimes added for more texture. Other fruits and vegetables put in the dish can range from plantain and carrots to celery and pumpkin. Different spices are also used to flavor the dish, such as ginger, garlic, oregano, and chili sauce.

Sancocho as a dish may be eaten by itself, as it is already a complete meal, but it can also be eaten with starchy foods such as rice and bread. Other similar dishes that share the sancocho’s element of varied ingredients are the Hungarian goulash and the Chinese chop suey. These dishes are often used as metaphors for a nation’s diversity in race and culture.

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