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Ñaco, the base food of neuquine rurality

Learn about the history of this food, which is a fundamental part of Neuquin gastronomy.

Cold, hot, sweet or salty, reason for payments and mobile strikes, transatlantic uses and on both sides of the mountain range;  the ñaco is a historical food , to the point that it has a  feast of its own and several nations dispute its origin.   We tell you why  neuquinos  boast of having the best recipes of naco.

Naco is basically a  flour made up of ground and roasted cereals  , usually wheat or corn. Its composition and manufacture are usually the same as those of the  canarian gofio, although its history and uses are different .

In Spain they call it Gofio Canario, because the place where it is consumed most is in the  Canary Islands . In the Canary Islands it was consumed by indigenous peoples (commonly known as  Guanches ), of Berber ethnicity, since pre-Hispanic times. It is currently the  most traditional food of the Canary archipelago , being a central element of Canarian gastronomy and a reference of its identity.

The Mapuches and the Naco

In our country,  Buenos Aires and norteños know it by the Iberian denomination , but the history is deeper and older. The naco is a food i ncaíco and mapuche ; between these two indigenous nations the official nomenclature is disputed. The use that is now given to yacus (in drinks, stews and desserts, preparing it sweet or salty, hot or cold, watery, thick or dry) comes from  Mapuche uses and also have their own name: wülpüdtun (in liquid form), sangkutun (in lumps s& oacute; lidos) and panutun (powder).  

Home preparation of food consists in  first roasting the cereal in a callana  (flat toaster). The grain is  mixed with sand , in order to ensure slow, uniform roasting and preventing cereals from burning. The sand is responsible for roasting the grain. Then the  sand is removed with a zaranda.  

Mapuche dwellings always consisted of an instrument for making toasted flour. To do this, a skin, called  trükum , was laid on the ground, on which the grinding stone (  kudi ) settled. The stone was leaning on a curved piece of wood in such a way that  the flour slipped into the skin placed under the stone.   The roasted wheat, placed on the stone, is ground with the grinding wheel or hand ( ñumkudi ), held at both ends, and thanks to the  rubbing between the two stones the roasted wheat is crushed  . Toasted flour was collected in a bag called  yapag orllafañ.  

Neuquén and el ñaco

In the north of  Neuquén  there were  large wheat crops and numerous stone  mills   , moved by the force of water, which provided with flour and nacus. The mills had to close, because a  national law banned human consumption of this type of flour for the benefit of the large industrial mills in  Bahía Blanca. However, the ñaco remained a  distinctive cultural feature of Patagonian peasants .

By 1883, Colo Michicó, Los Maitenes and Huaraco, in the current department of  Minas , Neuquén, became  gold mining areas and this attracted Chilean workers.  “ Within the contract with the pawns, the patron committed to providing each pawn with their ration of nacus daily, the roasted and ground wheat that was often the only food they enjoyed... “says the neuquin historian Isidro Belver in  Malal Meulen  (Querencia del Viento).

Under various circumstances, in 1897 the  supply of ñaco began to be retraced by the bosses , and the pawns of all the companies went  on strike until it was restored to them . The striking miners  were successful, and the owners of these establishments were forced to continue to provide ñaco  to their pawns. It was perhaps the first strike in Patagonian land.

In  El Cholar , north of the province of Neuquén,  the Ñaco Provincial Festival takes place every second week of February (of course in the pandemic context, this is unfeasible). The holiday is primarily aimed at promoting the  activities of the country man, and the recovery of identity and culture . There is a demonstration of the traditional  threshing  and  roasting competitions and grinding of wheat , tests of reins and riders are held. The tasting of ñaco is one of the attractions of tourists who visit the party.

In 2006, a working group called Red SALPA (“Patagonian Food Sovereignty”) emerged, which, among its purposes, aims to  revalue the use of naco, recovering its history and making proposals.  

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