In Lima streets, food vendors engage customers by offering free samples. These street hawkers offer a one-to-one customized service nowadays. But two centuries ago, when Peru had recently been founded, most vendors had a curious approach. Many would recite a verse aloud while crossing the streets. Peruvian Writer Ricardo Palma called them “Los Pregoneros.”
Pregoneros were a symbolic institution in Peru. Back then nobody had an advertising or “marketing” industry. But, even then, vendors understood the art of selling and the need for an elaborate speech to attract customers. This is how vendors came out with verses or pregones. Each pregón described the product ingredients in a lyric form. After memorizing them, pregoneros wandered around the streets to recite them aloud. People turned enthusiastic and more predisposed to buy after hearing such beautiful words. Usually, the most inventive pregones made the most profit. Yet, it actually depended on how the pregón was delivered. The intonation, pitches and rhythm mattered a great deal.
Pregoneros sold milk, tamales, and a whole gamut of treats and desserts. The demand for each product peaked at specific hours, and pregoneros appeared in those timeframes. Milk vendors or lecheros announced their pregones at six each morning. Tamaleros began their routine at ten. In this way, Limeños did not need a clock to know the time. Hearing a specific pregón was sufficient to tell the hour of a day.
Undoubtedly the most popular pregón was that of the “Hot Revolution” or Revolución Caliente
What is the Hot Revolution?
The “Hot Revolution,” also known as Caramanduca, is a sweet and crunchy cracker. It was sold by street hawkers since colonial times, especially in the winter. At six in the evening, some pregoneros swarmed into the streets delivering these lines: Hot Caramanduca/ Music for your palate/only two cents, It’s Hot! (Caramanduca caliente, Música para los dientes, A dos centavos ¡caliente!) The line “music for your palate” referred to the crunchy noise made while chewing them. But perhaps the most beautiful pregón for Caramanduca was the following:
Música para los dientes
Azúcar clavo y canela, para rechinar las muelas,
Por esta calle me voy,
Por la otra me doy la vuelta,
Todo el que quiera comprar,
Que deje la puerta abierta.
Trans: The Hot Revolution
Music for your palate
Sugar, cloves, and cinnamon will gnash your teeth
I will march along this street
I will turn around on the next
Whoever wants to buy
Leave your door open.
Most vendors usually carried lanterns and worked until midnight. This tradition remained strong for centuries but began to disappear in the seventies. Today, pregoneros selling Revolución Caliente are very scarce. The last pregonero of the Hot Revolution, Leonidas Gonzales Apéstegui, is now a retired octogenarian. In 2001, he received an award from the mayor of Lima for “embodying the last vestige of a once-powerful tradition.” In our modern gastronomic festivals, some vendors like to dress as pregoneros. But the tradition, in itself, is nearly extinct.
Pregoneros were replaced by street hawkers who no longer feel the need to recite a beautiful stanza. They rather engage in a dialogue with the customer: an individualized trend spread by modern urban life.
Today, whoever wants to buy a ‘Hot Revolution’ must order it at certain bakeries.𝔖
Photo: Alvaro Ortiz