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Bolivian Cuisine

The gastronomy of Bolivia is as varied as its geography. Compared to Chile, Ecuador or Argentina, the local cuisine is very rich and has no reason to be jealous of that of Peru or Brazil. Although it boasts a variety comparable to that found in Mexico, it is far less well known. Our friend Fernando Quiros, in Rennes, would probably say otherwise, as, for the last ten years, he has used his talents to promote Bolivian cuisine. Here is a brief summary of La Cocina Boliviana, the cuisine of la papa, la salteña, la sajta, la lagua and la sopa, with a bill of fare that includes bread, snacks, soups, main dishes, sauces and desserts…
Bread:
Cheap, superb and very diverse: marraquetas, colizas, sarnitas, kaukitas, bollitos, cuñapés, pancitos de arroz, bizcochitos, tawa-tawa, buñuelos, sopaipillas…It’s up to you to explore the markets early in the mornings to discover other varieties…

 
La Salteña

This pastry turnover filled with meat, potatoes, eggs, olives, peas and spicy sauce gave its name to the break that the whole country takes between ten and midday. To taste la salteña with impunity, follow the instructions below:
• Now concentrate. Count to three (“not two, neither count thou four” as Monthy Python would say)
• Take the salteña between the thumb, index finger and ring finger.
• Shake it so that the juice runs down to the bottom of the pastry
• Delicately crunch the upper side of the salteña.
• Carefully attack the filling while watching that the juice does not run in a moment of distraction.
• Finish by biting through the pastry little by little. According to the statistics, salteña leakage is the primary source of stains in Bolivia.
• Don’t forget that if you are among friends, the first person to let a drop fall on the plate (or anywhere else) has to pay for the round!
• Repeat steps 1 to 7, because just one good salteña isn’t quite enough to get though a nice cold glass of Paceña!

 
La Sopa

In other words, “soup”. In working-class areas, la sopa can be the only food of the day. In the Andean areas it’s also a very intelligent way to feed oneself – by drinking hot liquid. From among the more remarkable varieties, we have chosen:
La Sopa de Mani: peanut soup. A Bolivian beef stew, with a thick peanut cream, a little milk, a tender piece of meat, steamed potatoes, spices and a sprig of parsley. It’s a very substantial dish that is traditionally eaten with the family on Sundays. La Lagua de Choclo: a creamy corn soup that is light and very pleasant.
Le Chairo: this soup from La Paz is eaten from special terracotta dishes. It is a dehydrated potato (chuño) soup with lamb, beef and charque (dried and salted meat).
Le Locro: the soup from Santa Cruz. This soup made from a delicious chicken leg, an egg, a little rice and spices, is one of our preferred dishes.
Le Chankao: whether it’s in Tarija, Sucre or Cochabamba, this potato soup is a very hearty dish. Eaten, for preference, at the markets.
La Sopa de Quinoa: a very nutritious soup whose main ingredient is one of the most powerful grains in the world: the quinoa. Move over Popeye and spinach! And, what’s more, it’s delicious!
The Caldo de Cardan: Caution! Here’s a speciality that is not for the faint hearted, and that is only available in some restaurants in La Paz or Oruro. It is a soup made from the family jewels of a bull (ladies, please excuse us!) which, they say, can have an invigorating effect… In short, it is La Sopa Machista! From now on, you’ll see the prepared soups sold in Europe labelled “exotic” in quite a different light!

 
Main Dishes

Plato Paceño: a dish of monastic simplicity. A steak, steamed corn and melted collana cheese.
Sajta de Pollo: a first step in the discovery of spicy Bolivian dishes. This “picante de pollo” is a mixture of bland tastes (potatoes) and freshness (la zarza: grated onions and tomatoes), with a little cheese, all bathed in a sauce of “aji amarillo” which gives cohesion and adds zing!
Chicharrón: pieces of pork or chicken, cooked in oil, accompanied by “mote”, coarse white grains of maize.
Picante Mixto: a speciality from Sucre. A little chicken, a little pork, a little “charkekan”. These old recipes from the grandmothers of Sucre will make you empty a whole water bottle in a few seconds, but it is a masochistic pleasure that cannot be avoided!
Anticucho: an Andean shish-kebab that is not exactly like the kebabs of the Maghreb. The grilled pieces of meat are actually pieces of cow’s heart.
Pique Macho: a very simple dish: bite-sized pieces of grilled rump steak, chips, tomatoes and hot red peppers. One of the dishes from Cochabamba, the gastronomical capital of Bolivia!
Silpancho: for just a couple of bolivianos, taste this Quechuan version of schnitzel. Where? At the Palacio del Silpancho in Cochabamba.
Tamales: in Santa Cruz and anywhere else (we’re talking about “humintas”), vegetarians will be satisfied by this pastry filled with corn or sweet and salty manioc, accompanied by a cup of good Camba coffee (in Santa Cruz obviously!). Chorizos chuquisaqueños: a regional speciality, that you can sample at the restaurant in Sucre airport, or in the traditional “Las Bajos” in the White City of the Americas.
Saice: a speciality of Tarija. A spicy – but not too spicy - dish.
Trucha: the trout from Lake Titicaca is a gourmet delicacy. Try it in the larger hotels of La Paz, at the Khunu restaurant in the Obrajes area of La Paz or, better still, in the region of the lake itself. The pejerrey is also delicious, but the surubi of the Amazon is undoubtedly the most succulent fish on the planet (apart from te Japanese fugu, of course!).
Masaco: returning to the East, this is another cake made from menonita cheese, manioc and corn that is best eaten hot.
Colitas de Cordero: lambs’ tails found in some restaurants in the city of Oruro and in La Paz.
Pacumutu: a speciality of Santa Cruz. The pacumutu is a long skewer of tender meat that will make you forget the ones you’ve had in Greek restaurants.
Rostro asado: The lamb’s head that any connoisseur of Bolivian cuisine must be familiar with.
There are many other regional dishes: such as the aji de papalisa, le charkekan, la sucacolla, as well as the special dishes that are made for Christmas (la picana), All Souls' Day or other special occasions. Finally, you should know that Bolivian meat (from Santa Cruz) can be just as good as Argentinian meat, and don’t be afraid to take advantage of the churrasquerias and the parrilladas (unless you have high cholesterol…).

 
Sauce

La llaj'wa is a red sauce made of tomatoes, hot red peppers and flavored with a special herb, kirkiña or wäkataya. It’s delicious, even eaten just with an end of marraqueta bread. It’s the national salsa of Bolivia.

 
Desserts

In La Paz, Breick chocolates, cinnamon ice creams from the Plaza San Pedro (across from the church on Sundays) or ice creams from ‘Frigo’, near the stadium in Miraflores.
In Cochabamba, Tila marzipan, sweet pastries from the Zurich café In Avenue San Martin.
In Sucre, traditional chocolates from Taboada or Para Ti, delicious Viennese ice creams from Bolívar park.
In Tarija, sopaipillas, the pancakes of Tarija, pepitas de leche, not to mention aloja, the incredibly delicious drink made from sweetened grain, found near the cemetery and in the little shops of the area.
In Santa Cruz, tropical fruits, fruit juice from the Cabrera kiosk, and the dried figs sold on the streets. And, of course, fruit and fruit juices in every market in Bolivia.

 
Beverages

Taste the cocktails prepared with Singani (Bolivian grappa) such as Chuflay and Yungueño. Concepcion wines are definitely catching up to Chilean and Argentinian wines in terms of quality. We were pleasantly surprised.
Coca tea. After a big night, or to alleviate altitude sickness, try this herbal tea made from the famous Coca leaf. Take advantage of the fruit juices that are sold in all the markets in Bolivia or at the Cabrera kiosk, in Santa Cruz in the Sierra. For breakfast or afternoon tea, drink api, a very hot, sweet drink accompanied by a “pastel” (an empanada).
A Cochabamba, try chicha, the famous alcoholic drink made from corn. Its secret recipe is as colorful as its effect on your motor functions.
Beers (Cervezas). Here, every city has its own beer: Paceña in La Paz, Ducal in Santa Cruz, Taquiña in Cocha, Potosína in Potosí, Astra in Tarija, Sureña in Sucre and Huari in Oruro. Bolivia is the Latin American country where the best brews are found. The top three: Huari, Potosína and Pacena. Be careful though, as it is sometimes very difficult to stay alert after a dozen beers (which is the standard in Bolivia), especially at that altitude!
Water. Don’t drink the tap water. Instead, drink bottled mineral water such as “Cabaña”, “Vital” or “Crystal”, or the excellent sparkling “Viscachani” (the still version is not so good). On the subject of sparkling beverages, be sure to try the papaya drink “Salvietti”. We won’t advertise the other local drinks, particularly not the ones that contain the controversial coca leaf, but don’t want to admit it!
Bolivian Coffee
And, to end on a high note, is the coffee of the Yungas, probably the best coffee in the world, “as the only slightly exaggerated “gringo” advertisement claims. But it is true that the coffee of the Yungas (arabica produced using traditional methods by the black ethnic group of Bolivia, the “negritos sambos” of the hills of the Yungas) is seriously delicious. Otherwise, there’s always the herbal coca tea, to aid digestion of a gargantuan meal. The coca leaves also come from the Yungas.
This survey, by no means comprehensive, of the gastronomy of Bolivia is dominated by cereals, potatoes and meat. In the cities, however, salad is a popular entrée. Fresh milk and yoghurt are found in markets and supermarkets. As they say, in Bolivia you don’t eat to live but rather live to eat!
In terms of international food, the cities of La Paz, Cochabamba and Santa Cruz have everything to satisfy even the most demanding of palates. And, apart from a few exceptions, the prices in upmarket restaurants are not exorbitant. In each of these cities, we devote a few lines to this category of restaurants.
If you wish to try some culinary experimentation of your own when you get back home, we recommend buying “La Cocina en Bolivia”, a cooking book with an Aguayo cover in red and blue. It is the Bible of Bolivian cooking.



   

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