CULINARY COME-ONS

29 Apr, 2014 | Laura Van Antwerp

Culture and Food

Bolivia´s Most Popular Aphrodisiacs

It is almost impossible to navigate the steep streets of La Paz without running into one of the many food carts that adorn its crumbly sidewalks, or squeezing past an enamored couple entwined in the throes of public passion. Food and lust, two elements that come together in some of the city’s most provocative dishes.

Aphrodisiacs, or foods that enhance sexual performance, have quite a history with the indigenous population of Bolivia. For centuries, Bolivians have used these lust-inducing concoctions to serve the needs of both taste buds and the libido. It is believed that aphrodisiacs help boost fertility, spice up relationships, and encourage overall happiness.

The real question is though, is there any truth behind the myth of aphrodisiacs? Is there a reason why I wander past colorful food carts and canoodling couples every day? And, more importantly, should I join the movement? I decided the only way to find out was to put three Bolivian dishes, known for their sensuous effects, to the test.

Caldo de Cardán

The Cala Cala restaurant in the Buenos Aires district of La Paz is famous for it’s Caldo de Cardán. This single item on the menu has made the business tick for more than 25 years. Along the restaurant’s ceiling, a sequence of adult magazine centerfolds are on display. Aside from this awkward sight, nothing else points to the sought after side effect of the famous caldo, which, simply put, is a soup that features bull’s penis (euphemistically called ‘nervio’) and testicles (‘criadillas’) as its main ingredients.

Caldo de Cardán is perhaps the most visually scandalous aphrodisiac native to Bolivia. When I am served my bowl of soup, I spy a stew of familiar ingredients: potato, beef, a chunk of chicken. The milky broth looks and smells delicious. Then, of course, my spoon stumbles upon the most nutritious and libito-licious component in the mix, a penis.

Surprised, I turn to the restaurant’s owner, Fanny Revolla, for guidance and a brief explanation. What qualifies this dish as an aphrodisiac, she informs me, is the caldo, which they prepare at four o’clock every morning, supposedly giving a boost to her patrons’ fertility. The high concentration of nutrients in the broth comes from the meat and the ‘nervio’, she explains without cracking a smile. One serving she tells me, is enough to nourish the body for an entire day.

Unfortunately, I don’t have the nerve to go for the ‘nerve’, although I do find the rest of the soup to be rather savory. For the rest of the day I’m in a surprisingly good mood. There’s a pep in my step and... could it be… a spark in my loins? I think I even feel my fertility meter go up a few notches! Yes, I believe there may be some truth in the theory behind this soup, even if that truth only exists in the realm of the placebo.

Aphrodisiac rating: 4/5

Maca

Maca, a root that grows at an elevation of about 3800 meters above sea level, is primarily cultivated in the Andean mountains of Peru and Bolivia. It is believed to have such strong aphrodisiac qualities that it could replace most libido-enhancing prescription drugs on the market. I find this claim hard to believe. However, when I inquire about its libidinous powers at a local pharmacy, the woman behind the counter excitedly declares 'It’s one of my best sellers!' Well, when you put it like that...

Maca can be consumed in a variety a ways, but it is typically dried and then crushed into a white flour, after which it can be added to food or drink. After a bit of pondering, I decide I would enjoy this lust-inducing powder best in one of my morning fruit smoothies. I toss two spoonfuls along with a fine assortment of fruit into a blender and brace myself for what I am told will be a below the belt fireworks show.

To my surprise, Maca is rather easy to drink. It adds a distinct earthy flavor to my concoction, but not to the point of overpowering it. Upon finishing my delicious mixture I lean against the counter and wait. For what exactly?, I don’t know. I feel a sense of warmth wash over me. Is this an indication of my carnal desires surfacing?, nope. It turns out the warmth is only coming from a boiling kettle. Oh well, at least I got my fruit portion for the day.

Aphrodisiac rating: 2/5

Wallake
I opt for the nearest vendor and approach a cholita who is hacking away ruthlessly at a dead fish. Yup, she seems like she knows what she’s doing. I order my soup to go, I’m not exactly keen on setting my loins on fire in a market filled with women gutting fish. As I wait for them to package my order, I inquire about the soup’s aphrodisiac qualities. The vendor throws me a hesitant glance at first, her eyes narrowed in suspicion. Then she relaxes and tells me her secret. ‘It’s the phosphorous’, she says, ‘it helps with fertility’. Hmm, phosphorous and fertility, how did I not see the connection before?

I travel across town to the fish market near the General Cemetery. Along one of the side streets I spy a cluster of stalls loudly advertising various types of soup, including the one I’m looking for. Wallake is a fish based soup that has been around for centuries. Its ancient recipe is famous for raising the heart rates of even the most lustfully void of personalities.

Once I’m in the comfort of my home, I decide I’m ready for a good dose of phosphorus. Unfortunately, my intake is limited as I am simply unable and unwilling to down an entire bowl of this soup. It’s just too fishy!

Aphrodisiac rating: 3/5

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