Editorial BX 38 - The Food Issue Vol 2
28 Apr, 2014 | Amaru Villanueva Rance
You don’t even need to set your mind to it. Get into the local culinary swing and you’ll find yourself eating round the clock. And we are not just talking fitting in an extra snack before dinner. Follow these simple instructions to learn how to fit in 10 courses within a single day, Bolivian style.
Wake up before dawn, head to Perez Velasco and look for the El Alto commuters getting off the minibus. Follow their example and warm up with some hot apple and quinoa served from a small cart. This is not something you eat, exactly. It’s been pureed and comes in a disposable plastic bag, liquid enough for you to drink it through a straw.
Peckish now? Head to Mercado Rodriguez at 7 a.m. and follow up with a freshly baked llaucha, a volcanic-looking pastry subtly sprinkled with red ají, filled with white molten cheese—thick like lava and just as hot. Take a small bite and let it steam in the cold spring morning before wolfing it down.
Walk to Plaza Abaroa at around 9.30 a.m. and look for a salteña. There’s no final verdict on which one comes out top but there are plenty of contenders within a four block radius including Castor, Miriam, Chuquisaqueñas and Paceña La Salteña. Don’t eat more than one. Just sayin’—the culinary tour has only just started.
You might feel in the need for something refreshing at this stage, so walk off your previous meals by heading for Acuario on Calle Murillo. Here you will find a local interpretation of ceviche, a Peruvian delicacy comprising fish, onion, coriander, sweet potato and plenty of lemon juice.
It should be between 11 a.m. and noon by now. Head back towards the Prado and up to Calle México. You are at the global headquarters of the tucumana, the salteña’s domesticated (read:boring but equally delicious) cousin. There will be several vendors lined up, so pick the longest queue to be guaranteed the best ones. Try each of the 8 sauces on offer at least once. One sauce per bite should do the trick.
It will be time for lunch soon enough so walk to Silpich’s on Calle J.J. Perez where you will find a decent and affordable take on chairo. This classic soup combines finely chopped vegetables, giant soaked corn kernels known as mote, and chuño, all in a beef broth.
Time for some pudding. Hop on the M bus, head all the way up the General Cemetery and find the court behind the flower market which is the world’s mecca for helados de canela. Look for a bench and wait elbow-to-elbow next to a stranger while you watch the lady spinning a massive block of ice in a Victorian-looking machine. She is creating cinnamon slushies. The ying to this treat’s yang is an empanada, a dry cheese-filled pastry which perfectly balances out the experience.
It’s mid-afternoon by now and you will be excused for feeling slightly full—so here’s a challenge: walk down the wide road the M bus grumbled up earlier, and look for a lady carrying a straw basket covered by an aguayo (the name given to the multi-coloured traditional fabrics typically found on the backs of cholitas). If the basket shows the slightest indication of steaming then chances are you’ve struck on huminta, a sweet tamale-like snack made with ground corn and cheese, all wrapped in corn husks. Baked is better than boiled. Trust us on this one.
The afternoon’s puddings aren’t yet over, though we’ll give you a couple of hours to recover. Think of these snacks as a simultaneous prelude and epilogue to any important meal. Walk down to the Mercado Lanza, near where you started off, and navigate your way through the labyrinthine alleys until you find the api vendors. You’ve struck purple gold. These thick corn-based drinks can be drunk on their own or with their pale evil twin: tojorí (which looks a bit sicked up—sorry). Stick to just api if you are among the uninitiated and eat it with a pastel, a delicious fried and puffed cheese pastry powdered with caster sugar. Think of it as the blowfish of the empanada world—they are just as lethal (ie, dead good).
Stay in Mercado Lanza for your next course. There are dozens of options but we recommend going for a silpancho. A thin steak has been pounded with a stone and breaded before taking a swim in hot oil, just for your enjoyment. Think of the dish as a meat pancake with rice, potatoes, an egg, plus a small serving of finely chopped tomato and onion.
It’s now time to start drinking heavily. It’s not that we want to get you drunk per se (though we do want to get you drunk). We just want you to get a chance to experience some food enjoyed by party goers and night dwellers. Get a street burger from 6 de Agosto and Aspiazu (delicious. Free tapeworm potentially included), otherwise known as a perroguesa (or dog-burger). Don’t worry, we’re reasonably sure there’s no dog meat involved. The number of spoonfuls of hot llajwa sauce should be equivalent to the number of drinks you’ve had. Drink some more.
Lose consciousness. Repeat.