Off The Beaten Track
20 Jul, 2016 | Isabel Ion
Illustration : Oscar Zalles
Local eats in the wonderful city
Paceña cuisine, relatively unknown on the international tourist track, is a hugely ingrained part of the identity of the city. Hearty, unpretentious and cheap, the dishes served up on every street corner tie La Paz to its local producers and its citizens to their traditions. It’s not just meat, potatoes, and more potatoes. Food-loving foreigners have plenty of praise to give, and will almost certainly leave with a favourite dish or a regular vendor.
Ensalada de Frutas
Vivid piles of fruit burst on the uninviting concrete interior of Mercado Lanza, promising refreshment and nutrition. The star of the show here, though, will satiate your sweet tooth rather than your vitamin levels. As if your inner child had been given free reign over the tedious fruit salad, prepare to gorge on an assortment of fruits suffocated in jelly and yoghurt, and piled high with ice cream, whipped cream, wafers and chocolate sauce.
Price: 10 Bs.
When to go: After lunch
Choripan, a fusion of chorizo and pan, can be found all over La Paz at most times of day, and beats your average sandwich with its warm, freshly fried sausage. Mercado Lanza houses Doña Elvira’s famous kiosk, discoverable by the inevitable queue outside. It’s the fresh bread and the use of pickled vegetables which sets her choripan apart. Trying to get your mouth around the bursting roll and overflowing sauces is a challenge to the inexperienced, but well worth the mess. Let the bread absorb the juices of the chorizo for a minute before attempting this greasy delight.
Price: 8 Bs.
When to go: All day
Mercado Rodriguez is the place to go for stacks of fresh eggs, fruit and vegetables. The cherimoya is one of the sweetest fruits around, encased in a deceptively rough-looking green skin. As the white flesh melts on your tongue you may agree with Mark Twain that it is ‘the most delicious fruit known to man’. An indulgent hybrid of melon, pineapple, mango and pear that earns its nickname as the ‘custard apple’.
Price: 10 Bs.
When to go: Morning
Sandwich de Chola
This small stage of vendors is easy to miss being outside of the main residential areas, but many make the trip just for the sandwich. Lighter than most paceño street food, the ladies at Las Cholas fill crusty bread with succulent pork, pickled onions and carrots, and a mysterious spicy sauce. Try some crackling from the towering piles of roasted pork hind stacked on each counter and wash it all down with a Paceña beer sat at the brightly coloured plastic tables for the full experience.
Price: 15 Bs.
When to go: Lunchtime
Caldo de Cordero
Meals in Bolivia have an unfair reputation for being oversized, basic, and meaty. Sometimes this is the perfect formula. Some may balk at the idea of having a huge hunk of boiled lamb for breakfast, but after a marathon night out, this hearty piece served with chuño, potatoes, rice and seasoned broth, will hit the spot. The ultimate recovery food for the worse-for-wear partygoer is best appreciated amongst friends as the sun slowly rises.
Price: 17 Bs.
When to go: 6am
A more filling take on the salteña, the tucumana is stuffed with ground beef, potatoes and egg, and infused with a heavy meaty stock. It is deep fried in oil, lending its outer pastry a slightly bubbly appearance. The best tucumana stall will offer a rainbow selection of sauces. The heavy savoury flavour is best balanced with the green sauce, which is pepper-based, light, and fragrant.
Price: 15 Bs.
When to go: Breakfast
The salteña is the holy grail of street food in La Paz: cheap, delicious and available everywhere. There is a vendor on most streets with an army of warm salteñas ready to grab on the move. They are most comparable to Cornish pasties, with a slightly sweet buttery crust encasing a savoury chicken or pork mix in a spiced sauce. It’s difficult to find a bad salteña, but the kiosk on the corner of Plaza España is particularly respected with a subtly melt-in-the-mouth pastry.
Price: 5 Bs.
When to go: Breakfast or mid-morning snack
This meaty delicacy is surprisingly tasty and can normally be found just outside nightclubs, tempting anyone feeling peckish in the early hours. Small slices of cow’s heart are skewered and engulfed in an intense burst of fire, before being served with, of course, potatoes and spicy sauce. Don’t be put off by the unusual cut of meat – the anticucho is tender and rich in a meaty flavour; more of a hearty snack than a meal.
Price: 9 Bs.
When to go: 11pm – 3am
Not for the weak-stomached, this dish, which doesn’t let anything go to waste, isn’t prepared or garnished to disguise in any way what you’re eating. On the side of the Plaza, are six women with huge white bowls of roughly chopped and boiled small intestines, or twisted lengths of fried large intestines. Served with spicy sauce and potatoes, tripe is widely loved amongst the locals and worth trying for the experience at such a low cost.
Price: 4 Bs.
When to go: 6 – 10pm