Food in Bolivia is an exercise in being full. There is a lot of rice or noodles to start the carbohydrate family. There are lots of potatoes, many kinds of potatoes, some extremely delicious, some extremely dry, no matter how long you cook them. And there is some kind of meat. Sometimes you get a little onion salad. That pretty much makes up a Bolivian dish.
That is not to say Bolivian food is boring all the time. While there are times it can be, there was plenty for us to discover when we crossed the border. Having been subjected (welcomingly) to plenty of manioc in Paraguay and more beef in Argentina, we were ready for something different. Something with spice. We got something different.
First up is saice, a dish that held lots of mystery in my mind, but which turned out to be finely-chopped meat in a spicy tomato-y red sauce. Not bad, but sadly lacking the magical properties I had assigned to it. Lots of potatoes (of course) and peas included as well.
I’ve already mentioned salteñas in the empanada section, I just want to show them here again and mention them as a breakfast food. This is the thing to eat in the morning, along with a juice or coffee. Filling, hot, and often a little sweet, we had them now and again when a fast morning meal was required.
Papas rellenas (stuffed potatoes) were a dish we had at every meal, I think. It’s a time-consuming dish to make, but delicious to eat. Chris made them and got a recipe in Cuzco, which I may post later if I can get my hands on it. Potatoes are cooked, then mashed, then re-formed into potato shape around some kind of filling and fried. The filling was the best part, as you could put whatever you wanted in the middle. We had it with cheese and tomato sauce, just cheese, meat and onions, green onions, and probably more that I can’t think of. Often eaten for breakfast (think a clump of hashbrowns with a surprise in the middle if you’re stuck on tradition Western breakfast food), they can also be found in restaurants as lunch or dinner, or as an appetizer. Yum yum yum. This one was had at a vegetarian restaurant, but we got meat-filled ones on the street easily enough.
Pique a lo macho can be found at almost any restaurant and I took to calling it Bolivian poutine. It’s made very similarly to poutine – you start with a thick layer of french fries, then pour over top a cooked mix of beef, sausage/hot dogs, onions, and pretty much anything else you want, cooked in a gravy-like sauce. Slice a boiled egg over top and you’ve got yourself a heart-stoppingly delicious meal. That’s guava juice in the background.
Chris ordered this dish for lunch in Potosí on our one day in town. It’s called charkekan (or a reasonable facsimile thereof, I don’t remember if that’s spelled right). It’s a dish found only in that department (the provinces are broken down into departments here in Bolivia and other countries in this area). Made with mote (boiled corn), potatoes, cheese, a boiled egg, and llama jerky, it was good, though nothing to rave about. Still, worth ordering, if for no reason other than to say you’ve eaten llama jerky.
That’s about it for dishes that really caught our attention in Bolivia. I can understand why no one is in a rush to export this – Bolivian food is more hearty than refined, designed to fill your belly, for the whole day if need be. The juices were what really stole our hearts. That said, if you’re in Bolivia, do try and sample all that you can – you never know when something will jump out at you. At least you’re always given hot sauce on the table to add a little zing if you’d like it!