Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Things We Ate On The Street: Bolivia

Bolivian street food was oh-so-good to us that we have come up with some awards for our favorite delicacies.

Grand prize snackmaster winner: The snack to end all snacks was the saltena. No other street fare has come even close (except for Uganda’s chapati, which we still drool over in our sleep). The name comes from their original place of origin: Salta, Argentina. But today, they are a purely Bolivian treat. Calling them a derivation of an empanada doesn’t do them justice. The outer baked dough is slightly sweet and envelops an inner filling of chicken, beef or veggies, all liberally dosed with a drippy, slurpy, secret sauce of intoxicating goodness.

They are usually only available mid-morning and completely worth dragging yourself out of bed. We did extensive research and found the most delicious ones were in Potosi and at artisanal saltenerias in La Paz. But really you should eat them wherever you are, as often as you can.

Most abnormally large fruit that still tastes normal: Check out that avocado! It’s as big as Kathleen’s head! And that’s only a quarter of it. Bolivia’s fruits and veggies were great. As, surprisingly, was the red wine from Tarija. Cheers!

Best shopping experience: We read about an order of cloistered nuns who sell pickled fruit through a revolving door at their convent, and we couldn’t resist the intrigue. Sure enough, you knock on the door, politely ask the hidden Sister if you might buy some pickled lemons, let your money be spun away from you, and await your heavenly treat. The lemons themselves were a bit sweet on their own, but would have been delightful over ice-cream had we had some.

Best Fresh Vitamin C: Oh beloved grapefruit squeezer, how we adored you! Tart and delicious! And you reminded us of the sugar cane press in Egypt that was such a hit. Worth noting is that Eric was not actually allowed to operate the machinery. They have professionals for that.

Best salty snack: Oh when the cold breeze whips down your jacket, there’s nothing like some hot buttered popcorn on your way home.

Best snack that looked like dog food: Giant puffed maize. Sold in giant plastic sacks. For giant-sized hunger!

Best medicinal snack: Chewing coca leaves saved us on many a high-altitude endeavor, as they warded off headaches, fatigue, and hunger. You simply wad a bunch of them between your cheek and gum, and swallow the juice as you traipse along. Adding an alkaloid like lime ash (which is similar to a small rock) helps draw out the medicinal benefits. The beneficial effects of coca leaf chewing are well documented, but the plant remains hugely controversial for obvious reasons (i.e. it’s lucrative derivative cocaine). The U.S., among others, is always wanting to eradicate coca fields and ties political favors to the success of ending the war on drugs. It’s a shame, as coca leaves play an important role historically, spiritually, and practically in the lives of most Bolivians (and indeed most Andean countries). Politically it’s a hot issue, and t-shirts proclaiming (in Spanish) that coca leaves are not a drug are hugely popular among the backpacking set.

Most unlikely place to get chocolate: Who knew that Ghirardelli’s came from the jungle? Well, probably a lot of people, actually. But still, it was fun to see cacao in its original pod form hanging from a tree. Crack that baby open to reveal a squishy mass of hard seeds (the cacao beans) nestled in white slime. Really, much tastier than it sounds, as you slurp off the goo to suck on the bean.

1 comment:

Hector said...

Wow! I have never seen any head-sized avocado before! That's another "plus" to go to Bolivia!