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« Worst of Bolivia | Main | Bad luck in Bolivia, a rant »
Thursday
Aug112011

Best of Bolivia

Bolivia is hardly a gastronomic paradise.

I was there almost a month and towards the end, following upset bowels and a rather horrendous allergy, I have to admit to being a bad tourist – avoiding street food and seeking out Western fare.

Still, I had several good meals worth sharing but I reckon I can get through them quite quickly. I am now in Peru and still have much to say about Argentina so I thought I would whizz through Bolivia in two posts – best and worst of – try to keep up in Peru and then catch up on Argentina when I am back in the UK.

Tamales in Tupiza

The Lonely Planet’s introduction to the Tupiza food scene is not particularly inspiring:

“Tupiza’s accommodations are much more inviting than its eateries”

We certainly found this to be true but there was one recommendation in the guide which was really worthwhile:

“For a real morning treat, head for Mercado Negro after 8am, when the renowned Doña Wala starts serving up her fabulous charque-filled tamales (cornmeal dough filled with jerky; B$1.50) – go early because she always sells out.”

Tamales can be really hit and miss but these were definitely a hit! Bad tamales are gluggy, doughy and flavourless, but these were cooked to perfection; light, well seasoned and packed full of llama jerky, spices and, strangely, the odd grape. If you are in Tupiza, don’t miss them. The stall is outside the market to the right of the entrance. We went at 11am and they were almost all gone so heed the Lonely Planet advice.

 Pizza in Uyuni

Another winning recommendation from the Lonely Planet; away from the main drag in a hotel with practically no signage, we would never have found Minuteman pizzeria if it hadn’t been listed. This American ex-pat and his Bolivian wife are clearly doing well though, as evident in the numerous framed articles hanging on the walls.

This was probably the best pizza I have had in South America and I have had a few – thin crusts, not too much cheese (the main problem with most pizzas here) and good selection of toppings, which you can select yourself.

They also do a great buffet breakfast with toast, bagels, pancakes, homemade jams, cereal, fruit, mushrooms, potatoes, tomatoes and eggs cooked to order, plus tea, coffee and fresh juices. It isn’t cheap for Bolivia (B$50) but it is well worth it.

Salteñas in Sucre

Those of you who read my Córdoba post may remember that I became somewhat infatuated with a gorgeous little beast they call the empanada. A salteña is so named because it is modelled on the empanadas from the Salta region of Argentina where they are known to add raisins and a little sugar to what is otherwise a savoury and spicy meat filling. The dulce versions were my least favourite of those I tried and, therefore, I was not expecting a huge amount from the Bolivian salteña.

I tried several and was inevitably disappointed. I was about to give up when I saw some in the Mercado Central in Sucre that looked as they had potential. They were certainly the best of the lot, namely because of the sauces that accompanied them – a spicy tomato based salsa and a soy-like sauce with slices of chilli floating in it – which added the savoury element that I had been craving, effectively masking the sweet meat and pastry. Perhaps not what the vendor was going for but I liked it!

Mercado Central, Sucre

I actually ended eating rather a lot in Sucre’s central market. Tina and Adrian discovered the unanimous favourite: chorizo sandwiches from Choriceria Cafce 7 Lunares. It doesn’t come much greasier than this; the sausages are fried in about an inch of oil which they then dip the bread roll into, add some mayo and a little salad to lighten things up and you have the perfect hangover breakfast (I went for two first time).

Still, I should warn you, we were all fairly convinced that this was the likely culprit for our first round of bowel problems in Bolivia.

The upstairs floor of the market is packed full of cheap lunch options. I went for asado de bife – which means grilled beef although it was not grilled, but rather fried in a horrendous amount of oil along with some potatoes and lots of salt - it is a pity Bolivia doesn’t have a proper census as I would be interested to see what their heart attack rates are like.

As with most salty, fried things it was delicious and I felt somewhat better because it was served with salad, the first I’d had since arriving in Bolivia.

For breakfast one morning I had this rather strange pastellita con queso:

Strange because it looked like it should of been sweet and the pastry was vaguely but then it had a small amount of very salty cheese in the centre. It was tasty though and as you are fast discovering, I am not much of a sweet tooth in any case.

Papas rellenas in Sucre

I tried these papas rellenas – literally stuffed potatoes – in several places while in Bolivia. Some where absolutely horrendous (more on that in my next post) and others, like these, were fantastic. By the time I got to Sucre I had learnt from experience that egg or any meat other than chicken is a bad idea, so I went for one stuffed with cheese and one with chicken. Both were fab; freshly fried with a range of delicious sauces – two types of spicy salsa, mayonnaise and one which I can only describe as a sort of sweet and salty spiced onion broth.

La Taverne, Sucre

Already wearying of Bolivian cuisine, my friends and I went in search of something a little different and were tempted by the promise from Loney Planet of a French twist:

“With a quiet sophisticated atmosphere, the restaurant of Alliance Française is a delight to visit. The short, select menu has a French touch and there are excellent daily specials.”

I went for the chateaubriand, which quite apart from being a perfectly cooked piece of meat, was an absolute steal at 50 bolivianos – less than 5 quid! The equivalent would have cost around 10 times that in London. The steak was accompanied with mixed green vegetables, boiled potatoes and an intense garlic butter, which I enjoyed but which others may have found overly salted and a bit too garlicky.

El Huerto, Sucre

Unfortunately I was not in a good way when I went to El Huerto. My stomach was still very fragile and so, although there were many tempting things on the menu, I had to go for something simple. I chose grilled surubí (a local river fish) with no sauce and skin-on potatoes.

I didn’t realise the potatoes would be hollowed out, mashed and mixed with cream, bacon and other such goodies that my stomach couldn’t handle so I didn’t end up eating much of it, but I have still included the restaurant because it had a lot of potential – worth it for the courtyard alone – and had I been in a better way I would have polished off my dish and then some. They had a good salad bar too.

Mondongo in Cochabamba

 

Mondongo (pork ribs) is actually a dish that originates in Sucre so I was laughed at by a local woman I befriended when I told her that the best dish I’d had in Cochabamba was the mondongo in Sucremanta restaurant.

The pork ribs were cooked in a deliciously sweet and spicy sauce with a slightly Mexican flavour (it had a lot of cumin and paprika) and served with mote ( a type of corn) cooked with turmeric and cueritos de cerdo (pork rind). The latter added nothing but the mote was otherwise well seasoned and made a good side to soak up the juice from the ribs.

Almuerzo in Cochabamba

Bolivia is famed for its filling, if often bland and uninteresting, almuerzos – 3 course lunches for at ridiculously low prices. I gave up on almuerzos for the above reasons, preferring to spend more for more choice and better quality, but this restaurant came highly recommended and the waiter had been kind to me the night before when I stopped in for a beer, arranging a taxi for me to make sure I wasn’t ripped off for being a gringo.

Sopa de mani (peanut soup) also comes highly recommended by many but rarely lives up to expectations. This was the exception. The peanuts are not easily detectable – they are ground and unroasted – but the soup was rich and creamy with plenty of yummy vegetable bits, including crispy, fried potatoes; both novel and delicious.

The milanesa de pollo (chicken schnitzel) was also very nice, though nothing on Argentina’s. I was mainly just impressed that it looked so much less greasy than any others I had seen in Bolivia and it came with loads of salad which I had a hankering for.

Trout on Lake Titicaca

Nothing beats fish so fresh it is practically flapping its way onto the plate. The trout I ate in Copacabana (from Kiosco 9 on the water) and on the Isla del Sol was the freshest I have eaten in as long as I can remember. Grilled and served simply with lemon and sides of rice, fries and salad, I was so taken with it that I ordered two the first time (they are small, ok?!).

I also had the traditional sopa de quinoa at the restaurant on the Isla del Sol, the best I have had. A hearty, meaty stock packed full of vegetables and grain – and all the more satisfying for the fantastic view:

La Casona, La Paz

By the time I hgot to La Paz I had stopped bothering to take out my big camera, not really expecting to be wowed by the food. Mistake.

The share plates at La Casona – one a selection of cheeses and charcuterie with olive tapenade and onion confit, the other trout 3 ways (smoked, cured and as a dip) were two of the best dishes I had in Bolivia. Of course, throwing together a plate of antipasto is not really a challenge but I was surprised by the quality of the produce and by the range of cheeses which I had not seen elsewhere in South America, let alone Bolivia.

The mains were not as good as the starters, but still pleasant; big cuts of meat with the usual hefty portions of starchy sides.

Jack Daniels steak, La Paz

If you are on your way to La Paz or passing through La Paz or on your way on from La Paz you will undoubtedly meet some tourist raving about the Jack Daniels steak at the The Steakhouse. I am not sure whether it entirely lives up to its reputation but there is certainly something special, not to mention theatrical, about the final stages of cooking, when the chef and waiter arrive at the table with the steak in a frypan, cover it in JD and set it alight.

Most tourists you meet who rave about it rave about the sauce that accompanies the steak – a sweet and tangy, slightly spicy sauce with, of course, more JD. I actually thought that this sauce was superfluous. The flambéing gives the steak such a lovely flavour that I ate most of mine without any condiments at all.

Irish breakfast, La Paz

Do I really dare do this? Am I really going to risk all credibility and put the Irish breakfast at the Wild Rover on my best of Bolivia list? I’m not sure this is a wise move. For one, the baked beans are brown and too sweet and they coat everything. Secondly, the bacon is not quite bacon but more akin to spam. Thirdly, stray hairs do seem to be a recurring problem in the food at the Rover and, although I didn’t get any in my breakfast, I got them enough times in the chips accompanying my toasties to be concerned that someone might follow my advice and end up with one in their breakie.

BUT, if you have been to the Rover or you have heard of it you will know it is synonymous with hangover and what better cure. That, a coke zero and 4 nurofens and you are almost ready to start over. I rest my case.

Pacu in Rurrenabaque

Pacu is a local river fish. It is white and meaty and the cook at Casa de Campo cooked it perfectly – crisp from searing and soft and juicy in the centre – with a rich garlic sauce and smooth and creamy mash.

What a pity then that it took them so long to cook it. I arrived at the restaurant at 6.45pm, I had ordered by 7pm, but I didn’t get my food until quarter to nine. If you are not too hungry and happy to wait then I would highly recommend this restaurant but it really is a pity that their kitchen struggled so to keep up with the orders of a small handful of guests.

Sort of satay in Santa Rosa

On the way to the Pampas (Amazon wetlands) we stopped for almuerzo in Santa Rosa. The soup was typically bland, as were the vegetables which accompanied the mains, but I was intrigued by the sauce in which the beef and potatoes were cooked. It was peanut based and tasted almost like satay but for the lack of tamarind and asian spices. 

Unfortunately the meat itself was overcooked, but I wasn’t in the least bit fazed;  I could have eaten that sauce as a soup with a spoon (being polite I resisted and spooned it over my rice instead).

Piranhas on the Pampas

The piranhas themselves were not an exceptional fish to eat, mainly because they have very little meat on them and a lot of bones, but I am including them because the novelty made them a worthy meal for the best of, not least because we caught them ourselves.

Kuna breakfast in Rurrenabaque

As you may have guessed, I love my savoury breakfasts. At Café Piraña I was a bit disappointed to find that nearly every option was sweet and I wasn’t sure about the Kuna breakfast which sounded a bit much for 7.30am. Mexican style refried beans, scrambled eggs, tomato salsa and fried bread. Still, I wasn’t about to order pancakes so I thought I’d give it a whirl. Thank God I did! This was up there with one of the breakfasts I have had ever, let alone in Bolivia. 

My poor waistline.

Someone told me before my trip that I had planned everything perfectly: eat like a horse in Argentina and put on loads of weight, head to Bolivia and lose it all through boredom, sickness and lots of trekking.

Unfortunately it didn’t quite work out like that.

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Reader Comments (5)

Was that fresh trout that flapped on to your plate in Copacabana reminiscent of the breakfast of flounder in Pelorus Sound all those years ago. I remember how the flesh was translucent , and every tim I eat fresh fish I compare it to that. I love your comprehensive round up /picture of food in Bolivia - it is so interesting , so completely foreign to me , Argentinian dishes sounded recognisable , but this is so different.
Am keen to see what you find to eat in peru

August 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMa

Damn i wrote a long comment but apparently didnt post it!

not surprised you like refried beans for breakfast - as i do believe it is one our father favourites...although whether he likes it in the real morning or eeaarrrllly in the morning i cant remember - but he has it with a fried egg not scrambled.
The jack daniels picture is awesome! i feel like i want to touch the flame...but that proabably would not be such a good idea!
The friedy mc fried fried sausage sanga looks reminisent of the choripan...i think id have three...
do piranhas puff up when you fry them?!
im very impressed at your eating capabiltiies - particularly that you managed to go to a resturant...when you should have been on the bog!
xxx

August 16, 2011 | Unregistered Commentercharlie Brown

Hi Ma, I don't think anything will ever compare to that memory, but it certainly came close. I am glad you enjoyed my sum up of the nicest dishes. It did make me realise that the food hadn't been so bad overall.

Hi Cha, yes I think Dad's version is called Huevos Rancheros. I have actually seen it quite a lot here since and have eaten it twice; once with fried eggs, once with scrambled. I'm not sure if they puff up when cooked, but come to think of it they did look a little bigger after frying. Not much meat on them though. You are right, I should have been in bed really, but I really wanted to try that place before I left Sucre.

August 24, 2011 | Registered CommenterVix

Did you try fricase in La Paz? If not, and if you ever go back try it. You will love it.

Other than that, love your page. Makes me miss Bolivia a bit more.

January 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterG.

Hi G - I didn't try the fricase, I wish I had! I'm glad that you enjoyed the post. Thanks!

February 10, 2012 | Registered CommenterVix

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