International Cooking: Food from Bolivia

I was happy to cook food from Bolivia this week because I love South American cuisine! Unfortunately, even though I went to all the trouble of writing my Bolivia Reddit post in Spanish, no one replied. It didn’t seem like there were many English speakers in the Bolivian subreddit and I wanted to make sure people read my post, but it just didn’t happen. So once again, I had to rely on my own research.


Bolivia is a South American country, located roughly in the center of the continent. The Andes mountain range in the western third of the country used to be part of the Inca Empire, while the northern and eastern lowlands were inhabited by independent tribes.

During the 16th century, Spanish conquistadors arrived and took control of the region. The Spanish built their empire largely upon the silver they took from Bolivia’s mines.

Bolivia declared independence in 1825 after 16 years of war. A succession of military and civilian governments followed until 1971, when there was a coup that began a military dictatorship.

In recent years, Bolivia has become more politically stable. It is the second poorest country in South America, though has the fasted growing economy in terms of GDP. Bolivia is rich in minerals such as tin, silver, lithium, and copper, and is known for its production of coco leaves and refined cocaine.

What Do People Eat in Bolivia?

Like many South and Central American countries, Bolivian cuisine is largely a result of Spanish influences mixed with indigenous ingredients and techniques. Traditional staple ingredients include corn, potatoes, quinoa, and beans, and the Spanish added rice, wheat, and meat such as beef, pork, and chicken.

I noticed that it seems to be popular to prepare dishes with a boiled or fried egg added at the end, which is something I wholeheartedly approve of. I think there were four or five such dishes I came across when researching Bolivian cuisine, and it was hard to limit myself to just two.

Dehydrated potatoes are a common accompaniment to many meals, though this is something I did not try. Spicy food is quite popular, and chilies are common both as ingredients in spicy sauces and in fresh salsas.

What I Made

Scroll down to read about other popular Bolivian dishes I didn’t make!

Silpancho (Fried Beef with Potatoes, Rice, Salsa, and Egg)

Silpancho

This is a thin piece of beef (or, depending on who makes it, ground beef formed into a very thin patty), coated in bread crumbs and fried. It is served with rice, fried potatoes, fresh salsa and a fried egg. I’m always drawn to any dish that features eggs, and so I decided I needed to make this.

This is the kind of dish that hardly requires a recipe. I did loosely follow one from Bolivian Cookbook, just to get the components down. I used thin top round steaks since I knew from using them for my milanesas for Argentina week that they would work well.

This was a delicious meal, though I don’t feel you really need both the rice and the potatoes. I’d personally choose to skip the rice.

Pique Macho (Fried Potatoes, Sausage, and Beef)

Pique Macho

Pique macho is fried potatoes, beef, and hotdogs, topped with a simple salad and boiled eggs. It’s usually served on large platters meant for sharing, but here I made just a single serving.

As a guide, I used the recipe from Bolivian Cookbook but I didn’t use the beer, because I didn’t want to simmer my beef as I thought it would get tough (I used the same top round I used for the silpancho). This was excellent, and really filling!

Cuñapes (Cheese Bread Rolls)

Cunapes

I debated over whether or not I should make these, since they seem very similar, if not the same, as pão de queijo, which I’ve been planning on making for Brazil. But there seems to be a little confusion over the kind of flour used. Supposedly, it should be tapioca flour, also known as cassava starch. I have cassava flour from way back when I was doing Angola. Apparently, some cassava ‘flour’ is actually cassava starch. So I wasn’t entirely sure what I had or whether or not it would work. I decided to try it out, and if it didn’t work, I would just make sure I had the right flour for Brazil week.

I ended up with these rolls, which look more or less like those in the recipe picture. They appeared to turn out like they were meant to — firm on the outside and chewy on the inside — so it seems my flour was right.

I’m not sure I’m really a fan of the cassava flavor, but overall, these were alright.

The recipe I used is from Chipa By the Dozen. Instead of Bolivian cheese, I used cheddar and some leftover gouda.

Salteñas (Stew-Filled Pastries)

Saltenas

Salteñas are considered to be Bolivia’s national dish. They are a bit like empanadas, but the filling is more like a stew. To achieve this, the filling mixture contains gelatin and is refrigerated before filling. So as you fill the salteñas, the filling is solid, but once they’ve been baked you get a juicy chicken filling. I thought this was pretty cool, though it does make them a little difficult to eat without making a mess! The other difference here is that the dough is sweet. I reduced the sugar in the recipe I used but still found they were quite sweet, more so than I would like. But that’s how they are meant to be.

I used the recipe from Chipa by the Dozen, which involves a filling made up of chicken, potatoes, chilis, and raisins. I cut up the raisins finely since although I don’t mind the taste, I don’t like finding whole raisins in things. Also, although the recipe says to put a whole olive in each salteña, I just chopped some up and mixed them with the filling since again, I didn’t want a whole olive in there.

These salteñas weren’t difficult to make, but there is a lot of chilling involved for both the dough and the filling, so it takes time. They were good, but I definitely would prefer it if the dough weren’t so sweet. Mine also didn’t come out very yellow, which they are supposed to because you dye the dough with annatto seeds. Overall, I’m pleased with how they came out looking. I definitely do not have the finesse of the recipe author but I think my shaping wasn’t bad!

Arroz con Queso (Cheese Risotto)

Arroz con queso

This is a risotto with red onion, garlic, and queso fresco, which is fresh Mexican cheese. I usually describe queso fresco to people who are unfamiliar with it as being similar in taste and texture to feta, but it’s not as strong.

This was easy to make and made a good side dish for the picante de pollo (below). I followed the recipe from Mediterranean Love Affair but I cooked the rice using the more traditional method of adding liquid, stirring, and letting it absorb before adding more. I also stirred in some green onions and parsley at the end, rather than just using as a garnish.

This was really good, but with all that cheese, of course it was going to be!

Picante de Pollo (Spicy Chicken)

Picante de pollo

This is a spicy chicken dish that often includes vegetables, like in the version I made. The sauce is usually made with aji paste (made of chilies native to South America), but cayenne is mentioned as a substitute so that’s what I used instead. I mixed it with a little paprika and cut down on the amount indicated though because I thought it would be way too spicy, and I was right. I think the amount I ended up using was perfect.

This is commonly accompanied by potatoes, either boiled, dehydrated, or both. Instead, I served with arroz con queso (above), which I think worked really well. This was a good chicken dish, but not something that really stands out.

If you want to try it, I used the recipe from Bolivia Bella.

  • K’ala phurka – a breakfast soup made from beef or llama, chili, cornmeal, and potatoes. Traditionally, a hot volcanic stone is dropped into the bowl right before serving to keep it hot.
  • Jankaquipa – a soup made with corn, onions, and potatoes, typically served as a starter.
  • Fritanga de cerdo – fried pork covered in a spicy red sauce, usually served with corn and dehydrated potatoes.
  • Charquekan – a dish made with dried llama or beef, something that has been popular since the time of the Inca. The meat is soaked in water, then boiled or fried. It is served with potatoes, boiled eggs, cheese, corn, and llajua (Bolivian hot sauce).
  • Api morado – a thick warm drink made from purple corn. Api is served in the morning, often accompanied by a pastry.

Final Thoughts

All the food from Bolivia was pretty good, particularly the silpancho, which is probably my favorite dish. The arroz con queso might be second.

Next week, I’ll be cooking food from Bosnia and Herzegovina.

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