24 de Julio: Buen provecho

It seems that, whenever I find myself overwhelmed with work or other engagements and am unable to write a substantive piece for the blog, I leave you with images to study.  Well, this week is no exception.  This time, however, rather than showing you Bolivian graffiti or NGO posters on gender, I’ll give you something far more tasty–samples of Andean cuisine.  Below, you’ll find a series of pictures of typical Bolivian dishes and other little snacks you would commonly enjoy in La Paz.  Each is accompanied by a short description. Enjoy, and I’ll see you in a week or two!

If you’re still awake and wandering the streets after 10pm, a good option is the salchipapa, a concoction of french fries and fried hot dog slices smothered with mayo, ketchup, mustard, and the spicy Bolivian salsa, ají. Street vendors in La Paz will sell you a healthy portion for US$1.  It’s best washed down with a paceña, the local beer.

A soup or salad (and sometimes both) commonly accompanies the three- to four-course Bolivian lunch.  Foreign visitors to Bolivia are often careful about where they choose to eat salad, since fresh fruits and veggies should be treated with iodine or chlorine to kill bacteria, and not all local restaurants do.  This salad includes large slices of palta, or avocado, a fruit used in many Bolivian dishes.

This segundo, or main dish, includes boiled potato, chicken, peas, a variety of local spices, and a Bolivian staple, chuño. Developed by indigenous residents of the Andes hundreds of years ago, chuño–the blackish masses on the right side of the plate–is potato that has been buried under frozen earth and then dried in the sun.  Chuño is likely the first-ever freeze-dried food.

Bolivians are generally not big breakfast-eaters, preferring a bit of bread and jam or a portion of fruit.  Although La Paz sits at around 3600 meters above sea level–not an altitude fit to grow tropical fruits–papayas, mangos, and bananas are brought up daily from the surrounding lowlands.  Whether eaten fresh or blended into juices, La Paz residents consume fruit daily.

Lomo, or beef tenderloin, is a typical segundo of the Bolivian lunch.  Even more typical is the pairing of two sides high in carbohydrates–rice and french fries–rather than a portion of vegetables or salad.  Part of this is likely due to the ubiquitousness of the potato; Bolivia is said to grow over a thousand varieties of the tuber.  A diet high in carbohydrates also allows Bolivians, the majority of whom are poor, to purchase or make just one daily meal that provides enough energy and staves off hunger for the day.

The star of this Bolivian segundo is quinoa, a nutritious local grain that has been harvested in the Andes for thousands of years.  Formed here into patties, quinoa can be eaten loose like rice or cous-cous, baked into breads and pastries, or boiled in soup.  Quinoa was the subject of an intense international struggle over food patenting in the 1990s.

Desserts are an… interesting affair in Bolivia.  Consisting of custards, fruit, ice cream, cakes, and other, more random, things, they are as varied as they are unpredictable.  After one lunch, I was served a small pile of spaghetti noodles doused in honey and sesame seeds.  The dessert pictured above–a light strawberry mousse–was far more appetizing.

Cakes deserve their own special note, especially those of the birthday variety. Tradition dictates that every birthday celebration comes with a cake, and that, immediately following the candle-extinguishing, the birthday boy or girl gets a face full of it.  Usually encouraged by party-goers to take a bite off the edge of the whole cake, someone standing behind the cumpleañera–usually a partner or sibling–will push her face into the cake as she gingerly moves forward to bite it.  As people get older, they generally stop resisting and just let the inevitable happen.

And my favorite–figs and cream!

If you’re hungry for something more substantial, head over to Womanist Musings where this week I’ve written a post on doctors who perform abortions in the U.S.A.

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