You are what you eat & drink

Posts tagged “Bolivia

Bolivia

Between 1996 and 2000 I had a love affair with Bolivia, as well as several love affairs in Bolivia.

I have traveled over much of the country, not liking La Paz nor Cochabamba, but I adored Uyuni, Potosí and Sucre. I lived twice in Santa Cruz de la Sierra which is half way to Brazil. I rode the tren de la muerte (death train) more than 30 times between Santa Cruz and Puerto Quijarro.

But food…

I found this old photo while sorting some old recovered files.

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Patty’s cabaña

It’s a terrible photo (quality) but throughout my South American meanderings the negatives went with me, through deserts, in jungles and over the Andes several times. You can’t expect negatives to come through that abuse in top condition.

But, the food….

Ah yes, in the front you can see displayed several of the local delicacies. I cant remember them all now, but there were rice cakes, tamales and, my favourite, sonso; the ones standing up on a stick. Sonso is boiled yuca (mandioca root), mashed then lumps of cheese added, formed on to a stick and grilled over leña (firewood) to melt the cheese and get a crispy finish.

I used to help Patty (one of the aforementioned love affairs) make them on the weekend.

The Cabañas are an area near Santa Cruz de la Sierra, about 8kms, by the Rio Piray. They were classed as turistic (tourism), but domestic. A place for the Cruzeños to play in the weekend.

Where there is water, there are kids

Where there is water, there are kids

The river itself was a wide expanse of sand with river channels and deep pools where sand had been removed. The river wasn’t deep, you could walk across it.

There were 4WD motorikes, horses and many other activities.

But the FOOD!

Ah, yes. Here’s a better photo of the sonsos…

This photo not mine

This photo not mine, found on flickr

 


Gourmet Bolivia – an Oxymoron?

Gustu, Bolivia: the surprise restaurant venture by Noma’s Claus Meyer

Nobody predicted the co-founder of one of the world’s best restaurants would pick Bolivia as the location for his next venture. Ed Stocker visits the newly opened Gustu in La Paz

Gustu’s inauguration night in La Paz, Bolivia. Photograph: Stephan Gamillscheg

Gourmet Bolivia. Now there’s an oxymoron. While its neighbours, in particular Brazil, Argentina and Peru, have established themselves on the world’s food scene, Bolivia has yet to make its mark. Few of us can name any classic Bolivian dishes, fewer still any Bolivian chefs.

So the news that Claus Meyer, co-founder of Copenhagen’s Noma, a three-time winner of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants (and the current number two), was opening an upscale restaurant in the capital La Paz was greeted with some astonishment. But Meyer – who, alongside Noma co-owner and chef René Redzepi, is famed for his trailblazing ultra local, seasonal cuisine – was drawn to the country not by its existing cuisine, but by the potential of its raw ingredients.

“Why Bolivia? If you have access to a large diversity of products, unknown to foodies, then you have a strong chance of coming up with something that could have global interest. Bolivia may have the most interesting and unexplored biodiversity in the world,” he says over the phone from the Danish capital. “If we succeed, this will mean more to the Bolivian nation than Noma and new Nordic cuisine has meant to anyone.”

Tender beets and papalisa with hibiscus. Photograph: Ed Stocker

It seems like quite a leap into the unknown for a man who, by his own admission, had never travelled in the country before. He says he was swayed into picking Bolivia by the work done there by Danish NGO Ibis, which has become a partner in the Gustu project. He hopes the benefits will be three-way: for him as restauranteur seeking new inspiration, for customers looking for something new, and for the country, South America’s poorest.

Following in the footsteps of Brazilian chef Alex Atala, who is credited with redefining Latin American food with his use of exotic Amazon ingredients at his restaurant DOM in Sao Paulo, and Peruvian Gastón Acurio, whose international chain of high-end restaurants has put his country’s cuisine on the food map, Meyer wants to offer diners a chance to explore local Bolivian flavours they have never even heard of, let alone tried.

Gustu, which opened in April, is located in the zona sur, the southern part of town where its wealthiest residents live, some of 1,110m below the wheeze-inducing heights of El Alto, La Paz’s satellite town in the north, 4,100m above sea-level.

The restaurant’s interior feels every inch the international diner: minimalist décor, grey walls, large windows with impressive views of the Andes and low-wattage exposed light bulbs. Like the food, everything is sourced from within the country, overseen by local designer Joyce Martín. There are flashes of local colour, too, in the Andean-inspired striped cushions dotted around the space.

Sampling the Gustu tasting menu is certainly a lesson in the biodiversity that Meyer rates so highly. Tender beets come with papalisa, a yellow potato dotted with shocks of pink and flavoured with hibiscus, a plate bursting with colour and flavour. A perfectly cooked egg yolk comes in a “nest” of palm heart strips and alpaca charque, Bolivia’s jerky equivalent. Pink llama loin is served with fermented carrots, coa oil (a herb that tastes like a combination of rosemary, Swiss mint and eucalyptus) and little green and yellow wakataya herb flowers, giving the dish a unique sweet-fragrant kick.

As Bolivia is a landlocked country, seafood doesn’t make an appearance, but Lake Titicaca trout does. A standout pudding is the chankaka – sugar cane honey – meringue with sorbet made from tumbo, a green-skinned fruit that looks like passion fruit and grows just outside the restaurant. This is the sort of menu that needs footnotes.

The five, seven or 15-course menu arrives beautifully presented on rough-cut slate plates and in ceramic bowls, with attention to detail as obsessive as at Noma. There is also an alcohol-pairing option which, like the cuisine, is full of surprises. For one, Bolivian wine is really rather good, even if some of the bottle labels are shockers. Their whites span everything from riesling to torrontés, their reds go from malbec to merlot. And then there are the cocktails, all made from singani, the national grape-based spirit, and often infused or macerated in-house. The singani with orange is particularly good, with the chankaka (unrefined sugar cane) giving it a dark sultry colour.

Gustu’s two head chefs are from Venezuela and Denmark respectively and they haven’t been afraid to include ideas and ingredients – still locally sourced – that are rarely eaten by Bolivians, including cauliflower and rabbit. Meyer defends the use of foreign chefs, citing the number of non-Danish cooks working at Noma, including its Macedonian head chef. “It doesn’t necessarily take a Bolivian chef to release the true potential of Bolivian cuisine,” he said. “It takes someone with a very humble attitude towards everything, able to see, smell, eat and learn.”

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Cuy – What’s a Cuy?

Cuy and chips

Cuy and chips

In my opinion, cuy looks like road kill served on a plate with chips.

This is not only my opinion, I heard an Australian tourist say, when presented with one of Peru’s national delicacies… “Looks like it was run over by a freakin’ truck!” (He was an Australian, he did not actually say ‘freakin”)

So what is cuy?

Cuy is a guinea pig.

Peru is famous for two dishes, cerviche and roast or fried cuy. The former I love, the latter I have never tried, and won’t.

Cuy is not only confined to Peru, but much of the Altiplano.

Could I bring myself to eat a guinea pig?

Eating roasted or fried guinea pig is an ancient tradition in parts of South America, and still common today. But in other parts of the world the rodents are cherished as cuddly, fluffy pals for children. How do you make the mental leap from cute pet to delicious meal?

As a committed carnivore I’m not in the habit of attaching personalities to the meat on my plate.

But this was a guinea pig, with four legs, a face and endearingly prominent front teeth. I used to have one as a pet.

My husband Jeremy and I were in a restaurant in southern Ecuador, where guinea pigs are regularly served up with potatoes and corn, and have been for thousands of years. Peru, Bolivia and parts of Colombia also do so.

We’d seen them being cultivated in a small rural home in Colombia, and impaled on thick rods before being roasted en masse in an Ecuadorian market. Eating traditional foods is a large part of the travel experience, so there was no way we would pass through the region without sampling this dish.

The roasted guinea pig – called cuy in South America – was brought to our table whole before being chopped into five pieces – four leg portions and the head.

I considered Jet, the tufty black guinea pig who was my first pet. He was forever getting lost and his antics were the subject of a story written by eight-year-old me, which won a local writing competition.

That he died in the care of friends while we were on holiday – overwhelmed by the car fumes in their garage – was one of those dramatic childhood turning points that I never really got over. Could I move on?

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Mean Green Machine

New Zealand isn’t exactly known for is cocktails, but here’s one worth a mention.

You’ll note, of course, the fancy cocktail glass… a preserving jar; indicative of New Zealand’s ‘rough ‘n ready, farmers-in-gumboots reputation.

Cocktail: Jolly Green Monster

Jason Clark

MEAN GREEN MACHINE: This cocktail is best described as “a fresh, sweet ‘n sour, energy-inducing, party for your mouth.”

With the 2013 Rugby Sevens tournament on in Wellington and thousands taking to the streets in costumes. I figured I’d get into the spirit of things (excuse the pun) with an original recipe designed to keep us dancing in the streets till the wee hours.

The Jolly Green Monster is a fresh, sweet ‘n sour, energy-inducing, party for your mouth. Fresh lime and kiwifruit provide a citrus kick of vitamin C which matches perfectly with an exciting spirit fairly new to the New Zealand bar scene, Agwa Bolivian coca leaf liqueur. With a stimulating, bitter tang it’s a perfect invigorator for these hot summer nights. A splash of apple liqueur packs another flavour punch, then it’s topped with soda or lemonade to create a refreshing summer cooler.

For an extra boost, swap the standard fizz for Monster energy drink so you can celebrate a New Zealand win (fingers crossed) with an extra bounce in your step.

JOLLY GREEN MONSTER

4x lime wedges

1/2 kiwifruit

30ml Agwa Bolivian coca leaf liqueur

15ml Apple liqueur

Muddle/crush fruit in a large jar. Add spirits, fill with ice and shake.
Top with lemonade, soda or Monster Energy drink, depending on your preference of sweetness.
Garnish with a large mint sprig for a fresh aroma.

Jason Clark is the bartender at Hummingbird Eatery and Bar.

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Comment:

monenergyredbullI am not in favour of adding these ‘energy drinks’, Red Bull included, to alcohol, or mixing them with alcohol in any way.

Doctors have advised that this combination of high caffeine/alcohol can lead to heart failure or decreased impairment awareness, advice that is ignored by governments because of the corporate finances involved.

References: Newsroom, Health Issues, Daily Mail or Google it