I’m about to embark on a fantastic trip to Bolivia. As well as the majestic mountains and dark mysterious swathes of tropical rainforest there is also a culinary landscape I intend to explore. I don’t speak Spanish very well, so to prepare for my trip, I’ve investigated some of the most popular and bizarre types of food that Bolivians eat. I’m going to include the Spanish translations too because I’ve travelled in South America before, and I know from experience that most menus aren’t in English. Unless you have a phone app with access to online translation services , then you need to memorise the names of some of the dishes you might encounter while travelling.
1. Salteña – Pasty. This is the most common food in Bolivia and is usually eaten as a mid morning snack. It’s like a pasty, made with corn flour and filled with meat, vegetables, a raisin, an olive, and a little boiled quail’s egg. I imagine I will be stocking up on these for long bus journeys!
2. Sopa de Mani – Peanut soup. If you are in the mountains, few things are as warming as a hot bowl of protein rich creamy peanut broth served with steak on the bone.
3. Llama – Llama. Not only do Bolivians eat llama meat, which is apparently very nice, especially the jerky, they also eat llama brain and tongue. I’ve eaten ox-tongue before so I think I know what to expect, but brains are new to me. The slimy brains are regarded as a delicacy though!
4. Caldo de Cardan – Bull penis soup. Guess what this is made from? Not just knob, but also balls. It is served in such a way that you are not likely to mistake it for anything but a bull’s penis and testes. You can get this in traditional restaurants or in home cooking. It’s a fatty and nutritious soup, which apparently tastes like bone marrow. The soup is well spiced and the meat is rich and chewy. It is used as a folk remedy for hangovers, anaemia and impotence (of course!).
5. Cuy – Guinea pig. This is one of the few types of meat farmed in the mountain regions of Bolivia. It is actually a staple food in all Andean nations. The rodents are fed on special diets, such as lemongrass, so as to improve the flavour of the meat. I thought they’d taste like rabbit but apparently they taste more like greasy chicken. They are, however, served splayed out with their head and feet still showing so you can’t pretend it’s a chicken you’re eating!
6. K’alaphurka – Stone soup from Potosí. This reminds me of a very old folk-tale about a homeless man who cleverly tricks a cook by asking if he can borrow some extra ingredients to make stone soup with his special stone. Unlike the stone in the European folk tale, the stone in K’alaphurka serves a purpose besides deception. A volcanic rock is heated in the oven then placed in the soup to keep it warm while you eat it. The soup itself is made from deep fried pork pieces and a spicy sweet corn broth.