In order to understand Bolivian cuisine you have to first understand that they haven't always been the state they are today. In their long and complicated history they were part of the Incan empire and the Spanish colonies, they were part of Argentina and they used to have a coastline between Chile and Peru. After all of this, now an independent nation economically impeded by their lack of access to the sea, the traces of all of these changes can be seen in their culinary landscape.
Bolivia is one of the poorest countries I've visited in South America. It is often the poorest countries, however, that make better and more interesting use of the more unusual ingredients. That is what you get with anticuchos, beef hearts skewered and cooked on the barbecue. They're a little tougher than other cuts of beef but they're very tasty all the same.
As you'd expect, Bolivia has many dishes in common with its neighbours. Salteñas are very similar to Chilean and Argentinian empanadas. Don't tell Bolivians that they're the same though. They have a thicker pastry to hold in the wetter, stew-like filling. They taste a little like the savoury pies that are so popular in the UK (steak and kidney or chicken and mushroom). I prefer them as they pack more flavour and they're more substantial.
Despite our own proficiency in the use of the humble spud we still have things to learn from those who had them first. Papas Rellenas are mashed potatoes stuffed with a whole boiled egg, covered in pastry and deep-fried. It's not particularly complicated but it's tasty, particulary if you're an Irish person who's been eating rice with every meal for months.
'Falso conejo' translates as 'fake rabbit'. I'm not sure I'd like to know how far down the food chain they went long ago that they thought it better to call the meat 'rabbit', but thankfully these days it's made with beef, be it flattened or minced. I tried it in the market in Sucre and really liked it.
Sopa de Mani (Peanut Soup)
In Bolivia (and other countries on the Pacific Coast), set menus are often available for a much better price then the à la carte. Sometime they come with a drink and a dessert, but they mainly consist of a starter and a main course. Unlike our blended thicker soups at home, however, they are thinner and they add rice, quinoa or pasta to make them a little more substantial. The one that stood out most for me was the sopa de mani. It doesn't exactly taste like peanut butter, but the nuts add a lovely flavour all the same.
You can't take a step around Lake Titicaca without seeing trucha on a menu, cooked every way you can imagine. Strangely though, this fish is not native to these parts. It was introduced by a North American in the 30s and took to the conditions like, well, a fish to water and is now the dominant species of fish in the area. Although it is important to the local economy, it's a pity that it has had an adverse effect on the biodiversity and variety of other indigenous fish in the area that might otherwise make it to a menu.
This is quite a dish. I'm not sure, in eating it, are you macho because of its size or the heat of its chillis but for either reason, to complete it is an achievement. A layer of chips, a layer of fried slices of beef, deep-fried pieces of frankfurter, boiled eggs, onions, tomatoes and rocotos (ridiculously hot chilli peppers that look deceptively like regular old bell peppers). Some planning is required to ensure sufficient amounts of space in your belly and sufficient water in arms' reach before tackling this beast.
Despite a plethora of interesting fruit and veg being available in the country's market, the more common menu items aren't particularly healthy. They're full of carbs, they're deep-fried and they're salty so of course I enjoyed them.