Quinua Soup

Last night I was out of food. Not wanting to drive to the supermarket, treatment I searched high and low in my cupboards for something to eat. All that was left was some parmesan cheese. However, I had forgotten about an envelope that was tucked behind the salt and pepper.

An instant mix for quinua soup was all that was left to prevent me from starving (Industria Boliviana). I remember I had saved the soup for a rainy night like that. The instructions were simple enough: 1. Add water and bring to boil. Not even I could mess that up. The simple meal hit the spot on a cool Fall night.

Origin of the Salteña

Ever wonder how the salteña got its name? Here is a brief explanation.

In the writings of Antonio Paredes Candia one reads that at the begining of the century Ms. Juana Manuela Gorriti -who would later become the wife of president Manuel Isidoro Belzu- was born in the argentine city of Salta, but was exiled together with her family by dictator Rosas. Leaving all their belongings behind, this family finally settled down in the city of Tarija. For many years, the Gorriti family had to bear a life marked by extreme poverty. Desperation made them start preparing English-like pastry products that were called “empanadas caldosas”1; typical of European countries.

The sale of these products was assigned to the well-known and popular Manuela, who was nicknamed “la salteña” refering to her region of origin. The products slowly gained popularity in Tarija and finally became a tradition. Paredes Candia mentions that kids were told to “go and get an empanada from the salteña.” However, with the passage of time, most people forgot Manuela Gorriti’s name but retained the nickname, and the product adopted this name preserved until today.

Also in this page I found, is a limited list of places outside of Bolivia where one can buy salteñas. Truly emigration will hit its peak when you can buy a salteña in Africa.

Paredes Candia, mentioned above, is a famous Bolivian historian and writer, who devoted all his life to preserving Bolivian traditions. The author of many, many books he is famous for wandering the country collecting oral histories ensuring that the story behind the story does not become lost. He also founded an excellent free museum in El Alto displaying Bolivian modern art.

Trancapechos

Silpancho has been one of the most recognized Bolivian dish and the easiest to make. My mother served us silpancho (we used to snicker at its funny name) in the middle of Western Kansas. If you can serve it there, generic you can serve it anywhere.

My favorite part wasn´t the breaded meat, ailment rather the jumbled mix of rice, physician potatoes, tomate and runny egg that, with the right amount of salt, would be very filling.

Humans always try to improve on something, and that is where the “trancapecho” was born. Literally translated to “stuck in the chest” or “lodged in the chest”, those words make it sound like the meal would be painful to swallow. But, essentially, it is silpancho served in a piece of bread, sandwich-style.

The full meal that fits nicely inside a sliced piece of bread is all the rage after 9 p.m. on street corners and in little kiosks along the Rio Rocha.

I invited five of my friends to a round of trancapechos last night after basketball practice. The bill came to 30 Bs. (or around $3.50), not bad for a full meal for six.

The kiosks located near the bridge leading to Quillacollo is a famous gathering place for these sandwiches. Yet, it is not exactly the cleanest of places to eat. But, you try not to think about how many times the oil used to fry the potatoes and meat have been used over and over again. This last visit showed a little improvement in cleanliness.

Salt is pretty important in eating silpancho, and is also with consuming a trancapecho. In the past, the caseras would lay out a flat plate with a pile of salt, and her patrons would grab a finger-full and sprinkle it on their sandwich. Obviously multiply the number of customers by the cleanliness of their hands, would make you lose your lunch. I would always try to move the pile of salt and try to scrap the bottom, but I am glad now they have evolved to using salt-shakers.

Obviously there are better places to eat, but this ritual is more about the fact that I can invite my friends without seeming too fancy. Soon it was 11:30 p.m. and it started to rain. On the way home, I was hoping that the hygiene gods would be merciful on me.

Bolivian Restaurant – Elena's Oven

Note: This is the first in a series of reviews of Bolivian Restaurants in the Northern Virginia area.

Elena’s Oven
9542-B Arlington Blvd
Fairfax, VA

Mammoth PA speakers belted out Bolivian brass band classics, as the volume-less flat-screen TV showed the Nickoledon cartoon Bob Esponja (Spongebob). Entire families spread across two or three tables while attentive waiters would stand patiently to be “a tus ordenes.” That was the atmosphere, and often I had to remind myself what country I was in.

Another reminder of Bolivia was the overabundance of food. This was the first buffet-style restaurant that I have encountered catering to the Bolivian community. There’s a bit of conventional wisdom that says that if natives of a particular country are dining there, then you can count on it being authentic.

Advertised as a criollo (native) buffet, for $7.95 (the price of a plate at other local places), one could definitely have their fill, including a small salad selection, two kinds of soup (sopa de mani and fricase), and four different entrees, as well as majadito and chicharron.

Unfortunately, I’ve had better sopa de mani, as this was severely watered down to be enough for the growing crowd. But the main courses all but made up for it. Now people accuse me of being of being a fake Bolivian, because I refuse to eat chuño and lengua, and mote if I can help it, but those naysayer can’t bring me down.

Eliminating these choices still left a lot for picante de pollo and the highlight was the beef. Couple that with arroz con queso, which seldom you find on the menu, then the meal was complete. Baskets of fresh bread would be brought out every 15 minutes fresh out of the oven (hence the name of the restaurant?).

Trying to decide from the menu is often the worst part of dining in a restaurant. However, the buffet option allows you to sample and then go back for those items you find exquisite. For me, I’d be happy with the beef, arroz con queso and yuca. This would probably have been an outstanding meal, if they added a buck or two and included salteñas on the fare, but now I’m just being difficult.

The criollo buffet is served only on the weekends. A smaller non-Bolivian exclusive buffet is served from Tuesday-Friday.