Being ranked as one of the most unfriendliest places in the world might be a huge setback for your tourism industry, but are there certain things and tastes that might be able to redeem Bolivia’s unwelcoming demeanor? The answer might be found in the country’s culinary roots.
Here in Ecuador for example, cheap quinoa (along with many other grains and beans) are classified by many as the food of the indigenous, and are – in some ways – quietly considered inferior to foreign and imported, more expensive and exciting delicacies. Ironically, such ‘delicacies’ might merely be McDonald’s or Subway. As a result of its higher price and exotic appeal, a person’s choice of food in this sense has also inadvertently become somewhat of a status icon.
With Latin America becoming more westernized each year and with international fast-food franchises becoming more rampant, “dining out” might actually involve sampling the new and exotic or Western fried foods at a Wendy’s and McDonald’s. The act itself becomes more socially exalting and appealing to many (despite the higher price and exceptionally lower-quality ingredients) because it’s so different from what the country itself has to offer, as well as the social undertones that the national food might carry.
The inverse (and irony) of all this being that in the western world (specifically Canada & the US) the price of quinoa can exceed the price of a fast food meal in weight alone, and is considered a high-end food as a result.
But if a country’s populace becomes jaded towards its own traditions and food, tourists might find themselves perplexed by the overabundance of international restaurants available and disappointed by the lack of local and traditional fare.
Or will they? A fresh and foreign palate might be the only way to reevaluate the worth of a country’s own cuisine – as well as raise appreciation for the local ingredients grown inside the nation. At least that’s what Claus Meyer, the Danish co-founder of Noma (one of the best restaurants in the world), intends to do in La Paz, Bolivia.
Using his conviction that regards food as an instrument to improve life – as well as his resentment towards food being taken hostage by the industry – Meyer is setting up a restaurant named Gustu in La Paz as a non-profit organization. The restaurant will serve as a platform for fine dining, a bakery and bistro, and even a cooking school for underprivileged young indigenous chefs.
“The idea is to turn those young, marginalized people into culinary entrepreneurs,” he says in his Ted-Talk, “and, in close cooperation with all the major stakeholders in Bolivia, form the Bolivian food movement.”
He underlines the fact that, in light of the problem stated earlier, the movement intends to go against the international junk and fast food industry, which he says is one that is “dominated by massive corporations that ruin our health, undermine our independence and potentially damage the planet.”
In many ways, Meyer is the white knight of Bolivia’s culinary heritage, bringing to international light the fact that Bolivia has the largest biological diversity worldwide in terms of agricultural produce. Local delicacies can range anywhere from llama steak to giant runner beans. In addition to this, Meyer claims that he’s found fruits that he’s seen nowhere else, along with “thousands of varieties of potatoes, high jungle coffee and even exquisite red wine from the landlocked country’s eastern border with Argentina.”
Hopes are high within the Danish entrepreneur and seasoned cook as his restaurant is now operating in the capital, and he holds fast to the conviction that food can definitively change our minds, and to a certain extent – the world. It’s just the case that sometimes, especially when we’ve been living in a place for so long, the true value of the ground we stand on – and the fruits it provides – must be revealed to us once more by the fresh perspective and palate of savvy newcomer.