Tag Archives: food

Can Bolivia's native food boost its tourism industry?

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.

The Problem

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.

The Solution

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.

Bogotá's 5 best vegetarian restaurants

In a country whose unofficial national dish is the bandeja paisa –  a meat-heavy platter that includes pork, ground beef and sausage – it can be a little difficult to find vegetarian-friendly fare. However, Colombia’s capital city, Bogotá, has a surprising number of restaurants dedicated to vegetarians and lovers of vegetarian cuisine. Here are our top five veggie picks:

  • Boulevard Sésamo (Av. Jiminez, 4-64). A popular vegetarian haunt offering budget-priced lunches, Boulevard Sésamo has speedy service, a salad bar, vegan options and vegetarian versions of typical Colombian comfort food.
  • La Esquina (Ca. 9, 60-91, Chapinero). A light and airy second-floor restaurant with impressively attentive service and some of the best vegetarian sancocho soup around (sancocho is a hearty stew that combines plantains, pumpkin, yucca, potatoes, garlic and cilantro). Packed with plenty of fresh herbs, La Esquina’s food is far from the insipid veggie stereotype.
  • Loto Azul (Ca. 5a, 14-02, La Candelaria). For more than two decades Loto Azul has been serving up delightful vegetarian dishes to both Bogotanos and foreigners. Besides whipping up set-menus accompanied by a fresh salad bar, there’s vegetarian lasagnas, sandwiches and buffets.

Quinua & Amaranto, Bogota (Quinua & Amaranto - Bogotá, La Candeleria 2006 by hannah_y_juan)

  • Pan de Nobles (Ca. 9, 60-91). Downstairs from La Esquina is Pan de Nobles, an excellent vegan bakery with a vegan take-out restaurant just across the road.  Try the restaurant’s incredible vegan burgers.
  • Quinua y Amaranto (Ca. 11,2-95). Located in the historic La Candelaria neighborhood, the charming and atmospherically decorated Quinua y Amaranto gets pretty packed due to its popularity. Great tortilla española (Spanish omelet) and balanced set menus.
Find out more about Bogotá, Colombian cuisine and Colombia in VIVA’s new Colombia Adventure Guideavailable in a variety of e-book applications directly from VIVA, as well as in print format from Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.

 

Hungry? Top 10 places in Latin America to taste the weird and the wonderful.

 by Karen Nagy

 

Argentina: Morcilla

photo by Raúl Hernández Gómez

photo by Raúl Hernández Gómez

Argentine’s are known for their meat and for throwing a good BBQ. And when they’re slaughtering all those pigs and cows for tasty steaks, they don’t let much of the animal go to waste. In fact, the congealed blood is used as the primary ingredient in morcilla: a dark sausage flavored with garlic and onion, and a bit of meat from the head of the animal.

 

 

 

Belize: Agouti

Found throughout lowlands and rainforests, this rodent is one of the biggest in Latin America, weighing up to 13 pounds. While they are easily tamed and make for affectionate pets, the agouti is still hunted by lots of indigenous communities for its meat, which is apparently quite tasty, kind of like a gourmet pork. However, it should be noted that three species of agouti appear on the endangered species list.

 

Bolivia: Chuños

Potato preparation is nearly endless: hash browns, french fries, baked potatoes… 2-year old freeze-dried papas? In the high plateaus of Bolivia, dehydrated potatoes are a staple in the diets of Quechua and Aymara communities. For five days, the purplish-black variety are exposed to the freezing nighttime temperatures of the high Andes, then left out in direct sunlight, and finally stomped on to remove any excess water. This process creates a wrinkly, mealy (and apparently still edible) food source that can then be easily stored and transported. The chuño is often used in soups, or turned into flour, which can be purchased in most grocery stores and markets in Bolivia.

 

Brazil: Feijão

photo by Kai Hendry

photo by Kai Hendry

This traditional recipe was born in colonial Rio de Janeiro by slaves who used discarded pig parts to create this now popular stew. Feijão has become the national dish of Brazil, eaten today by all social classes. It is made by slow-cooking black beans with a variety of salted pig parts: snouts, tails, feet and ears. Some recipes also include smoked pork ribs, bits of bacon, beef tongue and loin, and it’s usually served with rice, greens, and orange.

 

Colombia: Hormiga culona

For centuries, big-butt queen ants have been collected every spring upon emerging from underground nests, toasted in salt, and eaten as a traditional snack in the Santander region of Colombia, typically as a Semana Santa treat. But recently this delicacy has been gaining popularity outside the borders of Latin America, as well. Apparently the crispy, nutty taste of the hormiga culona lends well to gourmet recipes: Belgian-chocolate-dipped ants and lamb in ant sauce are two of the hottest new ways to enjoy this 6-legged snack.

 

Chile: Ubre

In certain regions of Chile, the udder of a cow is just as likely to show up on your plate as it is to be found being pumped in a dairy. To prepare this giant gland, it’s soaked in water for a couple hours to remove any last bits of remaining milk in the teats, then tossed on a charcoal grill. The texture is spongy and the taste is smoky. Buen provecho!

 

Ecuador: Lemon ants

photo by Jon Connell

photo by Jon Connell

You have to wonder who first discovered that these tiny ants have a citrus flavor, but they’re eaten live and are truly lemony, and are now on the menu for most intrepid travelers visiting the Ecuadorian jungles. Read more here.

 

 

 

 

 Mexico: Tacos sesos

Tacos are a staple in Mexican cuisine. Tacos sesos aren’t that much different from the usual chicken or beef version, but instead of the typical bean and meat combo, these tacos use cow brains as the main filling. Brain tacos are typical street food in Mexico—and make a nice mid-day snack for hungry zombies.

 

Nicaragua: Huevos de tortugas

For five out of the seven types of sea turtles in the world, the Pacific and the Caribbean beaches of Nicaragua are some of their preferred spawning sites. While many international tourists come to Nicaragua to see the arrival of the turtles during these periods, others come for the eggs. Though this has now been recognized as an environmental no-no, it is part of the Caribbean culinary traditions in Nicaragua to eat sea turtle eggs. Usually raw. The eggs look like steamed ping pong balls with a soft shell, and typically a hole is poked in the top, a couple drops of hot sauce or lemon juice are squeezed in to “cook” it with a bit of salt, and the raw concoction is followed by a shot of rum. While it sounds exotic, leave the eggs to make turtles, not people-food. 

 

Peru: Cuy

photo by Jorge Gobbi

photo by Jorge Gobbi

This typical Peruvian meal is called cuy because that’s the noise this animal supposedly makes. Commonly known as a guinea pig and a pet in North America, the cuy is a main Peruvian food source: bred in captivity, skinned, put on a skewer, and cooked on grills throughout the country. The meat contains zero cholesterol, and is often served with peanut or hot pepper sauce. This animal has played an important role in Peru for centuries: cuy bones were apparently found in the tombs of the most important Pre-Incan authorities, and today Peru has dedicated one day every September to celebrate their favorite furry critter.