Bolivia Stories and Tips

Eating in Bolivia: Bolivian Bromated Bread

Huayna Potosi Photo, Bolivia, South America

Many different Bolivian dishes have been described in several journals of mine (see for example the "Eating in La Paz" one). This entry is dedicated to several generalities which were not fit of other specific entries.

Quantum Food
Most foods in Bolivia are sold in a quantum fashion, since most locals do not trust neither the scales nor the people managing them. Most fruits are sold by the unit, as the bread is. The most popular breads are tiny loaves called "marraquetas" and "sarnas." Since they are sold by the unit, the producers have an interest to make them as light as possible. The result was the adoption of sodium bromate as a regular addition to the bread; unluckily, it is a carcinogen forbidden for use in food in most of the world. One of the pictures attached to this entry is of a newspaper from the 07/07/07 officially acknowledging the dangerous fact. While in Bolivia, bread should be avoided.

Carbohydrates Kingdom
Bolivian food is characterized by another peculiarity: most dishes served in markets and restaurants contain a very high percentage of carbohydrates and oils. Most dishes include rice, noodles, and potatoes (if mixing up rice and noodles they are called "mixto") and are served with half a loaf of "marraqueta" bread. Generous amounts of reheated oil are used in the preparation of meats. Care should be taken while consuming such dishes.

Potatoes Empire
The Andean High Plateau is where potatoes originated. There are over two-hundred types coming from the area and consequently they are present on every dish; Bolivians don’t feel to have eaten if potatoes weren’t included in the meal. Some of the special potatoes are very tasty. The Black Potato (actually it is kind of violet) is sweet and has a pleasant texture; while the tiny Oca has a taste very similar to a yam. To preserve them for long periods of time, potatoes are dehydrated with the kind help of the freezing plateau’s nights. The most popular dehydrated potatoes are called "chuño" and "tunta." The first is black, has a bitter taste and a grainy texture; while the second is white and has a more pleasant taste. However, the morning after the potatoes are frozen, they are stepped on with bare feet in order to extract the semi-frozen liquids inside it. There are neither health nor hygiene controls on the process and thus they should be avoided.

Safe Snacks
The most popular and safe snacks in the country are the salteñas and tucumanas. See my entry "Lost in Geography: Tucumanas and Salteñas" in my" Deep Down in the Valleys: Cochabamba" journal for details.

Fixing Up the Dish
The carbohydrates mix in every dish creates quite tasteless dishes. To fix that, a mixture of chopped chillies and tomatoes in water is put on every Bolivian table, allowing spicing up the dish. The spice is called "llajua" (ee-aa-hoo-aa) and is added to everything – including soups – except for sweet desserts.

Dry, Please
A result of the physiological adjustment to altitude is a lower consumption of liquids (see details in the "Urban Height" entry in my "El Alto Heights" journal). The cultural counterpart of the physiological event is the lack of liquids on Bolivian meals. If eating with a local, expect to see no liquids on the table, except for the omnipresent and rather thick soup.

Bon Appetite!

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