Many travelers would pass through Bolivia in a rush and fail to take notice of certain peculiarities of the local diet. For those taking their time, the moment in which they’ll share a meal with a local, or eat a set lunch at a neighborhood’s restaurant, will invariably come. Then, an incredible reality is found: the overfilled plates would contain a vast majority of carbohydrates. Bread, rice, potatoes, noodles and maize may share a single serving.
If staying for a while and regularly consuming this type of meal, the traveler is in real danger of failing to pass through regular sized doors. Some choices must be done, and to do that efficiently, certain facts must be understood.
First, locals consider potatoes and dehydrated potatoes as different types of food. A local phrase refers to "cultivating chuño" as a synonym for an impossible task. After hearing that for the first time, I needed it explained to me; after all you can cultivate a potato and then dehydrate it into chuño. The result of this attitude is that both items are often included in a single dish. More often than not, chuño and tunta would be the main dehydrated potatoes offered.
The chuño and tunta originate on regular white small potatoes and differ only on their dehydration process. During the Altiplano's frozen nights, the chuño is left to freeze on the ground surface after being harvested. Following that, it melts down under the morning sun. During the early afternoon it is pressed with bare feet so that the water is filtered out; the result is a black potato of irregular surface. Subsequently the dehydrated potato can be stored for years while keeping its quality. The unhygienic process is of little concern since the potato is boiled up before consumption. It has a very distinctive pungent taste. The tunta is obtained by putting the potato within a water stream for a fortnight. In this way everything except for the carbohydrate fibers is washed off the original potato. The result is a small, regular shaped, white potato with very little taste. Due to the differences in the process, tunta is much more expensive than the chuño. Most travelers find the chuño’s taste too strong; tunta is softer and more agreeable. If potatoes and chuño or tunta appear in a single dish, passing on the potato and choosing the dehydrated version is probably the best option for the traveler seeking for a truly local experience. From time to time, other tubers may be found. The elongated oca and its dehydrated version – the umakaya – are much recommended. The first is sweet as a yam, while the second features a pungent taste stronger even than the chuño. Taste with care.
Unless it is the main dish, maize may appear in small amounts in the soup and thus is of little concern in the carbohydrates intake calculation. In sharp contrast, the main dish – the one containing the meat – would be based either on rice or noodles. "Mixto" means half rice and half noodles. Noddles in Bolivia contain no eggs, and the rice is often overcooked and broken. Both are natural options for skipping extra-carbohydrates in the meal.
The last carbohydrate appearing in a typical Bolivian meal is bread. In July 2007, big headlines on local newspapers announced that several of the most popular breads contain bromates and are thus poisonous on the long term. The most popular breads are the marraqueta and the sarna. Both are small; the loaves come in personal sizes. The marraqueta is elongated and has a very crispy crust, while the saran is round, soft and has a bit of cheese on its top. These are served with the soup at the beginning of the meal and are best avoided.
Thus, while in Bolivia, we are left with potatoes and other tubers as the safest and tastiest source of carbohydrates. But, what can one do when feeling like eating a tasty sandwich? Then, the best is heading for restaurants in downtown, which use special breads. To these establishments, this journal is dedicated.