Monday, January 10, 2011

Santa Cruz: A Carnivore’s Paradise

Are you contemplating joining the Titi monkey project? Perhaps you’ve made your decision and are making final arrangements to travel to Bolivia, like getting your yellow fever shot or making sure to arm yourself with a small arsenal of bug spay. Either way, once you have finished daydreaming about traversing the jungle in hot pursuit of Titi monkeys and exploring South America via motorcycle, your mind my may shift to more practical matters. Now, you may be wondering the same thing I was before I left…what am I going to be eating in Bolivia? If you are an adventurous eater like myself, then you will have nothing to worry about, and indeed will probably discover some new dishes that will leave you longing for your days at Quinta Totaices. The primary thing for you to know about food in Santa Cruz is that…meat is king! But don’t be discouraged vegetarians, it can be done! Check out my counterpart’s piece on, “A Vegetarian’s Survival Guide,” Sharon has been getting along just fine here and so have many vegetarians (and even a vegan!) before her. Here however, I’ll be exploring Bolivia’s beefier side, and showcasing dishes you won’t want to miss during your stay!

The first meaty main course I had the pleasure of sinking my fangs…errr teeth into is a popular Bolivian dish called Pique Macho. This dish consists of grilled beef and sausage, with potatoes, onions, tomatoes, and locoto (chili peppers) which give it a nice spicy kick! Pique macho reminds me of a spicy tomato based stew. My version from Café 24 was adorned with fresh cheese, boiled egg, olives and served atop a healthy portion of French fries. You can expect to pay about 45bs for this dish, and keep in mind that it is typically served in heaping portions, so that one can usually enjoy 2-3 more meals at home from one order! While I highly recommend Café 24 for this dish, I have also heard that the Irish Pub serves Pique Macho to die for. However, the best Pique Macho I had throughout my stay was one prepared especially for me, in honor of my departure! Thank you so much Christelle, for all the hard work and a delicious meal!

If you are looking for a typical camba (Eastern Lowlands) dining expedience, then look no further than Casa de Camba. This restaurant is mentioned in the Lonely Planet guidebooks and is an eatery that everyone should check out at least once during their stay in Santa Cruz. Fortunately for me, plans were already in place to visit this lively joint while I was still bumbling about trying to figure out which micros to take from the city center to get here. The main event at Casa de Camba is…you guessed it…the meat! Almost everyone in our party ordered the Parrillada (mixed grill) to share with a friend or two. I was somewhat daunted by the prospect of the Parrillada, as all day I had been hearing comments like, “We can split the heart,” and “I don’t really care for uterus.” While internally I was shuddering, and recalling the monkey brain scene from Indiana Jones in vivid detail, outwardly I put on my game face and prepared myself to sample some new dishes!

When ordering the mixed grill you can expect several sides, or smaller courses before and accompanying your grilled feast. The first is a plate a fried yucca, served with onions, and a spicy green concoction. Additionally you will receive a salad and two varieties of rice, one regular and an arroz con queso, to share with your grill mates.

The main course arrives still sizzling atop the grill and is placed right in the center of your table. It includes the usual suspects, like steak and sausage, but there are also some less commonly served beef items like heart, intestines, and udder. A Parrillada for two will definitely suffice for three, and even though some less appealing items remained at the end of our dining experience, there was nothing left on the grill that I left untried. Overall Casa de Camba was a great experience, fabulous food in a festive environment!

More than likely, you will be looking for a more casual dining atmosphere some nights of your stay in Bolivia. Perhaps you would like to stop for a quiet lunch on your way home from the field; or find a neighborhood café that is only a short walk from the house on nights you can’t bring yourself to cook. Never fear, for the streets of Santa Cruz are lined with little gems where you can find cheap and quick eats. The most common of these is the chicken joint. You can find these under a variety of names, like Pollos Kristy or Hong Kong Pollo, but the concept is pretty much the same. One can pay 7bs (economico) or 15bs (cuarto) for a more generous portion of pollo a la brasa (roasted chicken) or pollo broaster (fried chicken). Usually one of these plates includes some combination of rice, French fries, plantains, or noodles depending upon where you to chose to dine. Don’t forget to try the pale yellow curry sauce that comes on the side, yumm! You can also find many restaurants around the neighborhood that serve your basic hamburger, and lomitos. A lomito is a steak sandwich arranged with lettuce, tomato, and onions served atop a French baguette style piece of bread. Word around the house is that Josue, located right across the main street from Quinta serves the best lomito around…if you’re really hungry try a doble!

Hopefully you will be lucky enough, during your stay at Quinta Totaices, to participate with the residents in a Sunday barbecue. A simple meal, but one that I must admit, has been my favorite dining experience thus far in Bolivia. While the main focus of the grill session was the chicken, steak, and sausages, what I found most intriguing and delicious were the nonmeat items featured. Grilled pumpkin and squash added some much needed punches of color to the table, and sautéed eggplant gave the vegetarians in attendance even more options. For dessert we enjoyed a simple but ingenious treat, grilled bananas that had been slit down one side, exposing a small pocket for drizzling honey. The warm banana with a hint of sweet honey was a perfect conclusion to the meal. I can’t wait to get home and try this trick with chocolate sauce, or brown sugar and ice cream!

One of my Bolivian roommates confided in me the other day, “I would like to move outside of Bolivia at some point, but I think I will miss the food. I think in other places they eat more vegetables,” I couldn’t help but smile and nodded, confirming his suspicions. It was a perfect summation of my experience with the carnivorous cuisine of Bolivia, and a clear indication that Santa Cuz residents would have it no other way.

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