For most of our time in Bolivia, we found that the food is not that exciting. We ate a lot of rice, potatoes, and chicken (or eggs for the vegetarians). In spite of this, I chose to learn Bolivian cooking as my ISP in Tiquipaya because I wanted to discover new aspects of Bolivian cuisine that I had not yet experienced and to learn a skill that I could bring home to share with my family and friends.
My mentor was a woman named Gabby who is trained as a chef, but she learned to cook by helping her mom in the kitchen when she was growing up. Each day we met, Gabby would introduce the recipes that we would make that day and insist that we wash our hands before we got straight to business chopping and peeling all the vegetables that we would use that day. One skill she showed me was how to dice vegetables in the palm of her hand, which is apparently a common practice for many Bolivian women while they are cooking. I stuck to the cutting board, but when I’m back home I want to give it a try. Maybe I should have tried it out, because one day we cut so many vegetables that I got a blister on the base of my index finger from gripping the knife too tightly while trying to chop everything into tiny cubes.
In addition to kitchen skills, I learned about new ingredients that I had never encountered before. We made a stew of papalisa, a beautiful pink and yellow potato-like tuber and stuffed achojcha, a pepper-like vegetable, with soy meat and sautéed vegetables. We made little fried cookies called buñuelos with amaranth, a native grain a bit similar to quinoa that apparently has even more nutritional benefits. I also make cookies with quinoa for the first time, and it’s a delicious recipe that I will definitely be making for my family once I get home.
I feel incredibly lucky to have experienced this other side of Bolivian cuisine that is filled with vegetables and has such deep ties to the land and what can grow and thrive in the country. I look forward to sharing these recipes with people at home to give them a taste of Bolivia.