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Two Dragons welcome the sunrise with an improvised dance atop the Andes. Photo by Ryan Gasper.

SNACK YAK: The Definitive Unofficial Guide to Snacking in Bolivia and Peru

As our time in South America winds down to its final days, it is time to reflect upon the most important aspects of our course, the parts of this program that have made it unique and rewarding, the areas that challenged us and provided us with opportunity for growth and discovery. Naturally, one of the first things that comes to mind is food, and perhaps our groups favorite hobby, snacking. With each passing week, new snacks have been added into the fray, obsessed over, hotly contested, and, of course, devoured in obscene quantities. With this in mind, I think it is high time to publish our groups musings on the crucial subject of snacking, so as to do our part to educate the future generations of gringos venturing into the sometimes-intimidating nature of navigating the tiendas in Bolivia and Peru. While initially I had wanted to include a calles section, the sheer amount of time I spent on the tiendas alone left me void of time to allocate proper resources to delve into the intricacies of the calle snack game. Without further ado, I present you all the information you will ever need to know about the tienda snacking experience.

 

Toddy’s: the only possible starting point for this list, the original go-to, el clasico, the creme of the galleta crop. Instructor Jesse introduced our wide-eyed group to these delicacies during orientation, calling them the best chocolate chip cookies one can find in Latin America, and to this point, I don’t think anyone can debate that statement. Similar to a Chips Ahoy, but less dry and possessing just a bit more chocolatey goodness, the Toddy will forever be cemented as an institution in the tienda snack game. They are rather hard to find, but you will reap the rewards of your search tenfold once you finally set your eyes on these beauties.

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Choki’s: to some, the younger sibling, the JV, the second-string version of the Toddy, to others, a cookie equivalent in flavor to its far more commonly known galleta brethren. The Choki never quite caught on within our group, and remains a far cry in the minds of many to the Toddy, but nevertheless a tremendous overall chocolate chip cookie experience. In a pinch, you cannot go wrong with the Choki.

Casino’s: a cookie that caught fire in the latter half of the course and vaulted its way to near the top of everyone’s tiendas favorites. That being said, the Casino also remains one of the most passionately debated snacks in our group, owing to the wide swath of sabor possibilities. The traditional Casino comes with in a pack of four with vanilla wafer and your choice of chocolate, vainilla, fresa (strawberry), alfajor (dulce de leche), lucuma (an Andean fruit), menta, and coco filling. Fresa, el mejor in my humble opinion and a generally recognized superior flavor, has been shunned by some in our group, as with menta, who claims a few diehard loyalists while also accumulating a large amount of backlash. Casino BLACK, with chocolate wafers instead of vanilla, have also been raved about as a whole, but as a general consensus, the traditional Casino reigns supreme.

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Sublime chocolate: where to begin with Sublime. This chocolate de leche, with an ample dosage of mani, comes in small squares of heavenly goodness that transcend the traditional chocolate experience. The Sublime is a bit caro, but I have never regretted a single Sole or Boliviano spent on this delight. Keep in an eye out for Sublime Blanco as well if you are a fan of white chocolate, because the lighter alternative is to die for, as well as the Sublime galleta, a piece of the traditional Sublime chocolate gracefully laid over top of an outstanding cookie. Bottomline, Sublime is a guaranteed A1 snacking experience.

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Oreo: la galleta favorita de leche. An institution in the history of snacking, the Oreo still packs the same flavor punch in South America, and has long since ridden close to the top of our groups snack rankings. I recently got my hands on some Oreo’s caramelos, un sabor nuevo, and while it pains me to say, seeing as I have never spoken a bad word about anything Oreo before in my life, they were subpar. But otherwise, Oreo remains a snack of the heavens, no matter if we’re talking the United States or Bolivia.

Frac’s: overall, a pretty average galleta, popularized and brought to the attention of our group once again by Instructor Jesse, but was never able to hold the hearts and stomachs of our group for long. Essentially a knock-off Oreo, with just a bit more length, the Frac is decent, nothing more, nothing less.

Rellena’s: to me, this galleta flies perennially under the snack radar. A quality cookie, the best part of the Rellena is that it comes in packs of six, whereas its fellow cookie brands only provide four per, something that needs to be considered when thinking snacking. Coming in sabor de chocolate, vainilla, coco, and fresa, Rellena’s are a solid snack when there superior companeros are unavailable.

Glacial’s: certainly one to stand out from the rest, the Glacial varies immensely from the vast majority of this list, allowing it its own special recognition. A rich chocolatey cookie with vanilla frosting drizzling ever so tastefully on top, this galleta is bursting with flavor, and is perhaps the sweetest of all the choices on this list, so if you’ve got a hankering for something super sweet, look no further than the Glacial.

Ritz’s: correctly pronounced Zeets, Ritz’s have been an amazing addition to our groups snacking, offering a familiar and comforting taste after months of trying different crackers that all left one wanting more. The biggest note regarding Ritz is I was able to discover Ritz, sabor de ajo y mantequilla, an unbelievable combo that was as good on the ol’ taste buds as one would imagine.

Diva’s: another late addition to the list, as late as last week, but not without good reason. This cracker is described as just as good as Zeets (for less money too), although some remain skeptical. Regardless, the Diva appears to be the superior native cracker.

Club Social: another strong contender in the cracker game, but unlike the Diva, Club Social has roots stretching far back into our time in Bolivia. Popularized by Danielle, the Club Social was long considered the king of the cracker game, with its smooth buttery flavor, and while it may have been unseated by Diva, Club Social is still a cracker one can trust in any moment.

Mabel’s wafers: an absolute staple of our snacking experience in Bolivia, the Mabel wafer has plummeted in the collective rankings after potentially being the most consumed snack per capita during our Tiquipaya homestay. The inherent problem with the Mabel wafer is the lack of sabor, and while I remain a diehard supporter of the Mabel wafer, others have been quick to jump ship for the greener pastures of the Peruvian tienda game, forgetting all the Mabel wafer provided them in their times of need. Coming in sabor de chocolate, vainilla, fresa, and (only seen once – very much could have been a myth) dulce de leche, the aforementioned dearth of flavor is, granted, tough to overcome, but the simple solution is to eat two, or even three, at once, the perfect compensation station to make Mabel’s wafer a great snack choice.

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Gloria Condensed Milk: boy is condensed milk the stuff of legends. For those of us that had never had the good fortunes of probar-ing this unreal topping, that first taste was an explosion of sabor y possibilidades – what if we put this on Oreo’s (because we obviously aren’t eating enough sugar)?? What if we put some on our bland crackers to give ’em a little kick?? What if we just eat spoonful after spoonful of it plain?? But by far the best usage of condensed milk comes from Danielle, who led us into the light of the condensed milk milk with granola experience (we have found the brand Fitness to be the best granola); I have never had cereal as good as this concoction (hint: use hot water and put a little dab of mantequilla de mani – Peter Pan, honey roasted crunchy – in your granola for the ultimate flavor fiesta).

Integral Wheat crackers: putting this on as a tribute to our vegan Lotus, who swears by these crackers as the best semi-healthy alternative to the horrendous nutritional value of the rest of this list. For those of us that have been to a Mass service before, they taste similar to a Communion cracker (read: cardboard).

 

THINGS TO AVOID:
Now, it is important to preface this section with a disclaimer: our group was not very picky; in our complete desperation to snack, nearly anything was given a passing grade. Yes, we have rather strong opinions when it comes to our snacks, but unless something was truly atrocious, it would never find its way to this part of the list.

Tentaciones: just such an overall disappointing snack experience. Lacking sabor, too hard, and it just leaves the consumer with a poor taste in their mouth and their wallet knowing they just spent real, actual dinero on something so bleh.

Chomps: I am genuinely unsure what the creators of this cookie sort-of thing were thinking when coming up with this failure. I think it was supposed to be sabor naranja, but ended up just the weirdest and feeblest flavor out there; avoid at all costs.

Soda V crackers: these crackers are a slap in the face to decency. Not only is the original version the blandest thing my taste buds have ever had the disservice of probar-ing, the geniuses who invented these things decided to double down and make a plain flavor! Which is somehow blander than the original! I harbor a special resentment in my heart reserved only for Soda V crackers.

Rockette’s: full disclosure, I cannot remember the actual name of these things with certainty, but I’m pretty sure it was something like this. We tried these once, on a whim, naively and foolishly being sucked in to purchasing them (instead of Toddy’s – that decision still haunts me to this day) by the absolute lie that is their packaging. Appearing to be a galleta similar to Toddy’s, but chocolate and with M&M-like colored chocolates peppering the outside, these cookies are a direct affront to my integrity as a snack connoisseur and to the integrity of anyone with common sense.

 

Thank you to the few that continued reading to this point; you are now certifiably ready to take on any tienda you may find yourself in in Bolivia and Peru. Godspeed, and happy snacking.