Updated October 26th, 2020.
Bolivia isn’t a country typically known for its gastronomy. Every year visitors flock to South America to get their fill of Peruvian ceviche, Argentinian steaks and Chilean wine. Comparative to its neighbours, Bolivia rarely gets a look in.
Despite this, Bolivia has a few tricks up its sleeve. My boyfriend Tim and I decided to see exactly what this country has to offer in the kitchen and my gosh, it didn’t disappoint!
After scouring the internet, it seems that cooking classes in Bolivia are not as abundant as elsewhere in South America. However, during our research, we did stumble upon La Boca del Sapo in Sucre. After reading several rave reviews, we decided to try one of their cooking classes while we were in the city.
The Education Starts Here…
La Boca del Sapo require you to select your main dish from a list in advance. There are a whole host of options, including, Mondongo (pork in sweet paprika sauce), Sopa de Maní (peanut soup) and Papas Rellenas (stuffed potatoes) to name a few. Vegans and vegetarians will be pleased to know there are also dishes that cater to them which means everybody can get to experience an authentic taste of Bolivia. As well as the main dish, students of the class will also make a drink. There is the choice of a soft drink or an alcoholic drink. Naturally, Tim and I went for the national cocktail: Chuflay. All of the cooking classes at La Boca del Sapo will see the students cook the same dish which is a great way to work together for a shared aim. With our menu choices submitted, all we needed to do was wait for the date of the class to roll around.
The Class Begins
It was 6.30 pm and Tim and I were waiting outside of La Boca del Sapo. I had deliberately eaten a small lunch so that I could make the most out of the delicious treats that were in store. After a minute or two, we were greeted by owner, chef and all-around entrepreneur, Moi. He introduced himself to us and explained how he came to create La Boca del Sapo. Growing up and living in the countryside an hour and a half outside Sucre, Moi has a wide knowledge of both food and farming. Having always had a passion for cooking, he decided to take this to the masses and use his knowledge to educate tourists. He originally graduated from university in graphic design and also created his company logo which you can see on all of his custom aprons. Currently, he is studying gastronomy in university to further expand his expertise.
Welcome to the Kitchen
Upon entering Moi’s kitchen, it was quickly apparent that this was an area designed with love. The whole room was immaculately clean and organised. Moi ran through the itinerary for the evening and explained that before we started cooking, he would give us some information about Bolivian traditions. He began by showing us the traditional bread eaten on Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead). These are called Tantawawas which are traditionally decorated with porcelain so that they represent human shapes.
Bolivians believe that every year on this date, the spirits of the dead will return to their families. As a result, families will spend the day together and prepare a vast feast to honour the departed. After we had learnt about the Day of the Dead traditions, Moi moved onto explaining what kind of foods are readily available in Bolivia. If you have visited other countries in South America, it will come as no surprise to you that Bolivia boasts thousands of potato species. Moi grows the ingredients for his cooking classes at his rural home and brought a selection of his potatoes for us to try. He told us what each type of potato was, as well as where they tend to grow. It was very interesting but the highlight for me was definitely the tasting!
The dish that we would be learning to prepare in Moi’s cooking class was the Mondongo. This is not to be confused with the Colombian soup of the same name! Mondongo Chuquisaqueno is a typical dish in Sucre, although it is traditionally eaten on special occasions. This is because it is made from pork which is very expensive for local people. The typical day when Bolivians will eat Mondongo is on the Day of the Dead. This is because of the belief that the souls of departed loved ones will return to spend the day with the remaining family.
The main characteristic of the dish is the sweet paprika sauce that accompanies it, along with Imilla potatoes. Both Tim and I had been told that Mondongo is delicious and were keen to try it out. We only hoped our cooking skills would be up to scratch! Moi told us that he had boiled some stock that we would need for the recipe prior to our arrival. The stock took three hours to make so I was glad he had thought ahead prior to the class! I was given the job of slicing and deseeding the paprika while Tim finely chopped garlic. My job was fiddly but very satisfying. Traditionally, the Mondongo dish is not spicy, which was the reasoning for ditching the seeds. Once I had finished with the paprika, we put them in to boil which would make them easier to peel. During this time, Tim peeled and eyed potatoes for the dish which would later be boiled with salt.
After peeling the paprika, they were put in the blender to become the base for the sauce. Whilst I was contending with this, Tim seasoned the pork loin, ready to sear in a hot pan. Moi has a great eye for detail and was very concerned with presentation. He asked me to cut parsley finely, for decoration when it came to serving. Although I was pretty pleased with my attempt, I was shocked to see how perfectly Moi sliced the herb. After a crash course in professional kitchen etiquette, (who knew I’ve been holding a knife wrong all of these years?!) Moi poured the sauce into the pan, before letting the pork cook in the sauce. We were using a mix of loin which we had just prepared, along with breast which was boiled in the stock.
This spirit is produced only in the high valleys of Bolivia and is the national pride of the country. Similar in taste to Peru’s famous Pisco, Singani is also a product of grape. However, unlike Pisco, it has a sweet taste.
During our class, we would be learning to make the Singani Chuflay, Bolivia’s national cocktail. Only four ingredients are required for this cocktail: Singani, Ice, Lemon and traditionally Sprite, however, we replaced this for Ginger Ale to lessen the sweetness. The refreshing cocktail was pleasantly simple to make and both Tim and I really enjoyed the drink. Having tried the cocktail with Sprite previously, I definitely preferred the less sweet version that we made in the class!
If you have been in Bolivia for any time at all, chances are you will have noticed the pot of salsa provided with every meal. The local name for this is llajwa and it is a spicy accompaniment that Bolivians use for well, everything. Moi asked both Tim and me whether we liked spicy foods. Seeing the trepidation in my eyes, he guessed I wasn’t keen and therefore we used the milder green peppers in our version.
Making the llajwa was simple and involved just tomatoes, peppers and onions. We ground down the ingredients until they had changed into a mushy paste. This was harder than it looked as we used a traditional grinding stone, known as a batan. It didn’t take too long for my arms to start aching! After the salsa was complete, Moi invited us to taste. It definitely wasn’t as spicy as what I had come to expect from Bolivian restaurants as standard but it was still a little warm for me!
The Hard Work Pays Off!
After some considerable time gently bubbling, Moi informed us that the Mondongo was ready. By this time, we were all ravenous and the aromatic fragrance floating through the kitchen had done nothing to stop the worms from biting! Moi told me and Tim that he would serve so we took our cocktails and sat down at the table. We waited patiently for dinner, which appeared shortly after. The Mondongo was presented perfectly, with slivers of parsley on top to give the dish more colour. Moi joined us for dinner and we all tucked in with gusto, eager to taste the results.
The dish was mouthwatering and easily one of the best meals I have had in Bolivia. In fact, I would even go as far as to say it might be the best pork I’ve eaten! After feasting on the main, washed down by a refreshing Singani Chuflay, Moi surprised us by announcing dessert would be on its way. Just minutes later, he brought out a chocolate pancake each which was just the sweet treat that we needed to finish the meal off. As we ate, Moi recommended additional foods for us to try during our time in Bolivia and explained how different areas specialise in different dishes. We could’ve made a list with all of his recommendations and are definitely looking forward to trying some! The cooking class at La Boca del Sapo lasted around three and a half hours which was the perfect time in which to cook the Mondongo, prepare the llajwa and mix up the cocktail. The ingredients were of the highest quality and the result was truly delicious. Bolivia may not be famous for its food globally but Moi is on a mission to change that. It is, without doubt, a large undertaking but judging by the standard of the food, completely possible!