While many travellers on the South America circuit often omit Southern Bolivia from their itineraries, long-term backpackers are well aware of the charms of this relaxed colonial town, the constitutional capital of Bolivia.
Founded in 1538, the city flourished as a capital for a region rich in mineral reserves as an outpost for some of the Spanish mine-owners who preferred the temperate sophistication and Andalusian charm of Sucre to the desolation of nearby silver mine of Potosi.
Today, Sucre is an undoubted culinary capital where backpackers can enjoy a top class four course meal for four dollars. The influence of Europeans who have settled in Sucre over the past twenty years bringing with them a wealth of German, french and Belgian cuisine; some incredible edible delights for vegetarians and not forgetting the street food in the local market social scene and night life highly attractive to backpackers! Check out German beer-halls and French cafés along with buzzing social scene!
RTW traveller Niamh Ní Shúilleabháin went on a culinary exploration of the ‘White City of the Americas’ to see what has food lovers sweet on Sucre…
It is time for a mid-morning snack in Sucre, the constitutional capital of Bolivia and I am sitting in a courtyard patio garden close to the main square 25 de Mayo, sipping a zesty fruit juice while a murmur of locals talk about last night’s football and the forthcoming elections.
Buen provecho, my Spanish teacher Fabiola intones syllabically with gusto as she hands me my treat for the day, the locally famous Salteña, a Bolivian empanada complete with chicken, raisin, boiled egg and fresh herbs.
A Salteña and a juice for a quick morning pick-me-up.
One taste of this Salteña, with its tangy sweet sauce, relegates the countless dry, crusty, jaded empanadas I have devoured at bus stations across South America into the junior culinary league. Those in the know have cottoned on to the secret of Sucre: cheap tasty treats at backpacker-friendly prices.
Founded in 1538, Sucre flourished as a capital for a region rich in mineral reserves as an outpost for some of the Spanish mine owners who preferred the temperate sophistication and Andalusian charm of Sucre to the desolate heights of the nearby silvermine in Potosi.
Today, Sucre is the culinary capital of Bolivia, and home to a wider selection of global tastes and flavours than you would find on the dusty streets of La Paz or even in neighbouring Argentina or Peru. Walking along the pleasant and maintained colonial streets doorstepped by chalky white bell towers and churches that give it the moniker of the ‘white city of the Americas’, it is hard not to feel disorientated by its distinctly European flavour.
I had never planned to come to Sucre in the first place, so it came as a surprise when my itinerary slipped into a pleasant weekly routine of hanging out drinking Gerrman beers in Café Kultur Berlin; sipping consommé and nibbling on creme brulée in French restaurants like La Taverne as well as overindulging on Dutch waffles of Café Florin and the tasty Belgian fries of Abbis Terrace.
El Patio- a cafe renowned for a juicy empanada known locally as the saltena
However like the humble Saltena there are some other epic truly local foodie experiences that should not be missed in Sucre and like any good diet, moderation is key. After a brief infatuation with the delights of home comforts after months on the road, I follow the advice of Fabiola as well as my hosts, Tania and her husband Ebo, a German artist who settled in Sucre many years ago, to venture out to see what experiences were top of the local culinary list.
On one such culinary excursion- prompted by a practical exercise in learning how to ask for directions- Fabiola steers me around the sights of Simon Bolivar Park, a large recreational space which is more like a bizarre lilliputian shrine to the great city of lights, Paris, complete with a miniature version of the Eiffel tower and Arc de Triomphe.
Located at the entrance to the park is an ice-cream stall of much local acclaim where I am invited to try a new flavour made from Tumbo, which appears in the flesh to be like a long skinny passionfruit. It’s sweet and refreshing, and provides the ideal sugar kick to fuel a jaunt around the park while trying to conjugate Spanish verbs in the future tense.
Another essential visit on a culinary tour of Sucre is a trip- or indeed numerous trips- to the central market, a local market only blocks away from the more upmarket surroundings of the main square but much closer to home when it comes to getting an insight into daily life in the city.
Local women get down to business at the central market in Sucre, Bolivia.
For backpackers on lean budgets, a trip to the mercado at lunch time offers the option of dining local-style on wooden benches where local women serve up hearty three course feeds for less than 12 or so Bolivianos (€1.50). It’s an ideal place to people watch with farmers, businessmen and local teenagers dropping in to catch up with friends during the two hour siesta which sees many shops and restaurants shut up shop.
A three course meal for under two dollars, eating at the local market is a great way to mix with locals and taste local cooking methods.
Large sections of this labyrinthine complex are devoted solely to the sale of local produces such as bunches of plantains and bananas in varying hues to the many species of potatoes native to Bolivia. It is a fantastic place to pick up items like freshly baked breads, cheeses, meats and locally produced vegetables.
Cuts of meat are finely prepared for sale using traditional methods.
Another local custom is to hang out in what has to be the largest juice bar this side of California, where dozens of local woman layered in traditional dress, whizz up a range of fresh fruit juices in an outdoor terrace on the ground floor.
Here the tastiest and frothiest juices of every fruit from passionfruit to papaya are served with water, milk or a hangover-busting combination of malt and eggs all for less than eight or nine bolivianos.
With a menu longer than the cocktail menu of a manhattan sky bar, travellers and locals alike are never stuck for choice at the juice bar in the Central Market in Sucre.
Most importantly- for the chocolate fiends among us anyway – Sucre is also building a reputation as the chocolate centre of Bolivia with the huge development and expansion of artisan chocolate boutiques.
Chocolate purveyors Para Ti and Taboada located along the main square, are the most well known and visited shops sourcing chocolate from the north of country and specialise in selling packaged slabs of chocolate with mouth-watering flavours such as hazelnut, quinoa and rice along with truffles and sweets.
The rich chocolate of Sucre’s artisan chocolate shops brings queues to the doors every feast day.
The rich indulgence of sipping a potent cup of Bolivian hot chocolate is only just another one of Sucre’s hidden delights and is just yet another part to a vibrant dining scene that is defined by that sense of surprise that characterises only the best adventures. With no airs and no graces, Sucre’s dining scene manages to embrace all cultures and tastes and it no doubt will embrace you too.
About the Writer: Niamh Ní Shúilleabháin is an Irish blogger and writer who has travelled extensively, most recently on a solo trip around the world. You can catch her witterings and observations on all things travel at www.rtwchronicle.com.