Our friend Elisa, who we met in Lima, introduced us to her friend Coral who does street food tours in La Paz! So we went out last night and even though it was a bit cold and a bit rainy we had a great time. She came by in her car, with her son to translate, and took us to a half dozen street food places. It was interesting that all of the shops and stands are run by women.
First stop was a roast pork sandwich place run by two sisters and billed as “El Mejor Sándwich De Chola De La Paz “Doña Paula” (The best Chola Sandwich in La Paz “Doña Paula”) This same stand has been in operation for 53 years, and they only serve one thing. A roast pork leg sandwich called a sándwich de la chola. Cholas are native Aymara or Quechua women who wear distinctive dresses, petticoats, and hats. Anyway these sandwiches are slices of roast pork leg, crispy skin, onion and carrot escabeche, and a handmade salsa ají. These sandwiches are so delicious! They go through about ten roast pork legs a day, starting around 4pm and finishing when the pork runs out – usually 8 or 9pm.
Next up was Doña Elvira’s Sándwich de Chorizo that is a handmade sausage of four meats (beef, pork, alpaca, and I’m not sure what), served on a fresh bun. Sadly we arrived as they were cleaning up, but we’ve got the location, and we’ll be back. I’ll update this when we do.
Today we went back. It’s a tiny little shop located in the Mercado Lanza just north of Plaza San Francisco. There’s a bench along one wall with a half dozen seats, and a dozen or so more seats around it outside. It’s super popular with people standing around eating their sandwiches. The one thing they serve is a chorizo (sausage) sandwich. You have a choice of two kinds of bread, a choice of garnishes (escabeche, lettuce, vegetables), and a choice of sauces (mayonnaise and/or mustard).
Tripa is beef tripe cooked in a giant enameled metal pan over a gas fire. It ends up partially fried and partially braised and entirely delicious. Succulent savoury umami juices coating slippery chewy meaty tripe with slices of potatoes. It’s served on little plastic plates covered with tiny plastic bags while you sit around the cart on plastic stools. This is a quintessential “after the clubs” dish to soak up excess alcohol. We like it even without the alcohol.
Bolivian anticuchos (grilled beef heart) are smaller and thinner than Peruvian anticuchos. The most famous place to get anticuchos in La Paz is at mercado “Las Velas.” We visited, but our host had a bad experience with a mouse here so she wouldn’t let us eat anything. However Las Velas was already on my list of place to visit so I’ll be back. There’s another excellent anticuchos cart right up the street from where we’re staying, but by the time we got there we were so full we couldn’t eat anything more, so that’s also on the list for a return visit.
Apparently the anticuchos cart near where we’re staying is quite famous! Whenever I mentioned “anticuchos” and “Sopocachi” (our neighborhood) people all said to visit this cart. So we did. It’s a wood fired grill with a big flaming oil lamp on it. You can get one skewer (simple) or two (doble) with potatoes and optionally spicy peanut sauce (mani). It’s 9 bs for a doble served in a plastic tray with a toothpick.
The anticuchos are, unsurprisingly, delicious. While thinner than Peruvian anticuchos they were flavorful and tender and the potatoes and sauce made a nice accompaniment. Two skewers were enough for us for dinner, but we weren’t that hungry.
The cart has flattened boxes spread around it to protect the sidewalk from drips by the crowd surrounding the cart. The are dramatic flaming flare-ups every time new skewers are added or turned, which is a lot of fun.
Riñoncitos al jugo or braised kidneys are another classic late night after club snack. During an earlier discussion of anticuchos we had asked about other kinds of offal. Once Coral knew we liked organ meats she lit up and we got to visit all the less well known street food carts serving offal. This one, like most stands, serves just one dish – braised kidneys in their own juice (no not that juice.) The kidneys were well prepared, clean and not overcooked. They were served with a deep fried egg, shredded carrot, and an optional spicy salsa.
Api and Pastel
We were near the traditional Christmas Fair fairgrounds, where they sell api y pastel. Api is a traditional drink of the Bolivian Andes, it’s made with purple corn, sugar, cinnamon and cloves. It reminds me a little of the Peruvian chicha morada except that it’s much thicker and served warm. There are two versions purple and white depending on which corn you use to make it. It’s traditionally served with pastel which is a thin light crispy cheese empanada. The stands also sell another warm sweet corn drink tojori that I want to try. Apparently one of the best carts for api is right near where we’re staying so we’ll have to give them a visit.
Besides the places we visited on our tour, we see lots of people selling sateñas on the street, and lots of salteñarías in the neighborhood. A salteña is a small meat filled pastry, similar to an empanada. The filling can be nearly anything, chicken, beef, pork, cheese, spicy, or not spicy. They’re usually quite juicy, and are baked in a very hot oven which gives them their characteristic dark brown ridge on the top. If we were staying in La Paz longer I might try getting everyone’s recommendation for the best salteñería and trying them all, but as it is we’ve tried a few in the neighborhood. They make a nice comforting warm snack but the sauce tends to be a bit sweet for my taste.
We tried one ceviche cart while we were out walking around. It was pretty good! It had all the usual ingredients, fish, seafood, choclo (giant corn), cancha (parched corn), and camote (sweet potato.) Wasn’t earth shattering but it was tasty and we didn’t suffer any ill effects from eating “raw” fish on the street.