A great way to learn about new cultures is through the tasting of their cuisines. Bolivian salteñas are hard to locate in many parts of the US, but we found them. We share our tasting experience and explore how to visit the Bolivian Salt Flats, one of the most romantic looking places to visit in South America to help inspire you in planning a Bolivian romantic adventure.
Leslie absolutely loves Bolivian salteñas, one of the countries signature food items. Bolivian’s are the third smallest Hispanic group in the United States with a population around 100,000. But, the highest concentration of around 40% live in the Washington D.C. metro where Leslie lived for six years. She has been telling me about how tasty the salteñas are since I met her and we finally ventured out to find them in Los Angles.
Despite LA’s diversity in cultures, we could only find one restaurant that specialized in Bolivian food and served salteñas within an hour drive radius. I suspect you may have trouble finding authentic Bolivian salteñas near you. The restaurant we found called Bebas is located in the San Fernando Valley or just the “valley” as local LA people say.
What are Bolivian Salteñas?
Salteñas resemble baked empanadas but are more football shaped than flat. They are savory pastries and you can choose to fill them with beef, pork, or chicken with a sweet and sometimes spicy sauce. Often they are filled with other ingredients such as peas, eggs, olives, raisins, and potatoes.
Saltenas may be considered a street food, but they are extremely popular in Bolivia and there can be long lines to get them fresh from the oven before they sell out by mid-day.
Bolivian salteñas may have been created by an Argentinian, Juana Manuela Gorriti. The story is that Gorriti fled the dictatorship of Juan Manuel de Rosas in the early 19th century and arrived in Bolivia. She was born in Salta, Argentina, and to help her family survive she decided to sell her version of the empanada. She later became the wife of a Bolivian President.
How To Make:
Bolivian Salteñas are baked in a high heat hot oven after all the ingredients are added. But first, they refrigerated. This process allows the stew like ingredients to harden with gelatin so it melts when baked and does not make the pastry soggy. You can find a recipe here.
How to eat them:
The trick to eating them is to hold them upright, nibble the top corner and work your way down without spilling any of the hot juices. A Bolivian salsa named Llajua usually comes on the side.
Some Bolivians can eat their Salteñas with one hand, however, beginners may want to use a spoon.
We read reviews on Yelp regarding the restaurant Bebas, the one place that sold salteñas within the greater LA area and were prepared for the experience. The reviews warned us that the service left a lot to be desired, but the food was excellent. The reviews could not be more accurate.
The salteñas themselves were excellent and I loved the sweetness of them compared to an empanada We ordered a chicken and beef one each. They tasted as good as Leslie remembered from back in the Washington D.C. area. She ate them exactly as a Bolivian by biting off the top and working her way down. I, of course, made a mess with the spoon. But, hey it was my first time!
We did not expect the actual Bolivian salteñas to be kind of small. Leslie remembered them being larger and that is why we only ordered two each. I actually tried to order a couple of other things from the menu to try different food items from the Bolivian cuisine. The waitress told us that the owner and chef would not make us other items I asked for from the menu. She just didn’t feel like it!
As I mentioned, we were warned by the reviews that the service wasn’t spectacular. The waitress was sweet, but overall I didn’t feel very welcomed to the restaurant. I don’t want to read into it too much because there was a language barrier and in the end, it was a blessing. Leslie and I were forced to leave still hungry resulting in discovering a Salvadorian restaurant down the road. We’ll have more to share about that experience in an upcoming post.
The salteñas may be enough to plan a visit to Bolivia. But, we’ve found another reason that may provide inspiration for your next romantic adventure.
The Bolivian Salt Flats:
Bolivia is a South American country located in the central part of the continent and completely landlocked by the neighboring countries of Argentina, Paraguay, Peru, Chile, and Brazil.
While there are a lot of things to do and see in Bolivia besides just eating Salteñas, including driving on what is known as the World’s Most Dangerous Road, it is the Salt Flats that may stand out most as a must visit to be added to your bucket list.
Bolivia Largest International Airport
Salar de Uyuni
Uyuni Salt Flats (Salar de Uyuni):
Uyuni is a city located in the southwest part of Bolivia that has become mostly known for the nearby salt flats. The salt flats are the world’s largest at over 4,000 square miles, which is larger than both Rhode Island and Delaware. When there you are literally a speck in its enormous vastness. You should probably pack your own Bolivian salteñas for when you get there.
The salt flats were formed as a result of transformations between several prehistoric lakes. It is covered by a few meters of salt crust, which has an extraordinary flatness with the average elevation variations within one meter over the entire area of the flats, which makes you able to see very far distances.
The crust serves as a source of salt and covers a pool of brine, which is exceptionally rich in lithium. It contains more than 50% of the world’s known lithium reserves, which is in the process of being extracted. It is also a major breeding ground for flamingos.
People who have visited describe it as a surreal experience. It certainly looks that way from the pictures and unlike almost any place I’ve seen on earth. It is as if you are on an alien planet out of the Twilight Zone.
Resources To Plan Your Trip:
Most likely you will be trying to reach the Salt Flats from the major international airport of La Paz. Some planning is recommended before your trip to determine how you will reach Uyuni through tours or public transportation.
Here are some resources to help:
- I met tour operators from Banjo Tours at the LA travel show that were helpful in telling me about Bolivia and the journey required to get to the Salt Flats. I’ve had no personal experience using them at the time of this post.
- The Bolivian Life site has a lot of great information to plan your entire trip including recommendations for getting to Uyuni.
- Check out the blog Flora the Explorer for an interesting take on her personal experience and tips on visiting. I absolutely love her pictures, especially the one with the Dora the Explorer toy at the Salt Flats.
- The Zika virus is still a threat throughout parts of the world. Make sure you check the latest updates from the Center for Disease Control and US government.
Bolivia is definitely high on Leslie’s bucket list because of her personal love for salteñas, flamingos, and the opportunity to photograph the Salt Flats. From what I’ve read it is potentially a long journey to get there. But, there is also a lot to see in between. Visiting and experiencing the beauty and vastness of the Flats definitely peaks my interest as well as the other natural wonders and cultural experiences of the country. The other benefit is that you can eat Bolivian salteñas every day!
Have you been to Bolivia or the Salt Flats? If so, please share your experiences and any tips for visiting. Also, what are your thoughts on Bolivian Salteñas if you have tried them?