Location: Bolivia, highest and most remote country of South America. Home of naturally freeze-dried potatoes, the Andes, llamas galore, and a fondness for cooking EVERY part that’s at all edible.
Episode Rating: 4 Sheep Testicles (out of 4) using Aaron’s system from last week’s recap.
Summary: My immediate response to this “Bizarre Foods” episode was “Yep, Bolivia is definitely on my go-to list.” In between relishing dishes of animal innards, host Andrew Zimmern traveled widely tossing in cultural tidbits between sampling mostly soups and dried meat. The significance of llamas, bowler hats, witch doctor rituals, women’s wrestling and a traditional feast rounded out Zimmern’s eatfest.
First stop, La Paz, the world’s highest capital. Beforehand shots of sheep and lambs prancing on Bolivia’s high altitude plateaus indicated dishes to come. Here, markets are places for wandering and sampling. Zimmern bought salted pickled pigs feet straight off. The lamb jerky, he liked, although the hair still on it gave him pause. He described it as “Hard as rock… it tastes like the pile of hay the lamb sleeps on.” Perhaps, skip that and try Mocochinchi, a drink also called booger juice. Zimmern said the light peanut version tasted like peanut milk.
The food markets reminded me of Asia where choices can be overwhelming. When deciding which stalls to dip into, Zimmern suggests looking at the cook and seeing which stall looks nice. That’s worked for me.
At La Casa de los Pacenos, Zimmern feasted on: 1. Lamb kidneys–”Wow! could have used a good soaking in milk;” 2. Tripe–”as clean as any I’ve tasted, one might think it’s cold slaw”; and 3. Penis soup. Bull penis soup to be exact. “Ya have to like the rich chunky texture. . . richness of bone marrow and texture of a pear.” Well, okay if you say so. Imagine the chopping–or not.
For llama brains with tongue, sauteed in garlic sauce, Zimmern went to an artsy looking restaurant, Pronto Delicatessen. “You could put the garlic sauce this guy makes on an old tennis shoe and it would taste good, ” Zimmern proclaimed. Frankly, I’d stick with the fish served with lime called Carpaccio de Ispi.
Other Bolivian food tasting locations:
Yapacani, Santa Cruz where at a small Mom and Pop type place, Pop’ll head out the back door to kill dinner. How about well cooked armadillo and feral pig? Achachira, a fruit similar to mangosteen looked delicious, and, according to Zimmern, is indeed.
Altiplano –Up in these mountains the signature dish is naturally freeze-dried potatoes, a process that takes several days and involves skinning them by walking on them with bare feet. The result isn’t pretty and tastes earthy, but they’ll keep for 25 years. I loved this segment the best. The family featured was very sweet–the type who calm jangling nerves just by being around them.
Lake Titicaca–At the feast of Altiplano, Zimmern waxed poetic about the Quinoa dumplings, trout and corn. The landscape was gorgeous–and the feast a worthwhile stop.
Unusual cultural detail: At the Witches Market in La Paz you can get your fortune-told with cocoa leaves and buy fixin’s for a llama fetus offering. Burning one of these brings good luck.
For more episode details, Andrew’s blog can fill you in.