Algae and medicinal herbs, "wild flavors" of the Bolivian highlands
Medicinal herbs, edible seaweed and different cooking techniques for llama and alpaca meat are some of the culinary treasures of the Bolivian Altiplano that amazed chefs and biologists who intend to revalue these products and create menus to promote sustainable consumption.
Chefs from the Gustu and Asia Garden restaurants in La Paz, together with biologists from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), came together to make the third trip of "wild flavors" and rediscover ingredients little used in the kitchens of the country.
For seven days, the last week of March, the group visited at least a dozen communities in the Bolivian departments of Oruro and Potosí, to exchange experiences with producers and inquire about little-known products of local consumption.
During this journey, they covered more than 2,000 kilometers of the southern high plateau, which goes from approximately 3,700 meters above sea level to 4,200 meters, where llamas, alpacas and an apparently arid landscape abound.
"Our goal is to support the conservation of the country's food heritage through a respectful gastronomy in which the valuable work of the producer is highlighted and the history of each product is known," Gustu communication manager Sumaya Prado told Efe .
The restaurant Gustu, driven by the Danish chef Claus Meyer and inspired by the successful Noma of Copenhagen, is on the list of the fifty best in Latin America and has the philosophy of working with ingredients grown in the country.
During the trip, the cooks were fascinated with different ingredients such as murmunta, an algae that grows in the bogs of Sajama National Park, the oldest protected area in Bolivia, near the border with Chile.
"This product I was looking for three years ago and finally I have found it, for me it has been a great joy, it is a great product besides being tasty, it has an incredible texture and it has many nutritional benefits", commented Efe Marsia Taha, chef of Gustu.
The murmunta has a black spherical shape and when chewed it has a gelatinous texture that hundreds of years ago the people of the place consumed on special occasions, commented Julio Mamani, director of the Sajama national park.
Another of the products that caught the attention was the amañoque, considered the "fruit" of the thola, a plant used for medicinal purposes, pink, that grows under the earth, is sweet inside and the inhabitants of the place They use in infusions when they have stomach and lung problems.
For Marcelo Sáenz, head chef of the Garden of Asia restaurant, which combines the native ingredients of Bolivia with Asian cuisine, the amañoque was the product that generated more interest to study and implement it in the next menu inspired by the highlands.
However, the botanist Freddy Zenteno, associated with the National Herbarium of Bolivia, warned that this little known product in the country is listed as "threat", so the cooks decided to discard its use.
In the same way they were amazed by the aromas and the versatility of the use of herbs for medicinal use such as Chachacoma, the suico and the rich rich, which are present in communities like San Cristóbal, in Potosí.
The chefs exchanged knowledge and experiences with local chefs, with which they saw ancestral techniques to prepare llama and alpaca meat, very consumed throughout the area.
Some women cook llama and lamb meat under the ground, a technique known as wathia, accompanied by potatoes and beans.
Others use stones to heat a typical broth of the San Cristóbal community called kalapari, based on llama and motes.
For his part, the director of WCS, the Englishman Robert Wallace, emphasized to Efe the importance of these meetings between producers and chefs to generate opportunities for the communities and to recognize the value of their products and the importance of the conservation of the place.
The two previous expeditions were in the north of La Paz and near the Madidi, where they used products such as a beetle larva to make an ice cream or paiche meat, a fish from the Amazon, for menus inspired by those regions.
According to the chefs, these menus have had a strong impact on diners and now the new challenge is to create dishes based on the ingredients found in the highlands.