Lizet Flores de Bowen is the Bolivian culinary expert on 196 flavors.
Tell us more about your knowledge and experience when it comes to Bolivian cuisine.
I started cooking when I got married. At that time we were already living in Paraguay. My mom gave me my first cookbook, Doña Piedades, a Bolivian cookbook with a bit of international recipes. My first year of marriage I cooked from that book, trying to make all the Bolivian dishes that I could with the ingredients I could find in Paraguay.
Being away from my home country and missing all those delicious dishes made me get interested in Bolivian cuisine. My mom and her sisters have played a big role in teaching me how to cook. Every time I go back to visit Bolivia, I go with a long list of dishes I want to learn to make.
What makes Bolivian cuisine unique? What sets it apart from other South American cuisines?
Bolivian dishes vary a lot from one region to another, because Bolivia has many geographical areas and different cultural origins. However, what is similar between them is the use of common ingredients: meats, potatoes and corn. That, added to the different spices, makes each region have a different and very unique flavor.
Corn and potatoes are the most common products in Andean food, cassava and plantains in the eastern part of the country.
What is your favorite Bolivian recipe?
So hard to choose only one. But I really enjoy eating salteñas for breakfast. Salteñas are hand pies filled with chicken or beef, some vegetables, raisins, olives and eggs. The crust and the filling have a touch of sweetness that goes so well with a cup of coffee.
What is the most unusual dish in the country?
One of them is patasca. Patasca is a soup made with corn, pork and beef. It’s cooked over a wood fire overnight and is served for breakfast with a piece of boiled cassava and some chopped chili peppers. Supposedly it has the quality of curing hangovers. It’s a regular dish for New Year’s day and Carnival.
What other cuisines do you like or influence your cuisine?
I married a guy who grew up in Kenya, and he introduced me to so many different cuisines. I love big flavors, so Ethiopian, Indian and Thai are my top 3 favorites.
What places would you recommend during a visit to Bolivia?
If you are in Santa Cruz, start with breakfast at Mercadito Florida. Get some fruit salad and a salteña.
For lunch, La Casa del Camba. It has a great variety of traditional eastern Bolivian food.
Hora del té, or tea time is very important in Bolivia. Get a taxi and go to Cotoca, a town right outside of Santa Cruz, known for their horneau, pastries and other traditional desserts.
To finish up the day, head to Suarez Arana street where you’ll find pacumutos (beef or pork skewers), quail and cheesy rice.
Other than your mother or grandmother, which Bolivian chef is a reference for you?
Valentina Arteaga. She is a young chef working in La Paz city. I love how she combines traditional ingredients with non-traditional dishes, and her love for teaching kids to cook.
What are the main difficulties of Bolivian cuisine?
I think Bolivian food is easy to make. Sometimes it has too many steps, but nothing too complex. Maybe getting the right ingredients if you are abroad would be the difficult part of making Bolivian dishes.
What would you suggest if you had to prepare a Bolivian menu: starter, main course, dessert?
Starter: Fried cassava with llajua (spicy sauce)
Main course: Majadito de pato (stew-like rice with duck)
Dessert: Cherimoya ice cream