One of only two landlocked countries in South America, Bolivia once enjoyed a rather pleasant coastline. Until, that is, a late 1800s conflict saw the nation’s Pacific shores fall into Chilean hands. But then who needs the sea when you have the Rio Grande; half of the highest navigable lake in the world and the Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest slat flat?
With mountains in the west and flatlands to the east, Bolivia is divided by its terrain. And that means a huge variety of weather. The Andean region has an almost polar climate, while large parts of the eastern flats are covered by extensive rainforest. And these wild differences give Bolivia an incredible biodiversity: with 17,000 species of seed plants, 2,900 animal species, and roughly 14 per cent of birds known to the world.
This diversity extends even to the human population: the roughly 11-and-a-half million residents speak more than 30 official languages, and three dozen native groups comprise approximately half of the Bolivian population. And what they’re all eating when they’re at home is most likely silpancho.
A typical, popular food which originated in the city of Cochabamba, silpancho is a multi-layered dish that’s heavy on the fat and carbs. There’s a base of white rice, followed by a few boiled potatoes, and a thin layer of schnitzel-style meat. And then on top of the meat you get chopped tomato, a mix of onion, beet and parsley, and finally a couple of fried eggs. And though this is usually a stand-alone dish, you might also find it in the form of a trancapecho, in which all the ingredients are wrapped up in a tortilla.
In that Bolivia produces over 4,000 kinds of potatoes and is considered to be the origin of common beans, peppers and chili peppers, you’d expect a few more local ingredients in silpancho. But then you get salteñas (savoury pastries filled with meat, potatoes, and beans in a super spicy sauce); the chola sandwich (stuffed with ham and seasoned with chili); and aji de fideos, a combination of noodles, potatoes, ground chilies, ground meat, and various local veg.