Potatos may have originated in South America but when it comes to staples, bread is right up there on the list. Some is good, some not so good. The standard breakfast offering of slightly sweet, defintely stale bread with jam is wearing a bit thin. On some of our overnights in Bolivia, we have had the luxury of sleeping in rather than leaping out of bed at 3am to avoid a miner’s blockade (which, by the way, we did not avoid and had to turn around and return to the town and indeed bed from which we had leapt only hours before.) When we’ve had the time, I’ve been on the look out for alternate breakfast arrangements. The tastiest and most convenient of these is the Tucumana or, fried Salteñas.
What is a Salteña? A Salteña is a Bolivian empanada which is actually named after the town of Salta in Argentina. The people of Salta are also known as Salteñas. Just to confuse thing a little more, if you take your Salteña fried, rather than baked, it is known as a Tucumana. For extra interest, Tucuman is also a town in Argentina but these pastries continue to be known as empanadas in Argentina itself. Like much of South America, Bolivianos do not really partake of desayuno (breakfast), other than a cup of hot mate and maybe a piece of pan tostada (toast). By morning tea though, they are after something to stave off the hunger pangs until their late lunch.
I prefer Tucumanas over Salteñas for two reasons. 1 – The pastry does not appear to be as sweet as that of the Salteña. 2 – A pastry fried in boiling hot oil is less likely to contain nasty little stomach bugs.
Tucumanas are generally made at the stand where they are purchased and eaten on the spot with a massive selection of picante salsas and relishes. There is an art to eating them, so hot juice doesn’t spurt out and scald you. Priced at around 3 Bolivianos (40c) each, these are the perfect foil to the average desayuno on offer in tourist hotels. They also make a great lunch.