Eating my way through Santa Cruz’s food scene at the fair.
It’s not just during the sweltering summer months of February and March when Carnaval celebrations are in full swing that Bolivia’s eastern lowlands put on their party faces. All throughout September, the tropical metropolis of Santa Cruz de la Sierra springs to life with yet another full month of block parties and citywide festivities, all in honor of their roots.
This year marks Santa Cruz’s 204 th year celebrating their first victory in the quest for independence from the Spanish and to commemorate, the modern city is paying respect to their culture’s past with festivals full of traditional flair and beginning with a fair.
While Santa Cruz locals, known as cruceños , kicked off the month enjoying their 26 th fair in honor of Día de la Tradición Cruceña (Cruceña Tradition Day) with regional games and dances, I focused on sampling the city’s local cuisine from one food cart after another. As they say after all, one way to reconstruct social history is through a culture’s recipes.
Bolivian cuisine revolves around the country’s main staples: potatoes, rice, corn and beans. They’re big meat eaters and incorporate barbecues into nearly every event. While the food is a mix of Spanish and native flavors, cooking styles vary greatly from region to region, even within the cities. Cambas , referring to those born in the eastern lowlands, are fans of full, hearty meals comprised of ingredients growing in the tropics. Let’s take a look at the most common dishes of Santa Cruz.
To start, nothing beats the tropical heat like somó frío , a white-corn juice flavored with cove and cinnamon, or mocochinchi , a sweet, dehydrated peach cider also flavored with cinnamon. These beverages are typically sold out of large clay pots. Another traditional beverage of both the alcoholic and non-alcoholic varieties includes chicha , a fermented corn drink popular throughout much of Central and South America.
Sucumbé is a foamy, milk and egg-based beverage spiked with Singani , a variety of grape brandy deemed Bolivia’s national liquor as it’s only produced here in the Andes. The beverage is traditionally served warm as it’s a popular drink during the festival of San Juan (summer solstice and Aymara New Year), a celebration of the coldest day of the year in the southern hemisphere.
When it comes to cruceño cusine, majao is the neighborhood dish and local favorite. Also referred to as majadito , this Santa Cruz specialty is prepared with either dehydrated chicken, duck, beef or shredded jerky mixed in a bed of seasoned rice and topped with a fried egg and garnished with fried plantains. Some prefer a drier version with toasted rice while others opt for a soup-like version, as pictured above.
Anticuchos are the Quechua equivalent of kebabs popular throughout the Andes of Peru and Bolivia. Skewered meat, most often beef or pork, is marinated in vinegar, seasoned with ají pepper, and grilled over street carts and throughout market stalls. Cow’s heart served with yucca (cassava root much like a potato) is a common variant of this dish in Santa Cruz.
Very traditional to Santa Cruz, cuerillo de chancho is thinly sliced pig skin marinated in vinegar, cut into squares, and served with an onion and tomato salad. As you may tell through the photos, it’s a juicy, rubbery-textured dish definitely worth a try.
While not a typical dish in the traditional sense, chancho al palo (literally meaning pig on a stick) is a fair main attraction drawing the attention of crowds eager to enjoy the pork roasting over a giant charcoal pit.
That should about hold me over until the next round of fair food, and there’s plenty more to come!