WCS, together with restaurant Gustu, organized the third expedition of ‘Sabores Silvestres’. Chefs from the gourmet restaurants in La Paz, Gustu and Jardín de Asia participated, as well as biologists from Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and journalists of the Escape magazine of La Razón newspaper, the news agency EFE and El Comercio from Peru. This time, the selected sites were, Sajama National Park and the municipality of Garci Mendoza, in Oruro, towards the Bolivian southwest, in the western Andes, an arid region with cold climate, located within an elevation range between 3,700 and 4,200 masl, with volcanic peaks, planes, mountain ranges and salt lakes. Additional sites were visited along the journey such as Chairumani, an important stocking center for potato varieties, and the communities of San Cristobal and Culpina K, that are part of the circuit of the magic towns of Lípez, in Potosí. The aim, as for the two previous trips with ‘Sabores silvestres’, was to identify and revalue promising products coming from protected areas, indigenous territories and communities from the different regions of the country with potential to be used in gastronomy.
The protection of culinary heritage and conservation of biodiversity are two great challenges that will strengthen agricultural traditional practices and create bonds between economic community initiatives and gastronomic ventures with new ideas for innovation of the Bolivian cuisine, recovering native ingredients and culinary traditions. Along the more than 2,000-km journey, the chefs and biologists had the opportunity to rediscover native ingredients still used by people in the communities, although less known in Bolivia’s gastronomy. A variety of products were identified such as medicinal and food herbs, edible alga, Andean grains (specially the royal quinoa), lean meat from llama and alpaca. It was very surprising for everyone to learn about the murmunta, an algae that grows in peat bogs (wetlands) in Sajama, with a flavorful, jellied texture. Also, they got to learn about different herbs that are used as seasoning for their dishes and as hot infusions, such as the rica rica, the suico and the chachacoma. Although some species are used as traditional ingredients in the local cuisine, such as the amañoque, a holo-parasitic plant of different bushes in the highlands, among them, the thola, its current threatened situation does not allow for promoting its consumption.
Undoubtedly, preparation of traditional dishes by women in the communities was an important moment of the trip, allowing for exchange of culinary experiences and expertise with the chefs from Gustu and Jardín de Asia. The wathia, a classic dish of the Andean world, was presented as part of Sajama and Garci Mendoza cuisines. It includes llama or lam meat, cooked underground the soil, accompanied with potatoes and lima beans. In Garci Mendoza, various dishes were prepared with quinoa, such as fritters, bread, pastry and the traditional pesque. On the other hand, in San Cristobal, the traditional dish is the kalapari, made with a llama meat broth, green onion, hot pepper and mote (cooked corn). Finally, in Culpina-K, there was the chance to enjoy a variety of dishes at the local highland cafeteria called Café Úniko.
For the chefs, this trip has been a strong inspiration for creating new recipes and dishes based on the ingredients and culinary traditions from this part of the Bolivian highlands, the great landscape beauty and unique biological and cultural richness. This experience has created a great interest from several governmental institutions such as the Ministries of Culture, Planning and Rural Development, that are developing an inter-ministerial coordination instance to support similar initiatives, taking into account the support provided by Gustu and WCS.