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The People We Meet Along the Way: Bolivia

It is so often the people that you meet on your travels who inform your understanding of a place. During our recent Indagare Journey to Bolivia, we met many such individuals. Here are a few of them.

Named Latin America’s best female chef, Danish-born Kamilla Seidler established Claus Meyer’s La Paz outpost, Gustu (10, Ave Costanera, No. 300), but she also founded a social empowerment movement. Meyer’s mission, which was spearheaded by Seidler, was to celebrate and innovate around traditional Bolivian cuisine, but also to give underprivileged children a career opportunity by establishing a culinary school. Since Seidler moved to La Paz in 2013, Gustu has been named the best restaurant in Bolivia and Seidler and Meyer’s community organization, the Melting Pot Foundation, has opened 14 schools in Colombia, Peru and Bolivia and educated more than 2,000 students. Gustu acolytes have opened numerous gourmet restaurants in La Paz, including Ona (8052, Calle 16 Calacoto) and Ali Pacha (1306, Calle Colón Potosí).

“La Paz is not a pretty city, but it is unlike any other in the world,” exclaims Bolivian-born Boris Alarcon, who made his name designing for prominent brands but returned to live part-time in La Paz. Alarcón is playing a crucial role in the gentrification of the city’s historic center: his first project was creating the picture-perfect writer’s café inside one of the city’s oldest bookstores, the Writer’s Coffee (1270, Calle Comercio). Now, he has acquired a building next door to the café that will become a cultural center to be named Km. 0 (or ground zero), and another building down the street that will be a luxury design hotel, Altu Qala. The property will open later this year in a restored 1930’s building with 10 suites and a rooftop bar reserved for hotel guests. The lobby will feature 400 pieces of Murano glass from the 1960s, and the brass beds and space-age lamps in the guest rooms evoke the city’s eclectic style. Alarcón is already reviving two more nearby buildings with plans to create a spa and restaurant and bring glamour back to the center of town.

Related: Why Go Now: Bolivia

Salteñas are Bolivian–style empanadas that are generally eaten as a snack between breakfast and lunch, and La Paz residents are fiercely devoted to their favorite salteñerias, which each have their own recipes. Carmen de Fernandez, who owns Salteñeria Cervantes (342, Calle Miguel de Cervantes), keeps her salteñas (in either chicken or beef) on the smaller side and the pastry slightly sweet. Our insiders swear that hers are the best in the city. Tips: arrive before 11am to ensure she is not sold out; and a pro never spills a drop when eating the juicy pastry.

Related: Bolivia Through Photographs

One of Bolivia’s top chefs, Marco Bonifaz of Mercat (1335, Gabriel René Moren), trained at the California Culinary Institute of America and then apprenticed in the Bay Area before returning to La Paz. He has since brought his gourmet training to Bolivian cuisine and products, and is working to “recuperate” local ingredients. Sometimes referred to as the ‘King of Quinoa,’ Boniface is a champion of the local grain, which comes in more than 70 varieties. At his newest restaurant Aptapi (1335, Calle Gabriel René Moreno, 2nd floor), we were treated to a preview lunch, which included deep-fried prawns in organic black royal quinoa flakes with passion fruit coulis; springs rolls with yellow panka peppers, cheese and huacatay sauce; quinoa burgers; and cheesecake that none of us will soon forget.

Related: The People We Meet Along The Way: Rwanda 

Contact Indagare for assistance planning a trip to Bolivia. Our specialists can plan the ultimate itinerary, including world-class meals and once-in-a-lifetime activities as well as behind-the-scenes access to the country’s best sites.

– Melissa Biggs Bradley on November 16, 2017

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