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Amazonian Cuisine from the Bolivian Low-lands

June 8, 2020

Geographical context, protagonists, haute cuisine, chefs of international stature. Popular cuisine and typical dishes. Support projects.

Bolivia’s Amazonian gastronomy differs somewhat from the rest of the countries because it is influenced by the food of the basin, and the cultural brand of the native indigenous peoples, who have inhabited the basin for millennia, as well as the “aggregated” indigenous peoples, such as the Aymara and Quechua, who have migrated to the Amazon, especially since the twentieth century, spreading their culinary uses and products in the region.


Geographical context

Bolivia is one of the most important Amazonian countries in terms of territorial coverage, even though it corresponds to only 11.1% of the total surface area of the basin. However, people usually perceive the country as Andean.

The Amazonian portion covers, depending on the geographical criteria used, between 43 and 65% of the country’s total territory.

The Bolivian territory is generally divided into two large, almost equal blocks: the highlands (the altiplano and the inter-cordillera valleys), and the lowlands (where the Amazon is located).

The geographical definition of the country is very imprecise and depends on the source used, even by official sources, which include some departments as Amazonian, and in other cases not.

Which regions include the Bolivian Amazon?

This is the case of the north of Cochabamba, as well as the department of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, with its capital, Santa Cruz de la Sierra, which has more than 1.5 million inhabitants, and which some include partially in the Amazon, due to its enormous extension, which exceeds 300,000 km2, an area larger than the whole of Ecuador.

Some, with the intention of being more precise, consider that, strictly speaking, the Amazonian portion covers only the departments of Beni and Pando, and the northern parts of the departments of La Paz and Cochabamba.

There is a great wealth of biodiversity resources there, although according to specialists it does not possess the richness attributed to the mega-diverse South American countries, such as Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela and Brazil.

Why is Bolivia included in the Amazon River Basin?

Bolivia belongs to the Amazon basin because its large rivers, such as the Madera, the largest in the region, and others such as the Mamoré, the Iténez and the Madre de Dios, are incorporated into large tributaries of the Amazon River .

It shares, then, with the other countries of the basin, the water sources, the forest, the climate and the soils, as well as the same plant and animal foods.

Protagonists of the Amazonian gastronomy of Bolivia

In the Bolivian Amazon there are no large cities which could stimulate the development of Amazonian markets and restaurants of a certain importance, except for small popular restaurants that offer meals with ingredients from the jungle and rivers. Although, some regional reports indicate that freshwater fish is not highly valued in Bolivia, except for some species such as pirarucú or paiche, surubí and catfish.

The most consumed meat is that of the crocodile or caiman (Caiman yacare ), called matasha aidha, which can be eaten roasted, fried, baked, and even raw in ceviche.

The caiman is marketed by an indigenous Tacana cooperative, made up of some 40 families living in the Amazonian area in the north of the department of La Paz.

This association has been working since 2007, with the support of the WCS (Wild Conservancy Society) and the Bolivian government in a conservation program for the animal, which has been decimated by illegal hunting.

Haute cuisine in the Amazonian gastronomy of Bolivia

Restaurants self-qualified as Amazonian are few, relatively recent, and are located in large cities, such as Cochabamba; for example, El Tábano, created in 2017, and owned by the agronomist engineer René Ibáñez.

But there are cooks who are conscious of promoting the abundance of products of the regional flora and fauna, applying, as is also usual in other Amazonian countries, modern techniques for the use of Amazonian products.

Such dishes in Bolivian Amazonian haute cuisine include: asaí fettuccini, pickled caiman with watermelon rind, or grilled paiche with romesco sauce.

Or venadoli, urina or deer meat, mixed with black quinoa, spinach, and Amazonian walnuts that cover a puff pastry dough.

Chefs of stature promoting Bolivian Amazon Gastronomy

There are chefs of the stature of Kamilla Seidler, Gabriela Prudencio, Pamela Flores, Kenso Hirose, Pedro Guereca or Sergio Chávez who offer Amazonian culinary preparations conscious of the need to preserve the Amazon and its sustainability, while respecting the rights and well-being of the Amazonian indigenous peoples.

In the city of La Paz, a great event is held: The Amazon Gastronomic Forum, which has several editions.

This event is organized by the School of Hotel Management and Tourism (EHT) of La Paz, and has been attended by outstanding chefs such as Pedro Miguel Schiaffino (Peru), Eduardo Martínez (Colombia), Juan José Aniceto (Ecuador), Rafael Da Silva (Brazil), Carlos García (Venezuela) and others.

Popular cuisine in the Amazonian gastronomy of Bolivia

A little more unique is the popular Amazonian cuisine of insects such as tuyu tuyu (which is the suri or chontacuro, the larvae of the beetle Rhynchophorus palmarum) skewered and fried, accompanied by Amazonian honey.

Or the fried tujo or cepe culón culón (the bachaco or culona ant of the genus Atta, abundant in Colombia and Venezuela).

Projects to support the development of Amazonian gastronomy in Bolivia

The Amazon was, for Bolivia, the backroom of the country, and it was not until after the indigenous march for territory and dignity in the mid-1990s that the whole country began to take its Amazon into account.

Since then, entrepreneurship projects have been carried out in Bolivia, such as Madre Tierra Amazónica, promoted by the Association of Agroforestry Producers and Entrepreneurs, which seeks to commercialize in the Bolivian market some products from the Amazon rainforest, such as copoazú, asaí, majo, tamarind, carambola and acerola pulp.

Beautiful books on the Amazonian theme are published in Bolivia, such as “Green Gastronomy,” promoted by the Gustu restaurant (founded in La Paz by the Danish businessman Claus Meyer, with the advice of the great chef René Redzepi), the Wild Conservancy Society and the Bolivian Ministry of Environment and Water, with the collaboration of the Civil Support Fund of the Danish International Development Agency (DANADI).

This post is also available in: Español (Spanish)