Picante de Pollo of Bolivia

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“This might be the Atlantic City, New Jersey of all Bolivia for all you know.”

So says Robert Redford as the Sundance Kid when first arriving in rural, uncharted Bolivia in one of my favorite movies: Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid. This, and only this, is the reason why I know the country by name. And just like Butch and Sundance, Bolivia was – and remains – a place of mystery for me, something I can’t capture easily with a word or phrase.

When this is the case, I go back to the meal, and pick apart the process and impressions it made, and yet… the meal was also confusing to me. My meal did not turn out like the recipe I found, and the more research I do, the more variations I find. While each meal looks a little different, there is one common thread: Spicy chicken. This is the centerpiece of all the recipes.

It is recipes like this that make me grateful my father handed me a hot buffalo wing growing up, fresh from the grill. My palate has been, from a young age, accustomed to and thrilled by the heat spices produce. If this hadn’t been the case, I would have a much harder time with this project. There’s a running joke in our kitchen (and I’m sure, many others) that if a dish doesn’t taste great, I throw some hot sauce on it and call it good. At the Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp that Spencer and I worked for a summer, I exploded with jealousy and appreciation when fellow counselors brought mini-Tabasco bottles to the cafeteria. Ironically, it’s a forgiving ingredient that covers up poor or lack of flavors, while simultaneously being merciless when used excessively.

And yet, growing up in the Midwest, where food is creamy, smooth and salty – not spicy, acidic and bright – I still have questions about this component of cuisine. Surely, the spiciest part of our cuisine is when spice becomes sport at a Buffalo Wild Wings eating competition. But for many cultures, a spicy pepper is like a fine wine: you need a developed palette to truly appreciate the flavors. Or so says Dr. Paul Bosland, professor of horticulture at New Mexico State University. Check out his work and learn more about spice from this article of the Smithsonian. For example, you may be aware that the heat of a pepper is measured by the Scoville scale. The hottest pepper in the world, the Trinidad Scorpion Moruga Blend, hits 2 million heat units on the Scoville scale. Tabasco sauce hits a humble 2,500-5,000 heat units.

And speaking of Tabasco sauce, the famous condiment has a fascinating history, originating from the spiciest place in America: Louisiana. Since before Civil War, a salt dome, named Avery Island, sits near the Gulf of Mexico, and has been a source of political and economic power. Its salt mines fueled the Confederate soldiers when all other salt sources were lost or destroyed by the Union, prolonging the Civil War. It also happens to be the birthplace of the famous little red bottle.

For anyone reluctant in regards to spicy food, don’t throw out this meal entirely. Like most recipes, heat is easily controlled by the chef. Simply add the amount of spice your comfortable with. I followed the recipe’s directions regarding spice, and yes, it was spicy, but entirely edible and enjoyable if you’re used to a little heat. Accompanied with peas, rice, potatoes, eggs, and onions, it’s a filling dish. All the components are connected by this spicy sauce, and if you know me at all, you know I don’t mind a little heat. Unless you’re talking about summer in the desert.

Ingredient List

  • chicken
  • green peas, fresh, peeled or frozen
  • potatoes
  • rice
  • cayenne peppers, fresh or dehydrated
  • onions
  • garlic cloves
  • parsley, finely chopped
  • vegetable oil
  • salt
  • pepper
  • ground cumin
Chuño phuti
  • potato starch
  • water
  • salt
  • oil
  • onion
  • tomato
  • eggs
  • shredded cheese

Quick Quotes

Spencer: “Looks like a restaurant dish!”

Teresa: “Confusing recipe and cooking process; maybe look for a different one. But it tasted good. For people who like spice and a lot of elements in one dish.”

Trivial Trifles

  • The capital of Bolivia is Sucre
  • The primary language of Bolivia is Spanish, but the country recognizes indigenous languages as official languages as well. There are 36 in total, some of which are extinct
  • The number of languages speaks to the diversity of Bolivia; about three dozen native groups compose the population, alongside individuals with African, European, and Native American ancestry
  • Bolivia has many fascinating and beautiful geographical landmarks and landscapes, including Laguna Colorada, aka “The Red Lagoon,” Isla de Sol, and Lake Titicaca

Ensigns Explained

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  • Red, brave soldiers; Yellow, mineral deposits; Green, fertility
  • Symbol in center is the Coat of Arms: includes their national animal, the llama; the mountain, Potosi, with a mine entrance in the center; the Sun, representing the Incan sun god, Inti; rifles, for the struggle for independence; a red Phrygian cap and axe, a symbol of liberty and freedom; laurel branches, for peace; and a condor, representing a willingness to defend and protect liberties
  • Coat_of_arms_of_Bolivia.svg.png
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2 thoughts on “Picante de Pollo of Bolivia

  1. Lots of fun, interesting information! I think it’s surprising that many warmer climates seem to prefer spicy foods. It seems to me that spicy foods would add to the heat. Maybe it depends what you wash it down with?!

    Liked by 1 person

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