Getting Stuck In to Sucre’s Food Scene

You might not have noticed, but my travels have been slowing down again somewhat since I reached Bolivia. Not to say they're ending – not by a long shot! – but I'm choosing to spend a lot longer in each place I travel to.

First I spent almost five weeks in La Paz, and now I've lived a full month in Sucre. But while I moved around a lot in La Paz – two weeks in a hotel, two weeks at a homestay while working at the limb clinic, and a final week at the Allkamari retreat – Sucre has been the complete opposite.

One of the many gorgeous churches in Sucre

Sucre is a traveller's dream. This Bolivian city boasts a constant spring-like climate, holds the reputation of being really safe, and is absolutely gorgeous to boot – filled with happy strolling couples, palm trees, wide shaded plazas, and white churches on every corner.

(It's actually extremely similar to Cuenca – and there's a reason why I lived there for five months…)

As a result, Sucre is the perfect place for travellers to stay put for a while. And in a month of living here, I've been lucky enough to score my own apartment – complete with kitchen, bathroom, balcony, courtyard, and a rotation of lovely flatmates.

Putting down temporary roots in Sucre

After ten months of travelling in South America, staying in hostels, hotels, homestays, and on the occasional friend's couch, I hadn't quite realised how much I missed having a place to call my own. It's one thing to have access to all the comforts of someone's home, but there's nothing like the luxury of feeling really settled.

I walked down this street every day on my way to volunteering. Not a bad commuting route!

I moved into the apartment with two friends from La Paz, and when they both ended up having to leave, I invited a new Sucre-based friend to take their place. Josh and I took the 'living like a local' thing very seriously; cooking when we wanted, leaving various possessions lying around, hosting dinner parties, and occasionally just chilling out and falling asleep in front of the small TV.

But despite settling into a bit of a Bolivian routine, there was a very specific theme running through my life in Sucre. Somehow, every day ended up being focused around food.

Eating all the food in Sucre

South America is always lauded for its vast range of fresh produce, and up until now I loved visiting local markets – but it was mainly just for the experience.

Heading to Sucre's central market, however, was an almost daily occurrence; picking up ingredients for dinner, and chatting with the same stall owners as they threw vegetables into my outstretched bag.

Buying vegetables was often preceded by actually locating the seller in amongst her produce...

While I often tend to over-romanticise this kind of thing – you know, the whole “I'm going to make friends with all the people in the market and they're going to remember me forever!” kind of thought process – my daily wanders through the Mercado Central have actually been remarkably close to the concept.

The closest I've ever come to feeling like I belong in a place like this.

Sadly Bolivian mozzarella doesn't taste like it should...

In fact, the entirety of my Sucre foodie experience can be best explained by breaking down our daily eating patterns.

It's gone something like this.

Breakfast: in the market

Every morning we found our feet leading us to the market. I had work, Josh had Spanish classes, so a brief breakfast was ideal – and the market offers a range of options. There are hot salteñas filled with carne, vegetables and gravy from a tiny stall clustered with people on the ground floor – a bag of two (one to eat there, one to eat while walking) is only 7 bolivianos, or 70 pence.

Fresh salteñas: cheap, delicious, and with an optional spoon if you're a messy eater.

If we had a little more time, we headed up the stairs to the real heart of the market; either for a bowl of papa rellenas, a ball of fried mashed potato with egg, meat or vegetables in the centre, topped with spicy onion and tomato sauce, or for empanadas de queso from the friendliest and loudest woman in the surrounding area.

Both dishes come with a quick scout for spare wooden stools to sit on, or spoons are scraped around our bowls while we stand and chat.

Empty tables in the market: soon to be filled with bustling Bolivians.

Breakfast is a community affair. I noticed the same groups of people arriving separately but eating together; companionable silence reigning, as everyone concentrated on the task at hand. After finishing my bowlful, I usually ended up looking out across the market floor, already heaving with customers before 9am.

The ever-busy Sucre central market.

Lunch: in a restaurant

One of my favourite elements of South America is the menu del dia – and I'm honestly not sure how I'm going to handle lunchtimes without it.

The menu is the common choice for locals which usually makes it a fraction of the price of more tourist-friendly dishes – plus the amount of food you're served is ridiculous. A bowl of soup, a segundo of meat, vegetables and rice, followed by a postre and accompanied by a glass of whatever juice they have on offer.

Wobbling gelatine square with sprinkles? Why ever not?

As always, there's a wonderful sense of community during lunch. People walking past your table will wish you “buen provecho” (the Spanish equivalent of “bon appetite”), and often you'll find yourself sharing a table with other diners.

The food is ultimately secondary to the company you're keeping, and it's hard not to adopt the same Bolivian courtesies. Ordering a bottle of Coke to go with your food? Automatically ask for a few more glasses and offer them to the father and daughter sitting beside you. It's sad how strange this would feel back in England, but in South America it's fast becoming second nature to befriend everyone.

Mid afternoon snacks: anywhere

In Sucre particularly, there are a number of touristy cafes and bars to hang out in (free wifi is usually a huge draw for their visitors!). The city centre is wonderfully small, and you'll often spot the same faces in your favourite places.

Fresh lemonade with essence of wooden spoon at Mirador cafe.

Day after day, I ended up with jug of cold lemonade at the Mirador cafe, lying back in a deckchair and looking over the city; drinking a super strong coffee at Metro; sipping on chilled out smoothies at Flavour; picking up a sneaky bag of chocolate covered peanuts from Para Ti; and spending a vast amount of my afternoons in the Condor Trekkers cafe, with a cup of 'special' hot chocolate, going through my Spanish notes or catching up on some work.

Dinner: cooking in the apartment

Cooking is one of the things I miss the most when travelling. Despite many hostels having relatively good kitchens, they're usually cramped and busy, and there's little likelihood you'll be able to cook the way you want. Plus, staying only a few days in one location before moving on significantly lessens the type of meals you cook.

My go-to shopping list when travelling is usually pasta, tuna, an assortment of vegetables, tomato puree, onions, garlic, eggs, bread – but you're not going to make too many different recipes with those ingredients.

This is when you realise you don't know the Spanish names for half the world's herbs & spices...

So it's safe to say that my cooking imagination seriously depletes when travelling – but the luxury of our own kitchen in Sucre was too good to waste. Add in Josh's passion for cooking, and the apartment soon became a hub of kitchen activity.

Over the course of a month, we churned out steaks, caramelised onions, chicken and leek pie, Moroccan green beans and garlic lentils. The blender was in almost constant use as a result of daily banana, honey, yoghurt and milk smoothies. Our kitchen table became a home for spare cloves of garlic and onion skins, bottles of fresh honey, and the last vestiges of flour from my triumphant first attempt at making pastry from scratch.

Not going to lie, I'm pretty damn proud of that pastry.

Such intensive cooking endeavours do, of course, call for constant ingredients.

We ended up in the market most afternoons for some reason or another; sometimes to grab some vegetables or find a sharper knife, sometimes to buy some fresh yoghurt, decanted from huge buckets into a bottle we brought with us, and sometimes just for a bottle of a tiny old lady's suggested red wine, the type of which changed each time we visited her stall.

And every single week, we also needed to buy a chicken.

Sucre's infamous Thursday Chicken Night

The beginning stages of roast chicken deliciousness.

I can't remember the last time I threw a dinner party. It's simply not something you're able to do on the road. But the day Josh moved in, he suggested we cook a huge spaghetti bolognese and have some friends round for a house warming: dinner party style.

The evening was such a success that we wanted to do it again, and ended up cooking a full roast chicken dinner three times for various people. Always on a Thursday, and always accompanied by guest-brought wine and dessert.

Cutlery for eating at said dinner party was optional.

Further exploring of the city's food offerings

On the rare occasions that cooking got too much for us, we headed out to see what Sucre's restaurants had to offer. After some careful weeding out of the less positive places, we found ourselves dining on freshly made pasta in Tentaciones, chatting with Abis Patio's incredibly friendly restaurant owner over barbecue burgers, and the most delicious piece of steak I've ever eaten at a tiny churrasqueria near the bus station.

A restaurant unknown by Lonely Planet or TripAdvisor, and probably all the better for it.

Bolivian meat counters: hygiene levels that would never be permitted in Europe!

Eventually, expanding our market horizons was necessary too.

The Mercado Central was put aside in favour of the Mercado Campesino – filled with stoically silent women sitting on the floor with their produce, old men with huge bags of coca leaves, young girls fast asleep at their meat counters – and Mercado de Pescados, where we feasted on fried freshwater fish, priced according to size and served up at plastic tables with baked potatoes, fat pieces of corn and a no-cutlery policy.

Frying fish at the Mercado de Pescados.

Filled to the brim with Sucre's foodstuffs

There's no doubt in my mind that my memories of Sucre will always be inextricably related to food. Not to mention the realisation that there's a lot more to South American cuisine than the standard 'meat-rice-potato-vegetables' combo.

Anything and everything for sale in sucre's Mercado Campesino. Finding exactly what you want may be an issue.

But it's also made me even surer that staying in apartments, shopping locally and cooking in your own kitchen is one of the greatest privileges you can have while travelling. After a month in my own space, I was relaxed, reenergised, and ready to heave on my backpack and start travelling properly in the hostel environment again.

Sometimes, having a little touch of home in a strange place can make all the difference.

 

About Flora

Flora Baker is the founder and editor of Flora the Explorer, where she writes about her travels around the world, her volunteering exploits and her ongoing attempt to become fluent in Spanish by talking to anyone who'll listen. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus.

, , , , , , ,

27 Responses to Getting Stuck In to Sucre’s Food Scene

  1. Sally December 5, 2013 at 4:39 am #

    Aw, lovely. I really miss that sharing, friendly atmosphere from my travels in Argentina… makes me want to book my plane ticket back. And Sucre sounds like an incredible place to visit.

    Also, thank goodness I just ate lunch or I’d be foaming at the mouth right about now. YUM.

    • Flora December 19, 2013 at 3:57 pm #

      The sharing and community attitude towards food is probably one of my most favourite aspects about South America. I’m going to have to force English people to do the same whenever I head back to home territory!

  2. Audrey December 5, 2013 at 1:58 pm #

    We didn’t spend nearly as much time in Sucre as you did, but still enjoyed the markets and feel of the place. And although we didn’t have our own kitchen, we did do quite a lot in the hostel kitchen thanks to everything available at the markets. I’m with you on becoming addicted to menu del dia – freshly cooked and a great deal.

    • Flora December 19, 2013 at 3:58 pm #

      I’m going to miss the Sucre markets so much! Glad you agree with me on the menu del dia obsession, Audrey :)

  3. Naomi December 9, 2013 at 12:39 am #

    I agree, there’s nothing quite like settling in to a new place for a month (or a few) and regaining a bit of normalcy during your travels. Thanks for sharing your side of Sucre with us :)

    • Flora December 19, 2013 at 3:59 pm #

      It’s even nicer to realise that it doesn’t take much to foster that feeling of normalcy somewhere new, however far away you might be!

  4. Naomi January 2, 2014 at 9:34 am #

    Every time i travel and find settles somewhere, i always hope and wish to find great food. And when the food is sweet, it makes me feel at home and this determines how long i will spend my time there. Thanks for sharing this. Hope to visit Sucre some day! :)

    • Flora January 18, 2014 at 11:18 pm #

      Good food definitely makes you feel more at home! Hope you make it to Sucre too Naomi!

  5. Linzi February 6, 2014 at 2:23 pm #

    Plenty of food for thought and a fascinating insight into South American food and culture. Somewhere for the wish list!

    • Flora February 7, 2014 at 12:13 pm #

      Food for thought indeed, Linzi!

  6. Brigid February 6, 2014 at 5:52 pm #

    How great is the food scene in Sucre! I’ve been living here with my husband for 3 months now, and the quality of restaurants has really surprised me. Our apartment is right next to Mirador Cafe so we tend to have a cheeky glass of wine there if it’s a sunny arvo. We also have at least one tucumana a week from Condor cafe…I’m vegetarian so am a regular at that place. I haven’t eaten from the market yet, but after reading this post, think I’m going to give it a try :)

    This was a fantastic read and love your photos 😉

    • Flora February 7, 2014 at 12:18 pm #

      I’m so glad you’re a Condor cafe regular Brigid! Please tell me you’ve had the Wednesday veggie lasagne too? It was probably my favourite meal every week (apart from the home cooking of course!). You should definitely be picking up ingredients from the market, and snacking on salteñas while you’re at it :) Keep having a blast in Sucre!

  7. Katie Featherstone February 9, 2014 at 10:24 am #

    Interesting post, the food looks fantastic. I’m hoping to come to Bolivia soon and have been hearing great things about Sucre. Thanks for keeping us upated!

    • Flora February 22, 2014 at 4:11 pm #

      The food is indeed amazing in Sucre! Definitely check out the market and do some cooking – it’s the thing I miss the most about that city.

  8. brand new apartments in atlanta February 19, 2014 at 12:22 am #

    Greetings! I’ve been reading your blog for a while now
    and finally got the bravery to go ahead and give you a shout
    out from Kingwood Tx! Just wanted to tell you keep up the
    great job!

  9. remedio para herpes May 17, 2014 at 6:01 pm #

    Hello, of course this piece of writing is truly pleasant and I have learned lot of things from it on the topic of blogging.
    thanks.

  10. Annabel Quiroga-Rivera July 29, 2014 at 11:13 am #

    Hello flora,

    I love reading your posts about Bolivia. My family are from there (although I was born and raised most of my life in London). I am so excited to be going back for christmas and new years – but will be doing some travelling while I am out there. But tell me… where is this churrasqueria in Sucre?

    • Flora August 4, 2014 at 7:04 pm #

      Aha, the infamous churrasqueria! I’d have to look at a map to remember the directions (plus I don’t want to give away the details..!) – drop me an email and I’ll give you more info Annabel :p

      • Jim Egnor November 15, 2015 at 5:46 am #

        And, yes..me as well…I am drooling already with your words. I am looking at coming to Bolivia in February…and I LOVE food….so could you e-mail your information as well, please? Great blog by the way!!!!

        • Flora November 20, 2015 at 10:27 am #

          Haha good to hear it, Jim! Well, the vast majority of my Bolivian food related knowledge is all in this article, but feel free to email me via the contact page at the top of this site if you have any more questions about travelling in Bolivia :)

  11. gringoinbolivia May 31, 2015 at 10:24 pm #

    Good idea to take a break from travelling in Sucre. Life on the road gets tiring and Sucre’s a great place to relax for a while. My favourite eats were Monterosso and Taverne, or for something cheaper those choripans (tres lunes??) from the market and saltenas from El Patio

    • Flora June 17, 2015 at 10:51 am #

      Mmm, what I wouldn’t give for a Sucre market salteña right about now…!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. 5 ways South America has changed how I travel - March 3, 2014

    […] local customs when traveling is recommended for good reason: you’re more likely to eat the most interesting dishes in the weirdest places, stay in bizarre locations and have some unforgettable experiences in the […]

  2. Last Minute Travel Deals 24/7 | 5 facts about travel in Bolivia - March 26, 2014

    […] we indulged in cheese fondue twice in Copacabana, and in Sucre I ate the best steak of my entire life at a […]

  3. 5 coisas que você precisa saber antes de viajar para a Bolívia | Matador Brasil - April 28, 2014

    […] táxis com o filho, a filha ou a esposa do motorista no banco da frente — e uma vez, em Sucre, até conheci um bebê recém-nascido do qual o pai claramente não […]

  4. A Taste of Scotland’s Culinary History - June 11, 2015

    […] always make a concerned effort to eat local food when I travel. This is usually a great idea (although occasionally an awful one – like […]

  5. So You Want to Volunteer in South America? - February 11, 2016

    […] a firm focus on fresh produce all over the continent, and every town or city will have at least one huge market where you can bargain happily for the fattest and most flavourful fruit and veg with cantankerous […]

Leave a Reply