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« Firefly Farms' Allegheny Chevre | Main | Bethesda Restaurant Week Menus - January 2008 »

Tue, Jan 22 2008 at 08:20 AM

Bolivian Salteñas

Posted by Ramona Padovano, Jan 22, 2008

Small_saltena_and_salsa_2
A mention of Pike’s Pizza in Friday’s Washington Post Weekend section brought to mind a food I recently discovered -- the salteña. Over last season’s farmers market in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Marcela’s Bakery, which is located just up the road on Mt. Vernon Ave., set up a table where beef and chicken salteñas were sold. After my first one, (actually two because I had to test out the beef after having the chicken salteña) I grew fond of the dough filled parcels. It became my breakfast each Saturday I visited the market. Fresh out of the oven, the hot chicken and beef salteñas were beautiful with their egg-washed golden crust topped with a braid which secured the soupy mix inside.

The Bolivian salteña is a staple food in its native country and is served often for breakfast and as a mid-day snack at roadside stands. This labor-intensive savory pastry takes days to make from the sweet pastry to the gelatin thickened broth inside. Once the outer pastry and filling are made, the dough is wrapped around the filling and secured with a telltale braid on top. I liken the salteña to a hand held pot pie. Sweet crust encapsulates a juicy filling of chicken or beef (sometimes both) with hard boiled egg, diced potatoes, peas, olives and raisins.

Brought to Northern Virginia by Bolivian immigrants to what is known as the Salteña Circuit (which centers around Columbia Pike stretching from Falls Church to Arlington), the salteña and Bolivian fare in general have, in the D.C. area, flown under the radar, so to speak. Although Arlington (called Arlibamba by some due to fact that most Bolivians immigrated to Virginia from Cochabamba) is home to the largest population of Bolivian immigrants in North America, many local residents are not familiar with Bolivian cuisine and the many restaurants that are nearby serving primarily Bolivian customers. More widely known among foodies and Northern Virginia residents is our plethora of Vietnamese and Korean food. In Washington, Ethiopian restaurants have been enormously popular. But Bolivian cuisine has quietly crept into our food scene, often disguised as a pizza joint or Tex-Mex restaurant. Tutto Bene in Arlington mainly serves Italian cuisine- but there is a separate Bolivian menu available and during the weekend, the restaurant teems with Bolivian-Americans enjoying the cuisine of their homeland. Tutto Bene serves thousands of salteñas per week.

Pike Pizza, as recommended by Tom Sietsema in Tom’s Picks in fact doesn’t serve pizza anymore. It does however crank salteñas out of it’s pizza oven tray after tray.

Small_saltena_open_with_egg_3
Approaching the salteña, one must have a strategy. Unlike an empanada, the filling is quite juicy and eating it in hand takes skill. My approach is to eat the salteña on a plate or in its container with a knife and fork. First I cut into the top, then I scoop the filling out and tear away the crust a little at a time, sopping up the juices as I go. The true way to eat a salteña is to hold it in on hand, bite off an end and tip the juices into the mouth. Then eat the rest- no plate needed. No doubt, I would wind up wearing it if I tried that.

On my salteña quest, I ventured past my tried and true Marcela’s Bakery and headed to Arlington where I purchased chicken and beef salteñas from Tutto Bene on N. Randolph St., a warm and friendly place which was starting to fill with Latino customers exchanging Spanish greetings with the owner.

Next, I went to Pike Grill (not Pike Pizza) on Wilson Blvd. This restaurant was a more bare bones casual- Mom and Pop where mixed beef and chicken salteñas were cooking in the oven as I arrived. Through a window, I could see a woman cooking in the kitchen toiling over dough and cutting potatoes. Having to wait a bit for my salteñas, I was offered chicha morada, a drink they make themselves. Chicha morada is a bright red sweet drink make from boiling red corn and adding cinnamon, lemon and sugar...and lots of sugar.

I departed from Pike Grill having left a nice tip in appreciation of the welcoming hospitality and refreshment and drove to My Bakery and Café in Alexandria (there are two other branches: one in Falls Church and one in Manassas). Here I picked up a mixed beef and chicken salteña and headed home for a tasting.

Small_saltena_opened_closeup_3
All salteñas were accompanied by a fiery salsa verde called llajua. This condiment can range from mildly  spicy to hotter than Hades. It's best to dip a prong in first to gage the heat level. I got a bit overly confident with the llajua from My Bakery and Café and put about half a forkful into my mouth which resulted in the invocation of the Almighty’s name quite a few times in between grasping for milk or anything with fat, but mercifully, it didn’t last long. Decidedly, Pike Grill's llajua was the favorite between my husband Frank and I. It had a nice thick consistency and medium heat which did not blow out my taste buds.

All of the salteñas I bought ranged in price from $2 to $2.50. My favorite was from Pike Grill because I thought the sauce had a fuller, spicy taste with a little heat in the sauce. Egg was definitely present in both salteñas and I got a nice hunk of green olive. Frank liked Tutto Bene’s salteña the best. I have to say the raisins in their salteña are a nice counterpoint to the heat of the filling. Not that there were any losers here as they were all excellent and beautifully made.

If you haven’t treated yourself to a salteña or Bolivian food in general, I hope this inspires you to expand your foodie repertoire and try this delightful cuisine made by people who welcome you into their restaurant as if it were their home.

My Bakery and Cafe
http://www.mybakerycafe.com/
3839 Mt. Vernon Ave
Alexandria VA 22305
703-842-7554
Map It

Pike's Grill
3902 Wilson Blvd
Arlington, VA 22203
(703) 243-0279
Map It

Tutto Bene
http://www.tuttobeneitalian.com/
501 N. Randolph St
Arlington, VA 22203
(703) 522-1005
Map It

Categories: Bolivian, Cheap Eats, Restaurant Reviews
Link To This Post

Rob Rutledge

I love the saltenas at Tutto Bene, and not only because the restaurant just happens to be one block from my apartment. Two things that people should bear in mind that you didn't mention, though: One, those suckers are filling, and though the Bolivian stew they offer on weekends is fabulous, you will not get through it if you order both; two, they often host traditional Bolivian music during weekend brunch which makes the dining experience a lot of fun. Can't wait to check out the saltenas at Pike now!

Ramona

Rob, since you've got experience at Tutto Bene-how is the service/vibe when you dine there? It seemed so warm and welcoming-smiles and greetings all around. I walked out with my saltenas (and yes, we were reheating some the day after they are so filling) and thought I just had to go back to eat-in.

Rob Rutledge

Honestly, its a bit touch and go. Most of the servers' first language is not English, so ordering can prove tricky at times. Other than one particularly exasperating experience at the back bar, though, I have never found the staff to be anything but friendly and eager to please-- so overall no big complaints.

Ramona

Thanks Rob. Fortunately my husband Frank speaks Spanish. I learned the phrase "para llevar" (take away) on our saltena search!

Beth

Bolivian saltenas?!? I thought I'd never see these in a local restaurant! I'm definitely going to try these places out. I used to live in Bolivia and have made these a few times since moving back to the US, but as you say they're super labor-intensive so I'm happy to see someone else will do it for me! Cheers.

Carlos Teran

you should also try luzmila's at 809 west broad street in falls church they have the best saltenas ive tried.

Inca Princess

Eating Salteñas requires skill. I proudly announce that I have mastered eating it by hand, while driving a 5 speed, and without getting a drop of it on my shirt, lap or seat. In fact, I don't need to lick my fingers or use a napkin until after I finish the last bite! There's a nice place on Colombia Pike near the Panamerica Bakery. Really good saleñas, cheap, delicious!

Tutto Bene

Speaking on behalf of the staff and owner of Tutto Bene Italian Restaurant and Grill, we thank all of you for the kind words. (Better late than never!)

See you on Randolph St...

--Tutto Bene Marketing

PS--Come visit us soon! :)

jin

Wow! I love your review. I just went to tutto and my bakery and compared it to a bolivian restaurant in nyc on my blog (http://seekingfood.blogspot.com/2008/11/bolivian-battle.html)

I LOVE saltenas and wish they had some in LA.

Janet

I live in Florida. When in Arlington we always stop in Tutto Bene before we head home. I purchase mine frozen,25 or so, pack them in a cooler with ice and have them when we get to florida. A few at a time. Ask for the cooking time when you buy them. They are delicious any time.

Kathy y Wayne

I would like to comment, that I drive to Virginia at least twice a month just to eat saltenas. I have been to most mentioned restaurant to buy saltenas. My top two picks are Luzmila's located at 809 West Broad Street in Falls Church and Tutto Bene 501 N. Randolph St Arlington, VA 22203. Both taste great. Luzimila's although a small dining area is much more friendly and just feels like your back in Bolivia. While Tutto Bene is a bit more upscale, I don't like the vibe while dining in. Almost as if to look at some to say hurry up eat and get out. I once asked to replace my salad because it had some brown pieces of lettuce and instead of politely replacing they went on to say its lettuce thats what happens to it after a while. Finally after discussing for longer than should have, told them I don't want salad then. (and yes I did still pay for it) Made for a very uncomfortable rest of the evening for our entire party of 10. The saltenas are good, but if in the area I just order for carry out not dine in.

Saltenas are great for eating right away, so I perfer to go to Luzmila's, where the owners and staff are great. And of course the saltenas are great!

maricela davies

I used to live in Maryland , and i drove for 35 to 45 minutes just to get saltenas al tutoo benne , they are deliciosassss. now i live in DE. i cant wait to go back to taste those saltenas again. felicidades POLO. I USED TO WORK THERE .

Susan Aldayuz

Now that you have tried saltenas you need to try Tutte's Fricase, a spicy, pork and freeze dried potato soup. Then another day get up early and go to My Bakery for Api and Pasteles. The api is made from the purple corn, but is hot and sweet, put that together with fresh pastries filled with melted cheese and you can imagine yourself in the mercado (marketplace) in the altiplano of La Paz.

Nelson Asport

I live in Florida where can I BUY SALTENAS or a bolivian restaurant. thanks.

Jason

I doubt we can help you Nelson. This is a local DC blog.

mike

does anybody know the closest place to Utah that i can get some saltenas! i'm craving like crazy

Ariel Maldonado

Man, I grew up in Alexandria. I visited Pike Pizza many times as a kid. I live in Florida now and to answer Nelsons question, look up La Soya restaurant in Miami. I haven't been there yet but it is suppose to be authentic bolivian food. And if it doesn't sell Saltenas, then it's not Authentic. Check it out. I know I will... Soon.

Jrock

I am Boliviano and I grew up in Arlington. My tia use to make Saltenas and sell them out of her kitchen way back in the day! Saltenas are the best! Now, it's my mom's 70th birthday and we're going to have a party for her, complete with Saltenas. I found a place in Olney that has tons of Bolivian food - El Antojito. But, we're having the party in Woodbridge, VA. The distance is too much, but you should check it out if ever in Olney.

Daniela

I have found THE BEST saltenas in the DC/VA area. I received the phone number of the man who makes them and delivers them/or you can pick them up yourself ,from a friend who had a bolivian themed bday party and served some there. As a Bolivian and a picky one.. I've been trying saltenas around the area and these have definitely won the prize. After I ordered the saltenas I asked the man (Jose) what other products he sold. He came over and gave me a sample of Chorizos from Sucre (most amazing sausages EVER) and ENROLLADO! 2 bolivian specialties! UNREAL IS ALL I CAN SAY. I am passing the info along for anyone who is craving homemade, saltenas, chorizos, or enrollado, because I am impressed by how they taste EXACTLY than the ones in Bolivia. And I must say... QUALITY ingredients. Hope this helps for all you FOODIES out there trying to find some good BOLIVIAN EATS!
INFO: JOSE AVILES - 7037645382
ppavil@gmail.com

thefutureisvegan

Do they serve vegan salteñas without the meat and egg coating?

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