Sunnyside is home to an array of South American restaurants – Colombian, Paraguayan, Peruvian, Ecuadorian, Venzuelan, and Bolivian. And it’s at Mi Bolivia – one of the few Bolivian restaurants in all of NYC (El Picante in Elmhurst is another one) – where the amazing salteña is found. A version of the (baked) empanada (a commenter on Yelp proclaimed “What a hot pocket should be”), this particular kind has a beautiful, almost torpedo shape, and is filled with a somewhat juicy filling of either chicken or ground beef with egg and a little corn. The pastry itself is flaky and a bit sweet. So, pair that with the savory interior, and it is pure heaven.
Mi Bolivia makes a very spicy green sauce, called llajwa, which you can add to your salteña – it is fiery but without the familiar tang that so many green sauces have. One might go so far as to say it’s a bit bland, but it is truly spicy. It does have a gorgeous green color, too.
Because the salteña is so juicy (and those juice add a lot of flavor), it’s wise to eat it in a way that does not spill its tasty juices. Often at Mi Bolivia the salteña will arrive at the table piping hot and can be a little difficult to handle at first. But just let it cool and then take one end of it and hold it upright. Eat it from top to bottom, end to end, cradling it in your hand to avoid spilling the juices. What’s really impressive is that for how juicy the insides are, the crust does not get soggy. The secret? According to the salteña Wikipedia entry, “The juiciness is achieved by making a stew out of all the ingredients and adding gelatin, so that the stew hardens in the refrigerator, and then slowly melts when they are baked.” Pretty brilliant, if you ask us.
It’s said that Bolivians crave salteñas like nothing else, the expats miss them big time, and eating them can lift the malaise of homesickness, if only for a little while.
Mi Bolivia, 44-10 48th Ave., Sunnyside, NY 11377; (718) 784-5111 (GMAP)