NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – [Editor’s note 1/11/2021: This location is closed indefinitely.] Beneath the streets of Manhattan, a restaurant hidden in a subway station serves foods you may never have heard of.
The setting is Turnstyle market at 59th Street–Columbus Circle, a subterranean center offering on-the-go shopping and dining to busy commuters. Tucked among the stores and eateries is Bolivian Llama Party, a celebration of a cuisine underrepresented in New York.READ MORE: Gov. Cuomo Says He Will Not Resign Amid Sexual Harassment Allegations: 'I Never Touched Anyone Inappropriately'
CBS2’s Elle McLogan met Alex, Patrick, and David Oropeza, three brothers-turned-restaurateurs introducing Manhattan to the flavors they grew up with—the cuisine of Bolivia. A landlocked country in western-central South America, Bolivia is home to an 11-million-strong, multi-ethnic population speaking 37 official languages.
A highlight of the nation’s diverse cuisine is the salteña, a savory pastry with juicy meat filling, resembling a stew inside baked dough. The middle brother and BLP’s chef Patrick appreciates the umami quality of this Bolivian comfort food, likening it to “a hug from your mom.”
In Bolivia, the salteña’s labor-intensive preparation requires rigorous training.
“It’s kind of similar to the way sushi chefs are revered in Japan. In Bolivia, salteñeros are chefs that know about salteñas, and they spend years honing their craft,” eldest brother Alex told Elle.
To draw inspiration from these masters, the three brothers embarked on a research trip across Bolivia, trying every salteña shop in the country and taking notes along the way.
“From all these different salteñas, we created our version of the perfect one, and then, we set out to make it. And that’s what we’re serving today,” explained David, the youngest brother.
Precise methods also apply to the consumption of the salteña, which tends to explode on the faces and clothes of overeager eaters. The brothers guided Elle through the process, warning her that that spilling a drop of the soupy filling would result in five years’ bad luck or a life without marriage, a caution traditionally passed from Bolivian mothers to their children.
The salteña is often mistaken for an empanada, and the brothers will be the first to correct this blunder. They explained to Elle that an empanada is often fried with a dry interior, while the salteña more closely resembles a baked soup dumpling with a drinkable filling.READ MORE: Road To Reopening: New York City Arts And Entertainment Venues Allowed To Reopen At 33% Capacity Beginning April 2
Inspired by the from-scratch food culture of Bolivia, the brothers do everything by hand, from the restaurant’s interior design to the maple butter breadcrumbs atop their “Andean Mac-n-Queso.” And the whole family gets involved—their father designed a special kitchen tool enabling them to fill salteñas with maximum ease, while their mother smooths over any workplace dramas with family dinner at her house.
This family business is captivating the non-Bolivian families of New York.
“We’re taking a piece of our culture, and we’re reinventing it, and we’re speaking a different language to people that never heard of Bolivia and can’t even find it on the map,” Alex said.
Parents living nearby often descend to BLP on a Friday afternoon to buy 20 salteñas for their families returning home from work and school—which is exactly what mothers do in Bolivia, Alex explained.
“They don’t speak the same language, they haven’t experienced the same culture, but they get why salteñas are so special,” he said.
The brothers are invested in this bridging of cultures.
“Everyone’s invited to find out about this food,” said Patrick. “It’s special and it’s different, and it deserves some attention.”
Bolivian Llama Party
1000 South 8th Ave Suite 5.5, Underground
57th Street and 8th Avenue, New York, NY 10019
What’s something nobody knows about but everybody should? Whatever it is, Elle McLogan is tracking it down on The Dig. Join her hunt for treasures hidden across our area. Follow Elle on Twitter and Instagram.