Obviously, one thing to discover in a new country is the culture. One very interesting part of a culture is: food. The food here is pretty amazing, IF you don’t mind eating a lot of meat (pollo). One of the amazing snacks, however, is also made without meat: Empanada con queso. It is a snack that can be bought at almost every corner in almost every city or village in Bolivia. You can eat it at any time of the day, although I am not sure if that is normal in the eyes of the Bolivians. But there is one big disadvantage of this amazing snack: the quality differs a lot. It feels a bit like gambling. If you’re not the adventurous type of person when it comes to food, here is the solution for you. I have tried (almost) all empanadas con queso in the area of Quillacollo and I have come up with a list of criteria in order for you to have the chance on only eating the best empanadas.
What makes or breaks the quality of empanadas might be very personal, but here I will explain which were the most important criteria’s for me. A warm empanada is so much better than a cold one, making the dough slightly crunchy and the cheese soft. Furthermore, everything in Bolivia seems to be sweet, therefore, the less sugar in the dough, the better. In terms of structure, a crunchy but not too dry dough is the best. As I am Dutch, there cannot be too much cheese in the empanada. And regarding logistics, I tried to estimate the chance of per accidentally being in the area of the empanada shop.
There is a general advice I could give you regarding choosing whether you should buy the empanada or not. Don’t expect a nice empanada when it costs under 3 Bob. Of course there are exceptions, but normally they are dry, sweet and the minimum threshold for cheese is not met. Then one extra warning: Do NEVER buy an empanada from vendors in night buses! Even not if you think you are about to die from hunger. It is not worth the torture of a ball of sweet dough without cheese, even if it is super cheap!
The big exception of this competition was the empanada bought in Calle Beni. It was against all my criteria to score well, but somehow made the subject testing the empanada very happy. The fluffiness combined with the freshness of the light yoghurt-taste made this a totally different experience. And that for a price under the threshold for edible empanadas! Therefore: if you ever find yourself in the area of Calle Beni in Quillacollo, walk that extra block for a refreshing experience!
A winner is hard to determine. It depends on the preferred location and occasion. The empanadas from Tradición express (Nr. 2 on the map) are definitely worth trying and are conveniently close to the central Plaza Bolivar in Quillacollo. If you are ever stuck in Vinto with hunger, please try the snacks from Empanadas Pamelitas (Nr. 1 on the map), because they are huge, delicious and have a lot of cheese! And remember, never buy an empanada under 3 Bob (except in Calle Beni, Nr. 3 on the map) and never ever get misled in a night bus to buy a snack.