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What are Saltenas?

By Chris Kohatsu
Updated May 16, 2024
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From the country of Bolivia comes saltenas, a hearty pastry filled with meats, spices, olives, and vegetables. Saltenas are a form of empanadas, a Latin inspired hybrid of pastry and dumpling. Bolivian food is seen by many as time consuming and labor intensive, therefore, saltenas are typically hard to find. However, as empanadas are growing in finger food popularity, finding a saltenas shop may become easier in the coming years.

The name saltenas is inspired by the city of Salta, Argentina where the creator of saltenas was originally from. Culinary historians widely acknowledge that Juana Manuela Gorriti created saltenas while living in Bolivia. Saltena translates literally from Spanish as “female citizen of Salta.”

Saltenas are slightly different in flavor from empanadas. They have an element of sweetness found in both the dough and the filling. The dough is a complex mixture of flour, lard, water, and gelatin. This mixture results in a soft dough that is rich in flavor and strong enough to encase its filling. The filling is a savory combination of meat, such as chicken or ground beef, cumin, olives, potatoes, raisins, and hard boiled eggs. The result is a pot-pie styled turnover that is typically eaten with your hands.

Most Bolivians prefer to eat saltenas with one hand, however, because the filling is encased in its own juices, this can be a messy undertaking. Spoons are the recommended utensil for eating. Although many people enjoy saltenas on their own, they are typically served with llajua, a jalapeno sauce, and mocochinchi, a type of sweet peach tea.

Saltenas are street food, sold throughout South American countries and in east coast metropolitan cities found in the United States. They are so popular that long lines typically form as soon as the saltenas are removed from the oven. In Bolivia, saltenas are enjoyed as a mid-morning snack, and vendors are typically out of supply by 11:00 a.m.

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Discussion Comments
By anon72732 — On Mar 24, 2010

The most delicious pastry I've ever tried in my life!

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