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Bolivian Andean Cuisine

A search on the internet for Bolivian cuisine led us to “Los Tajibos” in Queens. “Los Tajibos” no longer existed and “Nostalgias” was said to be there instead. As we drove to Northern Blvd. in Jackson Heights,Queens, we learned that they were both gone and Club Kabu took its place. We felt pleasantly surprised when we saw Andean Bolivian dishes advertised on a board at the door and walked through the door. In spite of the poorly lit, improvised restaurant, we sat at Club Kabu anxious to enjoy Bolivian food. A well assorted menu with appetizers such as “salteñas”, “humintas”, “khallo paceño” and “khallo cochabambino” raised our taste buds to the top. Salteñas are a variation on empanadas; at Kabu they had a tasty juicy quality and the masa used to make the outer shell was very well done. One of us felt disappointed that there wasn’t more meat inside the meat salteña, but there was more chicken in the chicken salteña. Humintas, a part of Andean cuisine in Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia, were tasty bundles of cornmeal cooked over a stove. Our experience is that the Bolivian version of humintas should include fresh ground corn, not cornmeal, and should be steamed, not baked in an oven. Once they are baked they have a different name: tamales. Still, the newcomer to Bolivian food enjoyed the humintas, although I barely tasted the cheese that is supposedly inside. The khallo cochabambino (a quechua word in which the first sound is exactly that of the “ch” in Hebrew pronunciation), was a somewhat bland concoction of hominy and green peppers, onions and tomatoes and a little bit of cheese. It disappointed us because Khallo requires fresh white corn that gains flavor from chile peppers and queso fresco. Our next course included sopa de mani another staple of Bolivian cuisine. The two teenagers with us enjoyed the soup, the newcomer thought it was tasty but was over salted. The connoisseur among us complained there were noodles in the soup which should be potatoes in traditionally prepared sopa de mani. The main dishes we ordered were picante surtido, a selection of chicken and beef tongue and chorrellana plates that include meat, rice, fried potatoes (real French fries!) and a fried egg.

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  1. There's one other Bolivian restaurant in Queens that I'm aware of: Mi Bolivia in Sunnyside (I'm pretty sure it's still there). I've only eaten Bolivian food once so I can't say if their rendition is better or worse than Club Kabu's. I enjoyed their saltenas and aji de lengua, though.

    http://www.project-me.com/2006/09/mi_...

    1 Reply
    1. re: Krista G

      Hey Krista G, i love your blog and your write up of Mi Bolivia. I, as the new york-based writer of the above-mentioned group, am surprised that your entry didn't come up when i did a search of bolivian restaurants in nyc/queens. Some other review of mi bolivia did come up and i did call them and they said they didn't serve dinner on saturday evenings. For those who are reading this far in these posts, the next step for Club Kabu, according to our waiter, is that they are moving the restaurant operation out of the club, Club Kabu will operate strictly as a night club, and they will move the restaurant up Northern Blvd in the next couple of months. Does anyone know how to get these places on citysearch or zagats? Also, i would share a small disagreement with my Bolivian connoisseur friend regarding the environment of the Club Kabu. I felt like the club was upscale, newly done, and only felt odd to us because it really is designed as a night club (has two dancefloors and lots of space). This club is right across the street from Pio Pio which i think has a great eating environment but less interesting food, given the queens Latin American eating options. Another debate among us had to do with the best way to eat saltenas. The teenagers from Santa Cruz picked them up vertically and just ate them (the juicy nature of the filling means they can be messy if you cut into them). At a table next to us, the group used small spoons to eat into the filling. Overall, we thought a little more heat to the food would make it more interesting.

    2. My father grew up in Bolivia, and I have taken him and my mother to Mi Bolivia once a year for a while now. His biggest complaint is that the Saltenas here in NY are more geared to the younger generation and are sweet rather than a bit spicy. I will have to try Club Kabu. For what is worth, Mi Bolivia has gotten worst with time....

      1. Does anyone know if Mi Bolivia or Club Kabu (or whatever restaurant it morphed into) are still open?

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        Club Kabu
        85-09 Northern Blvd, Queens, NY 11372

        5 Replies
        1. re: AmyH

          Mi Bolivia moved a few doors down to a smaller, more take-out-looking, location. Signs for saltenas and pollos a la brasa. They still (and maybe will always?) have paper over the door, no menus or anything outside. It always looks barely open.

          1. re: Up With Olives

            Thanks! As long as it's still on the same block we should be able to find it... even if we have to go door to door. I hope they still have tables?

            1. re: Up With Olives

              From the google street view it looks like the sign and awning say "International Restaurant" but there are Bolivian flags on the awning so I'm assuming it's the same place.

              1. re: AmyH

                The Google street view is out of date. The Bolivian place is now two doors down, in the location that was Sweet and Sara.

                1. re: Up With Olives

                  That makes sense. The street view of the address for Restaurante Cumbre (see below) was also out of date. It was showing the closed pizza place that had been there previously. My daughter, whose birthday we're celebrating, has chosen Cumbre due to the live music on Sundays.

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                  Cumbre
                  67-03 Woodside Ave, Queens, NY 11377

          2. Joe DiStefano recently wrote about this Bolivian place on his World's Fare blog for Edible Queens: Restaurante Cumbre, 67-03 Woodside Avenue, Woodside.

            I'll try the link: http://www.ediblecommunities.com/quee...

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            Cumbre
            67-03 Woodside Ave, Queens, NY 11377

            6 Replies
            1. re: Mr Porkchop

              Thanks! It looks good. You say that review was recent? I couldn't find a date on it, but it seems much more recent than the reviews of Mi Bolivia (or International Restaurant)

              1. re: AmyH

                Joe's review was from March 2011. Cumbre hasn't been open that long. The people running the shop are very friendly. I wasn't crazy about a few of their items, and they weren't serving salteñas when I visited since they didn't have the oven set up for it, but I imagine they're up and running by now. The best thing on the menu was the peanut soup (sopa de mani). The portions are HUGE, by the way, so expect to be taking some leftovers home.

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                Cumbre
                67-03 Woodside Ave, Queens, NY 11377

                1. re: E Eto

                  Sounds great! It looks like they also have live music on Sundays, which is when we'll be going. I hope they have saltenas by now, but I'm sure we'll find other things to eat if they don't.

              2. re: Mr Porkchop

                Cumbre opened at the beginning of 2010. The sole saltena-like snack I've ever seen there has been an empanada de queso (Cumbre's name), sparingly filled. On the other hand, to echo E Eto, the serving sizes are indeed huge, even at weekday lunch. When in doubt, ask for a small portion or consider sharing.

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                Cumbre
                67-03 Woodside Ave, Queens, NY 11377

                1. re: DaveCook

                  Thanks for the warning, but the way my teenagers put away Bolivian food, it won't be a problem.

                2. re: Mr Porkchop

                  We had a great meal at Restaurante Cumbre yesterday. For starters, two of the kids had sopa de mani (different than how I make it, but they liked it), one had some type of broth with a chunk of beef or lamb which he said was salty, and I had a huminta which was much sweeter than what I've had in Cochabamba, but maybe that's the way they make it in other places. (They still don't have saltenas but they have cheese empanadas and also pukacapas which are onion-filled pastries.) For meals, my husband and daughter had the silpancho. They said it was good, although my daughter doesn't like onions or beets and they were piled right on top of it. Both finished their plates. One son had something that was grilled steak covered with cooked onions in a sauce and a fried egg. I don't remember what it was called but it was #22 on the menu. He polished off the whole thing. The other son got an order of chicharron. It was meant for 2 but he got it for himself. He intended to eat the whole thing but only made it through half. He loved it, though, and took the rest home to eat for lunch today. I had the falso conejo which was quite good but didn't have the peas in the sauce which I thought was typical. I wasn't quite able to finish it, but took the rest home. They do have small sizes of a lot of the dishes. We had a pitcher of moco chinchi and some of the kids had Inka Cola, too. The restaurant was packed. We had to wait for a table, but not very long. There were some families finishing their meals when we got there about 5 pm. The musicians were playing and it was very loud. We were right up in the front next to them, plus there were amps. They played a lot of popular folkloric songs and had the whole restaurant clapping and singing along with some of them. The waitresses were very friendly and spoke English. The menu items are described in Spanish and in English, so ordering is very easy. All in all it was a great experience. I wish we lived closer so we could go there more often.

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                  Cumbre
                  67-03 Woodside Ave, Queens, NY 11377

                3. Rumor has it that Queens is home to the only Bolivian restaurants in the city. Can anyone confirm whether or not that's true? And are Mi Bolivia and Cumbre still the places to go?

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                  Cumbre
                  67-03 Woodside Ave, Queens, NY 11377

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: CitySpoonful

                    I have not been to Mi Bolivia in a few years.

                    On corona ave, roughly 57 Corona ave there is a small deli, called I believe Bolivia Deli, that has two tiny tables and serves your average latino food and some Bolivian specials. They only seem to have Saltenas on the weekends.

                    I have not tried them in awhile, but last time I did (about a year ago) I was impressed.

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                    Bolivian Deli
                    90-22 Corona Ave, Queens, NY 11373

                      1. re: CitySpoonful

                        Your welcome, let me know how you like the food.

                        The Saltenas you get here in New York are often much sweeter than what you get in Bolivia; I myself prefer the spicy version.

                        I

                        1. re: driggs

                          Can one doctor them up a bit with spicy sauces? Or is it still not the same?

                          1. re: CitySpoonful

                            Found the biz card. It is "Bolivian Deli" at 90-22 Corona Ave. Number is 347-724-5715.
                            Its a tiny place, but has Salchipapa and Saltenas.

                            Spicy sauce helps a bit, but the inside is what is sweet....

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                            Bolivian Deli
                            90-22 Corona Ave, Queens, NY 11373

                    1. re: CitySpoonful

                      Mi Bolivia is definitely still alive and kicking in Sunnyside. Damned good, juicy saltenas, a pretty decent selection of fresh blended juices on most days (I'm a fan of the passion fruit), and a solid variety of other Bolivian dishes. I'm never been to Bolivia so I can't tell you how it compares to the real thing, but Mi Bolivia's pique a lo macho (fried beef, fried cheese, fried peppers/onions/tomatoes, fried hotdogs... all served on a bed of fried potatoes) is a fun gut-buster. Especially if you're not on a diet.

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                      Mi Bolivia
                      44-10 48th Ave, Queens, NY 11377

                    2. I grabbed some food from Mi Bolivia the other day. I had two saltenas- a chicken and a beef. They were splendid little doughy footballs of goodness. The cornbreading I thought was just the right amount of measured sweetness, baked to a crispy, non-oily perfection. The filling of both was nicely balanced sweet and savory with a hunk of meat and a half a boiled egg. They must be made with a chilled aspic or gelatinized broth in a manner similar to XLB because they just oozed with broth. You pretty much have to hold it up vertical and attack it from one end, with a bit of slurping. Wow. I thought they were great. The watery sauce the served with them however, was not worth a dunk. Saltenas are $2.50 each. A total deal.

                      I also ordered a pork sandwich. I don't remember what it was called or how it was exactly explained on the menu. It is the first item listed. To describe it, I will say that it was a sort of cross-section slab of meat with both crispy skin and no small amount of fat, and lot of juicy meat- but all in a good, salty way. It sat on a fluffy roll with a small amount of pickled vegetables. This was the type of sandwich I can imagine a Bolivian construction worker or cowboy pulling out of a lunch pail. Cost $5.00. So good, so simple, so porky. This would run $10.00 and have a line to eat if it was coming from a truck parked by MSP...The rest of the menu is pork and sausage heavy. Some interesting looking stuff.