Inside Bolivia's Vegan Restaurant With a Secret Menu
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because you don’t know what’s on your plate until it arrives.
By Amy Booth
Meat-free diets are not widely understood in Bolivia. Case in point: I’ve been offered intestines as the vegetarian option on two separate occasions. So I was both astonished and curious when a friend in La Paz suggested dinner at a new restaurant where the food is entirely vegan.
But not only are the dishes at Ali Pacha 100 percent plant-based — they’re also kept a surprise right up until they arrive at your table. And there are just three choices on the menu: three, five or seven courses. That’s all. It should be like going to the theater, our waitress explains: Everybody gets the same experience, and nobody knows quite what to expect. It’s a masterful touch, prompting all conversation to turn to the food on our plates. Amazed, we ask each other how they made the sauce, and who would have thought of preparing beans that way?
In keeping with the restaurant’s secret menu, I won’t disclose exactly what we were served. But to give you an idea, a recent snack menu for a government event included a sourdough bruschetta with “mozzarella” made from quinoa milk, yuca starch and lemon; roasted, three-day aged beetroot; and tomatoes kept in oil with garlic and thyme until they “practically disintegrate.”
The idea of keeping the menu a secret came about when Quiroga had to find ways of enticing suspicious carnivores through the doors.
What’s striking about many of Ali Pacha’s ingredients is how ordinary they are. It isn’t about exotic ingredients; it’s about taking vegetables sold at any market stall and reimagining them. Broad beans, beetroot and tomatoes are prepared in creative and sometimes unimaginable ways. The beetroot dish we’re served features not only the flesh, but also the peel, charred and incorporated into the meal. Sustainability is an important part of the restaurant’s ethos, according to founder and executive chef Sebastian Quiroga, and that includes keeping waste to a minimum.
Quiroga cut his teeth at the London Cordon Bleu. After a stint at renowned La Paz restaurant Gustu, he headed to Copenhagen, where he was inspired by the culinary craftsmanship of high-end restaurants like Relæ. “There, the vegetable was the protagonist,” he says. Quiroga returned to La Paz in late 2014 to start his own restaurant, and Ali Pacha opened its doors in March 2016.
Formerly a voracious carnivore, Quiroga decided to switch to veganism after seeing the animal rights documentary Earthlings. His astounded friends and family would tease him, asking: “What are you going to eat? Barbecued lettuce?”
The idea of keeping the menu a secret came about when Quiroga had to find ways of enticing suspicious carnivores through the doors. He even promised some early guests that if they didn’t like the food, they would eat for free. “The method of revealing the dishes the moment people are at the table means they appreciate what we do,” he says.
The only downside to the secret-menu approach is that some dishes may not be to everyone’s tastes. Our dessert included peanuts, which my partner dislikes with such intensity he wishes he were allergic so he’d have an excuse to avoid them (Ali Pacha accommodates those with allergies — just disclose them when booking).
Peanuts notwithstanding, we left with full stomachs.
Go There: Ali Pacha
- Location: Centrally located at Calle Colón, No. 1306, La Paz (map).
- Cost: Food ranges from 100 bolivianos ($14.20) for the three-course meal to 200 bolivianos for the seven-course option — not cheap for Bolivia, but comparable with high-end restaurants like Gustu.
- Pro tip: It’s a good idea to reserve in advance at +591 (2) 2202366 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Amy Booth, OZY Author Contact Amy Booth