Worldfocus producer Bryan Myers is currently reporting from Bolivia and writes about one memorable dining experience high in the Bolivian Andes.
Self-described “foodies” have been known to travel far and wide for a memorable or offbeat dining experience. For sure, the ability to say one has visited an up-and-coming chef toiling away in some lonely outpost is often worn like a badge of honor.
But perhaps no food pilgrimage requires more stamina than the trek to Minuteman Pizza, located high in the Bolivian Andes in the town of Uyuni. If you haven´t been, there are only two ways for a tourist to get there — an entire day spent bouncing down dirt roads in a four-wheel drive SUV, or an overnight ride on a freezing cold train.
Minuteman Pizza claims to be the “highest” pizzeria in the world — and at an altitude of some 13,000 feet, no one is arguing. Minuteman is run by Chris and Sussy Sarage, thirtysomethings with quick smiles. But their easygoing manner belies the enormous perseverance behind everything they do.
“You have to be creative in Uyuni,” Chris told us. “We make our own tomato sauce from local tomatoes. Our fresh basil is trucked in from La Paz overnight. Tour buses operators bring us olive oil from Peru. And I have my cheese flown in from Argentina.”
That commitment has made Minuteman the second most famous tourist attraction in Uyuni. The town is also home to the famous “Salar de Uyuni,” one of the world’s largest salt flats. The “Salar,” as its known around here, is popular among the adventure set.
Each night, weary backpackers crowd the Minuteman. A cacophony of languages can be overheard in between bites of pizza and quaffs of beer.
Sussy (pronounced “Suzie”) is a native of Uyuni. Her father was once the town’s mayor. She and Chris met at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst in the mid 1990s. Sussy was studying there; Chris had recently graduated and was managing a pizzeria in Amherst. After marrying, they made their way to Bolivia, first opening a pizzeria in the capital of La Paz, and then deciding to give it a go in Sussy’s hometown.
Finding fresh ingredients and getting them shipped to Uyuni isn’t their only challenge. As anyone who’s ever tried it can attest, baking at high altitude is nearly impossible. For the pizzeria, Chris designed his own special pizza ovens, built by a restaurant supply company in La Paz. When we asked him how they work, he responded in time-honored fashion: “That’s a trade secret.”
Training their local staff to prepare an “exotic” dish like pizza also took time. Most Bolivians have never even eaten pizza, let alone made it. But now, the native Bolivian women who work the kitchen at Minuteman can pound the dough and spin the pies with a flair that would make a Brooklynite proud.
“They may not known how to say ‘hello’ in English,” Chris said, “but they know all the names of the pizza ingredients by heart — caramelized onions, roasted peppers and sun dried tomatoes.”
Minuteman offers plenty of combinations that would be familiar to any American, like pepperoni, Hawaiian and the classic Margherita. But it also offers some with a local twist, like the spicy llama pizza.
So how’s the pizza? Pretty good. Our crew agreed that the classic Margherita, wafting of fresh cut basil leaves, was as good as any we’ve had in the States. But the winner by a landslide? The spicy llama. Unfortunately, you won’t be finding it any time soon at your local Dominos. For that, you’ll have to make the trek to Uyuni.
– Bryan Myers
For more Worldfocus coverage of Bolivia, visit our extended coverage page: On the Ground in Bolivia.