Empanadas, Salteñas & Hamburgers

by Steve Baker
(Santa Cruz)

Empanadas & Salteñas are essentially small, hand-held meat or cheese filled pastries, much like Jamaican meat pies or Eastern Caribbean roti's.

We are currently spending some time in Florida, so I am going through withdrawal! This is true even though my wife makes a mean empanada and delicious salteñas. I just can't get her to make them often enough, and both of these wonderful foods are almost completely unknown in the US (especially salteñas). But I have to admit that good pizza and hamburgers offer a little fast-food compensation.

Empanadas, as I understand them, come originally from Spain. They are fried and, most often, contain local farmer's cheese and covered with a little powdered sugar. They can also contain a kind of chicken or beef stew. My favorites are made at home. Empanadas are eaten all day long, especially at tea. They never contain fruit, which is sometimes used to produce dessert empanadas in the US.

To me, the best commercial empanadas are found at Fridolin and Las Cazuelas. Both places use nothing but breast meat in their chicken empanadas. Fridolin uses a salteñas-type filling (see below), while Las Cazuelas fills theirs with almost nothing but chicken.

Salteñas are Bolivian in origin, though the inventor is said to be a woman from Salta, Argentina. Salteñas are baked instead of fried. Otherwise, they are much like empanadas, except that the crust has to be a little thicker and is flakier. Also, they are eaten only in the morning. I would love for places to start making and selling them all day long, because they are a wonderful fast-food.

As for fillings, the cheese variety does not exist, so salteñas are filled with a juicy chicken or beef stew-like concoction (meat, potatoes, spices, and maybe a few peas, an olive, a raisin, or a little egg). There are both picante and non-picante varieties. My wife, having lived for a while in La Paz, prefers the picante, while sissies like me eat the other. When beef is used, it seems that it is always hamburger.

So let me say a few things about hamburger in Bolivia--it is universally awful! Hamburgers themselves are a combination of ingredients intended to cheapen them. I find even the best hamburgers to be absolutely terrible. Toby's and almost every other restaurant or food cart use Fridosa frozen hamburgers, which contain (I would guess) 10% beef. Burger King hamburgers are almost as bad. I never eat the beef empanadas or salteñas, and most locals seem to feel the same way. Why eat mystery meat when the cheese and shredded chicken are wonderful?

I think the best commercial salteñas can be found at Hamacas, Los Castores, and the El Cristo Supermercado on Monseñor Rivera. Hamacas has franchises all over Santa Cruz, so you are always close to one, and they do a wonderful job. Their crust can be a little thick at times, but it is always light and flaky. I've eaten hundreds of them, and never come across one yucky piece of chicken, just well-trimmed breast meat, perfectly spiced. Hamacas has great quality control!

Comments for Empanadas, Salteñas & Hamburgers

Average Rating starstarstarstarstar

Click here to add your own comments

Mar 24, 2018
Saltenas in Orlando
by: Jeffective D

Caros C. Do es she have a shop or bake at home...how do you rate them? Going to be visiting soon and would love to pick up some.

Nov 24, 2013
If you come to Orlando, Fl you find saltenas
by: Carlos c

When you come to Orlando don't forget to call Monica for a good Salteña, just move from Va. to Fl. Trying to introduce this product in Orlando, call her at 5715771696 they are delicious.

Feb 20, 2012
I've Changed My Mind!
by: Steve Baker

OK, "Hamacas" is no longer the best for saleñas--the crust is too thick even though the filling and meat are fine.

The best is "Santa Cruz" (and one of the oldest). Superb crust and filling.

Also very good: "Potosi". Look for the cute "Pososi" Indian face above the door.

Love and learn...er...live and learn. Enjoy!

Feb 14, 2011
Salteñas in Miami Florida
by: Bella

Poor Steve! I can only imagine how much you are missing salteñas. When I was in the U.S. I missed them like craaaaazy! Just one salteña with a Papaya Salvietti would have tided me over for months! But no such luck! It's hard for people who have never tried one to understand what the craze is all about, isn't it?

But hey! Fortunately for you, you can get them in Miami!



Click here to add your own comments

Join in and write your own page! It's easy to do. How? Simply click here to return to Restaurant Review.