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Salteñas Cafe and Pastries

The “Tastes of Latin America” festival in Vancouver has started!  This event will take place from June 28th to July 6th, and is part of the Carnaval del Sol that’s going to take place in downtown Granville Street on July 5-6th this year.

Saltenas Cafe and Pastries - exterior

A few Vancouver restaurants are offering specially priced menus during this event, and Salteñas Cafe and Pastries is one of them (see their festival menu here).  I got the chance to pay them a visit and learn all about (and try) their specialty – Salteñas!

Pamela was my fabulous host of the day and she gave me the whole run-down of the operation, from how the cafe started to how to properly eat a salteña (the squiggly above the ‘n’ makes a “nia” sound).  Pamela’s mother first started exposing Vancouver to the strictly Bolivian salteña with appearances on Channel M (now OMNI).  On the side, she would cater to friend’s and family’s orders for birthday parties and such.  Once it got popular and the demand became great, they opened the cafe!

Saltenas Cafe and Pastries - interior

Salteñas is a quaint little Bolivian family-run cafe in the East Village in Vancouver.  Along with the specialty Salteña pastry (which I will go into detail later), they also serve Bolivian coffee, empanadas, salads, the Latin cookie Alfajor, and various other baked goods.

Saltenas Cafe and Pastries - other products

They also sell Bolivian coffee and jars of the delectable Dulce de Leche.

Saltenas Cafe and Pastries - demonstration

Now back to the star of the show – the Salteña.  It is a sweet and savory, juicy Bolivian baked empanada that is considered a gourmet snack food, as each one takes about 2 days to make.

It also takes a lot of experience to perfect, especially the braiding, as when improperly done, it will open up during baking and all the yummy juiciness will just make a mess everywhere.

Traditionally the pastries are stuffed with meat, and here at Salteñas they have a beef and a chicken version.  Also traditionally, they would put a whole olive and hard-boiled egg inside too, but that wasn’t very well-received here in Vancouver.  So to cater to the Vancouver community, they’ve omitted the olive and the egg, and also created a vegetarian version filled with soybeans instead.

So how do you keep the juices in your mouth and not running down your arm?  A demonstration was in order.  First, you hold it upright and gently bite off the first knob.  Then, you carefully bite around the opening a little at a time, so that the juices don’t dribble out.  In Bolivia, the person who’s Salteña spills gets to pay the bill!

Saltenas Cafe and Pastries - saltena pastries

Now it’s my turn.  The Salteña Teaser ($25) comes with one of each flavor – beef, chicken, and vegetarian.  The base ingredients are all the same, with potatoes, carrots, glazed onions, raisins, and peas.  The pastry itself was slightly sweet and chewy, and you know I LOVE anything chewy.  The seasoning was also slightly sweet but also savory, with a little kick to it.

Served on the side was their homemade spicy sauce.  It is tomato based and mixed with locoto peppers.  When you add some to each bite, the flavor just changes to a completely fresh experience.

Saltenas Cafe and Pastries - juicy saltenas

So how did I do?  Well as you can see, not that well.  But it WAS my first time.  It was just too yummy for me to remember to take little bites, so yes, I had juices running down my hand, which I licked up.  Yes I did.

My favorite flavor was the beef, although the vegetarian version came in a close second (the soybean filling reminded me of the Asian gluten product used in Asian-style vegetarian cuisine, chopped up).  Each salteña was filled to the brim with stuffing and I thoroughly enjoyed every bite.  They look small but they are very filling.

Saltenas Cafe and Pastries - Quinoa Salad

The Quinoa Salad comes with the other menu set, the Shop Teaser ($15).  Quinoa is a crop grown in the Andes of which Bolivia is a part of, so it’s only right that it’s part of the menu here at Salteña Cafe.  Along with cucumbers, tomatoes and feta cheese, this made for a very refreshing salad that had just enough tartness to it.

Saltenas Cafe and Pastries - spinach salad

The salad that comes with the $25 menu is a Spinach Salad and it has carrots and raisins, and is drizzled with olive oil.  We found this to be too salty with no real flavor, as it only had olive oil and salt as dressing.

Saltenas Cafe and Pastries - Cheese & Spinach Empanada

Also with the $25 menu was a Cheese & Spinach Empanada with the cheese being ricotta.  It was a different pastry than the salteña as the pastry itself was not sweet.  Unfortunately by the time I got to the empanada it has gotten cold so the cheese has hardened.  I personally found the pastry part a bit too thick and bread-like, and I prefered the Chilean version I had at Empanada Hut just a bit more.  But I wonder if that’s just the Bolivian version.

Saltenas Cafe and Pastries - Dulce de Leche Latte

Pamela tells me that a staple of their cuisine is Dulce de Leche, which is condensed milk that’s been caramelized.  One recommendation she gave me (which I intend to try the next time I’m here) is to drizzle some of it onto their cheese empanada.  Sounds weird right???  But intriguing at the same time!

The item that showcases dulce de leche here is the Dulce de Leche Latte.  This is made from their Bolivian espresso dark roast and steam milk, then poured over dulce de leche.

This was so creamy and milky, and the dulce de leche really added a smoky, caramelly layer of flavor to the medium roast espresso.  Just lovely!

Saltenas Cafe and Pastries - Dulce de Leche alfajor cookie

Last but not least, are desserts!!  Alfajor is a confection found in regions of Spain and Latin America.  The Latin American version is made from two round (crumbly) cookies with filling in the middle.  The filling is traditionally……dulce de leche!  Although of course there are always variations, such as chocolate.

Salteñas Cafe has three versions – Dulce de Leche (rolled in coconut), Nutella (to cater to the Vancouver palate; rolled in almonds), and chocolate.  We were offered the dulce de leche and the nutella version.

Pamela described them as bites of solid clouds, and I agree.  Although they are initially in solid form, once you bite into them, they disintegrate into fluffy sweetness in your mouth.  They are also not too sweet.  I preferred the dulce de leche version more than the nutella version, as I found the nutella too over-powering and sweet.

I’m really glad I got the opportunity to visit Salteñas Cafe and Pastries and try their lovely creation.  I enjoyed everything I tried immensely and I’m salivating just typing up this post!  I will for sure pay them another visit soon.  Remember to take advantage of their teaser menus as they are only available for a limited time!

Disclaimer: This meal was provided free of charge for review purposes.

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