How a Cozy Bowl of Chupe de Quinoa Takes Me Back to Bolivia
This Bolivian quinoa soup gets its sunny hue and sweet, fruity heat from the Andean chile ají amarillo. The word "chupe" comes from the Quechua word "chupi," which means a soup with many ingredients. This version is substantial, featuring potatoes, quinoa, edamame and corn. If you can get your hands on fresh favas in the springtime, you can use them in place of the edamame.
In 2019, I was prompted by some unseen urgency to visit my family in Bolivia, the birthplace of my father. I flew with my mom and husband to a place I had only visited once before, at the age of 6. My childhood memories in tow, I didn't know what to expect. But when we landed in La Paz, Bolivia, at 3 a.m., my tía met us with steaming cups of tea in the airport to help us acclimate to the steep elevation of almost 12,000 feet. We'd arrived at a city in the sky.
My tía and cousin played tour guides as we walked the streets of La Paz. Seeing the city for the first time as an adult, I was a collector of images: indigenous women in their beautiful silks and bowler hats, the vegetable market with its dizzying variety of stacks of herbs and produce—much of it particular to this region of the world, like chuño, freeze-dried potato.
I kept looking for my father without knowing it. I regarded the backs of the heads of strangers as if when they turned around, I just might see his face looking into mine. Out of their mouths, I heard my father with his particular lilt of Spanish, so different from my Mexican relatives. This place had given a piece of him back to me.
And it was on that trip that I first encountered chupe, a stew with origins in the Andean region of South America. My father had introduced me to the salteña, the Bolivian soup dumpling of the empanada world, at a young age, and also to his mother's huminta, a fresh corn tamal that lights up my taste buds with pure delight. But a chupe never made the cut.
On one of our walks, my husband and I ducked into a café not far from touristy Calle Sagárnaga for an impromptu date night. I ordered a bowl of chupe de quinoa, which so thoroughly comforted me that, as I ate it, I tried to imprint its flavors and textures into my mind to take home like the souvenirs folded in my bag. Bolivian staples of potato and choclo (South American corn with giant kernels) teemed in the broth along with cubed quesillo (a type of cheese), tender from the heat but still intact. I'd ordered the chupe because of the quinoa—how often would I get to eat this pseudocereal in the place where it's a local ingredient? But I didn't realize until later that it gave me an integral food memory, a taste of a place that I love that I never know when I will visit again.
The thing about a chupe is that it's a fortifying meal with a jumble of ingredients. It makes me think of the diversity of people who call La Paz home. I never would have counted myself among them, at times feeling very much the outsider, and yet I unlocked a part of myself on that trip, as if La Paz had always been the key.
To make ahead
Refrigerate for up to 3 days. Thin with more broth or water, if desired.
Ají amarillo is a yellow chile pepper from Peru. It lends gentle, fruity heat and a sunny hue to any dish it's used in. Look for ground dried ají amarillo in Latin markets or online.
Panela cheese is a soft cow's-milk cheese with a creamy texture. Look for it in the specialty cheese section of well-stocked supermarkets or at Hispanic markets. Cotija cheese also works in a pinch.
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