>> Pao's Pastries & Cafe | Eat the World LA

Monday, 14 October 2019

Pao's Pastries & Cafe

BOLIVIA 🇧🇴

Without leaving Los Angeles County, you will not come across another place to satisfy your cravings for Bolivian baked goods, coffee, and some platos fuertes other than Pao's Pastries in Van Nuys. Snuggled into the back of a building that faces busy Van Nuys Blvd on its other side, this Friar Street storefront hides away from the main thoroughfare. Despite this, Bolivians in the area all seem to know where to find it, as many came and went during the hour observed on a recent Sunday morning.

Being the most populous neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley, you can find a lot of the world in Van Nuys, from East African homes opened up as community feeding centers to evening pupusa stands and Tijuana-style taco vendors to South African sports bars and Syrian kebab shops. More on the rest of these later, but for now a little slice of the Andes and the rich tradition of Bolivia.


Pao's is a tiny shop that packs in the most it can. Handcrafted souvenirs share precious counter space with stacks of cookies and pastries packaged to go. All the small commodities from back home that people might miss have a good chance of ending up here, whether that is a container of alfajores or fresh and hot cheese empanadas known as pukacapas.

Main courses like silpancho (not shown) invoke the cuisine of Cochabamba, well known in Bolivia for having some of the best foods and the most fertile lands in the country. For these reasons, Cochabamba’s two nicknames are “City of Eternal Spring” and “The Garden City.” Much of Bolivia is in harsh lowland-jungle regions of the north and east or high, arid altiplano (plateau) regions of the south and west. A small stretch of land in between these two is home to Cochabamba, a place with a high level of pride.


Wanting to try as much as possible for breakfast, a variety plate was put together including (from back to front) a pukacapa ($1.95), rollo de queso ($1), and two alfajores ($1 each) to add a little sweetness.

Any Bolivian feast begins with multiple salteñas ($3.15 each, below), possibly the most famous food outside the country but beloved by Bolivians just the same. The country’s version of an empanada is almost a work of art, dough wrapped carefully around a juicy meat center that must be eaten with caution to prevent a mess and the molten hot filling from burning your entire face.


The meats (the two above are chicken and beef, differentiated by a few sesame seed sprinkles) are first slow cooked and then frozen. Once wrapped with the slightly sweet shell, they are put in the oven and baked at just the right temperature and duration so that the inside melts but does not boil and cause the skin to burst.

Just as the most popular vendors back home might sell out well before noon, come here on the wrong day and you might find the restaurant out of salteñas as well.

Inside the beef salteña.

It often is fascinating what foods do and do not catch on in the realm of popularity. Some world foods go through phases of being sought after by the wandering mobs of followers, while others remain obscure except in their communities. Salteñas have that feeling like they could someday be the "next big thing" when white people decide they are, ready to be gentrified and exploited by folks that capitalism privileges.

To enjoy them in their natural environment, baked by experts, don't wait for this to happen and come to Pao's in Van Nuys.

Viva Bolivia!

🇧🇴🇧🇴🇧🇴

Z

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