By Patrick Hieger


Have you ever had not simply a meal, but one product while on a trip that stuck with you for a long time?  One food that was so over-the-top delicious that you simply couldn’t forget it, to the point where you craved it and counted the days until you could return to eat it again.  For your own sake, though perhaps not for that of your stomach, I hope you have.  These are life’s treats that make travel that much better.

For me, one such product was Sonso, which I first discovered in La Paz, then later, and more extensively, in Santa Cruz.  An absolutely simple dish of cooked yucca pureed with a country-style cheese, it’s either potted in a bowl and bruléed or wrapped around a stick and charred.  Bolivians eat it with coffee or tea as an afternoon snack.  If I could, I’d eat it every day.  It’s probably a good thing I don’t live in Bolivia.

I love sonso so much that I wrote it a love letter.  No, really.  It’s that good.  You stick with your insta-pictures and “food porn.”  I’ll stick with true love.

My dearest Sonso:
    When we first met, I didn’t know then how hard I was going to fall for you.  We were at a party at Gustu.  There were chefs, and press, and loads of people floating around.  Tambo was in full swing and there was so much to take in.  Hors d’oeuvres were being passed around and it was hard to tell what was what.  When I saw you on that dish, though, obviously rich and tempting, I had a feeling that it was going to be love at first bite.  There was so much delicious food that night that it was hard to tell the great from the excellent.  I didn’t know then that you would become a near obsession when I landed a few weeks later in Santa Cruz.  It was only a matter of time.  
    When we met again, I was with friends, but we were able to focus.  You were the centerpiece, the reason we sat down to eat.  This time, potted and bruléed rather than charred over hot coals on a stick, you made for a delicious nightcap.  Boiled yucca mixed with cheese until creamy, you’d make the staff at Alex Atala’s D.O.M., who spend their evenings turning mashed potatoes and cheese into the simplest, most delicious ribbons of potatoes the world has ever known, weep in delight.  Your essence may be Amazonian, though you’d be right at home in the United States’ Midwest.  This would be a week-long love affair that I wouldn’t soon forget.  
    Then there was the side by side comparison.  The brûlée in a bowl coupled with the traditional sonso a las brasas.  How could I choose?  Or did I even have to?  Neither was better than the other.  You were both so unique, you both had my tastebuds. One good enough to scoop out and enjoy on its own with a spoon, creamy, salty, and laden with cheese, a savory dessert to end the day.  The other, delicately wrapped around a small wooden stick, charred over open coals until golden brown, a lollipop of creamed yucca mixed with cheese.  Sonso, how could you be this good?
    You became the best part of every day, that snack we’d have with beers, or just because.  The snack on street corners throughout Santa Cruz.  Tucked away in markets over tiny brasas, or served in small bowls with equally small spoons, a decadent treat meant to be savored little by little.  Such a simple pleasure with such overwhelming flavor.  Starch and melted cheese.  Does life get any better?
    Sonso, you wowed me because you are Bolivian, like so many other products that we have yet to discover from such a beautiful, yet wildly unknown land.  If this is the tip of the iceberg, there must be a whole of delicacies waiting to be uncovered.  I will always come back for you, though, my first favorite street food in the center of a continent filled with incredible things to eat.  You’re just too good to forget, and I imagine that many of my companions that week would write this same letter, were they so inclined.  
    I don’t know when I’ll see you again, but I’ll be counting the days.  I could attempt to make you at home, but really, it just wouldn’t be the same.  Sonso is forever Bolivian, and there’s where I’d like to enjoy it most.  

Until we meet again, always with an emptiness in my stomach,