This restaurant's salteñas gives Toronto a taste of Bolivian cuisine
Munay is located at 881 St Clair Ave W, Toronto, ON
Jason: So shall we talk about Salteñas?
Suresh: Have you ever had one?
Jason: This is the first time I'm hearing about them, honestly.
Suresh: Salteñas may as well be one of Bolivia's national dishes, because its beloved and found throughout the country. From the Andes to the southern city of Tarija, where it is said to be originally from. Here is Munay's owner Tania Di Blasi:
"Salteñas is iconic food in Bolivia…The first time I ate them, I thought it was the most delicious thing I have ever eaten."
What you're picturing as you said is a hand pie. This is a crescent-shaped pastry with a braided top. It's bright yellow and can sometimes have a shiny glossy finish. It's about the size of an empanada, but it is not like an empanada.
Jason: What makes it different?
Suresh: The signature component to Salteñas is that it is filled with a stew, and fillings of meat and/or vegetables.
So it's not something you want to just bite into, or the hot liquid will spill over, just like if you bite into a Chinese soup dumpling.
The filling in a Salteñas is gelatinized and frozen, and then stuffed into a pastry and baked. That is something Tania has perfected:
"It takes a lot of work to make it properly, to hold the juice. If there is air, it will explode because the air wants to come out. That doesn't come in the recipe. No one tells you this tip. Every person who makes Salteñas in Bolivia, they don't want to share the tips. So it took practice. I made a lot of mistakes."
Jason: Why did Tania want to make Salteñas here in Toronto?
Suresh: Tania and her family are from Bolivia. Before opening Munay last year, she was a general manager at a coffee shop in Toronto. The story goes that she was really missing this national dish from Bolivia. You can't find Salteñas easily in Toronto, Jason.
She had never made them before, but she wanted to learn. So, she enlists her mom and family members to try and get some recipes that she could work on.
She says it took her years to master. She started off by selling batches of it on Facebook. it grew organically from there, to this small storefront on St. Clair West.
Jason: Are hand pies the sole focus at Munay?
Suresh: Pretty much, but there are a few other things to try.
The cheese bread and yuca breads are great. But the main attraction are the three types of Salteñas; chicken, beef and vegetarian.
The dough has a little bit of sugar and shortening, and it's accented by achiote spice which gives the dough this golden dress.
The filling is complicated as it is a three-day process.
A day is dedicated to making the stock. The next day, Tania and her daughter Fiona will make the meat or vegetable filling.
The chicken filling is complemented by Peruvian yellow peppers, and the beef filling by rocoto peppers.
Jason: That sounds like the spicy Salteñas to me....
Suresh: The rocoto peppers bring some formidable heat
The gelatinized broth is then added to the filling, and stuffed into the dough and braided.
It's then cooked at 500 degrees, high heat because you want to bake the dough quickly. This also caramelizes the sugar in the dough, giving the braid this dark brown coat.
Jason: This sounds like something you need to enjoy right away.
Suresh: The beauty of Salteñas is that they're very winter friendly. You can stand outside and enjoy one. But yes, you should eat it right away, and carefully.
Jason: So what is the technique for eating Salteñas?
Okay, so first, shake your Salteñas. Trust me, shake it but gently.
So you are mixing the filling and the juices. Then you want to turn the Salteñas so the side is facing up.
You bite off the top to open a pocket. You'll immediately see some steam escaping.
Now the best thing to do is take a sip of the stew, this really rich consommé, with this undercurrent of spices. You can also use a spoon if you want.
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Then, after you've enjoyed the liquid, you want to eat the rest of it. At this point, it starts to taste very much like a meaty beef patty.
Jason: I started off this conversation having never heard of Salteñas before. Clearly that is a wrong that needs to be righted.
Suresh: If you want to cook them at home, Tania does sell frozen Salteñas.
And for dessert, I would recommend you cool off your palate with alfajores. Tania makes these delicious dulce de leche cookies that practically melt in your mouth.