Friday, 8 February 2013

Salt Shopping

Yogurt, butter and milk from the ‘lacteos’, fine. Pan from the bread lady, simple. Bananas from the fruit stand and onions from the vegetable stall, they’re on opposite sides of the market hall, but we can cope with that. But where do you find salt? Now if this was Argentina, the answer would be very simple, in every shop that wasn’t a pharmacy. Argentines have a salt addiction. It’s what makes that lomo steak such a culinary delight. One day I watched the foreman for a construction squad preparing the siesta lunch. There was easily a kilo of meat per man. This is not unusual; it was the abandon with which the salt was thrown at the meat, on the hotplate, three-finger pinches, repeated, repeated and repeated. He won’t be preparing any vegetables - they’re poison. This was mainlining sodium chloride. 

Bolivia is not a meat culture and vegetables will appear in both the soup and the mains, as standard and not as an additional side dish. It’s not bland, it’s been salted. So where do they buy the salt? Much the same question could be asked about the firecrackers. The Forager asks the same repeated question at each and every stall, ‘hay sal?’, they look, they search, they shake their heads. Yet we’re only a short way from the world’s largest salar, a salt deposit that would out-supply any Argentine carnivore, yet we can’t find the salt. The suspicion is that we’ve just not yet found the appropriate section in Potosi’s market.

We’re clean out, but there’s no problem keeping up the input.  Perspiration output is down from Paraguayan Chaco levels, and we’ve been able to purchase salted bananas and salted broad beans to go in a trail mix along side the candy coated quinoa and the sugar coated peanuts. But that doesn’t solve the salt for the morning porridge.  At this rate I might be reduced to an adulterated  Anglification and the use of…..sugar.

Uyuni, and we’re now on the edge that ‘world’s largest’ salt pan. Still we’re encountering those shaken heads, those pointed fingers, suggestions that there might be a solution around the next corner. We’ve circumnavigated the market hall, wandered the pavements and slowly we’re being channelled off to a far corner, up an ever narrowing alley. We step past one sleeping stallholder, around a heap of peeled corn husks, stepping over the long neck of a skinned llama carcase, eventually to a stand and dealer. We have our fix, our small innocent bag of salt. Our eight pence of spend. Intriguing, the back of the package has a statement from the Bolivian government’s Ministry of Health and Sport extolling the benefits of salt in combatting thyroid deficiency and cretinism. A marked contrast to virtually every Argentine product that has a warning against salt.

Such a basic commodity, one that can be so easily taken for granted in our western based, consumer centred society. Where  travelling re-supply is generally easy; it’s a substance that’s stacked beside the lumpy curry powder and dried out thyme in an hostel’s leftover cupboard.  Not so Bolivia. Another subtle difference, another small acculturation, another timely reminder that you’re in a different culture.