Made in Bolivia: La Casa de Camba Hits the Boardwalk

La Casa de Camba on Rockaway Beach

The hot weather may be gone but that doesn’t mean that beach days are over. Grab your hoodie and head to Rockaway Beach to enjoy some Latin snacks by the water. Caracas Arepa Bar has extended its reach with a third outpost on the urban surfer’s paradise, offering their flavorful selection of Venezuelan arepas. With fillings like creamy chicken – avocado salad (Reina Pepiada) and my fave with stewed beef – rice – beans – plantains (Pabellón), they have all of the ingredients of seriously satisfying homey fare. The popular hipster haunt Rockaway Taco, known for its delectable fish tacos, is back until the end of September. But it is newcomer La Casa de Camba, specializing in Bolivian Salteñas, which recently caught our eye.

The stall is run by the Oropeza brothers—Alex, Patrick, and David—a trio of self-proclaimed Saltaneros who decided to recreate some of the foods from their Bolivian childhood. Salteñas, which are a juicier, bigger, and fluffier version of an empanada, are seasoned with ají amarillo to achieve a mild kick. After biting into one of their most popular flavors, the vegetarian quinoa and mushroom salteña topped with some homemade queso fresco, we became instant fans. We caught up with Patrick Oropeza to learn about the proper way to eat a salteña and how La Casa de Camba came to be.

Rockaway Beach on a sunny day

Have you always been involved in food?
Patrick Oropeza: We grew up in a close family that made it a point to have meals together. Food became a symbol of family, togetherness, love and comfort. My mother would cook us her American-Bolivian adaptations, and so we developed a sense for taste, detail and balance in food.

I had no training or experience. I went to school for marketing and philosophy, worked in marketing, dabbled in music production and eventually decided to put my interests in food to use. All our food is the true result of hard work, trial and error, lots of reading and lots of learning on the fly.

How did you come up with the name “La Casa de Camba”?
We were traveling in Bolivia, in Santa Cruz and spent lots of time at a restaurant called La Casa del Camba. It was here we discussed putting the plan into action and bringing Bolivian food to Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan. We decided to use the name to pay tribute to that night. The name holds much significance to us and reminds us everyday about the importance of working together and building together.

Does your menu change? If so, how often and what other items aside from salteñas do you offer?
Our salteñas do change. We have a variety of specialty salteñas that are our creations and modifications over the traditional ones we grew up eating. Some of these include pork belly and swiss chard. The belly is braised in a rich broth made from panka chiles and roasted garlic and toasted cumin.[Another one is the] home-cured Bolivian Bacon and quesillo. We have created the first ever Bolivian bacon, modifying the recipe for American bacon but keeping their technique. This bacon is cured in a combination of cloves, cinnamon bark, allspice, aji amarillo, garlic, oregano and some sugar cane.

Our shrimp/new orleans & leek salteña is made from 25 count shrimp. We peel them individually and make a quick stock for the broth. In the broth we add the skin removed from our home-cured bacon for added depth. The result is a delicious salteña that reminds me of what I loved most about New Orleans cooking.

Our quinoa salteñas are our veggie option: cold smoked oyster mushrooms, squash, toasted quinoa and a rich broth make this the salteña that wins the hearts of meat eaters everywhere.

Quinoa and mushroom salteña with hot sauce and homemade cheese

Can you tell us about the salteña culture in Bolivia?
In Bolivia, salteñas are eaten for breakfast and lunch and maybe dinner (if you have 2 or 3 ). Saltaneros are the craftsmen of the art. It is not an easy task and a well made salteña gets you much respect and clout in Cochabamba. Every town has a famous place to get your fill. In Cochabamba, Castores is the place to go!

What is the right way to eat a salteña?
Upright, with one hand, many novices use two. But when you are a pro you can master the art of biting and slowly sucking some of the “jigote” out while enjoying the crust and hearty filling. In Bolivia they don’t use hot sauce or cheese but that is our modification. We make four kinds of hot sauce and one cheese for the salteña.

Where do you get your ideas for the cool drinks that you serve?
Our fruit juices are the juices we grew up with, Tumbo, Acerola, Cherimoya, Mora etc. Our homemade sodas are very special, made from all juice, no syrups or processed sugar. We believe carbonation is a flavor and what makes the soda experience unique. We use a method that allows us to employ forced carbonation to reach equilibrium at 4 volumes. Carbonating at 150 psi ensures us a better carbonation and a quicker carbonation times since we are pressurizing at 8 volumes.

Some of our flavors include:
Rose Lemonade, made from dried rose petals and lemons.
Lulo Fruit, made from all natural fruit and cane sugar.
Hibiscus-Mora, Hibiscus & Andean blackberry, the mora gives it a watermelon/raspberry taste that is delicious.
Maracuya Lemonade-lemons and passionfruit!
Chicha Morada-Purple corn soda!

And soon we will be doing Mokochinci soda, made from dried Bolivian peaches, cloves and cinnamon.

Colorful drinks include Rose Lemonade and Lulo homemade sodas

The guys at La Casa de Camba will be at Rockaway Beach until October. You can also find them at the Smorgasburg in Williamsburg, every Saturday until November.

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