Leaf through a Lonely Planet published in the last few years and when you make your way to Bolivia, you’ll probably come across the town of Uyuni sooner or later. Check into hostels and activities, and eventually you’re gonna realize that you need to eat too. And there, at the top of the list, is where you’ll find Minuteman Pizza, an unlikely gastronomic delight in a random high altitude speck in the world. All things considered, it’s a major find.
Though you might want to focus on the typical food while in Bolivia, once you get to Uyuni you’ll probably be craving something that doesn’t make your stomach churn, or at the very least reminds you of familiar food that you can rely on. And Minuteman is just the place for a fix up of good food. But still, it’s not just food that suffices in a harsh environment, and it’s really good.
After our tour of southwestern Bolivia ended with the icing on the cake, the Salar de Uyuni, the girls from the tour and I were looking for a decent meal to cap off the excursion and have a nice goodbye. Alex, Faye and I were heading to Sucre in the morning, but Erica was leaving at midnight on the train to Oruro, so using the Lonely Planet’s advice (often times way off, by the way), we wandered into Minuteman, which was recommended for having good pizza. I thought that maybe the guy who owned the place had at one point visited the Boston area, because that name is specific to my hometown. You see, during the American Revolution, regular Joe’s would be sitting around a tavern drinking a beer. Suddenly a church bell would ring out, and within a minute they were on their feet with muskets in hand, ready to fight the British. Hence, Minuteman, which is also the mascot of UMass Amherst, my alma matter.
My ideas of a Bolivia with knowledge of Boston were thrown for a loop, however, when I walked in and saw the Red Sox flag on the wall. I heard the guy behind the counter talking with another American and though I couldn’t spot his accent immediately, knew that the owner was from the States. Suddenly I heard it: “I’m from Amherst, Massachusetts.” Of course, it all made sense. The flag, the name, but how on earth did this guy get to Uyuni, Bolivia to open a pizzeria? Was he a tourist who fell in love and stayed behind?
I waited for my turn to speak and then eagerly went up to introduce myself and say I was from the Boston area as well and had gone to UMass. With a big grin, he shook my hand and introduced himself as Chris Sarage, saying welcome to Uyuni. We chatted it up and it turns out he used to be a manager for the (world) famous Antonio’s By the Slice pizzeria in the center of Amherst. Antonio’s had been a highlight of my four years in college, and the fact that I was talking to a living legend who helped set it up and create my favorite slice, the chicken bacon ranch, was a total shock. Like the salt flats, I felt as if it was some kind of illusion.
Chris told me the interesting story behind Antonio’s and the food industry in Amherst, and told me how he met his wife, from Bolivia, while serving her a slice in Antonio’s. Eventually in 1998 they moved back to Bolivia, first to La Paz, where Chris found the pizza to be lackluster. All the Bolivians ever wanted was a Hawaiian pizza, and though he swore he’d never make one, he eventually added it to a rather long list of topping filled and appetite stifling ‘za.
So much of a restaurant also has to do with its onda, or atmosphere. Minuteman Pizzeria has buena onda, or in other words, good vibes. Though it was mostly filled with tourists, it felt like a branch of the South American Explorer’s Clubhouse, a place where weary travelers could unwind comfortably and safely and share stories. Good music playing in the background, appropriate lighting, and a location across from the train station (ideal if you have to catch a train out and need a place to kill time) completed the experience. It was also one of two places I went to in Bolivia that actually had toilet paper in the bathroom, in addition to humorous survival guides on the wall.
The restaurant was a bit more expensive than the other places in town where you’d get a typical meal, but sometimes you need to splurge when you’re on vacation. And when you do the math, it’s fairly cheap as it is. Take a load off and get a cappuccino or a slice of death by chocolate with ice cream on top, because it might be your last chance while you’re in Bolivia.
Sometimes you make your home where you are, and other times you create a new one. Chris Sarage has helped to bring a little slice of home back to those on an adventure of a lifetime, and for that, I’ll raise my pizza in the air in salute and say, “¡Buen provecho!” Bon appétit.
Address: Av. Ferroviaria 60 (in front of the train station and military base)