The latest food truck on D.C. streets claims to be selling “baked empanadas.” Don’t believe it.
The specialty of the Salsa Room truck are these gorgeous, browned and braided Bolivian saltenas, which superficially resemble the more commonplace empanadas. But saltenas differ from their baked cousins in some important ways, particularly the method with which you eat them. More on that in a second.
But first, a little background: The Salsa Room truck is an offshoot of the Arlington establishment of the same name. The brick-and-mortar restaurant and salsa club used to be known as Cecilia’s, named after former owner Cecilia Villarreal, but her sons bought the place and changed the name to the Salsa Room to better reflect its emphasis on dancing, according to this story in the Fairfax Times. When contacted by All We Can Eat, Cecilia said the Salsa Room still has a menu of Bolivian dishes.
The food truck, however, is brand-spanking new. It hit the streets for the first time on Monday. I tripped upon the gleaming black-and-white vehicle on Farragut Square, which, I have to say, is a great place to introduce yourself to Washington lunchtime eaters. Truck employees told me they use the term “empanada” because it’s more familiar than “saltenas.”
That is obviously true. But it’s good to remember that a saltena should not be eaten in the same way as an empanada, whether you dig into the latter with a fork and knife or tear into it with your teeth. Saltenas are unique little beasts: Ideally, the ropy-looking pocket should contain a liquid-y stew, which makes them trickier to consume.
The way I learned to eat saltenas, when I wrote this story back in 2008, was to hold the pastry upright in one hand and bite off the top. You can drink the liquid immediately, if you’d like, or just nibble down the edges of the saltena, sucking the stew along the way. You’re trying to achieve the perfect balance of pastry and filling with each bite. The one thing you want to avoid? Using a spoon. Spoons, I was told, are for saltena posers.
Interestingly enough, the Salsa Room truck serves its saltenas with a plastic spoon, no doubt because newbie customers have no idea how to approach this iconic Bolivian food. You’ll know better.