Saya Saltena Offers Authentic Bolivian Street Food

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Saya Saltena Owner Maria Helena Iturralde. Photo by Pleasant Mann. Courtesy: Shaw Main Streets

Steps from the Shaw Howard Metro station sits Saya Saltena (1819 Seventh St. NW), a Bolivian street food kitchen, featuring authentic flavors and recipes.

Owner Maria Helena Iturralde is from Bolivia. She came to The George Washington University to study engineering when she instead fell in love with cooking, sharing her recipes with friends over holidays.

Prior to the onset of COVID-19, Iturralde owned and operated a local catering business, but said she saw the pandemic as an opportunity to start something new and opened her take-out location in Shaw. She said the most exciting part of starting Saya was the opportunity to introduce her heritage and culture through food to the DC community.

Iturralde said she was surprised to discover that there was such a large Bolivian population in both the District and Virginia but still, nowhere to buy salteñas. This inspired her to create and perfect her own recipe.

Iturralde’s product, salteñas, are a mix between a soup dumpling and a pot pie. She makes five flavors of the dumplings including beef, spicy beef, chicken, spicy chicken, and vegan.

While her grandmother’s cooking inspired her, Iturralde said that she made several changes, including eliminating the typically included MSG, to ensure that her salteñas do not include any artificial ingredients, colors or flavors. Iturralde also imports her salteña spices directly from Bolivia.

“I put a lot of research into creating that same umami taste, but in a natural way, with no artificial ingredients,” Iturralde said. “Even for the coloring, we did a combination of turmeric.”

The salteñas take three days to prepare and Iturralde and her staff make the dumplings and filling all by hand.

Iturralde said the community response to Saya has been positive and said she is grateful for all of the support she has received since opening last year.

You can learn more about Saya Saltena and place online orders on their website (www.sayasaltena.com). The current hours of operation are Tuesday and Wednesday: 10 a.m. to – 3:30 p.m, Thursday through Saturday: 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and Sunday 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saya offers both pick up and local delivery.

Sarah Payne is a History and Neuroscience student at The University of Michigan interning with HillRag. She writes for and serves as an assistant news editor for Michigan’s student newspaper, The Michigan Daily. You can reach her at sarahp@hillrag.com.