Through my ethnographic fieldwork, I was able to observe and analyze four different food locations: a supermarket, a large outdoor market, a street vendor, and a restaurant. More specifically, I compared the supermarket (I C Norte) to the outdoor market (La Cancha) and the street vendor to the restaurant (La Villa). While examining the two different types of markets, I hoped to observe what types of goods were sold at each location, the prices of different goods, how the goods were showcased, and who was shopping at the different locations. With regard to the two restaurants, I hoped to compare the prices of a meal, what types of foods were being served, the customers at each location, and where the ingredients for the food came from. The following are my observations, based on both my fieldwork and less formal observations. It is interesting to note that my initial views and pre-conceived ideas of wealth and socioeconomic status in Bolivia have changed over the course of three weeks.
The first restaurant I examined was a street vendor located in a small wooden building on the Circle Tarija. While this food shop was more substantial than most street vendors, it was by no means a fancy restaurant. There were plastic tables and chairs around the building where customers could enjoy their food. This street vendor sold some smaller, packaged snacks but could also cook foods when ordered by a customer. For example, they served Chips Ahoy, Oreos, bags of chips, Bolivian breads, and candies. In addition, they served hamburgers, chicken sandwiches and traditional Bolivian dishes such as milanesa and salchipapa. While this vendor served lunch foods, I did not notice a grill inside of the small building- I only noticed a microwave. Throughout my observation at this location, I only witnessed one person order a lunch-type food. Everyone else, including myself, picked up a bottled Coca-Cola product or fruit juice and a small snack, such as a bag of chips or a candy bar. Nonetheless, a majority of the people who bought goods from this store sat at one of the tables to enjoy his or her food. It appeared that most customers treated this street vendor as a place to grab a quick snack and relax for a few minutes. Many people were on their phones or talking with a friend with whom they came. Most customers did not stay longer than 10 minutes.
The next restaurant I visited was La Villa Restaurant, located on Avenue Americas, which is a few minute drive from downtown Cochabamba. The owner of the restaurant is a cousin of my former soccer coach. This was extremely helpful as I was able to speak with him in great detail about his customer base, where he gets his food from, and about the restaurant scene in Cochabamba. Each Sunday, La Villa sets its menu for that upcoming week. That is, they do not have a set menu that customers can order from, but, instead, they offer three different lunch options each day that a customer can choose from. Along with the main dish, each customer has access to an unlimited salad bar, is given a soup before his or her main dish, and also gets a dessert after the main dish. Each customer receives a four-course meal at La Villa. This restaurant is only open from 11 AM to about 3 PM. Each time I visited, I noticed that the small dining room was not full; there were only about 15 people enjoying lunch. Walter, the owner of the restaurant, informed me that about 60% of their lunches are either delivered to businesses or picked up by customers and eaten elsewhere. Every day, they serve about 130 people. Walter believes that of these customers, about 95% are customers who have dined at La Villa before.
Walter believes that his restaurant is categorized as a “mid-range” restaurant in Cochabamba. La Villa is held to a very high standard, and Walter believes that his customers come to his restaurant because of its welcoming ambiance along with the quality of the food. It is a family owned and operated business, and almost every customer is able to form a relationship with Walter by returning to the restaurant often. Because Walter lived in the United Sates and worked in the restaurant industry for more than 30 years, La Villa is more than just a traditional Bolivian restaurant. They have a vast menu and incorporate many international dishes into a Bolivian-style meal. In addition, La Villa is not advertised as a tourist spot but they do receive a good amount of international diners every year. Walter believes this is because friends of his tell out-of-town visitors about La Villa when they visit Cochabamba. La Villa is a restaurant people enjoy spending time at and returning to; it caters to middle to upper-middle class citizens of Cochabamba.
Throughout my stay in Cochabamba, I have eaten at dozens of restaurants, both big and small. While I only ethnographically observed two locations, I was able to learn a lot from dining in others and taking note of how much my meals cost. At the street vendor, I purchased a bottle of Coca-Cola and a small pack of Chips Ahoy for 8.5 Bolivianos. A hamburger at this street vendor cost 10 Bolivianos and a small bottle of water cost 5. At La Villa, I was able to eat a four course meal for only 18 Bolivianos. When comparing these two establishments, the street vendor appears to be more expensive for the amount of food received. I believe this is due to the number of customers each location receives per day. As I mentioned, La Villa receives 130 customers in about a four-hour period. I cannot imagine that this street vendor receives the same amount of customers as La Villa, even though they are open more hours per day. In addition, La Villa buys their food fresh at La Cancha every morning. On the other hand, the street vendor does not have a grill and must either pre-cook their foods at home and reheat them in the shop or buy packaged and/or frozen foods. Buying foods in bulk at La Cancha is more cost effective in comparison to how the street vendor prepares foods. In addition, the customers I observed at the street vendor tended to be younger and dressed more casually. A majority of those dining at La Villa appeared to be over the age of 40. Most men dining at La Villa wore jeans or slacks and a button-up dress shirt. The women tended to be dressed in pants and sweaters or more formal shirts. I did not notice any customers wearing t-shirts at La Villa. Although the difference in price of a meal is not drastic between La Villa and the street vendor, when taking into account the other aspects of each establishment, my ethnographic observations lead me to believe that those dining at La Villa are of a higher socioeconomic status than those getting food at the specific street vendor.
I also found it very interesting to compare La Villa to Factory Grill and Bar and Casa de Campo. Factory Grill and Bar is an American sports bar in Cochabamba. About 60% of the customers dining at Factory appeared to be from foreign countries. While at Factory, I ordered a soda, an appetizer and a main course, which came out to be 150 Bolivianos. While this price would be similar to a meal at a sports bar in the United States, this was by far the most expensive meal I have had while in Bolivia. I received less food at Factory than I received at La Villa and I paid nearly 8 times more at Factory. Factory clearly caters to an international crowd, and, thus, charged prices similar to sports bars in other countries. Casa de Campo, on the other hand, is a Bolivian style restaurant but is known as a tourist attraction. At Casa de Campo, I ate milanesa de pollo, which included white rice, steamed vegetables, french fries and a large piece of fried chicken breast, and drank a bottle of water. My bill for this meal came out to be 73.5 Bolivianos. While the milanesa de pollo at Casa de Campo was as big as the main course at La Villa, I did not receive salad, soup, and a dessert at Casa de Campo but still paid about 4 times as much as I paid at La Villa. I believe this is solely due to the fact that Casa de Campo is in a more touristy part of Cochabamba and has a reputation for being a good tourist restaurant. While there were many Bolivians eating in Casa de Campo, there were also a lot of international diners. Every customer at La Villa was from Bolivia.