Tucked within La Paz’s working class Villa Fatima neighborhood stand a string of cafes serving up Bolivia’s national hangover cure: a piping hot bowl of bull penis soup.
Inside La Llajuita restaurant, owner and head chef Edelmira, has just ladled me a bowl of her homemade, headache-pacifying concoction.
“Caldo de cardan,” she proudly announced.
Edelmira has been cooking bull penis soup for over 20 years and is confident her recipe is Bolivia’s best. “I cook for the whole night and the fire needs to be very low. It takes a very long time.”
While the hours spent preparing soup are long, the window to enjoy what locals call “the real Red Bull” is short.
That’s because revered Bolivian institutions like Edelmira’s restaurant only serve this notorious soup on the weekends—and even then, only from 6 AM to noon, when demand is the highest.
But that’s OK, according to Edelmira. “This is the only thing you need to eat all day,” she said with a mother’s reassurance as I cautiously slurped down her prized dish.
When pressed how exactly bull penis cures a hangover, I get no response other than “bull penis is strong.” Thus, eating a dick makes you strong, too.
While other chefs may go for the wow factor—topping their soups with a large, intact bull penis and a complementary pair of testicles—Edelmira finds that approach distasteful.
“The bull penis nerve and hoof—these are the main ingredients of any good caldo de cardan,” she quipped authoritatively. “Yes, some people put bull testicles in their soup, but they don’t have a good flavor.”
Thanks to Edelmira’s culinary modesty, if you weren’t directly told what you were eating, you’d be hard pressed to say it had anything to do with a dick. The cardan—local slang for the way a bull penis mimics the shape of a car’s drive shaft—is thinly sliced and stewed, leaving it with a not-too-chewy texture. Given its density, the penis meat sinks to the bottom of the bowl, leaving the more hearty ingredients to occupy the top of the dish.
Beyond the oddities, this infamous soup has everything you could want in a solid hangover remedy: one whole lamb rib still attached to the bone, a juicy helping of chicken breast, a hard boiled egg, two types of potatoes, a cup of plump rice, and a delicious garnishing of salty Bolivian beef jerky.
The diverse ingredients are bonded together by a sharp, opaque broth, punctuated by the strong taste of oil and a hint of cream.
“It’s not just for hangovers, though,” my friend and spontaneous soup guide Marcelo told me as we shared a late breakfast. “This is the thing that makes your …” he pointed between my legs. “Makes you strong.”
I had heard this before. When asking locals where I could find a good caldo de cardan, they gave me a sideways stare as if I was trying to score a bottle of knockoff Viagra. Apparently, eating a bull’s member was not only the best remedy for a case of Saturday night excess, but also the most natural cure for a bout of Bolivian impotence.
Marcelo and I laughed and took another bite. “With this soup, you’re done for the day,” he said in between spoonfuls. “You eat this. You go home. You have sex. That’s it. This is the real Happy Meal.”
I didn’t sense any stamina-boosting effects, but I did feel full. Even on an empty stomach, I couldn’t finish my whole bowl. The rich broth had gone down fast, but the meat and potatoes were another story. I did, however, make sure to eat every slice of bull penis.
“We Bolivians like heavy foods. Most people, especially the cholitas,” Marcelo said, using the common word for the indigenous women known for their tiny bowler hats and super-wide hips, “they eat maybe eight times a day.”
As we left La Llajuita, paying our $6.50 tab for two massive bowls of cardan and a pitcher of peach cider called mocochinchi, Marcelo and I reexamined the restaurant’s marketing. A colorful banner stood just outside the front entrance detailing the ingredients of Edelmira’s soup.
Her café was kitty-corner from several other competing restaurants specializing in Bolivia’s most sought-after weekend feast.
“We just had the real caldo de cardan,” Marcelo said. “According to this sign, all the other ones are shit.”