We Folil, the new and successful restaurant of a Mapuche family from Villa Pehuenia

When Alberto Puel began to dream of a restaurant in the area of ​​the Five Lagoons in the vicinity of Villa Pehuenia, electricity had not yet reached that place that in summer is sheltered by the shade of the pehuenes and in winter it freezes with snow and temperatures below zero. “We Folil”, he called it, which in Mapudungún –Mapuche language– means root sprout, or, as its creator explains, “When a plant is cut and is reborn from below, from the root, that action is called we folil”. That connection with the land and the idea of ​​a root that is reborn are in the history of this unique gastronomic enterprise in the province of Neuquén.

We Folil, means “root shoot”.Silvina Quintans

The Cinco Lagunas circuit begins at the junction of the Aluminé and Moquehue lakes in La Angostura, just three kilometers from Villa Pehuenia. There you cross a bridge and about four kilometers further on is the access to the territory of the Mapuche Puel Community, where the families that manage, preserve and maintain this beautiful natural environment reside, in which there are five lagoons surrounded by forests of pehuenes or Araucaria araucarias. .

The empanadas are baked in the clay oven.
The empanadas are baked in the clay oven.Mariana Eliano

The first is the Laguna Verde. There, about ten kilometers from Villa Pehuenia, Alberto Puel and his family set up their restaurant in total harmony with the natural environment, where they work only with local ingredients that they themselves raise and grow.

Alberto is 35 years old, he was born and raised among these mountains, on the shores of one of the lagoons, in freedom but facing the harsh climatic and natural conditions of the region in times when electricity had not yet arrived and there were hardly any means for communicating. “We have been here for as long as we know, we always live here, my grandparents, my great-great-grandparents. I grew up in the second lagoon, my maternal grandmother lived there and later each child occupied the territory, my brothers have their houses on the other side of the mountain. It’s nice to grow up in a place like this, it’s another lifestyle, it’s also complicated because we have many disadvantages, electricity arrived recently and with that we can do a lot of things, create, make crafts, maintain merchandise, basic comforts.”

The We Folil room: adobe and sustainable construction.
The We Folil room: adobe and sustainable construction.Mariana Eliano

His mother, Susana Puel, raised animals and sold homemade bread and fried cakes in one of the lagoons. Both she and her family practiced transhumance, an ancient way of life in which they moved with their cattle in winter to the lowlands and in summer to the mountains, following the rhythms of nature. Little by little, some families in the region were leaving this activity to adopt another lifestyle. Albert’s family stopped traveling long distances and began to rotate pastures on the outskirts of Lake Aluminé. “It is not transhumance, but my grandfather came from Zapala, it took him three months to get here with the cattle, they were making camp. In April, May they went to Zapala that it didn’t snow. ”

The We Folil lounge.  For now, it is only open in summer.
The We Folil lounge. For now, it is only open in summer.Silvina Quintans

Alberto had the opportunity to study gastronomy in Córdoba, far from the community, but decided to return. “Going to study in Córdoba changed my mind, the way I see life,” he says. “It is crazy to look at this mountain and think that there is food on the mountain, a lot of food. I realized that not being here, and we are even getting to know mountain products that my grandparents did not know and now we are in that stage of knowing the product and seeing how we make it. Leaves, plants, roots, the shoot of the colihue cane, here we never consume it, but there are a lot of shoots and bushes and fruits that can be eaten: the michay, the mutilla, the sarsaparilla, medicinal plants that are not only used for infusions but also for cooking. Fungi, we have a lot to investigate.”

The Puel's grandmother, a great presence among the brothers.
The Puel’s grandmother, a great presence among the brothers.Mariana Eliano

The whole family got to work to build this self-sustaining restaurant in which each one made their contribution. “We closed the place little by little with adobe, now we are going to renew the roof because it is a living roof that has grass on top, it is permaculture –Note: system based on the preservation of the ecosystem–, the mud is from the area, we try to take advantage of all the resources of the region, we do not have the purchasing power to pay for stones, cement. The technique is quincha, colihue cane and a lot of litter are used, the leaves of the radales, the beards of ñires are used and structures are made with mud. The beams are made of wood taken from pine trees in the area, the decoration is bottles, it is recycling, we are going to decorate and make drawings with bottles. With Raúl and my other brothers we did all the masonry and carpentry work.”

Raúl Puel actively helped build the restaurant and works alongside Alberto.
Raúl Puel actively helped build the restaurant and works alongside Alberto.Mariana Eliano

The restaurant functions as a still life, with classic dishes made entirely with their own raw materials: lamb, goat, cows, products from their own garden. Since electricity arrived with the cold chain, they have also been able to incorporate trout and this year they added a clay oven in which they cook many of the dishes. “Our specialty is the lamb empanada, we do the entire process of aging, dressing and the final cooking, assembling everything. We have the chain of products, we do not use intermediaries, the only thing we buy is the trout. That has an added value, the We raise the little goat all year round so we can have it in the spring, the kid is the emblem of our food house. We don’t have a menu so every day we change the garnishes, Mapuche cuisine we still don’t do because it is based on harvesting fruits and harvesting them takes a long time, especially mushrooms, pine nuts”. In addition to meats, the restaurant offers pizzas made in a clay oven, pasta stuffed with goat, lamb or trout and products from the garden.

The goats served at We Folil are raised by the Puel family.
The goats served at We Folil are raised by the Puel family.Courtesy We Folil

The tables, benches and chairs that are distributed in the garden facing the lagoon were also made by the family with wood from the region. While many other young people bet on other ways of life, Alberto and his brothers decided to invest in the land of their ancestors. “We are located in an area where we have everything to lose, 10 km from Pehuenia in the middle of nowhere, but we decided to do this family gastronomic enterprise. This is lung, we reinvest everything we earn. I highlight our initiative to undertake something here despite the setbacks, it has the value of sacrifice, and the pride that we raise the goat or the lamb that we serve for a year”.

Outdoor tables overlooking the lagoon
Outdoor tables overlooking the lagoonSilvina Quintans

In 2021 the restaurant won the First Young Entrepreneur Award granted by the government of the Province of Neuquén with the vote of a large majority of the public. We Folil It opened its doors three years ago, went through the pandemic and is gradually expanding. During the last season he worked fully. The restaurant is open for lunch and snacks from December to March with prior reservation, but they plan to improve the premises to be able to receive guests throughout the year.

We Folil. Five Lagoons, Villa Pehuenia. T: (2923) 44-7145. In season, Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 9 to 18.