Updated November 23rd, 2020.
Bolivian food has long been overlooked by travellers. Argentina is known for its mouthwatering asado, Colombia for its fried snacks and Peru for, well, pretty much everything. However, Bolivian cuisine constantly slips under the radar. Why? Honestly, we have no idea!
Bolivia is a country blessed with a varied climate which gives rise to the amazing diversity of food grown there! Spicy foods are traditionally consumed in the altiplano because of the cold conditions, whereas the Amazonian region offers foods which thrive in hot climates, such as yucca, vegetables, fruit and fresh fish.
Much like many other parts of South America, Bolivia was colonised by the Spanish. Although it has been an independent country for nearly 200 years, these European influences are still very present in the Bolivian cuisine we see today.
Bolivian dishes will often be meaty, fried and oily. If you are big on your comfort food, you will be delighted to discover that dishes are usually served with at least two types of starch (and sometimes as many as four!), whether it be potato, corn, rice or bread.
To spice or not to spice?
Bolivians like their food damn spicy. This means that nearly all meals will be served alongside a little pot of sauce which offers extra mouth-burning potential. The two most popular Bolivian spicy sauces are:
- Ají: This green sauce is made of ‘ají’ hot chillis, onions, coriander and tomatoes. It can be found in many countries across South America.
- Llajwa: This red sauce is made from hot chillis (known as locotos), tomatoes and onion. The ingredients are ground down using a batan (traditional grinding stone). We actually learnt how to make llajwa during our Bolivian cooking class in Sucre!
If you are a bit spice shy, use a very conservative helping of either of the above spicy sauces. It is a lot easier to add spice than remove it once it is on your plate! If you want to request that your food is not spicy to start with, simply tell the server ‘no picante’ when you order.
22 Delicious Bolivian Foods You Must Try!
During my time backpacking through Bolivia, I was genuinely shocked by just how delicious the food was and couldn’t believe this mouthwatering cuisine had yet to hit the mainstream. For all of you who plan on heading to Bolivia in the future, start taking notes. These are the best Bolivian foods that you need to sample on your visit!
Bolivia might not have access to the ocean but the eastern part of Lake Titicaca, the highest freshwater lake in the world, sits in the La Paz region. In areas that surround the lake, trout is a firm favourite on every menu and for good reason – it is some of the best you will find anywhere.
If you’re in Copacabana, make sure you head down to the lakeside, where small restaurants line the water. All specialising in the local’s favourite catch, a trout dish will come with chips, rice and salad and cost around just 25 bolivianos. That is only $3.25USD! I definitely recommend you try the trucha al ajo (trout topped with garlic), it is absolutely mouthwatering!
Although more known for being a Peruvian food, these delicious skewered beef hearts are also frequently enjoyed around Bolivia in the evenings. They might not sound appealing but I beg you to walk away from the smell of them sizzling on a hot grill!
The meat skewers are marinated in a variety of spices, including garlic, cumin and traditionally, ají. In Bolivia, they are served with a sweet peanut sauce. It is one of the cheapest street foods that you will find in the country, setting you back $1USD a skewer!
Silpancho is a popular Bolivian dish from the culinary capital of Cochabamba. Much like other dishes from the region, it is served in very big portions which means you are very unlikely to go hungry! The dish consists of a layer of white rice topped with beef or chicken and steamed potatoes. A fried egg is then served on top.
The name Silpancho comes from the Quechua language, which means pounded and thin. This refers to the presentation of the meat used in the dish. You’ll want to avoid having a big breakfast if you are planning to try this!
Commonly seen in glass boxes by the roadside, salteñas are a popular snack in Bolivia. This type of baked empanada is readily available to buy first thing in the morning and often sold out by around midday.
Salteñas are savoury pastries which are often filled with a kind of spicy stew containing olives, raisins, vegetables and potatoes. Meat is also included and will usually be either pork, beef or chicken. Although salteñas are traditionally served on the street, it is sometimes possible to pick up veggie versions in restaurants.
Although you would think eating a salteña would be a relatively mess free job, the gravy does have a habit of going everywhere. It is a huge source of pride for the Bolivians that they can consume a salteña without making a mess. To eat this Bolivian snack like a local, bite off the end, slurp out the gravy and then finish the pastry!
5. Sopa de maní
So my interesting fact for this article is that scientists believe that peanuts actually originated from Bolivia! Did you know that? Nope, me neither. With this in mind, it makes perfect sense that peanut soup is a dish that the Bolivians are crazy about!
Traditionally thought to have come from Cochabamba, sopa de maní is a staple of Bolivian cuisine which often features on the lunchtime almuerzo boards. The soup is simple to make and has a creamy texture. This comes from the combination of ground peanuts and potatoes.
Although you would assume that this is a vegetarian soup, it usually has a base of beef broth. Sometimes pasta will be thrown in too. Sopa de maní is served with crispy shoestring fries and parsley scattered on top.
Sometimes also referred to as humitas, these corn snacks are commonly touted as one of the best street foods in South America. Made from fresh corn which has been ground with a batan, anise and cheese are then used to flavour the corn dough. The mixture is moulded before being wrapped in corn husks and boiled.
Tarija is famous across Bolivia for its humintas and every February, they actually hold a Huminta Fair! The corn that is used to make humintas is white in colour and creamy when ground down.
Cuñapé is literally a combination of my two favourite foods in the world: bread and cheese. Popular in eastern Bolivia, this cheesy bread is made from yucca starch, egg, white cheese, milk and salt.
The soft cheesy balls are readily served in bakeries and go particularly well with a hot coffee. Make sure to grab one from the Terminal Terrestre if you are heading off on a long South American bus journey! They are the perfect pick me up and the highlight is biting through the soft exterior to get to the gooey melted cheese in the middle. Heaven!
8. Chancho a la Cruz
Commonly eaten at parties, this Bolivian food only comes out when there is something to celebrate! This dish features a whole hog which is slow cooked on a cross. The whole process takes around 8 to 12 hours, where the meat is smoked over a wood fire.
Cooking is started in the morning as this allows enough time for the pig to cook before being consumed in the evening. The meat is usually served alongside corn or potatoes (but sometimes both).
Essentially the deep fried version of the salteña, these pastries contain more vegetables and less of a stew-like filling. They come in both meaty and vegetarian versions and are typically consumed around mid morning.
Somewhat interestingly, these pastries are named after the Argentinian city of Tucuman. Tucumanas will usually be served with a variety of spicy sauces including the popular llajwa.
10. Lomo Borracho
Another favourite of many is Lomo Borracho, a beef dish originating from Cochabamba. Translating to ‘drunken beef’, this dish features pan-fried steak slices which are cooked in a tasty beer broth.
The beef strips are served along with French fries, pepper, onion and a fried egg, with everything being doused in a generous helping of broth. Unless you have a very big appetite (and no judgement if you do, I’m with you!), one of these dishes should easily be enough for two people!
11. Sonso de yuca
Also sometimes spelt zonzo de yuca, this sweet snack is made from yuca and is believed to have first originated in Eastern Bolivia. The yuca grows naturally here, thriving in the hot climate. Once collected, the yuca is boiled and then mashed before being mixed with egg, butter, milk and shredded cheese.
The dough can be oven-baked, fried into a kind of pancake on a hotplate or grilled. Sonso are a great snack to up your energy levels!
12. Picante de Pollo
Literally translating to ‘spicy chicken’, this popular Bolivian dish originated in the west of the country. It is a creole dish (style of cooking which blends West African, French, Spanish and northern American influences) which is traditionally enjoyed on Bolivian Independence Day on August 6th.
Fried chicken is the main ingredient and it is served alongside boiled potatoes, rice and salad. A rich, spicy sauce is also served over the top. The sauce is made from potatoes, onions, tomatoes, ají chillies and chicken stock. It is favoured with garlic, oregano and cumin.
13. Sanduíche de chola
This popular Bolivian street food is commonly found in La Paz. It is a filling sandwich stuffed full of roasted pork and crackling with pickled vegetables and a spicy sauce. The sandwich is named after the indigenous women (known as cholitas) who sell it.
These pork sandwiches are mostly consumed in the afternoon, usually alongside a cold beer.
Introducing the most famous dish from Bolivia’s capital Sucre: mondongo. This is a pork dish, where the meat is stewed in a sweet paprika sauce. As pork is expensive to buy, mondongo will usually only be eaten on special celebrations such as Day of the Dead.
The meat is served alongside two starches, potatoes and corn. It goes particularly well when paired with an ice-cold Bolivian beer such as Paceña.
15. Charque de llama
Although llamas might look like cute fluffy animals to us, in Bolivia, they represent something rather different. That’s right… dinner. Charque de llama is one of the most popular ways to eat llama and is the Bolivian answer to beef jerky.
Llama is believed to be considerably healthier than red meat because it is low in fat and cholesterol. To make Charque de llama, the meat is dried which means it can then be kept for long periods of time. It is a popular Bolivian snack which can also be made into a full meal when served alongside corn, hard boiled eggs and cheese. Needless to say, llajwa is usually provided on the side as well!
16. Pique a lo macho
Put simply, this beast of a dish is an Andean stir-fry. The portion sizes are gargantuan and are easily enough to feed two people. Bite-sized pieces of sausage, beef, onions and peppers are fried together and served on a bed of rice and fries. Boiled egg is the final thing to be added. Much like other South American junk food, the whole dish is smothered in ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise.
Legend says that this dish was created when a group of working men visited a restaurant late at night after a long binge drinking session. Although the restaurant was closed, they demanded to be fed. The lady who owned the store was keen to get them to leave, so threw everything she had left into a pan, with lots of spicy peppers. When she served the food, she told them ‘piquen si son machos’. This roughly translates to ‘eat it if you are man enough’! Challenge accepted!
This traditional Bolivian food is made of pork ribs which are seasoned with garlic, lemon and oregano. The meat is boiled before being fried in a mixture of chicha (an alcoholic corn-based South American drink) and its own fat.
It is served alongside potatoes, fried plantains and corn kernels also known as mote. Chicharrón is commonly enjoyed by the locals at parties but is also sometimes eaten as a snack.
This snack is Bolivia’s version of the North American hot dog. It is also popular in Argentina, Peru, Uruguay and Chile. Traditionally sold on the markets of La Paz and El Alto, this toasted sandwich is filled with chorizo, lettuce, tomato, onion and a spicy salsa.
This Bolivian snack is served around the clock and is a hugely popular option for backpackers – namely because it is cheap! Choripan is often enjoyed as an appetiser at barbecues or at sporting events.
Also sometimes spelt Kalaphurka or Calapurca, this traditional soup is very popular in the high-altitude city of Potosí. It is consumed for breakfast and consists of beef or llama jerky, cornflour, potatoes and chilli.
Before it is served, a hot volcanic stone is dropped into the bowl which makes the soup continue to boil for around 15 minutes. This technique of heating food using volcanic stones has been traced all the way back to the ancient Andean era. To try this dish, head towards the graveyard in Potosí where many restaurants serving it are located.
Famously eaten in Peru, cuy (or guinea pig to you and me) is also popular in Bolivia. Usually enjoyed in the areas around the Andes, these fluffy critters are usually barbecued or roasted on a spit.
Whilst it is not the most aesthetically pleasing dish, many think that cuy is very yummy and I would definitely recommend trying it if you get the chance. If you’re still not sure about chowing down on one of these fluffballs, check out these very two different traveller opinions about eating guinea pig.
Commonly eaten in the lowlands of Santa Cruz, majadito is a Bolivian dish usually made from rice, fried plantains, meat jerky and eggs. A small salad of raw onion, tomato and lettuce is also sometimes served. The sweetness of the plantains act in direct contrast to the harsh taste of the onion.
The rice in this dish is an orangey-yellow colour which comes from ucurú (a native seed to Bolivia). If you want to recreate this dish at home, a similar result can be produced by mixing turmeric and paprika.
This traditional Bolivian soup is prepared with pork or chicken. Although soups are typically served as entrées here, fricasé is usually a main dish which is eaten in the morning. It is commonly enjoyed in the altiplano region of Bolivia because of its warming flavours.
Chuno potatoes are often used, as is garlic, corn, onion and various spices. Breadcrumbs are also added to give the soup a thick texture. Fricasé is commonly believed to alleviate the symptoms of a hangover so if you see somebody eating this while looking at little worse for wear, you’ll know why!
Got a delicious Bolivian food that you would add to this list? Let us know in our Facebook community!