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Bolivian food is one of Latin America’s most hearty cuisines. It’s full of herbs and spices, fresh produce, and unique recipes from different altitudes.
Over the centuries, Spanish and European influence on native indigenous foods has created an intriguing cuisine, packed with textures and flavor. It’s very much a hidden gem of Latin American food.
So let’s take a closer look at nineteen of Bolivia’s most beloved foods, as we explore their tastes and textures under the expert guidance of a native Bolivian foodie.
Bolivia is a large landlocked country in South America that has a relatively small population of only around 10 million people.
Bolivia may not have access to the ocean, but its geography is impressive anyway. It stretches from the dry and cold Andes mountains in the west to the humid and hot Amazon rain forest in the east.
Bolivia was colonized by Spain just like most of their South American neighbors, yet still today almost 50% of the nation’s population is indigenous.
Bolivian cuisine combines native foods with ingredients long ago introduced by Spain and results in a delicious celebration of food.
I’m going to give you an introduction to the Bolivian kitchen that will have your mouth watering, and it will have you itching to do some cooking of your own!
Salteñas are the quintessential Bolivian brunch or late morning breakfast, regardless of which part of the country you visit. You cannot say you have experienced Bolivian cuisine if you have never eaten a salteña.
A salteña is a pocket of slightly sweetened dough stuffed with a hearty stew of tender meat, sliced onion, cubed potato, peas, and sometimes olives and even a piece of hard-boiled egg. It is baked in the oven until the braid over the top of the pocket is a burnished black.
Salteñas can be ordered as either sweet chicken, sweet beef, spicy chicken, or spicy beef. More recently some vendors have started offering a vegetarian option as well.
What varies by region and by vendor is the dough of the salteña. Some regions make their crusts light and flaky, others make it whole wheat, and yet others make it thick and dense.
Llajwa (also sometimes spelled llajua) is an important condiment in Bolivian dining whether you’re eating a home-cooked meal, street food, or dining in a restaurant.
This spicy sauce compliments meats, yucca, and potatoes. It is also often added as a garnish in soups.
It is made fresh daily in kitchens all over. Every family has a little twist to make theirs unique but in its most traditional form, it has three main components: tomato, locoto, and quirquiña.
The tomatoes for this salsa are typically peeled and seeded. The locoto is a spicy pepper native to Bolivia, and it is usually seeded. The quirquiña is an herb native to the western region of the country, and only its leaves are used for this salsa. Quirquiña has a distinct taste; its flavor profile is sort of peppery, bitter, and slightly reminiscent of cilantro.
Before blenders became a common kitchen appliance found in homes, llajwa was prepared by crushing the ingredients between two large stones called a batán. The batán lends a unique flavor to the llajwa but is used less and less in modern times.
You can also find llajwa in supermarkets sold ready-made, though these varieties are often missing the fresh flavor you get from the homemade one.
Llajwa hails from the Andes region and when it became integrated with Bolivian kitchens nationwide, the quirquiña wasn’t favored by many eastern Bolivians.
This means if you are eating llajwa prepared in a home by a family whose origins are from eastern Bolivia, it probably does not have the quirquiña, and they may call it ají instead of llajwa.
Soups are an integral part of Bolivian cuisine. Most Bolivians eat a large two-course lunch and then take a rest (siesta) before returning to work. Often a soup is the first course, even on the very hot days in the eastern region.
Sopa de maní (peanut soup) is a favorite nationwide, and a source of pride for Bolivians because the dish has begun to gain international recognition.
It is very unique, and it beautifully showcases the peanut, which is actually native to Bolivia.
This soup is a textured, creamy yet hearty beef broth made from finely ground raw peanuts, diced tomato, diced onion, peas, cumin, and oregano.
It is served over a cut of calf or beef ribs with cubed boiled potatoes and topped with little crispy fries. This soup will bring the flavor of peanut to your life in an amazing new way.
Crema de choclo (also called lagwa de choclo) is essentially corn cream soup. Bolivian corn is a native staple food found in many of their dishes. It has a different flavor and texture from that of the typical North American sweet corn and its kernels are almost white in color and larger.
This soup takes raw corn from the cob and grinds it up before adding it to thicken the broth.
Bacon pieces add distinct flavor along with lima beans, cubed potatoes, cumin, garlic, ají, and cream.
Once the soup is ready, it is traditionally served over slices of salty cheese and topped with a poached egg. This creamy corn soup will definitely fill you up but leave you wanting more.
Chairo soup is most often found in kitchens of the Andes mountains region of La Paz.
It utilizes the chuño, which is a dehydrated potato that has been prepared and eaten by the mountain-dwelling indigenous tribes since before the Spanish conquistadors arrived.
The soup is a simple beef broth with chuños, carrot, peas, lima beans, and cutlets of beef, and it is topped with chopped mint for a refreshing traditional flavor punch.
These main dishes all have one thing in common – their large size. You will notice most of the dishes listed have more than one protein element and are all served with potatoes, rice, pasta, or a combination of the three.
Silpancho hails from the Cochabamba region, but it is on menus nationwide.
A large ground beef patty or tenderized thinly cut steak is flattened, breaded, and fried in a skillet.
It is then served over a bed of rice and topped with a fried egg and a salad of raw diced red onion, tomato, and locoto.
The beef portion of the silpancho should cover the entire plate, hiding almost entirely the presence of the rice beneath it.
Majadito is a traditional plate from the eastern Santa Cruz region.
Majadito combines tenderized dehydrated beef, rice, fried egg, fried plantain, and a salad of raw sliced red onion and tomato.
The rice gets its special flavor and the orange-yellow color from a seed native to Bolivia called ucurú. Turmeric and paprika powder mixed together can produce a similar result in color and taste for those trying to reproduce it.
Ají or llajua is then added on top as well if you want something picante! The sweetness of the fried plantains adds a lovely contrast to the sharpness of the raw onion.
The best bite from this plate is one that has a little of each element.
Pique a lo macho is a monster-sized dish that combines cubed chicken, beef, and sausages in a chunky sauce of bell pepper, onion, and tomato.
It is served on top of a plate of fries and rice, then topped with boiled egg.
Some people add ketchup, mayonnaise, and mustard to top it. This dish is not for the faint of heart, you must be macho for this one!
Falso conejo means ‘fake rabbit,’ and this dish is one of my personal favorites.
The name comes from a time when rabbit meat was scarce and beef became the common substitute.
The tenderized thin strips of beef coated in bread crumbs have deliciously risen to the task of replacing rabbit.
The “fake rabbit” is served in a sauce of diced bell pepper, onion, carrot, tomato, garlic, cubed potatoes, and peas.
It is placed over a bed of rice or pasta that is toasted before cooking.
Every region of Bolivia has a slight variation of this fried pork dish, but it is always accompanied by corn on the cob and llajwa.
In La Paz and Oruro, this dish is served with chuños, in Cochabamba and Santa Cruz typically with boiled potatoes and fried yucca.
Pork ribs are first cooked in boiling water. Once cooked through, the pork is fried in its own juices.
Lomo boracho, translated as ‘drunken beef,’ is another dish that hails from the Cochabamba region.
Pan-fried beef cutlets are served in a tasty sauce made of onion, tomato, locoto, and beer.
Topped with sliced raw onion for a fresh kick and accompanied by boiled potatoes, this one is an easy people pleaser.
Fricasé is a pork dish that uses large cuts of pork boiled with garlic, cumin, oregano, lime juice, and toasted ají.
The broth is then thickened with bread crumbs. It is served over chuños, and mote.
Mote is a species of corn native to Bolivia that has bigger kernels than their more common variety.
You might think this dish would fit under the soups category because it is brothy. However, it is so filling that if you started your two-course lunch with fricasé, your second course couldn’t be anything more than maybe a little strawberry.
Arroz con queso, translated as ‘cheesy rice,’ is a side dish, but it would be better stated that it is the side dish.
Bolivia has a strong beef and pork industry and they love to do churrascos (barbecue grill) on weekends or for celebrations.
A barbeque is not a barbeque in Bolivia without a generous helping of cheesy rice to the side of your steaks, chorizos, and kebabs.
Steam your rice, and then after it’s done cooking, add in a lot of milk and shredded or cubed cheese and stir.
Because Bolivians usually eat a very large lunch, merienda or tecito (tea time) is when these foods are typically eaten.
The foods listed here are four of the most beloved. These snacks often end up as a substitute for supper.
Empanadas are yummy pastries common throughout Latin America, and Bolivia is no exception.
The empanada that is most unique to the country, is the cheese empanada. It is stuffed with salty cheese, deep fried, and then dusted with powdered sugar.
The salty cheese is a delicious contrast to the powdered sugar sprinkled on top. The airy, flaky crust keeps it light enough that you will be reaching for a second.
Oven-baked chicken and beef empanadas are common breakfasts for Bolivians to buy on their way to work serving as a fast yet filling breakfast.
Cuñapes are little cheesy round bread rolls made from yucca flour and salty cheese.
They are sold in bakeries, grocery stores, and on street corners by home chefs nationwide.
They are soft and puffy on the outside, and gooey cheesy on the inside. You can never stop at just one.
Zonzo (also spelled sonso) is another Bolivian favorite. In a creamy zonzo, yucca is the star that shines.
The yucca is boiled, de-veined, and mashed. It is then thoroughly mixed with lots of shredded cheese, milk, and a bit of butter, and baked in the oven.
Masaco de platano is a traditional snack consisting of ripe plantains that are boiled and then mashed.
Salty grated cheese and lime juice are then sprinkled on top – the cheesier, the better.
This delightful snack gives a punch of sweet, sour, and salty all in one bite.
Helado de Canela is cinnamon ice cream, and it is sold all summer long in cafes, mom-and-pop stands, and in the streets.
It is the perfect refreshment on those days when the sun’s heat threatens to overwhelm you.
This simple ice cream is flavored with cinnamon and sugar. Most commonly it is a water-based dessert served as a snow cone, but some restaurants and ice cream shops make a milk version as well.
Budín de quinoa is an easy favorite. Quinoa is first cooked with sugar and cinnamon. Once cooled, eggs and raisins are beaten into the quinoa until creamy. This mixture is baked in the oven to set. Eat this pudding cold with a cup of coffee.
As you can see from this list of Bolivian foods, they go big and they go hearty. Which of these foods do you think is the most unique? It is so much fun trying foods from other cultures. Which of these foods do you most wish to taste? You can learn so much about the world without ever leaving your kitchen!
Packed with fresh ingredients and tongue-tickling tastes, there’s something for all foodies when it comes to the foods of Bolivia.
As with so many Latin American cuisines, the variations in altitude help create a diverse range of foods. Bolivia is no different.
In the west of the country, the colder climate of the Altiplano region has seen plenty of herbs and spices find their way into native dishes.
In the east, where the land is lower and climate warmer, ripe and fleshy fruits and vegetables are far more commonly used in cooking.
The indigenous Aymara people were incredibly resourceful. And they had to be to survive the harsh climate of the Andes.
They laid the foundations of Bolivian food, creating hearty dishes with simple carbohydrates, like rice and wheat, and tender meats.
Through the centuries, Spanish, European, and Arab influence has slowly evolved Bolivian foods into a far more complex and diverse affair.
Today, as we have just explored, there’s a wide array of unique and wholesome dishes, enjoyed throughout the country.
Bolivians are proud, passionate people, and so much of that energy is poured into their food. It makes for a memorable culinary experience.
Before we go, one final time here’s the full list of the popular foods in Bolivia covered in the article.
Be sure to have this list of Bolivian food handy when you visit so that you can try one or more of these popular and traditional foods.
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Want to keep all of these delicious Bolivian food picks in a safe place? Save this article to one of your food or travel boards on Pinterest. That way, you’ll also be able to find this wonderful list of foods to try in Bolivia.
Contributor: Lori Fuqua hails from Santa Cruz De La Sierra. She is a passionate ghostwriter and content creator, and writes on a number of topics. These include Bolivian tourism and native recipes.
Images licensed via Shutterstock
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