Bolivian culinary adventure 101 | 14 must try Bolivian foods & 5 unmissable Bolivian drinks
Updated: Jun 9
Overall, I wouldn’t say Bolivian food is an ingenious gastronomic achievement, and like a lot of South American countries, when eating out vegetables are few and far between. Whilst we are meat eaters we also eat a lot of veggies at home and found this a bit of a struggle in Bolivia. However, if you are able to cook for yourself in your hostel or Airbnb, you will find the market teeming with deliciously fresh fruit and vegetables.
For vegetarians and vegans more restaurant options are starting to appear, particularly in cities like Santa Cruz, La Paz & Sucre, and you will usually find a small selection of at least vegetarian dishes on most menus.
Table of Contents
Must try Bolivian food
1. Pique Macha
This is a popular dish you will see all over Bolivia. It’s not exactly a complex recipe but the locals love it! It is basically French fries/chips in a thin gravy like sauce, topped with sliced cooked onion and pieces of beef and Frankfurter style sausage! You may find it to also have a couple of fresh tomato slices or rings of pepper on top too. I know what you’re thinking, I said they didn’t do veg 😉 Not my cup of tea personally but Dave had it a couple of times and enjoyed it.
2. Sopa de mani and Sopa de quinoa
If you opt for a menu del dia (menu of the day) in a Bolivian restaurant the starter will most likely be one of these soups. Bolivian is the second biggest producer of quinoa in the world (after Peru) and so it is no surprise that you’ll find this grain everywhere. We ate a lot of quinoa soup whilst in Bolivia and generally found it to be very pleasant. Usually served as a thin vegetable broth, the addition of quinoa makes it very filling. Only a couple of times did it come out like a wallpaper paste consistency, which we struggled to eat! Sopa de mani (peanut soup) is slightly creamier and as the name suggests is made from peanuts. We didn’t actually have this soup as neither of us like the taste of peanuts but it was a certainly another popular choice in Bolivia.
3. Trucha (Trout)
At first you may think it odd for trout to be so readily available across a land locked country but Lake Titicaca on the border of Bolivia and Peru is the abundant source of the fish. Brown and Rainbow trout were introduced into Lake Titicaca in the late 30s & early 40s with the help of the US. The governments thought the trout would supplement the existing species and allow the countries to benefit from commercial fishing. Unfortunately, the trout became the top predators in the lake killing a lot of the smaller native species and creating competition for the larger species for food. The trout is very tasty and seems to always be served in the same way, grilled or fried accompanied by chips, rice and salad (don’t get excited, salad = a lettuce leaf, two slices of cucumber and tomato and maybe if you’re lucky a ring of raw onion!).
4. Picante de Pollo
You will probably come across slightly different versions of this recipe but the common factors seem to be chicken served in a spicy tomato based sauce with peas! The dish I had came with rice, salad and creole potatoes & was very delicious. You can definitely taste the Spanish influence in the spices.
This is a traditional rice dish that has dried meat, chopped onions, and tomatoes mixed in. It can be served as a side as we had at the market in Santa Cruz.
Popular in the city of Cochabamba but found around the country this dish consists of a large, flattened piece of beef served with rice, a fried egg and thinly sliced potatoes & finely chopped fresh tomatoes and onions. Again, not a looker but tastes better than it looks.
Found mostly in Tarija, this dish is a spiced minced beef and potato stew served with rice or noodles (although more like pasta) and the usual fresh tomato and red onion mix! I thought this dish was particularly delicious.
A snack that has been in Bolivia since the 16th century originating in the Andes. Anticucho is skewered beef (or sometimes chicken) hearts which are then grilled. This popular dish can be found on many street stalls as well as in in some traditional restaurants.
If you have been anywhere in the Americas between Argentina and Mexico, you will no doubt have tried empanadas, salteñas are Bolivian’s version (for more info see our Argentinian food & Mexican food blogs). Delicious pastry filled parcels, slightly sweater than an empanada, filled with either chicken & veg, just veg, beef or spicy beef or chicken. Be aware, there will mostly likely be a small whole hard-boiled egg nestled in there somewhere and you may even come across unpitted olives, so watch your teeth! Bolivians love tucking into these at breakfast although you can find them throughout the day. They are also much juicer than an empanada and therefore a lot messier! I believe only a true Bolivian can eat a salteñas without getting covered in it!
More pastry filled parcels, again usually with options of chicken, veg or beef. These are probably more like empanadas as they are less sweet and less juicy but made from a slightly crispier pastry and deep fried. You will see ladies with small trollies selling these on the street for about 5 Bolivianos. You will be handed your tucumanas in a small plastic bag and invited to help yourself to the selection of sauces and topping she has on offer. These might be sliced cabbage, mildly picked onion and tomato salsa. The locals take a bite and then add the toppings to the filling inside.
11. Relleno de papa (Bolivian stuffed potatoes)
I really liked these and they reminded a little bit of Lebanese Kibbehs. Deep fried mash potato balls stuffed with either beef, eggs or cheese. We were served them in a bowl and given a separate bowl of thin spicy sauce with stir fried onions and peppers in it to spoon on top. A really simple yet filling snack or lunch.
12. Sandwich de Chola
Traditionally prepared by the Cholitas* of La Paz, this sandwich is made of pork, topped with spicy salsa and picked vegetables.
13. Avocado sandwiches (Sandwich de Palta)
The avocados are huge & delicious in this part of the world and you will find in the markets it is easy to get your hands on an avo sandwich. They are keen to add cheese and tomato but if you want it plain, just ask.
My favourite sweet snack in Bolivia. Two crumbly, buttery shortbread biscuits sandwiched together with dulce de leche (which is a caramel sauce made by slowly heating milk and sugar for many hours) and rolled in desiccated coconut.
* We found the use of the name Cholita, and the shortened version of Chola, for the indigenous women of Bolivia to vary across the country. In some places, like La Paz, Cholita is used widely and is perfectly acceptable, however we were told the use of Chola was rude and degrading. Likewise in other parts of Bolivia Cholita is viewed in the same way! I never did quite get my head around it so just a word of caution when using these terms. We were assured that to ask for the advertised Sandwich de Chola, even in La Paz was fine as after all “that is it’s name”! Confusing!
1. Fresh Fruit Juices
At every market you will find fruit juice stalls piled high with every fruit you could imagine. You can select the fruit you want in your juice or ask for a mix. You then have the option of whether you want ‘natural’, i.e. just the fruit juice. This is a little more expensive as more fruit is needed. Or you can opt for con aqua (with water) or con leche (with milk). We have found the water to always be bottled but if you are unsure just ask. We never have milk, just a personal choice, but as long as the milk is kept cold you should be fine.
2. Freshly squeezed orange juice
Alternatively, you will find orange juice ladies and gentlemen on nearly every street corner. Freshly squeezed, delicious orange juice on demand.
Singani is the national drink, a spirit produced in the high valleys, made from the muscat grape. It’s actually pretty good! As with all spirits there are different levels of quality but Dave, as a rum drinker, was very impressed with the flagship Singani we tried on our Tarija wine tour at Casa Real. Had we been travelling home soon he would have taken a bottle or two home.
4. Chuflay cocktails
I, not generally being a spirit drinker, much preferred the chuflay cocktail. The traditional Chuflay is simply made with ice, lime, singani and ginger beer. In La Paz we had a go at making a slightly different version which involved muddling berries in the glass first. Both versions are very tasty.
5. Bolivian wine
We were very impressed with Bolivian wine during our stay and tried some great reds from a few different producers. During our wine tour in Tarija we particularly enjoyed the wines from Campos de Solana (which is actually the same company as the Singani producer Casa Real). They had won an impressive number of awards and with wines like that Bolivia is slowly creeping onto the world wide wine stage. The locals however have a slightly different palate to many new world wine drinkers and their choice of everyday wine is like drinking syrup! Ridiculously sweet. The wine they described as semi-sweet we would probably have said was a dessert wine so you can imagine what the wines they describe as sweet were like!
Here are a few producers we found to be very drinkable and extremely affordable (from £2.50 a bottle in a supermarket!)