Food in Bolivia
Bolivian cuisine could be described as the original “meat and potatoes” – the latter (called papas by the Quechua) were first cultivated by the Incas before spreading around the world. The most common meat is beef, but chicken and llama are also readily available. Pork is relatively common. Frying (chicharron) is a common method of preparing all types of meat, and fried chicken is a popular fast food; its smell sometimes permeates the streets of Bolivian cities. Guinea pig (cuy) and rabbit (conejo) are eaten in rural areas, although they can sometimes be found in urban restaurants. A common condiment served with Bolivian meals is ll’ajwa, a spicy sauce similar to Mexican salsa.
The almuerzo is a very popular lunchtime meal that usually consists of a starter (entrada), soup, main course (segundo) and dessert. Take a walk down many streets in Bolivian cities and you will see the menu of the day in every restaurant. Most have at least two main courses to choose from. Almuerzos cost between Bs. 15 and 25, depending on the restaurant or “pension”.
Some notable Bolivian dishes:
- Pique a lo macho – pieces of meat grilled in a lightly spiced sauce with tomatoes and onions, over potatoes
- Silpancho – beef pounded into a thin, plate-sized patty, served on a bed of rice and potatoes, with a fried egg on top (similar to Wiener Schnitzel).
- Picante de Pollo – the degree of spiciness depends on the cook/chef.
- Fritanga (Bolivian fried pork)
Street food and snacks :
- Anticucho – grilled beef hearts on a skewer, served with potatoes and a spicy peanut sauce.
- Salchipapa – thinly sliced sausage fried with potatoes
- Choripan – Chorizo (spicy sausage) sandwich, served with grilled onions and lots of sauce.
The mid-morning snack usually consists of one or more meat-filled buns:
- Salteña – A baked bun filled with meat and potatoes in a slightly sweet or spicy sauce. Be careful when you take a bite, as the sauce drips everywhere!
- Tucumana – Like a Salteña, but fried.
- Empanada – Similar to a Saltena, often filled with cheese and meat.
- Cuñape – Small bread filled with cheese, similar to the Brazilian Pão de Queijo. The bread is made from cassava flour.
Many people also start the day with a fruit tea:
- Ensalada de frutas – Several different fruits chopped in a bowl with yoghurt. Very filling. Some of the stands have honey, nuts or gelatine added if you wish.
Vegetarians will find decent to very good options in the country’s gringos. But the markets also offer good vegetarian options (mainly potatoes, rice, a fried egg and a salad for about 7Bs.) In the larger cities there are a few all-vegetarian restaurants (decent to good).
Coca has been part of Andean culture for centuries, and chewing is still very common (and perfectly legal) in Bolivia. You should be able to buy a large bag of dried leaves at the local market. Coca is a stimulant, and it also suppresses hunger. Chewing a bunch of leaves for a few minutes should make your lips and throat slightly numb. Remember the slogan (printed on souvenir T-shirts): Coca no es Cocaina (“The coca leaf is not cocaine”). But cocaine is most certainly an illegal drug. Remember: only chew the leaf; if you eat the coca leaf, you will have a very sick stomach.
Drinks in Bolivia
Juice bars are available in most markets. Milkshakes (with water or milk) cost 2 to 3 Bs. Locals can be seen drinking Vitaminico, a concoction of egg, beer and sugar, or “Vitima”, which contains coca leaves.
- Licuado – water or milk mixed with your favourite fruit combination. A large spoonful of sugar is added, unless you specifically ask not to. Try the milk and papaya licuado. You should probably ask if the added water is from the botella (bottle) or from the tap (not recommended).
- Vitaminico – Don’t ask what’s in it. Lots of fruit, milk, sugar, a glass of beer and, if you like, a whole egg (with shell).
- Mocochinchi – A drink made by infusing peaches and spices in water. Very good, but some people are put off by the shriveled peach that is usually served with each glass.
- Api – A traditional drink made from corn, usually found in open-air markets. If you didn’t know it was corn, you’d never guess, because this stuff is good.
Bolivia’s traditional alcoholic drink is chicha, a whitish, sour beverage made from fermented corn, which is drunk from a hemispherical bowl made from a hollowed-out pumpkin (with a round bottom so it cannot be put down). It is customary to pour a little chicha on the ground before and after drinking, as an offering to Pachamama, the Inca goddess of the earth.
- Singani is a grape liqueur mixed with Sprite or ginger ale with a lime garnish to make a cocktail called Chuflay.
- There are a number of local beers, the most important being Paceña and its premium brand Huari. El Inca is a very mild beer with little alcohol. Orange cocktails are also a popular drink!
Tarija is located at 1924 metres above sea level and is known for its viticulture, its huge vineyards and its award-winning wines. Therefore, you can visit the beautiful wineries and taste wine there, such as: Campos De Solana, Kohlberg, Casa Vieja, Valle De Concepción, and Casa Real, where the famous Singani is made.