Coming into Bolivia, I’d been given the heads up by other travellers that the food was average. I love to eat so this news was most unwelcome.
Upon my arrival into the country I was adopted by a family from La Paz and told them of the rumours amongst the travel community. It was a smart move. From that moment they made it their mission to prove to me that Bolivia has muchas tasty comida.
This is by no means an exhaustive list and I’ll preface it by saying I’m an aspirational vegetarian so it’s light on the meat which definitely isn’t representative of the general population. I also spent most of my nine weeks in La Paz and there is quite a lot of regional variation in the food. Here are a few popular dishes, drinks and snacks. I was so impressed with the street food that it gets it’s own post.
This is the first thing my “family” made me try for breakfast on my first morning in Bolivia. It’s a small bread roll - crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside and not sweet like all the bread in Colombia and Ecuador (praise be!).
I will never understand why but if you watch locals eat it, they often hollow out the middle and leave the little ball of dough on their plate which is called a ‘miga’. Madness. It’s the best part!
Small savoury cheesy corn ‘bread’ made from yucca flour. You’ll see these sold on the streets or in cafes and restaurants. For anyone in La Paz I highly recommend sampling a range of these at Los Qñapé’s in San Miguel.
A traditional food from the Andean region, this savoury snack is essentially a dense corn cake that has been boiled or steamed.
Sopa de mani is a popular menu item in typical Bolivian restaurants, particularly in Cochabamba. Traditionally and most commonly it is made from beef and beef stock, although it can also be made with chicken or, more uncommonly, be vegetarian. Potatoes and peanuts are the essential ingredients but I had some kind of noodles in mine too. Always garnished with french fries, parsley and coriander (cilantro). Sounds weird, tastes delicious!
Something more filling
A Paceño or Paceña is someone from La Paz, therefore plato paceño is the typical dish of La Paz. It’s simple and unpretentious, consisting of corn, broad beans, boiled potatoes and the hero of the dish, fried cheese.
Bolivians wouldn’t dream of eating plato paceño, or almost any food at all, without their beloved salsa picante or spicy sauce. It is offered at every restaurant and street food vendor.
There are variations in the recipe but the key ingredients are: tomato, locoto (a very hot small green pepper) and quirquiña (a herb not readily available in the western world).
Such is their love for llajua that it’s rumoured the reason McDonald’s didn’t last in Bolivia was because they didn’t adapt to local ways and include it in their menu. Burger King was careful not to make the same mistake and enjoys a thriving business here.
Papas a la Huancaina
Another popular option for lunch (main meal of the day) or dinner this simple dish is just boiled potatoes, hard boiled eggs, lettuce, tomato, cheese and delicious peanut sauce.
Although found throughout the country, this dish is most popular in Cochabamba and in my opinion seems a little unworthy of its reputation. It’s simply rice and a slab of meat topped with a fried egg. You’ll likely get some vegetables or a small salad on the side.
Something to drink
Selling freshly made drinks on the streets are very popular. Be careful if they are water based as it’s highly likely they will be made from the tap water.
Looking and even tasting suspiciously like mulled wine, this delicious beverage is made from purple corn. It’s sweet, thick and easy drinking!
Yes, I’ve spelled that right and it’s not a shrivelled grape. This sweet, warm drink is made from the shells of coffee beans but doesn’t have a hint of the taste of coffee.
This sweet beverage (see a theme here?) is made from dehydrated peaches and flavoured with spices like cinnamon and cloves. It can be drunk hot or cold and the best bit is the dehydrated peach at the bottom.