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The Best Traditional Foods You Need to Try on Your Trip to Bolivia

Picture of Harry Stewart
Updated: 8 March 2017
It’s fair to say Bolivia isn’t a world famous culinary destination, with many of its dishes focused around the carb-heavy, pre-colonial staples of potatoes and rice. But there are a few mouthwatering local delicacies that are worth sampling for yourself. Here is our list of the yummiest Bolivian foods that must be tasted on your next visit to the country.

Salteñas

The quintessential Bolivian breakfast, salteñas are a tasty, oven-baked pastry filled with peas, carrots, potatoes and meat, drowning in copious amounts of sweet and spicy gravy. Ubiquitous throughout the country, they are said to have originated from an Argentinian woman who moved to Bolivia and made the best empanadas in the land. Local mothers would tell their children to “pick me up a few empanadas from the Salteña” (women from Salta), and thus the name was born. Eating them without making a mess is a source of pride among Bolivians, best achieved by biting the end off and drinking the gravy before devouring the rest.

Woman selling salteñas | © Madeleine Deaton
Woman selling salteñas | © Madeleine Deaton

Sajta

A western Bolivian institution featuring seasoned boiled chicken served on top of rice, diced tomato, onion and chuño (freeze-dried Andean potatoes). The chuño might not be to everyone’s liking but the dish is about as traditional as they come.

Tucumanas

Similar to the salteña, tucumanas are deep-fried instead of oven-baked. They’re sold throughout the country in the mornings and accompanied by a colorful array of sauces with various different flavors. This creative technique allows a different taste to be ingested with every mouthful.

Breakfast tucumanas | © Jonathan Hood/Flickr
Breakfast tucumanas | © Jonathan Hood/Flickr

Pique macho

Resembling something of an Andean stir fry, Pique Macho is a heap of chopped up beef and sliced potatoes accompanied with onions, locoto (a type of chilli pepper) and boiled eggs and smothered in ketchup, mayonnaise or mustard. Legend has it that a group of drunken workers visited a closed restaurant late one night and demanded something to eat. The owner reluctantly threw everything she had left in a pan with plenty of spicy locoto and told them “piquen si son machos” (“eat it if you’re man enough”). She must have done a pretty good job because it remains a popular dish throughout the country.

Silpancho

A Bolivian classic hailing from the Cochabamba region, Silpancho features a crumbed slice of beef served on top of rice and accompanied with diced tomatoes, onions and potato. A fried egg is placed on top to provide the finishing touches to this hearty meal.

Anticucho

Anticucho are a popular late night snack throughout the city. Don’t let the fact that the meat is actually flame-grilled cow heart put you off – the dish is surprisingly delicious. Each serving is accompanied by a grilled potato smothered in spicy peanut sauce. Keep an eye out for a cholita with a portable grill waiting patiently outside the local watering hole.

Cholita selling anticucho | © lilap/Flickr
Cholita selling anticucho | © lilap/Flickr

Sopa de mani

Bolivians love their soup. Every almuerzo (set lunch) starts with one, and sopa de mani (peanut soup) is the best of the lot. A simple combination of peanuts, vegetables, pasta and finely sliced potato makes it a great way to start a traditional Bolivian lunch.

Chicharrón

Perhaps not so good for the arteries but scrumptious nonetheless. Chicharrón are heavily salted, deep-fried chunks of beef, chicken or pork which are usually still dripping in fat. Often accompanied by choclo – a type of corn local to the region – they make for an enjoyable if somewhat unhealthy snack.

Llajwa

Not a food in itself, llajwa (pronounced yak-wa) is the essential Bolivian salsa. This famous spicy sauce features ground up tomato, onion and hot locoto, making it a welcome addition to any Bolivian dish. Traditionally prepared on a grinding stone known locally as a batan, llajwa can be found served in most Bolivian restaurants.

Majadito

Majadito comes from the sweltering lowlands of Santa Cruz, where the tropical climate inspires cuisine that is noticeably different from typical Andean fare. This dish consists of rice cooked with annatto to provide color and flavor alongside beef jerky, sliced onions, peppers, garlic, chopped tomato and a fried egg. Fried bananas are served on the side to give it that tropical touch.

Sandwich de chola

A popular street food in La Paz, sandwich de chola consists of seasoned roast pork and pickled vegetables with various herbs and spices. It got its name because it’s usually served by a cholita, an affectionate name for an indigenous woman.

Trucha

The trucha (trout) from Lake Titicaca is about as good as it gets. They are cooked using a variety of methods, although grilled is normally the best option. The fish, smothered in fresh lemon juice, is the main focus of the dish, with a side portion of rice, choclo and salad serving only as a filler.

Sonso

Meaning “silly” in English, no one really knows how it got its funny name. This sweet snack is made from yuca dough (a South American root) fried on a hotplate along with cheese, eggs and butter. Originally coming from the tropical lowlands, it’s widely considered as one of the better Bolivian desserts and is gaining popularity throughout the country.

Fricase

Fricase is a spicy pork or chicken soup that is popular in the highlands as a main dish rather than entrée. Adapted from a French dish to suit local tastes, fricase is comprised of onion, garlic, choclo, cumin, black pepper, oregano and breadcrumbs which give it a thicker consistency. It’s most commonly eaten on weekends as a local hangover cure.

Chicken Fricase | © Krista/Flickr
Chicken fricase | © Krista/Flickr

Ají de fideo

This spicy noodle dish is another western highland favorite. The combination of potato, ground locoto, garden herbs, flavoring and minced meat makes for a filling and enjoyable meal.

Mondongo

The most famous dish from Sucre, mondongo is a spicy pork stew accompanied with ground locoto, garlic and peppers, served on top of a generous portion of choclo. Much like fricase, mondongo is a popular weekend option as it is said to provide relief from a lengthy drinking session.