Some optimistic bloggers use adjectives like delicious, mouth watering, and scrumptious to describe Bolivian cuisine. I might use similar words to write about Thai, Indian, Italian, or Turkish. But Bolivian? I think bland, boring, and dull are much more accurate.
I’m willing to bet you have never seen a Bolivian restaurant outside of Bolivia and there’s a reason why. Although there are a few tasty exceptions, Bolivian food is just not very good. So without further ado, I present to you an honest review of Bolivian cuisine: The good, the bad, and the ugly.
(I’m being fairly generous in some cases)
Anticuchos are a popular snack throughout the Andes including Bolivia. Essentially, they are kebabs of chopped up, flame grilled, cow heart lathered in a spicy peanut sauce and accompanied with a potato. The snack is only eaten at night and is especially delicious after a few beers. Look for Cholitas waiting outside your local discotec with a mobile flame grill.
Tucumanas are a deep friend empanadas (pasties) that actually originate in Tucuman, Argentina and are typically filled with beef or chicken, boiled eggs, peas, carrot and various spices. You can usually find them in little street stalls accompanied by a huge selection of sauces and salads. The best ones in La Paz are on Calle Mexico up from the stairs from the Prado. Tucumanas and Salteñas are exclusively a breakfast or mid-morning snack so, don’t even bother trying to find one after midday.
Salteñas were invented by a lady from Salta who fled Argentina in exile to live in Tarija, Bolivia. She started making a different kind of empanada and the locals would say “go and pick up an empanada from the woman from Salta (salteña)” and thus the name was born. Salteñas are oven baked breakfast pastries with similar fillings to Tucamanas except with a sweet and sometimes spicy sauce and a firmer crust. Recipes vary somewhat throughout the country but in La Paz La Pacena Salteña and El Hornito are the best bet.
Chicharron are deep fried, crispy and extremely fatty ribs of pork, chicken or beef which are often cooked in beer. The meat part is delicious but the downside is they are usually served as a small portion of meat with a mountain of Choclo (flavorless Bolivian corn).
Sopa de Mani (peanut soup) is my favorite Bolivian soup, loaded with peanut flavor, pasta and vegetables. Like most soups, it usually forms the entree of a Bolivian almuerzo (set menu lunch).
Llajua (pronounced yak-wa) is a spicy Bolivian sauce made from ground tomato, onion, and locoto peppers. Made fresh each day, it beats any bottled hot-sauce out there. Llajua is a godsend to give some flavor to the plain white rice and potatoes which accompany almost every Bolivian dish.
Milanesa de Pollo/Carne is a chicken or beef schnitzel accompanied by plain white rice and a bland Bolivian salad of lettuce, tomato, and onion with no dressing. The schnitzel can be quite tasty (depending on the restaurant) but the accompaniments are not.
Silpancho is a Bolivian classic originally from Cochabamba. Those crafty Cochabambinos realized that if you put a fried egg on top of a slab of cooked minced meat it slightly improves the flavor. A salad of diced up tomato and onion is served on top of the egg to add a bit of interest.
Pique Macho is essentially a Bolivian version (inferior version) of an Asian stir fry, containing chopped beef, sausage, onion, tomatoes, boiled eggs, locoto (peppers) and, in true Andean style, potatoes. While it lacks the flavor of its Asian counterparts, it’s actually pretty good by Bolivian standards.
Majadito is a dish from the warmer Bolivian lowlands consisting of flavored rice with chopped beef, onions, tomatoes a fried egg and banana. I prefer it over most highland dishes but it’s still nothing to get excited about.
Trucha and Pejerrey (trout and kingfish) of very high quality can be found in Lake Titicaca, with the freshest catch to be found in Copacabana. In La Paz, try the fish market around the cemetery where buses from the lake stop to unload fish and passengers. I don’t actually eat fish so I can’t speak from experience, but pretty much everyone I know says they’re good.
Sandwich de Chola is a La Paz favorite consisting of roast pork, pickled vegetables, and salsa. This simple yet delicious combination can be found all over the city, though the best place to consume one is the food stalls near Parque de las Cholas on a Sunday afternoon, washed down with a few beers of course.
Buñuelos are a sweet, deep fried, flour based pastry smothered in icing sugar or honey which are typically served from street stalls and often eaten for breakfast along with a warm glass of Api, a sugary purple corn drink.
Sonso (which means silly, no idea why they called it this) is an afternoon pastry popular throughout the lowlands of Bolivia. The snack is made from a dough of yuca (an edible root popular in Latin America), cheese, eggs, and butter which is then fried over a hotplate like a pancake. It’s one of the better desserts in Bolivia in my opinion.
Asado means grilled or barbecued meat so one could be misled into thinking it will be delicious. The reality is that you will be served a thin, tough, and dry piece of beef accompanied by plain white rice and a bland Bolivian salad.
Saice is a combination of fried minced meat, tomatoes, peas, and a few herbs which is served with raw sliced onion and short cut pasta. While it’s not particularly offensive to the pallet, it is rather boring.
Chairo is what I would eat if I were poor, hungry, and living on the Altiplano (highlands) where there is little access to other ingredients. It’s been popular with the Aymara people since well before the Spanish invaded and for some strange reason remains popular today. Ingredients include onions, beef, carrots, choclo, heaps of potato, chuño (disgusting freeze dried potatoes), and herbs.
Fricase is a spicy pork soup popular throughout the highlands which is served as a main course rather than a starter. It was originally invented by the French and brought to Bolivia by the Spanish and has since mutated to suit local tastes. Over here, they cook it with onion, garlic, choclo, cumin, black pepper, and oregano then thicken it with breadcrumbs. Edible though unsatisfying.
Sajta is a western Bolivian staple made from boiled chicken, plain white rice, potato, chuño, and an onion and tomato garnish. This is a traditional dish of carnival but is also consumed at other times of the year, especially in La Paz. Sajta is okay (except for the chuño) but nothing to write home about.
Aji de Fideos (spices noodles) is a pasta dish accompanied with potatoes, minced meat, ground chili, yellow coloring, and various herbs and spices. Despite the name, it’s not actually very spicy so extra llajua should be added to give it a kick. The dish is filling though dull.
Plato Paceño is painfully dull and unappealing. The dish consists of a huge cob of butterless and unflavored choclo, some ridiculously large beans, fried cheese, unpeeled potatoes and, if your lucky, a piece of dry meat. It makes me sad to think this is my city’s signature dish.
Charki is similar to beef or llama jerky and can be found in empanadas or as part of an almuerzo. Unfortunately, like almost all Bolivian almuerzos, it is usually accompanied by plain white rice, potatoes, and a bland salad.
Falso Conejo means fake rabbit and this dish tastes like it could be rabbit. The typically Bolivian combination of ground beef, plain rice, vegetables, and a few herbs leaves a lot to be desired.
Papas de Huancaina actually comes from Huancayo in Peru but it’s also very popular in Bolivia. It’s a vegetarian dish consisting of lettuce, boiled eggs, potatoes, and olives smothered in a peanut sauce. The peanut sauce gives it some flavor but in my opinion it could use a bit of meat.
Pollo Picante (spicy chicken) is chicken thigh lathered in a reasonably tasty spicy sauce and served with the usual plain white rice, potato, and sliced onion. The chicken part is good enough but accompaniments are predictably bland.
Fritanga is a spicy pork, egg, corn ,and potato stew that is popular in the highlands. The sauce is quite nice but I find the ratio of corn and potato to be too high.
Mondongo is a pork stew from the Chuquisaca region of which Sucre is the capital. The stew is cooked with ground colored chili power, garlic, brown pepper, and served with a huge amount of choclo. The stew is decent but the mountain of choclo is not to my liking.
Aji de Lengua (spicy tongue) is boiled cows tongue served alongside chuño, plain white rice, onions, and peas. The texture of the tongue is predictably slimy and rubbery which makes the dish taste just as bad as it sounds.
Cuy (guinea pig) is a delicacy of the indigenous Quechua people, so look for it in Cochabamba rather than La Paz. It’s actually quite nice and tastes very similar to chicken. The downside is the little critters have millions of tiny bones which you have to sift through to get to the meat. It still belongs in the “ugly”section because it’s a little disconcerting seeing the family pet staring up at you in horror as you eat your meal.
Tripa are fried cows intestines sold as street food throughout La Paz. The texture and taste are more or less as you would expect – disgusting. They are surprisingly popular, however.
Ispi are tiny little fish from Lake Titicaca that are deep fried and eaten whole. I don’t eat seafood so I must admit I’ve never actually tried them, but they look and smell horrible. Also, keep in mind you are eating entire fish, brains and all. If that wasn’t bad enough, they are accompanied by my least favorite Bolivian sides, chuño and choclo.
Aji de Panza means spicy cows stomach. As you may have figured out by now, not much goes to waste in Bolivia. Typically accompanied by potatoes and rice with a sauce of herbs and vegetables, the dish is pretty gross.
Rostro Asado is without a doubt the most repulsive Bolivian dish of all, the kind of food nightmares are made out of. An entire sheep’s head including eyes, nose, teeth, and wool is slow roasted in the oven and you know it’s ready when the sheep’s wool “slides off like a glove”. The rather unappetizing head is then served alongside bread, potatoes, and rice. Thankfully, this monstrosity is mostly eaten in Oruro during Carnival. Believe it or not, it’s actually a traditional hang over cure. I’ll stick to my bacon and eggs, thanks.
Caldo de Cardan is bull penis soup. Yep, they eat bull dicks over here, testies and all. Don’t worry though, because this is said to be a hangover cure too. No thanks.
Most of these dishes are from La Paz which is where I live. Did I miss something important? Don’t agree with my reviews? Let me know in the comments bellow.
Fancy trying to cook some of these for yourself? Check out the following recipe websites whose pictures I “borrowed” so I feel I should give them recognition.
Mis Recetas (Spanish)