We spent a happy 3 1/2 weeks in Bolivia and I am pleased to say that the food did not disappoint. There are plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables and a good variety of meat treats to try. Local staples include corn, quinoa and potato and many meals feature a variety of carbs – it is not unusual to find rice, potato and pasta on one plate. Food in Bolivia is also very cheap when compared to their Argentine neighbours and it is possible to pick up a very filling meal for as little as 12Bs (£1.20, $1.60).
We stayed in the highlands, through Potosí, Sucre, La Paz and Copacabana. There are many regional dishes and I am sure there is also much to sample in the lowlands around Santa Cruz and in the culinary centre of Cochabamba – we did however still enjoy a lot of variety. Here were some of our favourites:
1. Soup, soup and more soup
Bolivian’s love soup and it comes in endless varieties. It is common to have soup before a main dish for both lunch and dinner. A bowl of soup can come cheap at a food stall in the market or at a small local restaurant – as little as 4Bs (£0.4, $0.6) – so it is a great, nutritious cheap eat. Some tasty varieties include sopa de maní (peanut soup) which includes ground peanuts and is a yellow colour and sopa de veduras (vegetable soup) but as a word of warning this is typically made of meat stock and don’t be surprised if there is a piece of meat floating inside.
It is also common to find pasta, quinoa, potatoes or a combination thereof floating happily in the bowl – yum. You may also find a small bowl of slightly spicy chilli sauce accompanying you dish – but forget the bread, we were not served bread with soup except in tourist restaurants where they serve more European varieties.
Our picks: it is impossible to recommend any one place but both the mercardo central (central market) in Sucre and the main market in La Paz had lots of options – or any one of many small local eateries.
2. Traditional Bolivian meals at local restaurants
There are plenty of very filling local dishes to be found as set lunchtime meals including a bowl of soup to start – as little as 12Bs (£1.20, $1.60) or for a tasty dinner, also with a bowl of soup to start. It is not uncommon to find dishes with beef, chorizo sausage, chicken, alpaca and fish along with a healthy pile of vegetables, sauce and trusty combinations of carbohydrates. We don’t recommend any particular dishes because there is a lot to try. Some that we enjoyed were:
Our picks: so many eateries to choose from (see soup above) but if you are looking for something slightly more sanitized then there is a great Bolivian fast food place in La Paz called La Quinta (calle Potosí 1240).
Saltenas are basically pockets of pastry with delicious fillings. They are very much like empanadas, which we recommended in Argentina and which are also prevalent in Bolivia) except the pastry is thicker and slightly sweet. Saltenas are baked where empanadas can be both baked or deep fried.
Our picks: look for specialist saltena eateries, saltenarias, or try the cafe Wistupiku (recommended to us by a local) on Coroico in La Paz – while there make sure you also dig into a glass of warm api (a spicy purple drink derived from maize) and cool mocochinchi (a peach flavoured drink which you can often find on the street containing a whole peach).
4. Street food
One thing we loved about Bolivia was that there is so much street food – and we don’t mean food you eat off the street. Don’t hold back, we didn’t – just look for the more popular stalls where the food looks freshest. Some things you can try include:
Our picks: keep your eyes open, there is plenty.
5. Chicken and chips
Roast chicken on a spit with a portion of chips is ever so popular with the locals and ever so tasty – served up with a nice potion of spicy sauce. This provides a filling and cheap meal, if not somewhat lacking vegetables. Buy your chicken in 1/4s or 1/2s (or wholes if you are that way inclined).
Our picks: there are loads of places behind the mercardo central in Sucre but we really enjoyed a place called El Pollo Loco on Loa 464.
6. Trout in Copacobana
Lake Titicaca is the worlds largest high altitude lake and fortunately that had the great idea to farm trout there. This means lots of tasty fresh trout is on the menu. Fish is not so prevalent in Bolivia because it is landlocked so this was a nice treat. There are lots of dishes to try with trout and you can also walk around the bay from Copacobana to the floating islands where they farm trout, select your trout and they kill it and cook it in front of you – you cannot get fresher than that.
Our picks: the floating islands (about 1.5 hour walk from Copacobana), the small canteens along the lake front in Copacobana and for something a little fancier at La Cupúla restaurant which happened also to be the place we stayed.
Some special mentions:
– Chocolate: it is very popular in Bolivia with lots of local chocolatiers – try El Ceibo and the shop Parati (for you) in Sucre.
– Pizza cones: weird and check out the special with cheese, strawberries and chocolate
– Hot dogs: yum with lots of sauce
– Tasty cafe food in Sucre – lots of homely food, tasty burgers and submarinos (hot chocolate made from real chocolate)