A Guide to Food and Drink in Bolivia
I was told by several people that the food in Bolivia is pretty bad.
It would be hard to come by fresh fruits and vegetables. And of course there is food poisoning to worry about.
However, I actually enjoyed the food in Bolivia.
Sure, you can get lots of fried street food that looks like it has been soaking in year-old oil since yesterday. But I was pleasantly surprised by the excellent fresh vegetables and fruits (many that were new to me), pure juices, homemade soups, and flavorful traditional dishes.
I put together this guide to help anyone traveling to Bolivia know which foods and drinks to seek out (or avoid) and where to find them. This is not a complete list because that would just be huge, but these are the most common and most interesting I found.
Guide to Bolivian Food and Drinks
I made myself so many delicious fruit salads with some of the best mango and papaya I have ever had. I was also thrilled to discover new, tasty fruits I had never seen before.
This one is my absolute favorite because it looks so weird on the outside and the inside but has this incredible sweet flavor unlike anything else I’ve eaten.
It is very easy to open despite its rough-looking exterior. Just pull it apart, and eat the white part, careful to avoid the large black seeds. I just put a chunk of the white fruit in my mouth, ate around the seed, and then spit it out the seed. Yep, I’m classy like that. You can pick out the seeds before eating if you have more patience than me.
This was another great discovery. I kept seeing these things that looked like giant bean pods, and I finally asked a vendor what they are. Of course, the word pacay didn’t mean anything to me, but I was able to figure out that it was indeed a fruit.
I decided to just buy it and try it out. I had no clue how to eat it though. Luckily, one of the workers at my hostel was happy to show me how to open it along the seam (a little tough, so you have to use your fingernails or a knife).
Inside you will find large black seeds covered in a white fuzzy skin. Pop out each seed, put it in your mouth, suck off the slightly sweet white part, and spit out the seed.
This is not a fruit you would want to eat plain because it is very sour and acidic, but it is delicious combined with another fruit or with some sugar in a smoothie.
Juices, Smoothies, and Other Healthy Drinks
The ease of getting fresh squeezed juices or fresh blended fruits with milk was one of my favorite food discoveries in Bolivia. I had at least one every day.
Zumo is the word used for a fresh-squeezed fruit juice (e.g. zumo de naranja = pure orange juice).
Jugo is a fresh fruit juice usually with either water or milk added.
Mocochinchi is a very sweet peach cider served cold.
Linaza is a refreshing, mild, super-healthy beverage made from flax seed. Sometimes they add spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. I preferred it without sugar.
This salsa made of chopped chillies and tomatoes in water is put on every Bolivian table and is used to add flavor and spice to all dishes. It was most commonly found in Sucre.
You will see EVERYONE eating this snack, from little kids to the older ladies selling bread on the street. This is made from dry corn that is “peeled” by soaking and cooking it until it is removed from its husk. It is similar to hominy and looks like fat “blown-up” corn.
There are hundreds of different types of potatoes in Bolivia. Every dish you order will come with a side of potatoes. They may look a little strange, but they are always cooked to perfection.
You will find lots of rice and pasta, but quinoa is my preference. It’s a pseudo-grain. Look for pastel de quinoa (quiche) or even a cereal/ topping like what I put on my fruit salads (shown above).
Broth-based soups are very prevalent in Bolivia and have lots of flavor. You will probably notice there is a lot of oil floating around at the top of the broth…. Maybe that’s one of the reasons the soups taste so good.
There are many different types, but one of the most common is sopa de mani. This soup is made with peanuts and is a must-try.
Yes, that’s right. Bolivians make alfajores too. Sometimes they look like the same alfajores I made in Argentina. Other times they are a little less pretty (like the photo above).
Dulce de leche is called manjar de leche in Bolivia. You can find alfajores in Bolivia filled with a vanilla custard also.
Cakes, Cakes, Cakes!
Bolivians make very pretty cakes. And you can usually buy a single slice at a cake shop or in the cake section of the food market. Tarija is especially known for their variety of cakes.
Did you know they make good chocolate in Bolivia?
Check out the Bolivia Travel Tips page for my favorite spot to buy chocolate in Sucre.
Rosquetes are huge crunchy donuts covered with white frosting. Sounds like it might be good, right?
I thought they were terrible.
Or maybe I just had a stale one. All I know is they tasted flavorless and just got stuck in my teeth.
Cerdo a la Cruz
This is a common dish in Tarija and gets its name because the pieces of pork are placed in the shape of a cross on the plate.
Greasy, crispy pork goodness.
Chicken is very common in Bolivia. My two favorite chicken dishes are picante de pollo (spicy chicken) and amarillo de pollo (yellow chicken). I have no idea what yellow chicken actually has on it, but it is delicious… and yellow.
The chorizo in Bolivia is a bit different than Argentina. There is no chimichurri, but the spices used are quite delicious. Or maybe it’s the fact that it’s cooked in oil
See the Bolivia Travel Tips page for the best place to each choripan in Sucre.
I have to admit I refused to try this. I was so disgusted by the looks of this traditional dish from Tupiza that I went to bed to bed hungry (only eating soup) our second night of the tour to the Salar de Uyuni.
French fries topped with hot dogs, hard-boiled eggs, onions, ketchup, and mayo is something I do not need to try to know if I’ll like it.
This spicy ground beef dish is served with noodles or rice and is a common dish in Tarija.
It tastes okay (a little too greasy for my liking). It seems the popularity is because it is a very cheap for a lot of food.
The Bolivian version of empanadas are my personal favorite in all of Latin America.
Asados are not just for Argentines. Bolivians like the parrilla too, however, you will find that the quality of the steak is nowhere near what you get in Argentina. It is still worth trying because you will often find that the seasoning (and low price) make up for the quality.
You can go to a gringo bar and find any typical drink you want and even a few imported beers. Here I share the drinks unique to Bolivia.
I wrote about this special breakfast drink from Tarija. You won’t be able to find it at a restaurant though (read the post to find out why).
Bolivian beer is light and flavorless just like the beer in the rest of Latin America (except in Chile and a few exceptions in Argentina). However, Lipeña is worth trying because it is slightly better, and most importantly, it is made with quinoa.
I did my best to try as many wines as possible, but I was NOT impressed with Bolivian wine. They supposedly have the same climate as the incredible wine region in Cafayate, Argentina, but the majority of the wines I tried were either extremely dry or sickeningly sweet. I don’t mind a dry wine, but when the wine is so dry that it has no flavors of fruit or spices or anything except alcohol, that’s not a good thing.
I have been told that Bolivians simply prefer a different style of wine. They also mix cheap jugs of wine with soda (and I don’t mean club soda), so I don’t really give much weight to their opinions on wine.
On the plus side, Bolivian wine is cheap, so at least my attempts at finding a good wine did not blow my budget.
My favorite wines came from Casa Grande. Note that I could not find Casa Grande outside of Tarija.
Another good and cheaper option that can be found in other parts of Bolivia is this Aranjuez Duo blend of tannat and merlot.
Where to Eat and Drink
The markets are the best place to go for fresh and cheap fruits. In all food markets I experienced, there was a section of fruit ladies making awesome fruit salads, fresh smoothies, and other healthy drinks. Note with all fruits and vegetables, wash them very well.
Also, if you want to eat traditional dishes on the cheap, the markets are still the best place to go. There is usually a whole section with food vendors and community tables. Many of these vendors serve the same dishes. My suggestion is to go to the one with the longest line.
For specific restaurant suggestions, check out the Bolivia Travel Tips page.
This is not a complete list, and I know there are other traditional dishes in different parts of Bolivia.