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When talk comes to food in South America, people mention steaks and ceviche. Argentina is praised for its excellent beef and Peru for its huge variety of dishes. You might even know a few Brazilian or Columbian dishes. But have you ever heard of Bolivian food?
As I found out while visiting this Andean nation, Bolivia has a lot of delicious food to offer. From market stalls to fancy restaurants, you will never run out of possibilities to try yet another dish. I’ve put together my favourite ones below, so you know what to ask for.
Also, if you want to learn more about Bolivian food, I recommend joining a foodie tour. We went with Red Cap Tours in La Paz, which was lots of fun and also very tasty.
But for now, let me recommend the food I enjoyed most while travelling through Bolivia.
#1 Pique a lo Macho
There is no dish more typically Bolivian than this one. It is a huge plate filled with beef, sausage, boiled eggs, french fries or potatoes, onions and red and green peppers. Ingredients vary from one city and also one restaurant to another but one thing is certain. You will not be hungry after ordering this dish. Most portions are large enough to feed at least two people.
Two legends surround the creation of this dish. The first one goes back to the size of the serving. You’re a macho if you can finish one by yourself. My advice? Don’t even try. Just share it with a friend.
The second legend says that a group of hungry workers arrived at a restaurant late in the night. The owner had already closed up and told them she didn’t have food anymore. But the workers insisted that they would eat anything that she could make. So the woman threw together a plate of “anything”, added lots of chillies to help with the workers’ drunkenness and said “piquen si son machos”. That roughly translates to “eat if you’re manly enough” and later turned into the name of the dish.
That second legend mentions chillies. They are a huge part of pique a lo macho and can make the dish so spicy that I wouldn’t be able to eat it anymore. When ordering, make sure to specify the degree of spiciness you would like. Picante is spicy in Spanish, so if you want it mild, just say “no picante” and they should understand.
#2 Fritanga de Cerdo
Fritanga de Cerdo is one of the dishes I tried on my foodie tour in La Paz. It consists of well-cooked pork covered by a spicy red sauce that contains lots of garlic and onions and is usually served with corn and (dehydrated) potatoes. The dish, as our guide explained to us, is often served for regional holidays in Potosí and Sucre. If you are in Sucre, you might find it on the menu under the name of “Fritanga chuquisaqueña”. That’s because chuquisaqueña refers to the Chuquisaca Department, where Sucre is located.
If you are wondering what dehydrated potatoes are, take a walk across a local market. They look almost like rocks, either white or dark purple, and can be kept for many years. To cook them, they are soaked in water for a night and then prepared like regular potatoes. In the picture above, look at the brown things that resemble mushrooms. Those are the dehydrated potatoes.
#3 Chicharrón de Cerdo
This is a pork dish somewhat similar to Fritanga de Cerdo. It originated in Cochabamba, where chefs cook it on weekends and prepare it in front of the costumers who then eat it. The meat is cooked for a long time in a mixture of its own fat and chicha (an alcoholic drink made of corn). It is also served with corn and potatoes, but unlike Fritanga, it does not come with a spicy sauce.
Chicharrón de Cerdo might not look like the most appetising dish if you find it on one of those menus with photographs, but it is definitely worth ordering for its deliciousness.
#4 Api con pastel
Api is, without a doubt, my favourite Bolivian drink. Most of the time, you will find Api Morado (purple Api), which is made of purple corn, cinnamon, cloves and orange peel. As api comes from the Andes and it gets very cold up there, the drink is served hot When you order it, it usually comes together with pastel, a fried cheese-filled pastry.
Besides Api Morado, you can also find Api Blanco (white api), which people make with white corn. Locals like to have Api con Pastel for breakfast when it is still cold and the drink warms them up. I, on the other hand, think that Api is great at any time of the day. With all those spices, it reminded me of German Glühwein, minus the alcohol, and I couldn’t get enough of it.
You can get Api con Pastel at most marketplaces, close to the juice vendors. You should also keep an open eye at bus stations, where vendors sell it to those poor guys who arrive on one of the overnight busses without heating. In addition, Api is a typical Carnival drink so you’ll see it everywhere around that time.
#5 Sopa de maní
Did you know that scientists believe that peanuts originated in Bolivia? From there, the nut spread to other South American regions. In Peru, archaeologists found pods that are about 7,600 years old and many pre-Colombian cultures depicted peanuts in their art. Eventually, these nuts became popular all over the world and are now a staple ingredient in many different cuisines.
But as peanuts originated in Bolivia, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to you that one very traditional dish is made with them. Go and try Sopa de Mani, a soup that was likely created somewhere near Cochabamba.
The soup is made with potatoes and ground peanuts, which gives it a milky appearance and creamy texture. Besides potatoes, you will find beef and vegetables like carrots and celery in it. Oh, and the pasta. Most of the places we went to served Sopa de Mani with pasta. Some also decorate the soup with a few french fries or fried bread on top.
When you order Sopa de Mani, you will usually also get llajua, a red Bolivian sauce that you can use to add spiciness to the dish. Be careful. The sauce is made of chillies, so don’t add too much at once.
Talking about soups, Jankaquipa is another Bolivian soup that you should try. It is one of the dishes I had on my foodie tour in La Paz. The soup is made with corn, onions and, of course, potatoes and is a typical starter served in the Andes.
Jankaquipa, just like Kalapurka, is classified as Lagua. It took us a while to find out what that means, but fortunately, Daniel speaks Spanish and we can therefore now tell you that Laguas are thick soups. We’re not surprised that they’re popular in Bolivia as it gets very cold in the Andes at night. You might be fine during the day, but as soon as the sun disappears, you’ll be freezing.
Most locals will eat Jankaquipa in winter. But if you’re like me and you’re always cold, you should get some Jankaquipa at any time of the year to warm you up!
Mondongo is another pork dish. The meat, which still has a lot of fat on it, is cooked in a sauce with onions, chillies, cumin and various other herbs and spices. Sometimes, people add yellow colourant. Mondongo is then served with potatoes and, as you would expect, corn. But as you can see in the picture above, you can also get it with rice.
While mondongo is a dish typically served at All Saints Day, you can get it all year round at marketplaces everywhere in the country.
You might have eaten chorizo in other Spanish-speaking countries before. In Bolivia, this is a very typical dish to buy from one of the food stalls at market places. A cook at a market in Sucre described it to us as one of the most typical dishes she served. Chorizo is a spicy pork sausage which is (since this is Bolivia and they grow hundreds of varieties of potatoes) usually served with potatoes. While local not only to Bolivia, it is delicious and you can have many varieties everywhere.
A Multivitaminico is a shake you can find at the juice stalls on the markets of La Paz. It consists of a variety of fruits, vegetables and cereals blended together. In Bolivia’s capital, students like replacing lunch with this shake because the vitamins are supposed to help with studying. For tourists, this is the perfect shake to get as an afternoon snack, when you’re running low on energy. But beware, do not go for the largest serving. Remember those cereals I mentioned? The Multivitaminico is so thick and heavy that I could not finish mine.
#10 Singani Sour
The Singani Sour is Bolivia’s version of the Pisco Sour. And you know what’s best about it? Unlike Pisco Sour, whose origins are claimed both by Chile and Peru, Singani Sour knows where it comes from. It’s Bolivian.
Singani Sour is prepared with lemon juice and, of course, Singani. Depending on where you get it, you can find multiple variations of this cocktail with different ingredients (like ginger ale or orange peel).
Singani, the main ingredient in each of these cocktails, is a typical Bolivian type of alcohol, a kind of brandy that is made of distilled wine. Legend says that it was first made by Spanish monks many centuries ago. When the monks arrived, they planted grapes to produce sacramental wine. But then, they quickly realised that it was also possible to distil the grapes and created Singani.
#11 K’ala phurka
Kalaphurka (which can be spelt in many different ways) is a traditional dish from Potosí that locals consume for breakfast. It is a soup consisting of chilli, beef or llama, cornflour and, of course, potatoes. Before serving it, the waiter will drop a hot volcanic stone in the bowl, making the soup boil for at least another fifteen minutes.
If you want to try Kalaphurka in Potosí, walk from the city centre towards the graveyard. Most restaurants serving this typical dish are located in the neighbourhoods around the cemetery. Why? I have no idea. But that’s where it’s easiest to find K’ala Phurka.
Jelly might not be a dish that can only be found in Bolivia, but I have never seen as many varieties anywhere in the world. Street vendors have bags with jelly that they sell for a couple of cents. On market places, jelly stalls have cups lined up, with jelly in all colours. They serve it with yoghurt or condensed milk, or sometimes even both.
While the above dishes give you an overview of Bolivian cuisine, they do not nearly cover all of the amazing food you can discover. After having eaten all of them, you should go to a marketplace and ask what they recommend. Maybe you’ll find something that’s not on my list and that’s also very delicious. If you do, please let us know as we’re always curious about food around the world.
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