One of the pluses for the backpacker in this majestic country is that the food is good, balanced and cheap. You just have to go to the markets or the food stalls on the streets, whose cooks will tell you: "It's delicious, ten pesitos only". For only ten Bolivian pesos (around 1 euro by the time I was traveling over there, 2014) you will have your soup, your "second" (a main dish that usually comes with a piece of meat, rice and salad), a drink (the famous "aguas"; it means waters), and even bread and dessert in some occasions. A real bargain.
A food stall at the Potosi market
Like other Latin American countries, Bolivian gastronomy has received a deep legacy from their ancestors, as well as the products imported by the Spaniards. Among the primary local products highlights the enormous variety of vegetables: corn, locoto – also known as rocoto or chili –, quinoa...; tubers: a variety of potatoes and yuccas that you never would have ever imagined that existed, and chuños (the equivalents of these dehydrated tubers); and fruits (papayas, pineapple, guava...).
Note. As a curiosity, many of the fruits we see in Latin America that we would bet they are from those lands, actually have their origins far away. For example, despite the quantity and variety of bananas in countries such as Ecuador (the world's leading exporter), the plant is native to Southeast Asia.
Geographically and climatically Bolivia is divided into three regions: the Andean region, the valleys and the plains. The three regions have created different types of recipes based on the ingredients available in each of them. Bolivian Creole cuisine is varied, and its most notable differences are given, as it happens with the rest of cultural aspects in the country, between the eastern lands or jungle, and the Andean highlands. In fact, for example, the Bolivian cuisine of the altiplano has more similarities with its counterpart in Peru than with the eastern part of the country itself.
If you do not want to eat the menu of markets and food stalls every day, you can try other more elaborate dishes of Bolivian cuisine, such as the following. Please, I am not a specialist in Bolivian gastronomy, so surely I have made mistakes. People from Bolivia, help us to improve this section!
Note: the videos shown here are in Spanish.
Let's start with quinua, a cereal originating in the Peruvian and Bolivian Andes with many properties both in terms of nutrition and medicine and which is widely used in the gastronomy of both countries. I have included it in "drinks" because it is a very used food in Bolivian breakfasts (quinoa milk), but it can be used in other ways. Thus, the grains can be roasted to make flour (with which different types of breads, cakes and cookies are made), or they can be cooked and used to prepare: these energy drinks we have just mentioned, very popular in breakfasts to start the day on the right foot; add them to soups; or be used as cereal or pasta. You can even ferment it to obtain beer or chicha. In fact, a few years ago (2013) the first energy drink made of quinoa and malt (Trimalta Quinua) was released. Here is the recipe to prepare a good breakfast of quinoa:
If you are interested in this wonderful food, take a look at this website of quinua recipes: https://www.recetas.com.bo/content/recetas-de-quinua
It is a fermented corn beverage with a certain alcohol content. Other cereals can also be used, but corn is the most used by far. It is very, very popular in Bolivian culture (more than in many other countries in Latin America). Among the most popular varieties in Bolivia are the yellow corn or willkaparu yellow chicha, the purple corn kulli chichi, and the ch'uspillu chicha (the names come from Quechua).
MATE DE COCA (COCA MATE/TEA)
Infusion or tea of coca leaves that is highly consumed in the Andean regions, especially in Peru and Bolivia. This plant, which has a symbolic value and is deeply rooted in this culture (it is a millenary drink that many native groups have been using for centuries for medicinal and religious purposes, among others) has several effects. As a good tea it is, it has stimulating properties, but also serves to combat hunger, provide strength and cure the soroche or altitude sickness (mountain sickness). The latter is a good remedy for all travelers who have just arrived in such an elevated area (many times higher than 4500 and 5000 meters). Despite its stigmatization abroad, especially in the US, the plant itself is neither toxic nor harmful (quite the opposite as we just said), and the sale and consumption of coca leaves is legal in Peru, Colombia, Bolivia and the North of Argentina.
The Bolivian wine, produced mostly in the valleys of Tarija (south of the country) has its own identity, since it enjoys a unique feature worldwide: the vineyards grow between 1500 and 3000 meters above sea level, while the vast majority of vineyards in the world do not exceed 550 meters above sea level. This allows them to make the difference, taking advantage of a greater concentration of aromas and flavors, such as flavonoids (antioxidants) and colors. Little by little the Bolivian wine is gaining more and more followers worldwide.
Pies of chicken broth and/or beef, chopped potatoes, peas, onions and olives (among other ingredients ...). Here you have a recipe:
Skewers of cow or chicken hearts. They are usually accompanied by a spicy peanut sauce.
TAMALES AND HUMITAS
These typical dishes of the Andean countries (especially Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador, but we can also find them in the north of Argentina and Chile) consist of masses of corn lightly seasoned, wrapped and cooked in the own leaves of corn. Some differences 1) While the humita is usually fresh corn, grated and crushed in the mortar, the tamale is usually made with corn flour. 2) Tamales may contain other ingredients (including meats), and may be wrapped in leaves of other plants (such as banana, avocado, bijao or maguey) during cooking.
TROUT (Lake Titicaca)
A delicious fish that abounds in the highest navigable lake in the world.
PICANTE DE POLLO
Elaborate recipe using chicken thighs, pepper, onion, oil, condiments, peas, chicken broth… Served with rice. You better see it by yourself (in Spanish):
AJÍ DE GALLINA
Chicken meat crumbled into strips and mixed with a preparation based on broth, green chili, milk and bread (looks like a puree). It is served on yellow potatoes and rice and, finally, it is decorated with boiled egg and olive on top. This dish is very common also in Peru.
CHICHARRÓN DE CERDO (PIG)
Cooked in its own lard, with white corn and llajua locoto (a spicy Bolivian sauce made of chili and tomato).
Charque, that is salted and sun-dried meat, cooked in the pan with corn grain, boiled egg, cheese and potato (with skin). Typical of Oruro.
Spicy beef cooked altogether with white potatoes and yellow pepper sauce made of onion, tomato and locoto (chili). Here is a video:
And now it is time to get down on the cake with this web of Bolivian recipes!
You can also take a look at a couple of Bolivian chef channels: