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Food and Drink in Bolivia

In Bolivia, the main meal is lunch: most workers try to go home to eat during the week. A proper Bolivian lunch consists of soup, a main course and possibly even dessert. The most important element in Bolivian food is the potato: it is common to see potatoes in some form served with almost every meal. Pasta and rice are also favorites. As for meat, Bolivians eat a lot more pork than people in the United States or Canada. Chicken and beef are also common, and you’ll see the occasional restaurant offering goat, llama or cuy (guinea pig!).

For those expecting chalupas and fajitas, be warned: Bolivian food is nothing like Mexican food. In fact, Bolivian food is typically rather bland, although you may find a mild hot sauce, llajwa, at your table to spice things up a little.

Bolivia is home to many special, regional foods for you to sample and enjoy. Here are some you may encounter on your travels, but there are many, many more:

Chicharrón: Chicharrón is little bits of fried pork, most of which are quite fatty, served with boiled corn. A popular snack, it’s not really considered a main dish anywhere.

Humitas: Humitas are little balls of corn dough, stuffed with cheese and then wrapped in a corn or banana leaf before being steamed.

Salteña: A breakfast food, salteñas are small pastries full of meat and vegetables, such as potatoes, peas and carrots. Sometimes they’re sweetened.

Empanadas: Bolivian empanadas are little bread rolls full of cheese or cheese and onions and other ingredients. Good for a snack while on the go.

Fritanga: a heart-punishing dish of greasy fried pork. There are many reasons why you shouldn’t eat it, including heart disease and the questionable nature of Bolivian pork, but only one reason why you should eat it: it’s delicious. Turn up the knob on your pacemaker and dig in.

Charque de llama: Ever wondered what llama tastes like? Who hasn’t? Here’s your chance. Charque de llama is dried llama meat, fried and served with corn and cheese.

Changa (or chanka) de pollo: a chicken soup, prepared with potatoes, onions and peppers. You’ll also see it prepared with guinea pig and rabbit.

LechĂłn al horno
: a roast suckling pig, usually served with (what else?) potatoes.

Sopa de quinua: Quinua is a local grain that thrives at high altitudes. In a soup, it looks like little squiggly white semi-circles. Quinua itself has little taste, but can be tasty in soups when cooked with chicken, onions, pork or other ingredients.


Chicha: a sour drink made from fermented corn. Usually made at home and not commercially available. This drink has been enjoyed in the region since the time of the Inca.

TojorĂ­: a thick, hot drink made with corn.

Singani: an alcoholic drink similar to the pisco popular in Chile and Peru, it is usually served on ice, mixed with Sprite or some sort of sweet juice, such as orange juice.

A note about street food: Street food is common in all parts of Bolivia: you’ll frequently see stalls selling salteñas, empanadas and other local delicacies, usually at very low prices. The food, for those brave enough to try it, is usually quite tasty. Eating street food, while convenient, cheap and yummy, is also a bit dangerous, as you’ll be at a higher risk for developing diarrhea and other illnesses. The choice is essentially yours: wanna roll the dice? For some, it’s worth it: cheap and good beats out potentially risky any day. For others, their health is more important than any given meal, and the savings are insignificant when compared with possible costs in medicine and lost time.

By Christopher Minster
I am a writer and editor at V!VA Travel guides here in Quito, where I specialize in adding quality content to the site and also in spooky things like...
27 Apr 2010

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