Today’s Bolivian cuisine is the result of the fusion of native dishes with the recipes that came from Europe. These recipes were transformed and adapted according to the conditions and customs of each Bolivian region.
Of the immense variety of amazing dishes that this beautiful country has to offer, I want to introduce you to some of the most delicious and traditional recipes that you absolutely have to try if you’re traveling to Bolivia.
Where is Bolivian located?
Bolivia is located in the heart of South America and is bordered by Brazil to the north and east, Paraguay to the southeast, Argentina to the south, and Chile to the southwest.
Sándwich de chola (Chola sandwich)
The chola sandwich stands out among the representative foods of Bolivia. Whoever visits the southern country should not leave it without trying this delicious snack. The ingredients of this sandwich are the following: slices of baked ham, cured in brine, which must be seasoned and grilled; sarnita (a round bread, similar to a bun), vegetables such as carrots, pickled onion, tomato slice, a crispy pork skin, and chili.
One of the ingredients that make this sandwich a unique experience is the sarnita bread. It is a soft textured bread, somewhat sweet (because it is made with milk instead of water for the dough), and you add butter as well as grated cheese before putting it in the oven.
The marinated carrot and onion play an important role, along with the slice of tomatoes. Then, there is this incredible sauce called llajua. It is made of hot bell pepper which is ground in a blender together with the tomato. Roasted chili is a common option in some regions as well. Slices of pork, roasted and seasoned are placed after cooling to prevent it from crumbling, and finally, there goes the piece of crispy pork.
The name chola sandwich comes from the Bolivian women who used to sell this food in La Paz. This name is also given to the group of kiosks where this sandwich is sold in the area of La Florida.
Pique macho is one of Bolivia’s relatively young dishes, it was created in 1974 in Cochabamba. Back then, the owners of a famous restaurant felt the need to create a dish with a certain forcefulness upon request of some diners.
The solution was to serve large quantities of minced meat, boiled egg, tomatoes, peppers and french fries. According to connoisseurs, thanks to the spicy flavor of the dish, the visitors commented that it was a minced meat dish for macho men. From then on, the food became part of the menu under the name of pique macho.
For its preparation, you need a soft cut of beef, tomatoes, Vienna type sausages, green rocoto, potatoes, red onion, beer, soy salt, salt, oil, and black pepper. Cut the onions into julienne strips while heating some oil in a frying pan. Once hot, place the meat in pieces, previously seasoned with salt and pepper. Add the onion and cook until the meat juices are appreciated, then add the beer with the soy sauce.
When the meat is cooked, add pieces of sausage and keep the fire for a couple of minutes more. The potatoes should be cut into small quarters and fried separately. They are placed on the plate and on top goes the meat with the sausages.
As there are as many variations as tastes, in some parts they add Ketchup and mayonnaise on the plate. Others add pieces of sheep cheese.
Silpancho is also a traditional Bolivian dish originating from the Cochabamba region. It is a kind of extremely thin milanesa made with beef or llama meat. The dish is usually prepared with rice, a fried breaded beef fillet with a circular shape that covers almost the entire plate, and fried eggs.
This dish, which is considered one of the most representative of Bolivia, is accompanied by potatoes that are first boiled and then fried, and an onion salad with small pieces of tomatoes that go over the meat as if it were a sauce.
You can also add carrots, as it is done in some regions, and even locoto is added in small squares to the salad or in a separate container. In its original version, according to culinary experts, silpancho does not contain rice or eggs; these are elements that were added to the dish at a later date.
Although the silpancho is considered a traditional dish of Bolivian cuisine, in Cochabamba it is common to find restaurants that are dedicated exclusively to the sale of this food. Bolivians consider it one of their tastiest dishes, according to an online survey conducted in 2019.
Majadito de charque
Majadito de charque is a culinary contribution from the regions of Beni and Santa Cruz. It is inspired by the Paella of Spain. When the Europeans arrived in colonial times, cattle was integrated into the recipe, especially the belly and intestines, which became typical for this dish.
The name of this dish comes from a combination of words: Majau, which in Bolivia means beaten, refers to the meat that must be beaten in a mortar to prepare it, and the Spanish suffix “ito” in diminutive, a very common way of speaking in that country.
Charque is the main ingredient of this dish, however, duck and chicken meat is being used very frequently. To remove the excess salt from the meat, it is immersed in water which is changed several times until it reaches the edible point.
The meat is then boiled until tender, chopped, and placed in a mortar and pestle. Sauté the vegetables and add the pieces of meat and the rice. Immediately add the seasonings and the broth and cook for about 30 minutes approximately, over low heat. In the meantime, it is convenient to fry eggs and plantains to serve them together hot.
Sopa de maní (Peanut soup)
One of the most popular dishes in Bolivia is peanut soup. Scholars say that the peanut originates from Bolivia, specifically from Cochabamba, so it is not surprising that this nut has been used for the preparation of this delicious soup. Europeans noticed the cultivation of peanuts in colonial times; however, it was in the seventeenth century that it was taken to the old continent.
In order to prepare it, peanuts must be peeled after soaking in water. Subsequently, the vegetables must be sautéed in a pan with hot oil, and the chopped meat is added. Then it is the turn of the ground peanuts to form a kind of paste, then the potatoes, the spices and finally the water is added.
After approximately 30 minutes of cooking, the toasted macaroni is added, together with parsley, and some fried potatoes as an ornament. It is advisable to stir the soup constantly, while it is being prepared, to prevent it from sticking to the bottom of the pan.
The peanut soup is quite creamy, its density is uncommon in relation to most of the broths prepared in Bolivia. It is a dish that, in addition to being tasty, is an important source of nutrients.
Picante de Pollo (Chicken in Spicy Sauce)
Picante de Pollo is originally from western Bolivia. This dish, one of the most popular in the country, is characterized by its aroma and spicy flavor. Its preparation consists of a boiled chicken, potatoes, chuño, salad, and a particularly spicy sauce, native to Bolivia. Even though its exacz origin is a mystery, connoisseurs are leaning towards Cochabamba as the place of its invention.
There are variants that focus, paradoxically, on the spiciness. While towards the east of the country it is a little milder, in the interior it is characterized by its intensity. However, the rest of the ingredients remain unchanged.
To prepare it, the chicken must be depressurized and placed in a pot. While it is cooking, the peas and potatoes should be cooked separately. The chuño should be soaked and cooked together with the ground peanuts. In another container pour some oil to prepare the rice.
The seeds of the chili must be removed to liquefy it and boil it, it is necessary to do the same with the onion, but in another container. Afterwards, it is seasoned and served with the chicken. The order is as follows: The rice and the chuño go first, then the chicken prey together with the potatoes in the juice. Chopped parsley is sprinkled as a garnish.
This dish is a favorite for family reunions, social events, birthdays, or carnivals.
Huartaja is a dish that comes from the Yungas region, belonging to the departments of La Paz, Cochabamba and Santa Cruz. For its preparation, the pig’s head is boiled, fried onion sauce, oregano, yellow chili, cumin, salt and pepper are added.
This meal is accompanied with rice, chuño (it consists of dehydrating the potato using the traditional indigenous method) and boiled potatoes. As a beverage it is customary to prepare a typical Bolivian yugueñito. To prepare it, singani, grape brandy, orange juice, sugar and frappé ice are used.
In Bolivia they have the custom of eating the pig’s head as a tradition during New Year’s celebrations. It is believed that by bidding farewell to the old year with a dish that includes pork, a good new year is predicted. Many assure that it is a guarantee of success in finances, personal relationships, and health.
In fact, the pig’s head is perhaps the most demanded part since, according to legend, the pig’s snout always pulls the earth upwards, that is why those who eat it always move forward and achieve their goals.
Jolke is prepared with lamb meat, kidneys, or beef liver. It is part of the traditional cuisine of Bolivia and is often served to recover from a hangover after an intense party because it provides energy.
It is a very versatile dish because lamb meat, as well as kidneys, can be prepared in different ways. Regardless of the meat chosen, chili is the indispensable ingredient for the preparation of jolke.
This food is very popular in the Bolivian Potosí. Indeed, it is considered a native dish of that region. The jolke is one of the dishes that, often is chosen when it comes to organizing a party, a family reunion or simply hang out with friends.
On weekends, at lunchtime, it can become the main meal, accompanied by a salad.
It is advisable to wash the kidneys very well the night before. They are cut into pieces and immersed in a bowl of salted water. The next day they are rinsed very well and drained. In a hot pan proceed to fry the previously chopped onion, add tomatoes and garlic, with salt and spices.
Then, add chili to the pan with a glass of very hot water and cook until it becomes thick. Then add the kidneys and a little hotter water and let it cook for about 10 minutes.
Add the mashed potatoes to the broth to thicken it a little more. Add the oregano and after 5 minutes it is ready to be served.
Thimpu de Cordero (lamb)
Thimpu de Cordero is a typical dish of La Paz. To prepare it you place the meat in a pot with boiling water and salt, add onion, parsley and carrots.
Popular side dishes are potatoes, rice, chuño, and cabbage. To increase the flavor, a sauce is made with ground and fried yellow bell pepper and feathered onions, which is spread over the dish.
This is basically the Bolivian version of Puchero, a Spanish dish. However, the Bolivian one is more consistent and complete. Among its ingredients are ground yellow chili, rice, oil, beef broth, lamb meat, cooked Chuño, onions, carrots and salt to taste.
Queso Humacha (Humacha cheese)
Queso humacha is a dish that is traditionally eaten during Holy Week. It originated in La Paz, but it is easy to find it all over Bolivia. It is a fairly simple dish that was brought by the Spaniards at the time of the conquest.
Queso humacha is made with natural and evaporated milk, cheese, potatoes, corn, mint, parsley, beans, chili bell pepper and roasted onion. Experts do not skimp in affirming that this is one of the best dishes prepared in Bolivia.
Because of its intensity, the huatacaya herb is one of the ingredients that gives a touch of striking flavor to the dish, which is why it is present in many of the dishes that make up the Bolivian cuisine. However, it is very difficult to find this element beyond the borders of Bolivia, so it is often replaced by cilantro.
Bolivia has a large culinary repertoire to satisfy the tastes of the most demanding diners. In various restaurants, and at reasonable prices, it is possible to find all this culinary variety that never disappoints.
If you are planning a trip to this beautiful Andean country, make sure to taste its delicious traditional dishes and leave a comment to let me know how you liked it!
I am surprised Saldeñas, Sopa de Chairo or Plato Paceño are not listed. I miss having Bolivian food so much.