Bolivian food is a vibrant fusion of Spanish and Aymara cuisine with some influence from the cultures of Italian, Arab, Russian, Pole, and German immigrants. The base of most meals won’t come as a surprise, as it’s the same as Bolivia’s stock products: corn, potatoes, rice, quinoa, and beans. You’ll find that meat and poultry is present in most meals, but used very sparingly, as a flavoring more than a large part of the meal itself.
Lunch is the most important meal of the day, which is why most businesses and shops close from 12 through 3pm.
In a local restaurant that offers a set lunch menu, you can expect a soup, a main course that’s heavy on rice and potatoes, and a dessert and herbal tea. These types of restaurants are very cheap and filling, though their offerings are often not too exciting.
If you’re open to treating yourself to at least one fine dining experience in La Paz- we recommend Gustu, which was opened in 2013 and serves up delicious and innovative Bolivian fusion. We think going out for one nice meal should be a priority, but that you should sample a variety of Bolivian street food as well, for the full experience.
When it comes to street food, there’s plenty on offer. The first food most travelers think about when they think about Bolivia is salteñas. If you’re familiar with Latin America, then you probably have eaten an empanada or two. (If not, these are comparable to pasties, or hand pies.) Well, most Latin Americans will freely admit that the Bolivian version is king. What differentiates a true salteña from other empanadas is its soupy filling. Bolivians will bite a hole in the top and suck out some of the broth before finishing off the tasty pastry and its fillings. The traditional filling is a beef and potato stew with a few vegetables- if there’s no specification as to what’s inside, expect this. However, you can find modern variations everywhere, including salteñas filled with vegetable stew for the vegetarians among us.
If you’re wary of sampling street food for fear of food poisoning, you can visit a salteñería to try this treat. Stop by reception at our La Paz hostel for directions to nearby eateries that we can recommend.
Papas rellenas are a dish of Peruvian origin, but Bolivia boasts its own version. These balls of mashed potatoes are stuffed with a filling that often includes beef, hard-boiled egg, cheese, and vegetables. They’re then coated with flour and fried.
Meat eaters who are feeling peckish can snack on various sausage combinations which are sold on many street corners. There’s choripan, which is a sandwich made with chorizo sausage, and choripapa, a french fries and chorizo plate.
A popular lunch dish is the plato paceño, which literally means La Paz dish. This is a very humble offering, a combination of large Andean corn, fresh broad beans (similar to Lima beans), a couple of boiled potatoes, and some fried slices of Andean cheese. For vegetarians, it’s a cheap and fresh lunch option that you will find everywhere.
The meat-eaters traditional lunch could be sandwich de chola. You’re probably aware that chola refers to the traditional Aymara woman of Bolivia, one that dresses in a bowler hat and many-layered skirts. We don’t know why this roasted pork and crackling sandwich is associated with the cholas, who are much more likely to be found enjoying a plato paceño, but it’s certainly delicious. It’s finished with pickled vegetables and ají, a spicy chili sauce.
Finally, there’s Charque de Llama. The word jerky actually comes from the Quechua word charque, which means dried meat. This was a common Andean method of preserving meat. Charque de Llama includes dried llama meat which has been shredded and cooked, stewed corn, hardboiled eggs, cheese, rice, and often french fries. This mountain of food is served with a hot sauce known as llajwa.
Part of truly experiencing a place and culture is enjoying the food. We’re sure that you’ll find something that you enjoy in Bolivia, so buen provecho, enjoy! And definitely don’t forget to visit Pirwa La Paz, our centrically-located and comfortable hostel located near Sopocachi cable-car station.