Food in an integral part of any travel experience. Whether you are a cultural tourist, an outdoor adventurer or the spa extraordinaire, every traveler must eat. Thanks to the new crop of celebrity chefs and food based television series, traveling and food are becoming even more intertwined. As much as visiting a historic site or climbing a storied peak, trying native foods and experiencing traditional cuisines are becoming a main motivation for many travelers. In Bolivia this is no different. In the past few years the country has seen resurgence in traditional food, the interest in which has led to the establishment of La Paz as an up-an-coming culinary hotspot.
Bolivia is one of the world’s most biodiverse countries and as a result the indigenous products available in the country are vast and varied. The cuisine too, differs from region to region, creating a truly tantalizing and exciting Bolivian national cuisine. Dishes like sajta de pollo, a somewhat spicy tomato and peanut based chicken dish, and thimpu, a similar plate made with lamb, highlight both the native livestock and local produce and are often served with the famed dried Bolivian potato known as chairo.
To eat a meal is to get to know a culture. Every traveler should embark on culinary journey in Bolivia.
Peanuts in general are a popular ingredient in many Bolivian dishes as are potatoes; the country is known for growing an abundance of both. Additionally, along with chicken and lamb, llama meat is a popular option and one unique to the Andean region. Countries in the Andes have many similar dishes to one another and Bolivia is no different, though the regional foods found here are done with a local twist.
Instead of the common empanada, Bolivians prefer saltenas, a ridiculously delicious version that is baked and stuffed with spiced meat, potatoes and a soup like mixture. If you are visiting Bolivia and want to sample this local snack however, it’s best to get out and do so early. Many vendors that sell saltenas often run out by around noon.
Yuca, a native root similar to the potato found across much of South America, is given a Bolivian twist by being mashed and mixed with fresh cheese before being grilled over an open flame. The simple snack known as zonzo is a delicious and local rendition of the popular pan de queso, or cheese bread, found elsewhere on the continent.
Similarly, llajwa is the Bolivian version of Andean aji, a spicy condiment used on just about everything. Whereas in the rest of the Andeans the flavor of aji focuses solely on spice, in Bolivia llajwa is complimented by a rich tomato puree base.
The influence of Bolivia’s indigenous community is apparent in much of the food found in the country. Once a food only eaten by the poor, quinoa has taken the gastronomic center stage in the country along with the rise of the grain across the western world. Many foods once associated with the lower class are actually making a comeback thanks partially to the interest of tourists in trying native cuisine.
Anticuchos, a popular street snack, are made from the heart of a cow, a cut not too long ago avoided by most who could afford to. Today, tourists wait on lines along with locals to gobble up the flavorful street eat. To fuel the hard work on which the country was founded, lunch is the main meal of the day, often served with three courses including soup, a main dish and dessert.
Local gastronomy in Bolivia is not limited to the munchable. Beverages are as important a part of the meal as the main dish itself. Jugo, or freshly squeezed juice made of local fruits is a popular mid day snack and also served with every meal. Made from corn, cinnamon and a mixture of a few other indigenous ingredients api is a popular breakfast drink.
For those looking for a little kick, singani, a brandy-like alcohol is commonly served as part of a cocktail or just straight up. Wines produced in the southern Tarija and El Valle del Concepcion regions are additional popular alcoholic alternatives and the varietals on par with the more renowned vintages from South America.
Once relegated to street stands and small pension style restaurants, Bolivian cuisine is starting to take on a life of its own.
Zona Sur, La Paz’s posh southern neighborhood is a hotbed for new restaurants ranging from the middle class to upscale showcasing national ingredients and traditional dishes. The food served in the new crop of Bolivian restaurants reimagines typical street food and flavors, and elevates Bolivian cuisine to the level of world-class gastronomy.
In 2012, Claus Meyer, owner of Copenhagen’s world renowned restaurant Noma, opened his second culinary establishment in La Paz’s Zona Sur. The restaurant, named Gustu, serves only local products in reimagined versions of traditional Bolivian plates.
Street food is also popular, and tours of La Paz that focus on sampling one’s way through the maze of markets are becoming popular tourist activities.