One of the best ways to experience a culture is to eat your way through it. More so than any other cultural tradition, food has the ability to illustrate the history, beliefs and physical geography of a people. In La Paz this is no different and eating the street food in the city is one of the best ways for visitors to embark on a cultural culinary journey.
Street food in La Paz is as ubiquitous as traffic jams and crosswalk zebras. As in much of the developing world, the trend in food leans much more towards the casual than formal dining establishments. To eat like a local in Bolivia’s colorful cultural capital means to take the dining room table to the street.
The amount of street food offerings in the city can be quite overwhelming and one would need both an extended stay and extended stomach to sample all the tasty traditional offerings. To help make the most of your gastronomic city tour, we’ve rounded up a few of our favorite street side bites.
For Breakfast: Salteñas
No trip to Bolivia is complete without trying the local specialty, salteñas, a savory pie the take a form similar to that of the regionally abundant empanada.
Usually stuffed with beef, chicken, pork or a mixture of all three, salteñas are topped with a sweet and sometimes spicy sauce containing spices, peas and bits of potato. Be careful when you bite into one and have plenty napkins on hand, salteñas are not known to be the neatest of street food eats.
The traditional bite is a popular mid-morning snack and though salteñas can occasionally be found later in the day, they are best eaten either for or before lunch. The juicy stew-in-pastry is a Bolivian delicacy and a dish not to be missed on your trip.
A Hearty Lunch: Sajta
Lunch is the big meal for most Boliviano’s and Sajta de Pollo is one of the most popular of the traditional almuerzos. Sajta is not a street food in the take-with-you-and-walk-around set. To enjoy sajta, you really need to sit down for the meal.
Sajta is the name of a traditional sauce typically served as a chicken dish and the heart plate fuels the locals of La Paz through their day. The flavorful meal is local to the La Paz region and is made with a delicious mix of ingredients including onion, tomato, peanut, aji powder and the dried Bolivian potato known as chuño. As with most Altiplano fare, sajta is generally served alongside a healthy amount of potato and starch.
Lining the streets of La Paz are thousands of small nameless restaurants and food stands that serve the typical Bolivian meal. Our recommendation is to look for a busy one and find a seat.
An Afternoon Snack: Ispi
Seafood may not the first thing that typically comes to mind when you thinks of local dishes in landlocked Bolivia. However, with Lake Titicaca at La Paz’s doorstep, fish have made their way into the local city diet.
Ispi are a small fish brought into La Paz from Lake Titicaca. Typically the fish are eaten fried and whole, seasoned with a blend of herbs, lemon and salt. Intensely flavorful, the small bites are a real indigenous La Paz treat.
The tasty snack is perfect for both taking on a walk through the city and also as a sit down meal. Ispi can be found at markets all over the city- just keep an eye out for bubbling woks of hot oil surrounded by hungry local crowds.
Noshing After Dark: Anticuchos
In La Paz, when the sun goes down, the anticucho come out.
Anticuchos are small pieces of skewered and grilled marinated meat, often served with potato and topped with a spicy peanut sauce. The most popular form of anticuchos in Bolivia are made from tender beef heart.
Don’t let yourself get immediately put off by the cut; anticuchos are wildly flavorful, delicious and mildly addictive. The tradition of skewered meat in Bolivia, and across South America, dates as far back as the 16th century and the Inca Empire.
Anticuchos were popular with inhabitants of the time and remain standard street fare across Bolivia today. At only about 6 B.s. on average, anticuchos are a cheap way to taste the history of the Andes.
And for Desert: Cinnamon Ice Cream
It’s no secret locals in La Paz love their sugar and tend to eat quite a bit of the sweet stuff, in particular in the form of freshly made ice cream.
Heladerias, ice creameries, are a dime a dozen in the city and many of them offer fresh fruit laden homemade flavors. However, to sample a unique La Paz frozen treat all you need to do is head uptown towards the General Cemetery.
There in the back of the adjacent flower market, small batch cinnamon ice cream is all the rage. The deep red handmade delicacy is not like most ice cream from back home. Made without milk, the frozen bite is created fresh from only three ingredients: a finely blended mixture of cinnamon, ice and sugar.
A little spicy and not overly sweet, cinnamon ice cream is a fresh local treat and the perfect snack to enjoy when the weather is warm.
The above are just a few of the hundreds of dishes available to sample along La Paz city streets. Next time you are in the bustling city, take a day to live like a local and street food forage your way through the crowds. If you do chose to eat your way through the city, use your best judgment when picking which street eats to sample: it’s generally best to only eat at stalls that look clean and are busy. You and you’re stomach won’t regret it.