About Bolivian Food

La Paz, the world’s highest capital city. Photo Courtesy of CIA World Factbook

Bolivia, you had me at “potato.”

But then you went on to seduce me with corn, cheese, quinoa, cassava, and  fried bananas. With these simple ingredients, Bolivians make an art out of comfort food. Imagine, for a moment, being served a dish of Plato Paceño – you look down at your plate to see a thick slab of fried cheese draped over top of steaming corn on the cob, served with boiled potatoes and broad beans. Not bad (and it’s vegetarian)! But, just to make sure you’re awake, the Bolivians “pepper” your plate with a healthy dose of screaming hot locoto chili pepper sauce called Uchu Llajwa. Uchu Llajwa is made with a blend of tomatos, locoto pepper, salt, and quilquina (an herb described as a blend of arugula, cilantro, basil, and rue – often substituted with cilantro where unavailable).

If you’re more in the mood for something fried, say a pastry, Bolivians deliver in this area as well.  The Salteña is an incredibly popular meat-filled pastry, rather like a large empanada. The crispy dough (seasoned with achiote) makes a pocket of fried goodness, filled with beef or chicken, hard-boiled egg, raisins, and vegetables. Then the crust is rolled up like an empanada (See the technique in How to repulgue an empanada).

Map of Bolivia

Photo courtesy of the CIA World Factbook

But let’s get back to the potato. According to Jose Sanchez, author of My Mother’s Bolivian Kitchen, there are over 1,200 kinds of Bolivian potatoes. With so many varieties, Bolivians are the number one consumer of potatoes in the world; they eat them about as many ways and in as many dishes as the Bahamians eat conch. For starters, they boil, bake, steam, fry, and freeze dry them. They like potatoes so much that they even put a few different ones together in a dish. For example, stews often include boiled and freeze-dried potatoes.

Freeze-dried potatoes are called Chuno. Chuno takes at least five days of work to make and involves several freeze-thaw cycles and stomping the potatoes with clean, bare feet. The end product looks a lot like a rock and vaguely like a little like a shrunken head. I’ve read the shelf life is anywhere from 10 years to forever. Awesome!


Photo courtesy of Haylli

Originally part of the Inca empire, many Bolivian recipes are influenced by the indigenous Indian culture as well as the Spanish. Dried corn husks are often used to wrap humintas (a steamed pastry filled with pureed corn, cornmeal, cheese, baking powder, and other seasonings. Popular produce includes avocado, banana squash, banana, plantain, prickly pear, mango, and custard apple.

File:Custard Apple.jpg

Custard Apple. Photo Courtesy of Elija

There are sweets for any palate, including flakey pastries, creamy custards, confite (boiled sugar with nuts, roasted peas, or fruit), and chocolates. In his book, Sanchez says that Bolivian chocolate has “a reputation of being as good, if not better, than some of the best chocolate in Switzerland.”

No afternoon is complete without a steaming cup of tea. Bolivians drink Yerba Mate, Coca – said to taste a bit like green tea – (coca is made from the leaves of the coca – cocaine – plant and is illegal in the US), and Api, a drink often made from ground purple maize, cinnamon, cloves, lemon, and dried fruit.

Bolivian food sounds so incredibly tasty (even the Chunos… I’m intrigued), I think I could eat it until my bellybutton popped out. (Didn’t I tell you? That’s what Ava’s bellybutton does after eating her dinner. Cracks me up every time). The weird thing is, my bellybutton never popped out when I was pregnant. And Ava came ten days late. So that’s saying a lot.

Photo courtesy of the CIA World Factbook


  1. Hi Sasha,
    Mmmm… it sounds grand!
    I have a friend who spent an entire winter traveling through Central & South America. I’ll bring her over 🙂

    I’am adding you to my blogroll so I don’t lose a “bite” !

    • globaltable says


      I wish you lived in Tulsa so I could borrow your friend. I bet she’s a wealth of knowledge! Thanks for following & happy reading.


  2. Amanda says

    hahhahaah I love your description of freeze dried potatoes. *shrunken heads* And wanted to pass on many thank yous for the inspiration I will be making some spicy dip for hubby and I this weekend.

    PS dont know how old your ava is but with my babies it was a hernia that caused the belly button pop out – harmless and yes amusing I missed it when she outgrew it.

    • globaltable says

      Hey Amanda,

      Your comment got lost in Spam land… sorry about that! Its so funny what you say about the hernia – I asked her ped about it and he said the same thing. I had no idea 🙂

  3. Wow! Sasha, I am glad you spent some covering Bolivian food. Also, I am so surprised that you live in Tulsa! I am from Tulsa. Anyway, I am excited to try some of the recipes you posted–my boyfriend (and co-blogger) is from Bolivia! He is here studying in OK. I’ve asked him to make me Bolivian dishes before, but he’s only made it for me once.. I’m going to try and make him some dishes to test them out!

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