Bolivian Fast Food: The 4 Must-Try Junk Eats

May 28, 2015 by

Foodie Tours, South & Central America, Things to Do, Travel Advice & Inspiration

Just because the “golden arches” are nearly non-existent in Bolivia, it doesn’t mean Bolivians don’t love their fast food. After all, Bolivia is the land of the potato and Bolivians sure know how to cook up a batch of crunchy, salty French fries. But their love of fast food doesn’t end there. From fried bananas done three ways to papas fritas topped with greasy sausages, Bolivianos know how to to whip up tasty fast food. While traveling in Bolivia, be sure to check out these four must-try salty snacks:


Salteñas, photo courtesy of  Rodrigo Galindez, Flickr.

Salteñas, photo by Rodrigo Galindez, Flickr.

This cousin to the empanada is the epitome of fast food in Bolivia, mainly because the no-mess, fuss-free snack can be eaten on the run.

On the outside is a crust baked to flaky perfection. Inside a combination of meat (think chicken, beef or pork), vegetables, potatoes, eggs, raisins, olives and other local ingredients swim in a sweet, savory or spicy sauce. There are also vegetarian versions–foodies buzz about the salteñas in Cochabamba, Sucre and Potosí.

While Bolivians typically eat these as a mid-morning snack, hungry travelers on a budget indulge on satisfying salteñas all day. Be sure to buy your salteñas early on as street vendors often sell out by lunch time.


Freshly made "salchipapas."

Freshly made “salchipapas.”

With more than 4,000 varieties of native potatoes growing in the Andean highlands, Bolivia knows how to do the starchy root vegetable beyond cutting it up and deep frying it. Enter salchipapas.

A blend of the Spanish words salchicha (sausage) and papa (potato), this dish is Bolivia’s version of a burger and fries. Cooks sauté thinly sliced beef (and sometimes pork) sausages in oil so they are slightly crunchy on the outside. Then they are served over a bed of piping hot salted fries. Using a fork, you can eat this greasy goodness solo or dip it into ketchup and mayonnaise. Just make sure your salchi and papa ratio is spot-on to maximize flavor.

Fried Plantains Three Ways

Crispy fried "chipilos."

Crispy fried “chipilos.”

Plantains in Bolivia’s portion of the Amazon are as plentiful as potatoes in its highlands. For this reason, locals have learned how to prepare plantains in a variety of ways.

The fastest and easiest to eat is in the form of chipilos, or plantain chips. Cooks slice the plantains into thin pieces or strips, flash-fry them and then douse them in salt (or sometimes sugar if the plantains are “mature”). You can find these pre-bagged treats in bodegas or at street carts.

Up next is a similar process where chefs take green plantains, cut them into chunks, fry them, pull them out of the fryer once they’ve softened, smash them and then fry them again to make sure they get a crispy shell. Once they’ve cooled off a bit, they are sprinkled with salt and gobbled up.

The final rendition of plantains is platanos maduros. I like to think Latinos stumbled upon this recipe by mistake, not knowing what else to do with plantains that had gone bad. Literally translated to “mature bananas,” platanos maduros are well-ripened plantains that are sliced, fried and served up into a sweet treat, side dish or dessert.

Coca Colla

No, that’s not a typo. While similar in taste and appearance, this fizzy Bolivian beverage has no affiliation with the Atlanta soft drink goliath.

Coca Colla is made from a coca leaf extract—a stimulant that staves off hunger, fatigue and altitude sickness—sugar and carbonated water. Andean communities have used the leaf for thousands of years, though more recently, it’s been used as a base to produce cocaine. The amount of coca found in Coca Colla drinks is negligible so you won’t likely get high off of it. That said, it could show up on a drug test, so keep that in mind before gulping it down.

Given its sweet taste that bubbles in your mouth, Coca Colla makes meals pop, which may just make it the perfect pairing to wash down Bolivian junk food.

Discover the flavors of Bolivia on Viator’s La Paz Small-Group Food and Markets Tour. This La Paz culinary tour is packed with mouthwatering dishes, sweet treats and tasty snacks.

– Contributed by Terra Hall

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