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Food in Bolivia - Customs and Traditions

Bolivian food customs, meal times and social life revolve around eating and parties and there are also many different types of restaurants to choose from. If you're just traveling in Bolivia you won't have time to try them all, but if you live in Bolivia you are encouraged to expand your horizons and your palate.

With the bounty of delicious and colorful tropical fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices available, chefs in Bolivia are true food artists. By the way, some of them really ARE food artists - they work with caterers to make events beautiful with truly amazing edible centerpieces.

Santa Cruz, for example, is well-known for its steakhouses and outdoor environments. Cruceños love grilling and socializing out in the open and the traditions of “serenading” and “people watching” date back to the colonial times when entire families would take to the city plazas on Sunday afternoons.

Today, the custom of parading about is well-ingrained in society in Bolivia, as is the more modern version of “cruising” up and down and around and around the main social thoroughfares (you’ll see this on Monseñor Rivero and in Equipetrol, the city’s two main avenues for socializing, where you'll find eateries, bars, cafés and discotheques one after the other.) Its tea houses (salones de té) are also very popular.

Bolivians are accustomed to taking tea at about 4 or 5 in the afternoon. At that time the salones de te are very full and busy. Because we usually indulge at tea time, dinner (usually a lighter meal than lunch) is usually served around 8 or 9 p.m. Most salones de té double as bakeries and vice versa.

There is really no such thing as “typical” Bolivian food. Flavors, spices and cooking styles vary greatly from one region to the next and have been greatly influenced by Spanish cuisine. In the Andean region foods tend to be very hot and spicy. In the tropics where Santa Cruz is located, there is a strong Brazilian influence, lots of European and Asian restaurants , and because this is the nation’s cattle ranching area, many steak-inspired meals. In addition, fruit and vegetables abound and are incorporated into most of the region’s cuisine.

The climate has also had a great influence on Bolivian food customs, what we eat, where we eat, and how often. Ice cream parlors are always brimming with locals and tourists alike in the hot tropical regions. In colder Western Bolivia it’s not uncommon to take tea in the late afternoon and eat dinner late at night (9 or 10 pm).

Because Bolivians still enjoy their siesta time (when businesses and stores close at midday anytime between 12 and 3) lunch is usually the largest meal of the day. No power lunches here! Sometimes the heat takes your appetite away. The city tends to be less busy midday when many people go home to rest and have lunch with their families. But at night, when it's cooler, they are bustling and busy. Dinner is when Bolivians socialize!


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