Before the colonization of Latin America, people there didn’t eat cows, pigs, or chickens. In the Andean and Amazonian region, the diet was mainly based on beans, cereals, a variety of potatoes, and native fruits and vegetables. Meat consumption was reserved for special occasions, like festivities or rituals, because it was considered a luxury. The human-animal relationships were very respectful.
Nowadays we know that this has changed and it is common to find fast-food restaurants all over. But traditional food is still very popular, and whether or not people refer to it as “vegan,” there are so many dishes that don’t include animal products. Let’s take a look at some of the most delicious Bolivian traditional dishes, which just so happen to be vegan!
Api con Buñuelos
Api is a hot typical drink made of purple or yellow corn (or you can mix them), cinnamon, and sugar. Buñuelos are fried doughs flavored with cinnamon and anise, covered with cane honey. It is typical to eat them together for breakfast or at noon, to warm the body in the low temperatures of the altiplano. They can be found in almost every market or outside every bus terminal.
This is a delicious hot drink, made of big squashed chunks of corn, that produce an almost milk-like kind of drink, cooked for hours with cinnamon, anise, and clove. It is sweetened with “chancaca,” which is a natural sweetener, and served with corn chunks. In Bolivia, it is very normal to buy one portion and get two. This is called “yapa,” so don`t be shy asking for a refill.
No matter what time it is, humintas are always a nice salty or sweet treat. An huminta is ground corn dough cooked in the oven or steamed inside its corn leaves. They may contain raisins, anise, or cheese (which is easily removable), and are normally served with a cup of coffee. It is a very traditional and delicious option that can be found in almost every country of Latin America with different names, which shows how important corn is to our culture.
This is a stew of quinoa that is traditionally eaten first in the morning. It is packed with protein and flavors from native ground chili peppers, onions, cumin, salt, and freshly cooked quinoa. People eat it to get energy for the day. It is very easy to find and very delicious. There is also the vegetarian version, which includes cow’s milk, but it is easily replaceable with plant-based milk if you want to try to cook it at home.
Sonso is a popular and simple street food from the tropical part of Bolivia. It is made of yuca, which is a versatile tuber. It is like a puree that is cooked or fried, and served with cheese and coffee. Typically, people cook it in coal grills, so they also have a smoked flavor.
Sopa de Maní
This is the perfect recipe for a cold day. It is a peanut soup, made of ground peanut, seasoned with a vegetable broth, cooked with macaroni noodles, and topped with fried potatoes and parsley. It is one of the favorite dishes of Bolivia because it warms your body and has a great flavor. It is so popular, that it can be found throughout the country.
Queso Humacha (vegetarian)
A perfect and simple stew, made of squash and milk (can be plant-based), and accompanied by broad beans, corn, and potatoes. It is seasoned with a native herb called huacataya, which is packed with a delicious fresh smell.
Ají de Papalisa
Bolivia is known to be one of the chili pepper capitals of the world, and Bolivians are well used to eating hot dishes. Ají means that is a hot dish, and Papalisa is an Andean tuber, resistant to very cold weather and with sweet notes. Aji de Papalisa is a stew seasoned with onions, a vegetable broth, ground chili peppers coriander, and peppermint.
Ají de Plátano
Ají de plátano has spicy notes similar to the previous dish, but instead of having an Andean main ingredient, it has a tropical one—green plantain. The key is to slice it very thin, cooking it in a rich well-seasoned broth, and finally serving with a little bit of rice.
The central ingredient is peas, so it is a full-protein dish. Mostly found in the south of the country, it is a stir fry with onions, tomatoes, condiments, and peas (some people add eggs). It is served with rice or fried potatoes. It may sound very simple but it is delicious and has become one of the favorite meals of Bolivian households, especially when it comes to saving money and time.
Plato Paceño (vegetarian)
As its name indicates, this is the traditional dish of La Paz. Although it may sound quite simple, the combination of flavors makes it so popular. It has corn, potatoes, green beans, fried cheese, and llajua (a traditional hot sauce made of tomatoes, native herbs like huacataya, and salt). The cheese may be replaced with a slice of vegan cheese or with fried zucchini, or fried aubergine with soy sauce. If you try this dish in a street stand, you will be surprised by the size of the portions: they are really big!
Pastel de Quinua
Quinua pie is a salty meal that consists of cooking the quinoa, then crushing it with salt, condiments, and vegetable shortening. Then making a vegetable stir fry with onions, aromatic herbs, garlic, peppers, tomatoes, and olives. Finally, it is layered in a pan and baked (some people add cheese or egg on top). It is a traditional meal to eat for lunch, and it is very filling.
Papas a la Huancaina (vegetarian)
This is a dish that honors peanuts because this ingredient binds all the others together. The base is a thick sauce, made of crushed peanuts, cooked at a slow fire with water, yellow powder chili peppers, and salt. Then, the sauce is added to cooked potatoes, lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, and hard-boiled egg. Mix it all and it is a party in your mouth (the eggs and cheese are easily replaceable with seasoned tofu or vegan cheese).
All of these dishes can be found all over Bolivia, whether it is in markets food courts, street fairs, street stands, traditional restaurants, dinners, and Bolivian households. Being vegetarian or vegan is easier where people appreciate native ingredients and traditional ways of cooking.
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Photo: Matilde Rada