Lunch in Bolivia – What is Almuerzo, Bolivia’s Main Meal of the Day?

Every day – roughly between twelve and two-thirty – a large part of Bolivia closes down.

It’s lunchtime.

For everyone.

Within minutes local restaurants are packed and waiters are serving customers as fast as possible. We daily join the crowds to have a taste of Bolivia’s simplest yet most plentiful meal: almuerzo. Eating lunch in Bolivia is the perfect way to get a feel for the country’s traditional food. (Note that the food discussed in this blog post is focused on the highland (altiplano), because that’s what I am most familiar with).

Bolivia’s Main Dish – What is Almuerzo?

Lunch is the main meal in Bolivia and often shops, offices and tourist attractions close during lunch hours. In general, Bolivians are quick eaters and use the rest of their lunchtime for a quick nap at home or a stroll in a park. The exception to this rule is Sunday, when families like getting together and going out for an elaborate lunch – often à la carte – which may take the whole afternoon.

‘El secondito’, is the term often used for the main course.
Pasta for sale at a market in La Paz.
Pasta for sale at a market in La Paz.

A typical almuerzo – set meal – has two courses, basically centered on Bolivia’s staple food of potatoes, corn and rice, which is served with meat or chicken​. The two courses consist of a large bowl of soup, often with pasta and a piece of meat or chicken, and the main course.

We find that Bolivian food could use more variety, especially in terms of vegetables, but in general lunches are healthy meals. The basic, nutritious ingredients come without thick sauces or condiments that only too often destroy the taste and low calories of a meal.

Lunch Dishes – Healthy Soups & Main Courses

My favorite soups:

  • Sopa de maní – a delicious soup made with peanuts (maní = peanuts) and filled with pasta, potatoes, a piece of meat and sometimes vegetables.
  • Chairo – a soup much eaten in La Paz. It is a traditional soup that comes with chuño (deep-frozen potato]), moto (white corn), charque (jerked meat) and kilkiña (a flavor enhancer).
French Fries often come with Sopa de Mani.
French Fries often come with Sopa de Mani.
Soup in Bolivia (©photocoen)

Most of the time you can choose between two main courses. If you don’t understand the Spanish terms for the meals, ask if you can have a look in the pots and pans in the kitchen, or indicate a neighbor’s plate that looks appetizing – I find it a perfect of ordering food in a country where I don’t speak the language.

A typical Bolivian lunch has a piece of meat or chicken that generally comes with rice and a salad. Rice may be replaced by pasta or potatoes. Asadito is a common term to indicate a good piece of beef that comes with an almuerzo.

A typical taste enhancer that Bolivians eat with their meal is llaguá (or llajwa), a hot sauce made of tomato, chili peppers called locotos, and herbs. Try a little bit before pouring it all over your meal! On restaurant tables you will find oil and salt, sometimes vinegar, but regular black or white pepper appears not to be used as a condiment.

Almuerzo, or Set Lunch, in Bolivia (©photocoen)

Other Typical Bolivian Dishes for Lunch

Some restaurants not only have the choice of two set lunches but also serve extra dishes, such as ‘broaster’ chicken or fish – in La Paz trucha (trout) is popular. These dishes cost more than an almuerzo.

The more luxurious restaurants may also serve a tiny salad before serving the soup, as well as a glass of cold peach or cinnamon tea called mocochinchi, which comes with lots of sugar and with or without a piece of peach. In some restaurants they serve dessert but don’t get your hopes up. It generally consists of no more than a piece of fruit or a glass filled with chemically-colored jelly, on which the Bolivians seem to thrive.

The quality of almuerzos varies largely and is often related to the price. While an average meal costs 10-15 bolivianos, expect to pay somewhere between 15 and 30 bolivianos for a fish.

The typical setting of a Bolivian restaurant.
Almuerzo on the market in La Paz.

A Couple More Tips on Lunch in Bolivia

  • Even when not used to eating a hot dish for lunch, you may want to adapt to the Bolivian pattern of eating and go for a proper meal at lunch. At night most food places are closed except restaurants and street stalls where they sell ‘broaster‘ chicken with French fries.
  • When in doubt about hygiene standards, follow the crowds. Where you see many people eating (especially with kids), food is generally reliable.
  • Not interested in an almuerzo but would you like to eat a simple snack? I wrote about it here.

A Foody Tour & More Activities in Bolivia

Bolivia has much to offer. Some activities are perfectly done independently, others work well on a tour. What to think of a Foody Tour, where you’ll visit a market, learn about ingredients, taste local food, and make your own drink? Check what tours are on offer and see if they fit your needs.

Click on the images below to learn more.


Travel Guides for Bolivia

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Photos by Coen Wubbels. Follow our overland journey on Landcruisingadventure.com or on Instagram.

9 thoughts on “Lunch in Bolivia – What is Almuerzo, Bolivia’s Main Meal of the Day?”

  1. Chulo, is not deep fry potatoes, is frozen dry potatoes, a process that existed for hundred of years.
    Criollo traditional families like mine, we have for lunch a salad,soup,second dessert ,fruit and coffee.

    Reply
  2. The reason in high altitudes one needs to eat more potatoes, rice,grains,meats than vegetables is for fast burning of calories, the hearth and lungs born in altitude are larger.
    It takes 4 generations to change size of this organs to become larger, or to become smaller when leaving high altitudes.
    In criollo old families, we have a salad first, soup, second entree, third entree, dessert ,demitasse coffee, and fruits.
    At 4 tea time, at 7 a light dinner, clear consomme, chicken, light second entree,dessert, coffee or tea.
    Breakfast continental.
    Meals in Bolivia depend on ethnic group.
    Peasants eat more cheese, lamb, pork, grains,potatoes. ,

    Reply

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