One of the most exciting bits about travelling is trying out your favourite foods at the source. We all know there’s nothing like eating Pad Thai in Thailand, curry in India, tagine in Morocco or a big fat burger in the USA.
So what about South America? What foods are Argentina, Brazil and Peru famous for? If, like me, you’re the sort of traveller who makes a note of the local delicacies before you arrive, then read on. Get the low down on the must-eats for Peru, Brazil, Colombia or Argentina with my list of 12 foods that you really have to try when travelling South America.
Image courtesy of Charles Wagner on Flickr
1. Ceviche – Peru
Contrary to popular belief, South American food isn’t all meat and carbs. Found all across the coastal regions of Latin America, by far the best place to try ceviche is Peru. Ceviche is a seafood dish of fresh fish served in a zesty marinade of lime juice and chilli. It’s a cold dish, where the acidity of the marinade is what ‘cooks’ the fish from raw. Sounds weird, but tastes amazing. You’ll find it in street stalls, food markets and restaurants across the country but head to Lima, the capital of ceviche, to try the best in the world.
2. Empanadas – Argentina
It’s no surprise that us Brits, with our pasties and pies, go mad for empanadas. These little South American pasties are the staple street food found across the continent. You simply can’t visit South America without trying one, it’s just not possible. Particularly in Argentina, you’ll find all kinds of flavours and fillings, from the standard beef and cheese fillings, to creamy sweet corn and veggie spinach and ricotta. Across the border you’ll find regional variations, with meaty salteñas in Bolivia and deep fried Pastels in Brazil. Empanadas will be your South American comfort food.
3. Steak, Chimichurri and Red Wine – Argentina
Argentina is world-renowned for steak and for good reason too. Argentinians are passionate about beef, so asados and parilladas (barbecues and mixed grills) are their speciality. In Buenos Aires, you can get a huge, juicy steak and bottle of red wine and pay the same price as a pizza back at home. Make sure you order your steak with the classic Argentinian chimichurri, a sauce made with parsley, garlic, oil and red wine vinegar. Wash it down with an Argentinian Merlot and you’re in steak heaven.
Ingredients to make Chimichurri. Oh come on you know what a steak looks like! Image courtesy of Dominic Lockyer on Flickr
4. Cuy (Guinea Pig) – Peru
If you’ve ever had a pet guinea pig, we recommend that you look away now. Guinea pigs, known in Peru by their Quechuan name cuy, originate from the Andes and just so happen to be a national delicacy. Yes, I know it’s weird, but after seeing it on the menu in numerous high-end restaurants and during an annual food festival, it’s hard not be curious. Some say it tastes like chicken, but it has also been compared to rabbit or pork.
5. Coxinhas – Brazil
Brazil is a haven for street-food lovers. Brazilian food is a mix of indigenous dishes and Portuguese/African influences which really reflects Brazil’s exotic culture. One of the most popular street foods Brazil are coxinhas, delicious deep-fried balls of creamy shredded chicken. Made better with a fresh tomato salsa, you’ll go mad for these little fried goodies.
6. Aji Amarillo – Peru
Aji amarillo is a yellow chilli pepper native to Peru and used in all sorts of Peruvian dishes. This hot yellow chilli pepper has very distinct taste and gives traditional Peruvian dishes such as aji gallina (hen curry) and papa a la huancaína (potatoes in a spicy cheese sauce) their colour and flavour. Sadly for us, we can’t get hold aji amarillo very easily in the UK, so make the most of it while you’re in Peru and feast on aji gallina and papa a la huancaína.
7. Arepas – Venezuela and Colombia
As such a big continent, there are many regional variations of South American food. However, certain ingredients form the basis of all variations of food. The same maize flour that is used to make tortillas in Mexico and tamales in Peru, is used for arepas in Venezuela and Colombia. These little corn flatbreads are served with cheese, avocado, egg, or jam and can be eaten for breakfast or an afternoon snack.
8. Feijoada – Brazil
This meaty black bean stew is often considered as Brazil’s national dish. Made with various trimmings of salted pork and beef, this hearty chilli is cooked in a thik clay pot and served with a variety of sides or alone. Yet another tasty addition to Brazil’s impressive street-food menu, meat-lovers must try feijoada. Vegetarians can sample feijao com arroz (the beans and rice without the meat!).
9. Dulce de Leche – Argentina, Uruguay and beyond
If you’ve got a sweet tooth, then you’ll have to try dulce de leche. All across South America, particularly in Uruguay and Argentina, there is an obsession with dulce de leche – a sweet and creamy caramel confection. So intense is this love for dulce de leche, that during the World Cup, the Uruguayan football team partly-blamed their defeats on having their stores of dulce de leche confiscated by Brazilian customs. Yet another staple in a South American diet, you could find dulce de leche served with ice cream, in an alfajores biscuit, piped into churros or just spread on toast! This leads me on to another sweet treat
Sweets made with delicious Dulce de Leche
10. Picarones – Peru
If you like churros, you need to try picarones. These Peruvian doughnuts, found in street stalls and food markets, have their distinctive orange colour from the sweet potato and/or pumpkin in the ingredients. Sweet and sticky, rolled in cinnamon and sugar, these are the ultimate Peruvian street snack.
11. Pisco Sour – Peru
So after all this talk of food, I bet you’re wondering about the beverages. Aside from your Cusquena beers and bottles of unnaturally yellow Inca Cola, Peru’s national drink is the Pisco Sour. Made from pisco, a brandy commonly drunk across Peru and Chile, egg white, lime juice and bitters, the tangy Pisco Sour should be your cocktail of choice when eating ceviche. Peruvians love it so much they even have a National Pisco Sour Day!
12. Yerba Mate Tea – Argentina
You won’t be long in Argentina before you’re offered mate. Pronounced mah-tay, this traditional Argentinian tea infusion is drunk through a metal cup and straw. Yerba mate is the traditional caffeinated drink enjoyed at all times of day and is found in the form of loose leaf or in teabags. It’s an acquired taste, but as Brits who love a brew, make sure that you join in the Argentine ritual of mate drinking…
Now we’re starving. Check out the delights of South American cuisine for yourself and book a cheap flight to South America.