Welcome to the May edition of the Visit South America series! This is a monthly contributed post on traveling to South America, in preparation for my 2-year backpacking trip there starting August 2015.
For this month, Reima Saleem of Love a Traveler is going to make us drool with her post of her favorite food in South America.
Her passions–aside from travel–include cooking and baking global delights, and it can be clearly seen in this post. She’s currently working on a catering/delivery company based on her food inspirations from her travels called Tastefully Global (coming soon). So, let’s dig in and appreciate the delicious cuisines of my soon-to-be favorite continent!
Food is one of the main reasons why I travel and explore this wonderful world. When I am looking to discover a new land, I use their cuisine to teach me about their culture and the people. And one of the ways to a traveler’s heart is definitely through their stomach.
Every time I step foot back into an airport and leave any destination in South America, a piece of my heart (and stomach) is left there. This continent has captured my heart and I hope it does the same for Aleah and anyone planning to adventure there some day.
In general, all the countries in South America have some foods in common, like starch in the form of rice, bread, potato, pasta, plantains, and yucca. Tropical fruits are also all over the continent, from bananas and papaya, to watermelon, grapes, maracuya (passion fruit), and so on. Have a fruit drink once a day or even twice. It’s very refreshing, and they all bring a different twist to their desserts.
As for street food, I’m a huge advocate of it! Don’t be scared away because you’ve heard you can get sick from it. It’s not always the case. Use your judgement. Observe how the food is prepared or how fresh the ingredients look. Look at how long the line is or if there are people around. If there are a lot of people, that’s your cue to sample the food there as well.
In any case, here are some of my favorite food in South America. Look for them when you go visit!
Argentina is influenced by indigenous, Mediterranean, Italian, and Spanish cuisines. They are also known for their abundance of livestock and high consumption of beef. The Argentina wine industry has become bigger in the past several years, so if you love wines, visit Argentina.
You will enjoy plenty of meat dishes in Argentina with the complimentary side of chimichurri (green sauce for grilled meat). Asado (grilled meat) is highly recommended there, as well as milanesas (fried steak), dulce de leche, wine, and mate served in a gourd with a bombilla (a kind of drinking straw). If someone offers you a sip of their mate, don’t refuse. It’s really good!
There are so many options to choose from in the 8th largest country in the world. The flavors in Argentina certainly leave you wanting more.
Bolivian cuisine happens to be one of my favorites. You will love the comforting meals here. One of my favorite locations to sample different plates, besides the street food, is this huge mall parking lot building in La Paz. Prices are extremely reasonable and help with letting you sample anything you want.
The main staples of Bolivian cuisine are potatoes, corn, rice, beans, quinoa, and meat. Just like Peru, they also have many varieties of potatoes to choose from. Bolivia is a land-locked country, so it’s not really known for fish and seafood but if you come across a plate of fish, try it anyway.
Bolivia is also known for their coca leaves. To the Bolivians and those who have traveled there, it is nothing more than a plant used for tea and to cure such some ailments like altitude sickness and stomachaches.
What I loved the most about Bolivia was the locals’ pride in their cooking. They pour their heart into each meal they prepare and they want you to feel it. It made all my experiences there even better because of it.
Here are some of the most comforting meals and dishes that I had in Bolivia: salteñas (baked empanada), milanesa (fried steak), mate de coca (herbal tea), sopa de mani (peanut and potato soup), ispi y trucha (small fish and trout), and huge corn, among so many others.
Everything you eat in Bolivia, you’ll love. Be careful with the altitude, though. Let your body adjust.
Brazil is influenced by the Amerindian, African, European, and Asian cuisines. The cuisine of northern Brazil has a unique taste, more indigenous and African-influenced, and I felt extremely comfortable there. You’ll find a lot of food cooked in coconut milk, starches like cassava, manioc, plantains, peanuts, açaí (berries), cupuacu (the national fruit in Brazil), tapioca, and cacao.
In the southern part of Brazil, you’ll see more Brazilian BBQ’s (churrasco) and black bean and meat stew (feijoada). Fish, seafood, rice, beans, and meat are all over Brazil, but cooked differently depending on where you are. Both have their unique tastes and seasonings.
It’s a real treat to experience, as a whole, the differences of the Brazilian cuisine throughout the 5th largest country in the world. There are so much left to discover there.
Some of my favorites that I indulged in Brazil are the: Amazon fish with coconut sauce, sopa de feijão (Brazilian black bean stew), churrasco, and caiprinhas (a cocktail).
If you ever come across a coconut, buy it and enjoy because I find the coconut water in South America to be very sweet and refreshing.
Chile is influenced by the indigenous, Spanish, and Middle Eastern cuisines. Due to its geographic location, it is best known for its outstanding seafood.
Wine is big here and Chile is one of the largest exporters of it. Santiago is a great start to delve into deeper if this is what you like. Chile has a variety of different meat, wheat, wine, olives, corn, potatoes, seafood, and fresh tropical fruit. You will enjoy empanadas, food from the sea, a variety of soups and stews, salads, Patagonian meat, pastries, desserts, bread, and fruit.
I left Chile feeling like there was still so much more to discover. Take your time over there. I plan on indulging in more of their tantalizing seafood the next time I step foot in the long and skinny land between mountains and the ocean.
My favorites from Chile are: machas a la parmesana (Chilean clams with parmesan, which I happen to recreate at home A LOT!), harina tostada (toasted corn) gelato, helado de mascarpone (ice cream), camarones ajillo (garlic shrimp), the nut stands, and cordero Patagonico (Patagonia lamb).
I had the opportunity to discover both Ecuador and the Galapagos and I jumped on it quickly. The Galapagos cuisine was extremely tasty, typical of Ecuador with a large dose of extremely good fish and seafood. I highly suggest trying everything there, if possible.
You’ll also notice when you order a fish steak, or perhaps another seafood dish, they also serve it with rice and a tomato/onion salsa. Nothing was a let down over there.
As for Ecuador, it’s influenced by Mestizo, Amerindian, European, Spanish, and Lebanese cuisines. The dishes are usually accompanied by corn, rice, potatoes, and patacones (plantain chips). You will see varying dishes of meat, fish, and seafood. All made to make your stomach full of happiness.
One of my favorite discoveries in Ecuador was the tree tomato (tamarillo). At first I thought, a tomato? I guess I’ll just have to try it! They made it into a fresh juice for me and it was love at first taste. It isn’t a typical “tomato”; look for it when you make your way to Ecuador, among their other offerings to choose from.
The cuisine of Peru is a culinary delight to any foodie. It’s a mixture of indigenous, Incan, Spanish, European, Asian, and West African influences. This combination comes together in harmony making their food truly one of a kind.
Along with the staples of potatoes, corn, rice, beans, quinoa, and wheat, the Peruvians do not need to rely on other countries via imports. The country has it all to survive on its own. They produce their own tropical fruits, vegetables, and grains. They have a coast that is abundant with fish and seafood, a land full of livestock, and everything else they need to survive.
Honestly, I can give you a list of dishes to look for but really, try it all! Anything you eat in Peru, you will love. Try all the fruits. The potatoes. Load up on the quinoa. Sample Llama. Taste the Yacon syrup; it’s hard to find in the US and expensive. Enjoy every bite and morsel of food there. You will not be disappointed and I 100% guarantee it.
From Peruvian ceviche and llama, to meat on a stick with potato and salsa, yucca frita (Yucca fries), huancaina (boiled yellow potatoes), corn with queso fresco (corn on a cob with fresh cheese), Picarones (a Peruvian dessert), and tacu tacu (rice and lentils), the cuisine of Peru is unforgettable and definitely one of my top favorites.
I now have one very important question…
Who is hungry??
I am! What’s your favorite South American dish?
About the Author
Reima Saleem is a global citizen who spends every chance she gets going on adventures. She has explored Mexico, Central America, South America, and some parts of Asia and Northern Africa. Last year, she met her partner/soulmate, got engaged, and tied the knot. They’ll have travel babies someday! For now, she is based in Southern California. Follow her through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest!