Top 5 South American Specialties to Travel For, and 3 to Skip
We’ve all been there – the menu is in another language, no helpful pictures in sight; the one hour of language learning you had in your headphones at the airport has failed you; the waiter is looking at you, expectant. You point to a random spot on the menu that may have a word you recognize, and shrug. This could be the best meal of your life or the worst. The mystery and discovery of new foods while traveling is one of the most exciting parts of a trip. Take a look at these delicious South American specialties, and a few to avoid, so next time you can open the menu with a smile, confident your choice will be a winner.
Foods to Travel For:
1. Colombia – Arepas de Choclo
Colombians have a sweet tooth with a twist – foods that combine cheese and sugar together show up more often than you would think. The results are mixed: cheese dipped in honey isn’t too far from a recognizable cheese plate; cheese melted in hot chocolate a bit of a departure from American flavor profile. The tastiest example of this sweet + cheese phenomenon is the arepa de choclo. This griddle-fried corn cake is held together with a delicious mess of melted cheese, making it almost like a quesadilla without the tortilla. The salty-sweet mix of crunchy corn and melty cheese makes for a delicious snack.
2. Peru – Ceviche
Probably the most well-known dish on the list, Peruvian ceviche is not to be missed. The national dish of Peru is so famous it even has its own holiday: June 28th is Ceviche Day. Ceviche is made from very fresh raw fish and a delicious liquid known locally as leche de tigre, or tiger’s milk. This combination of lime juice, chilies, garlic, cilantro, red onion, and salt is the key to the flavor. Add in more onion, sweet potato, corn, and a variety of other ingredients to complete this tasty and versatile dish.
3. Argentina – Chimichurri
Did you know chimichurri is from Argentina? This delicious sauce generally used to top grilled meat is known as the pesto of South America. Made with finely chopped herbs like parsley and mint, and combined with garlic and oil, chimichurri adds a bright, fresh flavor to otherwise heavy dishes. Fun to say, even more fun to eat!
4. Chile – Palta
Palta is not a dish, but a single ingredient, and one you may be very familiar with. Known throughout the Spanish-speaking world as aguacate, this ingredient is so popular, Chile gives the avocado a different name than its neighbors. Not only the name differs: there are so many varieties of avocados in Chile that it seems like a whole different fruit, and Chileans are huge fans. Chopped or smashed avocado can be added to almost any dish, from salads, to seafood, to the popular hot-dogs called completos.
5. Brazil – Pao de Quijo
This delicious Brazilian cheese puff has a secret up its sleeve: it is naturally gluten free. Made with tapioca or cassava flour, these delicious cheesy breads have been around in some version since before the Portuguese arrived in Brazil. While they can be eaten any time you get a hankering, these snacks are best prepared fresh for breakfast.
Foods for the Brave:
Should you really pass on these unique delicacies? Of course not. They are worth a try, at least for the bragging rights and the Instagram posts. But picky eaters beware, you might not want to add these to your daily diet.
1. Peru – Cuy
Trying cuy in Peru is almost a rite of passage for any adventurous traveler. Guinea Pig, as it is known in English, has been raised as a food source in the Andes for thousands of years. Now it is a delicacy reserved for special occasions and holidays, but can be found in many restaurants and roadside stalls. In for the thrill but would prefer if your food didn’t make eye contact? At nicer restaurants in the Sacred Valley and Cuzco, cuy is often prepared confit, rather than whole and on a stick.
2. Chile – Chorillana
Chorillana is less of a shock to your sensibilities than your arteries. Basically a Chilean version of poutine, chorillana is a sloppy mess of french fries, fried onions, chopped sausage, fried eggs, and sometimes ground beef. To wash down this soggy heart attack on a plate, the traditional beverage accompaniment is fanshop, half beer and half orange Fanta.
3. Colombia – Hormigas Colunas
Truly a snack for the bravest of travelers, hormigas coluna literally translates to Big Butt Ants, and these critters live up to their name. Found in the Santander region of Colombia, these ants are considered quite the delicacy, as they only come out of their nesting ground a few days a year. Pan fried, these expensive treats are said to taste like peanuts in a shell – crispy, crunchy, and salty. “Said to taste” because I passed on the chance to taste them after seeing their still-attached legs.
Would you be brave enough to try them? Check out some of our newest foodie tours throughout South America here.