South American food distintly comprises dishes prepared using the vegetables cultivated on the steep Andean mountain slopes. Corn, lima beans, potatoes, sweet potatoes, avocados, peanuts and Chile peppers are some of the traditional ingredients that form an integral part of the contemporary South American cuisine.
The cuisine of South America, also known as the Latin American cuisine, focuses a lot on maize-based dishes and different kinds of salsas and a host of other condiments. The foods of this region are deeply inspired by the Native American cuisine and often reveal culinary influences of Africa, Europe and Asia.
There are about 19 countries within South America and each of them has its own distinctive sub-cuisines that are bound by the common thread of native and contemporary South American ingredients available.
- Argentina: Argentine cuisine primarily draws its influence from the Italian and Spanish cuisines, besides which, there are traces of native Quechua, Mapuche and Guarani groups too. Argentina is also one of the world's major food producers, most significantly so in terms of beef, wheat, corn, milk and bean production. Beef and red meat is a common and popular part of the Argentine diet.
- Belize: Belizeans eat different kinds of foods and their breakfasts range from bread and flour tortillas with cheeses to various preparations made of beans. Cheese forms an important component of Belizean diet with refried beans, eggs and cereal being given a great deal of importance. Heavier meals usually consist of rice and beans, meat pies, stew chicken, garnaches, panades, salads and coleslaws.
- Brazil: Brazilian cuisine is quite distinctive and can be different from one region to the other region. The country's cuisine contains influences of a diverse array of culinary cultures including Portuguese, African, Italian, Spanish, German, Lebanese, Syrian and Japanese.
- Chile: Chilean food combines Spanish culinary methods and recipes with indigenous ingredients. Seafood is quite popular and a part of most dishes. Most of the Chilean recipes are accompanied by Chilean wine, such as the Curanto.
- Costa Rica: The main staple of this country is black beans and rice and it is not uncommon to find the same dish being prepared three times a day. Other popular food items include tortillas, white cheese and picadillos.
- Ecuador: The food in this country is an array of different delicacies and primarily pork, beef, chicken and guinea pig are the most popular forms of meat consumed along with rice and corn or potatoes.
- El Salvador: The food from Ecuador is truly diverse where the traditional cuisine consists of food from the Maya, Lenca and Pipil. Most of the dishes in Ecuador are made from maize and one of the most popular dishes is the pupusa, a corn flour tortilla stuffed with cheese, pork rinds, beans and lorocco.
- Mexico: Mexican cuisine has become famous world over and is particularly known for its rich flavors and usage of all kinds of spices. Mexican food is primarily influenced by pre-Hispanic traditions including the Aztecs and the Mayans.
- Peru: Peruvian cuisine is regarded as one of the most versatile cuisines that compete on a global platform with world popular cuisines. Peruvian cuisine draws inspiration from the Inca culinary heritage and other international cuisines such as the Spanish, African, Sino-Cantonese, Japanese, Basque, Italian, Britsih and French. Peruvian food boasts of an array of more than two thousand different types of soups and more than 250 traditional desserts.
Historical and Cultural Influences
The historical and cultural route of South American food can be traced back to its native people who were ingenious in cultivating a diverse array of plants including corn, lima beans, avocados, peanuts, chocolate and sweet potatoes. When the Europeans arrived, they got with them their distinctive recipes and even used local vegetables and fruits in their own cuisines. Immigrants from China and Japan also influenced the cuisine with their variety of spices and cooking methods.
Commonly Used Ingredients and Cooking Methods
Maize is undoubtedly one of the most important ingredients that are practically used in most of the dishes. Argentina is one of the largest food producers and produces wheat, corn, milk and beans in large quantities. It is also a major producer of beef and therefore a lot of dishes contain grilled meat served with a spicy sauce. Rice, corn and potatoes are also extensively used along with the various types of meats such as pork, chicken, beef and cuy or guinea pig. The meats are especially grilled while other delicacies can either be baked, roasted or fried.
Globally Popular South American Foods
Some of the most popular South American food recipes are varied and diverse and following are just some of the well-known dishes famous world over.
- Peruvian cilantro chicken - also known as seco de pollo, this is a delicious chicken dish made with vegetables like peas, carrots and potatoes and served with cilantro sauce. This Peruvian food is served with rice and is favorite menu item for parties as it can be made ahead and preserved for consumption during the party. The refrigerated dish is heated before serving. Variants of the dish also use duck and beef in place of chicken.
- Shrimp ceviche - this is shrimp marinated in a citrus solution of lemon and lemon juice. The traditional recipe does not recommend cooking as the strong acidity of the citrus solution is known to have a pickling effect on the shrimp which is believed to destroy harmful bacteria. However, it is always better to consume the ceviche as soon as it is prepared as uncooked seafood is a matter of concern. The shrimp can also be boiled in water briefly and then marinated.
- Chilean Empanadas - Chilian Empanada is a semi circular patty enclosing a mincemeat stuffing called a pino. Different types of seafood and cheese are also used to fill in the empanadas. The mince meat is made of different ingredients like beef, raisins, olives, and boiled eggs. The seafood used as the filling is made of abalone, mussles or crab.
- Argentine grilled steak - this is a grilled beef dish served in the culture with chimmichuri, the Argentinian salsa.
- llapingachos- they are pancakes or patties made of potato and filled with cheese. Peanut sauce is commonly served as a dipping sauce with it.
- Ceviche - this is a citrus marinated fish or seafood dish which does not require any explicit cooking as the strongly acidic attributes of the tangy marination are known to kill all harmful microorganisms present in the food. However, when the dish is made with seafood, it is always better to pre-cook it a bit, as the marination is found to be generally ineffective in destroying the pathogenic bacteria present in the seafood.
- Hornado- This is a Ecuadorian roast pig dish which is best complemented with llapingachos, vegetables or hominy.
Traditional South American Food
South American cuisine is largely inspired by its native culinary traditions. Therefore even now a number of dishes still retain the traditional method of cooking and quite a number of traditional recipes are also followed.
- Arroz con pollo - This is a very flavorful yellow- colored rice and chicken dish. The rice and chicken are cooked in beer broth with sofrito (a cooking mixture made of spices and herbs), and saffron or annatto.
- Empanadas or meat turnovers - these are baked pastries made with savory fillings which may be of meat ( commonly beef), boiled egg, olives, onions, raisins and cumin. Ham and cheese may also be used as fillings. Chicken is also seen to be used as a filling quite often. Empanadas are commonly made in the Peruvian ad Argentine cuisines.
- Escabeche criollo - this is a fish condiment made by pickling the fish in a very spicy solution of vinegar and onions. Chili is also used by the recipe for hot flavor.
- Pupusa - This is a stuffed tortilla dish from the Salvadorian cuisine. The thick corn tortilla is filled with either cheese as in Pupusa de queso, or filled with a mixture of cheese and other ingredients like refried beans, pasted pork( chicharron). This sumptuous dish is usually partnered with curtido( a vinegary cabbage slaw) and tomato salsa.
- Yuca frita - it is a Hispanic dish made by frying the root of yuca. The dish is partnered with mojo criollo( a flavorful Cuban marinade).
The diversity of South American food is reflected in each celebration through an array of decadent culinary delights. Some of them are as follows:
- Holiday stuffed turkey - This is made by stuffing turkey with an elaborate mixture of olives, dry fruits, nuts, and sausages. The flavoring of the turkey is enhanced with the usage of brandied meat or meat injected with wine.
- Cheese Tamales - this is similar to the Mexican tamales. However a mixture of cheese and ground corn are wrapped in corn husks which are steamed.
- Cheesy mashed yuca with caramelized onions - In this dish yucca is boiled, mashed and seasoned with salt and pepper. It is served with caramelized onions and a cheese sauce called salsa a la huancaina.
- Chilean Holiday Fruitcake - also known as Pan de Pascua, this is luxuriant cake with lavish amounts of dried fruits and nuts and rum flavoring. The cake can be frosted with marzipan if desired. This is enjoyed especially during Christmas and Easter with cola de mono or alcoholic coffee.
- Peruvian lamb stew with potatoes - also known as seco de cordero, this is a beer-braised lamb and potato dish with aji pepper, cumin and cilantro seasonings. The dish is found to be more flavorful when the flavors are allowed to blend overnight.
- Holiday Gingerbread Llamas - these are fancy gingerbread cookies shaped as llamas. Llamas are made with gingerbread dough and baked. They are then iced with icing of different colors. These fancy cookies are given as gifts during holidays.
- Holiday Alfajor cookies - these are fancy colorful sandwich cookies with orange and green icings and dulce de leche filling. The filling is placed in between the two shortbreads, the top one of which is iced with orange and green icing.
- Spiced Cinnamon rum drink - also known as canelazo, this is a Ecuadorian hot drink made of lime and orange juices with rum (ideally the high alcohol aguardiente is added in place of rum). A solution of water, lime juice, cinnamon, cloves and brown sugar is boiled, and orange juice and rum are stirred in after removal from heat. This drink is perfectly suited for a cold winter night and may be accompanied by cookies.
- Quince tart - this is a tart made by filing in a custard made of pureed quince and egg mixture. Quince is first chopped after peeling off its skin and then boiled in water along with spices and sugar till tender. It is then pureed and mixed with beaten egg, cream, sugar and vanilla. The custard is then filled into the curst of the tart and baked.
Gourmet South American Food
South American food gourmet delicacies are many and some of the most famous recipes include:
- Carne Puyada - better known as stuffed beef roast, this is an appetizer made by braising beef roast stuffed with vegetables marinated in beer.
- Albondigas - these are meatballs which are served as appetizers. These Berber meat balls are served with tomato sauce, even at times as main course items.
- Spicy shrimp in coconut sauce - this is a Brazilian stir-fry delicacy made by cooking shrimp in coconut sauce. The coconut sauce is poured into the container with sauteed spices and herbs and shrimp is added to it.
- Crayfish, shrimp, squid and fish stew - this is a sumptuous seafood stew enjoyed with fresh bread and a glass of argentine or Chilean wine.
- Humitas a la Chilena - this is a Chilian corn tamale made by cooking corn mixture in corn husk. Though similar to the Mexican tamale, it differs from it in being less spicy. This tamale is best suited for consumption during the hot summer months.
- Winter squash soup - this is a soup that is best suited for winters. Onion and garlic seasonings are sauteed in butter till tender. Butternut squash is added along with chicken broth to the sauteed vegetables and simmered till tender. It is then mashed and served as soup with lime wedges and other flavor enhancers of choice.