Traditional South American Cuisine – Surprises around every corner


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Summary:  Food is very central to every culture – people gather to share a meal, each other’s company and forge relationships.  Unlike today when foods from different parts of the world are available on store shelves, traditional cuisines used locally available ingredients to make dishes that defined a culture and its peoples.

South America is a vast country with diverse cultures and cuisines.  Most of the staples include tortillas and other flat breads made from maize, different kinds of salsas and different kinds of meats.  There are several different spices used in various combinations to offer very unique dishes.  Thanks to population migration into countries like Brazil and Argentina, elements from Caribbean, Spanish and other European cooking styles were introduced to change the culinary landscape.  Not only the cuisine, even the beverages that are available is truly mind boggling – mate, aguas frescas, cacao – to name a few.  Desserts are unique as well – tres leches cake, flan and rice pudding are but a few.

What to Expect:

Quite a few of the dishes native to each country have their origins in Native American sources – add to that African, European and other influences, one has a truly unique range of dishes to choose from.  Some of the most well-known dishes are:

·         Menudo:  This is made with cuts from different parts of the cow – the meat is seasoned well and then encased in cow’s or pig intestines (after a thorough cleaning).  Leftovers and meat are cooked and seasoned well to make an interesting dish.  Every country has its own version of this dish.

·         European cooking traditions are evident in the desserts – and dishes like pasta, adopted from Italy.

·         Many spices that are now a part of South American cuisine were brought from faraway places like China and Japan.  This is very evident in Peruvian cuisine.

·         The Caribbean influence is very evident in coastal countries – fish, rice and coconut add elements of heat and interest to many dishes.

·         Black Beans, Plantains, Yucca and cassava form the backbone of Cuban cuisine.  Spanish, Caribbean and African influences are very evident – as is the use of spices like cumin, bay leaves and oregano to heighten the flavor.  Ropa Viejo is probably the most well-known dish out of Cuba.

·         Panamanian food is unique – since it connects North and South America, there are many influences to contend with.  One can expect to find a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables included.

·         Argentinian cuisine has strong roots in Italian and Spanish cooking techniques.  As one of the world’s largest producer of meat, the locals have access to a wide variety of dairy as well as beef.  Italian food is quite popular here.

·         Brazilian food is very diverse – as the largest country in South America, it has so many different ethnic groups that every region has preserved its cooking style.