You may be planning a trip to South America and are going to visit Iguazu Falls, Machu Picchu, Patagonia, Torres del Paine, or the beautiful Andes Mountain range. You’ve made your plans, booked your travel and are excited about your upcoming trip. But have you stopped to think about the food? Have you considered what local and authentic South American dishes you should try?
After spending 6 months in South America discovering the authentic dishes in Argentina, Uruguay, Chile and Peru, one of the questions we get asked frequently is what are our top South American dishes.
At Authentic Food Quest, our aim is to inspire you to travel through authentic foods. To help you have a local and authentic experience through food, we have put together our top 7 authentic South American dishes you should not miss on your trip to the latin continent.
Ready to discover the region through food? Let’s go!
Table of contents
1. Ceviche in Peru
Ceviche is often considered Peru’s favorite dish. It even has it’s own National Holiday that was created by the Peruvian government to honor Ceviche as part of Peru’s national heritage. This holiday was created in 2008 and is celebrated every June 28th.
What exactly is ceviche? It is a raw dish that consists of fish or seafood soaked in citrus juices such as lime and spiced with chili peppers. It is made with just 5 ingredients: raw fish or seafood, salt red onions and ají, Peru’s unique line of chili peppers, all doused in lime juice.
The acidic liquid ‘cooks’ the fish and changes the proteins in the fish making it firm and opaque. The marinade is called leche de tigre (tiger’s milk). The ceviche is accompanied by camote (sweet potatoes) and choclo (large, white Andean corn), which are both native to Peru.
Keep in mind that ceviche is traditionally eaten at lunch, when the fish is most fresh.
2. Empanadas Salteñas in Argentina
Empanadas are small pies with a “croissant” shape. They are made of dough filled with different fillings which are mostly savory. Argentinean empanadas, in particular, are considered to be some of the best in the world. This is due in part to the different recipes and cooking styles in the different regions of the country.
Empanadas can either be baked or fried. We recommend empanadas salteñas from the Salta Province which are simply baked without the addition of fats or oils. They are tiny and easy to devour in just two bites. They are really tasty and the best ones are carne (beef). Fillings include green onion, potatoes and eggs. They are usually accompanied with a spicy red salsa sauce.
3. Reineta Fish in Chile
Chile, the world’s longest and narrowest country is defined by the Andes Mountain and Pacific Ocean. The coast line runs from the tropics to the wintery southern tip which means there is a staggering amount of seafood. Fishing is a major industry in Chile and it is one of the major exporters of fish and seafood in the world.
Our favorite and one of the most popular fish to try is the Reineta (pomfret or Southern Rays Bream). It is a mild fish which is firm and perfect for grilling, broiling or sautéing. Reineta is typically grilled whole or can be found in Chilean ceviche. For more about seafood in Chile, check out Eating Chilean blog by Jim Stuart, a North American anthropologist living in Chile.
4. Cazuela de Llama in Argentina
Llamas are domesticated animals that have been used for transporting goods for thousands of years by the Andes people. Their wool is used for socks, gloves and scarves. Although llamas are popular for their wool, their meat is eaten in regional dishes in the North of Argentina.
Llama meat is high in protein and low in fat making it a healthy meat. The region offers many llama specialties and one of the most common is cazuela de llama.
Llama meat is delicious and full of flavor. In the Cazuela de llama, you will have the meat cut into pieces and slowly cooked in a stew with carrots and papas andinas (native potatoes). If you’ve never had llama meat before, consider trying the cazuela especially if your travels take you to the Andes region. You will not be disappointed!
5. Juane from Peru Amazon Jungle
Peru has the second largest portion of the Amazon rainforest and it makes up 60% of the Country. As a result, food from the Amazon jungle features prominently in Peruvian cuisine. One of the most popular dishes from the Peruvian Amazon jungle is the Juane.
The dish consists of a bowl of rice filled with chicken, boiled egg, black olives, and spices. All the ingredients are wrapped up in bijao leaves (which look like banana leaves) and are plants from the jungle. It is then boiled in clay pots and served with the leaves.
For more about this dish and other specialities from the Amazon, read our previous post here about the Surprising Amazonian Food From Peru.
6. Chivito Sandwich from Uruguay
The Chivito is the national sandwich and dish of Uruguay. Legend has it that a female tourist from Argentina stopped by a restaurant in Punta Del Este (Southern part of Uruguay) and ordered “chivito” (baby goat meat) like the ones she had in Argentina.
The restaurateur not wanting to lose a client, accepted the order and proceeded to make her a churrasco (steak, not goat) sandwich topped with everything but the kitchen sink. She ends up loving it and the sandwich earns a permanent place on his menu under the name Chivito, going on to become Uruguay’s national sandwich.
This is an incredibly large and delicious sandwich. It is made up of thin slices of churrasco (filet mignon beef), topped with bacon, mozzarella cheese, tomatoes, lettuce, mayonnaise, ham, olives and a fried egg. Rich and heavy, this is a carnivores fantasy.
7. Parilla in Argentina or Uruguay
Argentina and Uruguay are both top beef producing countries in the world. Given the popularity of meat in both countries, you must experience eating at a parilla or steakhouse.
In each country you will find different cuts of beef and sausages. Typical cuts in Argentina are lomo (filet), bife de chorizo (sirloin) or ojo de bife (ribeye). In Uruguay you will find, pulpon (rump steak) or asado (short ribs). If you are adventurous go for the mollejas (sweetbreads), chinchulín (intestines) or morcilla (blood sausages).
Traveling to a new country or part of the world is exciting. Seeing the museums, as well as the cultural and historical sites expands your understanding of the place.
However, when you travel through food and in particular the local and authentic dishes you taste the history, the culture and connect deeper with the locals. Use this guide on your next trip to South America and open yourself up to new flavors and tastes.
Have you had any of these authentic South American dishes? Which ones are your favorites?
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Rosemary is a writer and culinary explorer. Together with her partner, Claire, they created Authentic Food Quest to inspire people to travel deeper through authentic food. Through food, they believe, people can have more meaningful connections on their travels. Prior to creating Authentic Food Quest, Rosemary worked as a director of strategy in advertising for over 15 years. Take the quiz and find out your Food Traveler Profile.