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Authentic South American dishes will delight you as you travel to see sights like Machu Picchu, Iguazu Falls, Patagonia, or the beautiful Andes Mountain range.
We spent almost six months traveling around and exploring the authentic dishes and local specialties of Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, and Peru.
The South American kitchen is vast and consists of a countless flavors and multiple cultural influences.
To help prepare you eat your way through South America like a local, here are the top 10 South American dishes you don’t want to miss.
Also included are authentic recipes to bring the flavors of Latin America into your home kitchen.
Ready to discover the region through food? Let’s go!
1. Chivito Sandwich from Uruguay
Chivito is the national sandwich and dish of Uruguay. It’s a hefty sandwich that is incredibly tasty.
Legend has it that it was created by female tourist from Argentina.
As the story goes, she stopped by a restaurant in Punta Del Este in the southern part of the country and ordered a “chivito,” or 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 a goat sandwich, topped with everything but the kitchen sink.
She ended up loving it, and the sandwich earned a permanent place on his menu under the name Chivito, becoming Uruguay’s national sandwich.
The Chivito is a massive and incredibly delicious sandwich. It is piled high with thinly sliced grilled beef or churrasco, bacon, ham, mozzarella cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, olives, and a fried egg.
A hearty dish and incredible food, the Chivito sandwich is a carnivore’s fantasy.
AUTHENTIC FOOD QUEST RECIPE: The Chivito sandwich is unbelievably flavorful and easy to make at home. Get the our simple recipe Best Chivito Sandwich – How To Make Uruguay National Dish and enjoy the flavors of Uruguay’s mighty sandwich.
2. Empanadas Salteñas in Argentina
Empanadas are small pies with a “croissant” shape. They are made of dough filled with different fillings like savory ground meat.
While empanadas are a popular South American food, Argentinian empanadas are considered to be some of the best in the world.
This is due in part to the different recipes and cooking styles across the different regions of the country.
Empanadas in Argentina are either baked or fried. We recommend empanadas salteñas which are from the Salta Province in Argentina.
These particular ones are baked without any additional fats or oils. The incredible pies are packed with flavor and easy to devour in just two bites.
Our favorite ones are made with ground beef, or carne, which also have green onions, potatoes, and eggs.
In Salta Province, empanadas are usually accompanied by a spicy red salsa sauce.
AUTHENTIC FOOD QUEST RECIPE: Argentinian empanadas are among the best empanadas in South America. Making these traditional pastries at home is easily achievable with a few simple ingredients. Grab our simple recipe How To Make Delicious Argentinian Empanadas Mendocino Style
3. Reineta Fish in Chile – South American Fish
Chile, the world’s longest and narrowest country, is defined by the Andes Mountains and the Pacific Ocean.
The coastline 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 also known as Pomfret or Southern Ray Bream.
Reineta is a mild fish that is firm and perfect for grilling, broiling or sautéing.
We enjoyed Reineta several times in Chile, especially along the coast of Valparaiso. This light and flaky fish cannot be missed on your South American travels.
AUTHENTIC FOOD QUEST RECIPE: To make another easy Chilean traditional seafood dish at home, check out this sea bass recipe with a traditional Chilean sauce. This pan-seared recipe with pebre sauce will delight your taste buds as you travel to Chile through food.
4. Ceviche in Peru
Ceviche is Peru’s most emblematic national dish. It even has its own holiday the Peruvian government created to honor Ceviche as part of Peru’s national heritage.
This holiday was established in 2008 and is celebrated every June 28th.
What exactly is ceviche? It is a raw dish that consists of fish or seafood that is soaked in the juices from citrus fruit like lime juice and then spiced with the heat of chili peppers.
It is made with just five ingredients; raw fish or seafood, red onions, ají sauce, salt, and Peru’s unique line of chili peppers, all drenched in lime juice.
The acidic liquid ‘cooks’ the fish and alters its proteins, making it firm and opaque.
The marinade is called leche de tigre or tiger’s milk and is sipped on together with the fish and seafood.
In Peru, Ceviche is accompanied by camote or sweet potatoes and choclo which are large, white Andean corn, native to the country.
Keep in mind, Peruvian ceviche is traditionally eaten at lunch when the seafood is fresh from the morning’s catch.
5. Llama Meat or 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 Andes region.
While exploring authentic food specialites in South America, llama meat was one of the traditional dishes that was popular in northern Argentina.
Llama meat is high in protein and low in fat, making it a healthy meat. There are many llama specialties, and one delicious traditional dish we enjoyed was Cazuela de Llama.
The meat is delicious and full of flavor. In the cazuela de llama, the meat is chopped into pieces and slowly cooked in a stew with carrots and papas andinas or native potatoes.
If you’ve never had llama meat before, consider trying this unique South American food. You’ll be delighted by the tender meat and savory flavors in the llama meat stews.
6. Juane from Peru’s Amazon Jungle
Peru has the second largest portion of the Amazon rainforest, which makes up 60% of the country.
As a result, food from the Amazon jungle features prominently in Peruvian cuisine.
One of the most popular South American dishes from the Peruvian Amazon jungle is the Juane.
It consists of a bowl of white rice filled with chicken, hard-boiled eggs, black olives, and spices.
All the ingredients are wrapped up in bijao leaves which look like banana leaves and are a plant from the jungle.
The traditional food is then boiled in clay pots and served with the leaves. We tried Juane at an Amazon restaurant in Lima and were impressed by the flavors of this delicious dish.
With culinary delights from the Amazon jungle present in South American cuisine, be sure to seek out Juane from Peru.
7. Parilla or Steakhouses in Argentina or Uruguay
Argentina and Uruguay are both top beef-producing countries in the world.
Given the popularity of meat in both areas, you must experience eating thick and juicy cuts of meat 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).
8. Arepas in Venezuela
Arepas in Venezuela are a beloved dish and considered a national dish of the country.
You find them everywhere, from humble street stalls to sit-down restaurants. Arepas are corn cakes and are a traditional food in both Venezuela and Columbia.
These delightful corn cakes can be cooked, fried, or grilled, eaten plain, or as a sandwich.
Arepas in Venezuela are thick and stuffed with meat or other savory ingredients, while in Columbia, they are eaten plain with cheese or egg.
While we did not visit Venezuela, we enjoyed Arepas made by our Venezuelan friend in Argentina and have also savored them in Miami, Florida.
We love the incredibly delicious Arepas from Venezuela, particularly those stuffed with savory fillings.
These delightful stuffed corn cakes are an integral side dish in any Venezuelan household.
Be sure to enjoy Arepas, a traditional South American food on your travels.
9. Feijoada in Brazil
Feijoada, one of Claire’s favorite South American foods, is also considered Brazil’s national dish.
Claire studied in Brazil, and not only did she eat her fair share of Feijoada, but she also learned how to make it like a local.
The name of this popular South American dish comes from the Portuguese word for bean – feijão. It is essentially a flavorful and hearty stew of beans and pork.
Typically, Feijoada is cooked using black beans and served with rice, shredded kale, and topped with toasted cassava flour or Farofa.
It is long believed this South American dish was created by slaves who took scraps of meat (pigs’ ears, feet, tails) not eaten by their masters and cooked them together with native black beans.
In Brazil, feijoada is one of the most beloved Brazilian dishes and is considered a comfort food.
This staple dish is typically eaten on the weekends with family or a large group of friends. It is a heavy dish that is eaten slowly and savored. This traditional food is also typically served with white rice.
Your trip to Brazil will not be complete without indulging in this national Brazilian dish.
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10. Dulce de Leche – Popular South American Sweet
Dulce de leche is a caramel-like sweet originating in South America, it has transcended borders and is now enjoyed around the world.
This sweet, caramel-like sauce is made from the slow heating of sweetened condensed milk until it has become thick with a golden-brown color.
In Argentina, dulce de leche is beloved and considered the “sweet soul of Argentina.”
It is eaten on a daily basis and used as a topping or filling in a variety of South American dishes, including desserts, breakfast foods, snacks.
Some of the dulce de leche sweets you must try in Argentina are tasty Alfajores cookies, desserts like flan or cakes with dulce de leche, and our favorite dulce de leche flavored ice cream.
AUTHENTIC FOOD QUEST RECIPE: Want to make your own Dulce de Leche at home.Try our authentic easy-to-make Dulce de Leche Recipe – made with just five simple ingredients.
When you travel through food and focus on local and authentic dishes, you taste the history and the culture of a place while simultaneously connecting deeper with the local community.
While there are many more traditional South American foods, this guide offers a starting point for exciting foods, flavors and experiences.
If you are traveling to Argentina and looking to explore the local dishes, check out our book Authentic Food Quest Argentina – A Guide to Eat Your Way Authentically Through Argentina.
Should Cusco or Lima in Peru be on your South American travel itinerary, our second book, Authentic Food Quest Peru, will introduce you to the local food experiences not to miss.
Both books are available on Amazon and available on Kindle or in paperback versions.
Have you had any of these authentic South American dishes? Which ones are your favorites? Please let us know in the comments below.
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Rosemary is the editor-in-chief and strategist at Authentic Food Quest.
Traveling slow since 2015 with her partner, Claire, she has explored the cuisine in 45 countries and more than 240+ culinary cities.
Her writing about local food specialties has been featured in Lonely Planet, Business Insider, Honest Cooking, Food Insider, and Huffington Post.
As a food and travel writer, Rosemary has co-authored three books, including one in collaboration with Costa Brava Tourism.
Rosemary is an avid runner when she’s not eating and exploring new destinations. She has run ten marathons and counting.
Before Authentic Food Quest, Rosemary held senior-level strategy positions in advertising.
Find out more about Authentic Food Quest