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You may be going to South America with plans to visit Iguazu Falls, Machu Picchu, Patagonia, Torres del Paine, or the beautiful Andes Mountain range.
You’ve made your plans, booked your flights and accommodations 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 of Argentina, Uruguay, Chile and Peru, one frequent question we get is “what are your top South American dishes?”.
Our goal at Authentic Food Quest is to inspire you to travel through the local and authentic flavors. We want to help you connect deeper to the culture through local food experiences.
To help you prepare for your South American culinary travels, we’ve put together our guide to the top 9 authentic South American foods you don’t want to miss.
Ready to discover the region through food? Let’s go!
1. Ceviche in Peru
Ceviche is often considered Peru’s favorite dish. It even has its 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.
Peruvian ceviche is made with just 5 ingredients. Starting with raw fish or seafood, salt, red onions and ají, Peru’s unique chili pepper, 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).
Typically, ceviche is accompanied with 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 one of our favorite South American dishes. Essentially, they are small “croissant” shaped pies. They are made of dough and stuffed with different mostly savory fillings.
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.
These incredible pies are packed with flavor and easy to devour in just two bites. Our favorite ones are the beef or carne which also have green onions, potatoes and eggs.
In Salta Province, empanadas 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). This 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 is one of the South American dishes you’ll appreciate in the hot temperatures.
This light and flaky fish cannot be missed on your South American travels.
AUTHENTIC FOOD RECIPE: To make an 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. 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 northern 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, the meat is chopped 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 this unique South American food. You’ll be delighted by the tender meat and savory flavors in the cazuela stew.
5. Juane from Peru 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.
This South American food 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.
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 earned a permanent place on his menu under the name chivito, going on to become Uruguay’s national sandwich.
This is a massive and incredibly delicious sandwich. It is made up of thin slices of churrasco, topped with bacon, mozzarella cheese, tomatoes, lettuce, mayonnaise, ham, olives and a fried egg.
Rich and heavy, this is a carnivores fantasy.
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 countries, 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 ubiquitous. You will 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.
Just like bread, arepas can be eaten as a sandwich or a regular slice of bread. 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’ve enjoyed Arepas in Argentina and in the U.S. Our favorites are the Arepas from Venezuela and we always go for the savory filling.
These delightful stuffed corn cakes are an indispensible side dish in any Venezuelan household.
Be sure to enjoy one or several of this popular traditional South American food on your travels.
9. Feijoada in Brazil
Feijoda, one of Claire’s favorite South American foods, is referred to the national dish of Brazil.
The name of this classic South American food comes from the Portuguese word for bean – feijão.
It is essentially a flavorful 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 not eaten by their masters (pigs ears, feet, tails) and cooked them together with black beans native to Brazil.
In Brazil, feijoada is considered a comfort food and is eaten on the weekend with family or a large group of friends. It is a heavy dish that is eaten slowly and savored.
Your trip to Brazil will not be complete without indulging in this national Brazilian dish.
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.
This guide to the best South American dishes will help make your travels tasty. As you travel around the continent, open up to new and exciting South American food, flavors and tastes.
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 as kindle or 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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Curious by nature, Rosemary loves exploring new flavors and connecting with locals. She shares her insights and culinary finds from her travels to inspire people to connect local through food.