10 Authentic South American Dishes You’ll Want To Try (With Recipes)

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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!  

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1. Chivito Sandwich from Uruguay

Chivito Uruguay South American dishes by Authentic Food Quest
Massive and colorful plate of the chivito sandwich

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 Argentina South American dishes by Authentic Food Quest
Mouthwatering baked Argentina empanadas salteñas style

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

Reineta Fish Chile South American dish by Authentic Food Quest
Grilled Reineta fish in Valparaiso, Chile

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 in Peru best South American foods by Authentic Food Quest
Freshly prepared ceviche, one of our favorite South American foods

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.

RELATED: Discovering Peruvian Ceviche in Lima, Peru

5. Llama Meat or Cazuela de Llama in Argentina

Cazuela de llama South American dishes by Authentic Food Quest
Tender llama meat in a flavorful stew

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.

READ MORE: Llama Meat: 5 Authentic Dishes From The Andes That Will Surprise You

6. Juane from Peru’s Amazon Jungle

Juane Peru South American foods by Authentic Food Quest
Juane with chicken, an unmissable South American food

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.

RELATED: 10 Strange Amazonian Fruits From Peru That Will Surprise You

7. Parilla or Steakhouses in Argentina or Uruguay

Meat Uruguay Parrilla popular south American dish by Authentic Food Quest
Parrilla has characteristics that set it apart from other grills

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).

READ MORE: Your Guide To An Uruguay Parrilla: Best Asado and Uruguay Beef In Montevideo

8. Arepas in Venezuela

Arepas South American Dishes by Authentic Food Quest
Yummy arepas are a must try

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.

READ MORE: What Food Is Miami Known For: 12 Must-Have Foods And Where Locals Eat

9. Feijoada in Brazil

Feijoada South American Dishes by Authentic Food Quest
Experience the rich and flavorful taste of Brazil with Feijoada

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. 

AUTHENTIC FOOD QUEST TIP: Make your culinary travels worry-free! With the right travel insurance, you’ll enjoy a delicious experience. From medical emergencies, flight cancelations, car rental protection, or tour cancelations, a good travel insurance has got you covered. Check out our travel insurance review for food lovers to get started.

10. Dulce de Leche – Popular South American Sweet

Closeup Homemade Dulce de Leche south American dish by Authentic Food Quest
Dulce de leche is an ingredient used for many sweets and desserts in Argentina

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. 

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In Summary

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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42 Comments on “10 Authentic South American Dishes You’ll Want To Try (With Recipes)”

  1. Hi Claire and Rosemary ,

    Another fantastic post from you two! Every time I visit the blog, I find something new and amazing coming from you. The Empanadas Salteñas look so delicious! Also when it comes to the fish, the dish looks so interesting, I would love to try it!


    • Thanks so much Zaria for your positive feedback on our post. It was honestly pretty difficult narrowing down the authentic dishes to just seven. The Empanadas Salteñas are delicious and the fish from Chile just outstanding. Hope you can get to South America soon and try the dishes for yourself 🙂

  2. Did you happen upon lucuma while you were there? I recently went to a Peruvian restaurant in Costa Rica and was served lucuma ice cream. It was incredible. Lucuma is a fruit, described as a match between a sweet potato and maple, and found in Chile and Peru. My quest now is to find the fruit, as I just have to try it!

    • Hi Karen, I do hope you get to try Lucuma. It has quite an interesting taste. We found it tasting a little caramely and it is kind of dryish like a paste. The ice cream and yogurt with Lucuma is incredibly delicious. Let us know when you find Lucuma 🙂

  3. A Peruvian restaurant opened recently in our town and they make the best ceviche we have ever had. We have really enjoyed everything we have tried but Sunday would like to make the real trip. Great post – thanks for sharing!

    • Hi Mary Ellen, so glad to hear that you have a Peruvian restaurant near you. You are right, the ceviche is incredible. What kind of empanadas do they have? As if they have Nikkei or Chifa dishes and be prepared to be blown away! So glad you enjoyed the post. Do let us know what you try on Sunday.

  4. Its so crazy how food can take you back somewhere! Ceviche reminds me of teaching English in Peru and empanadas are delicious. I need to find somewhere that does this food really well in the UK or just go back to South America!

    • Hi Kate, yes food and the memories around the dishes are really powerful. So glad to hear about your experience in Peru. To get the quality of ceviche you had, it might mean a trip back 🙂 Thanks for your comments!!

  5. Oh my god! This is incredible! I’ve had empanadas here in Barcelona, but the the real deal in Argentina would be better. I’ve also had an Argentinian BBQ before, so the last point about all the different meats really brought that memory back! That chivito looks absolutely epic!! Thank you for this post, it has made me want to travel to South America even more!! As you can probably tell, I like my food!!

    • Hi Tom, great to know you are another South American foodie lover. It’s true the real authentic dishes are always better in their home countries. The chivito is an experience. As you know, Uruguay is only a short ride away from Buenos Aires and easy to get to for a day trip. Get there and devour this sandwich, your stomach will be content 🙂 Thanks for your comments!!

  6. We had the empanadas and parilla in Argentina but did not try the Llama (don’t think I ever saw it on a menu!). I’d love to taste the cerviche in Peru!

    • Hi Kristy, the llama meat comes from the North of Argentina near the Andes. Did you visit that region? The ceviche in Peru is heavenly. So fresh and delicious. You may find it at a local South American restaurant near you. Check it out. Thanks for your comments.

  7. Aaaaand now I’m hungry. Thanks! These all look amazing and I haven’t been to South America yet but one day I’ll get there and try all of these dishes! I did have Argentine-style empanadas in Mexico (yeah, what?) and they were AMAZING, and served with chimichurri sauce, which I’m now in love with. Thanks for a great post!

    • Thanks Jenny for your comments. So glad you loved the post. That’s amazing..Argentinian empanadas in Mexico and with chimichurri sauce. You did get a great experience 🙂 Love how our menus are becoming much more global. Cheers!

  8. I have only been in Argentina and I tried the Empanadas. The rest of the countries are definitely on my list and hope to see them soon. However, I don’t think I would venture to taste Ceviche, as I am very allergic to sea food. It looks delicious though.

    • Thanks Anda for your comments. Glad you already have a taste of the delicious specialities from South America. The good news is that in Peru, there is much more than ceviche. Hope you get to visit the region soon. Cheers!

  9. Good job I’m reading this just after eating lunch >< The dishes look so yummy and I don't know much about South American food so thanks for filling me in and filling me up! I'm particularly intrigued by the llama meat!

    • Hi Alice, sorry the timing of this post coincided with your lunch time. Glad you got filled up virtually. The llama meat is incredible. If you get the opportunity to taste it, go for it. It is so tender and delicious…well worth it 🙂 Thanks for your comments.

  10. If only I was closer to South America! In Singapore we have something similar to Empanadas, except they’re stuffed with curry and called ‘curry puffs’ Something you might want to try if you visit!

  11. I think I’ve read about the Empanadas in another post of yours and I’ve already fell in love with them then! I definitely have to try those. I think you explained that there are different fillings, aren’t there? Can’t remember the article, though… Unfortunately, I’m not planning a trip to South America anytime soon; but I’ll keep your recommendations in mind for future travels!

    • Thanks Kathrin. Yes, empanadas come with various fillings which are different depending on the region or part of South America. Even though you may not be planning a trip to South America soon, do visit a local restaurant near you and try them out. You will be impressed!! Cheers.

    • That’s wonderful Trisha. Happy to hear you learned how to make them all. Quite impressive. We also very much enjoyed the papas a la huancaina..so many delicious options to choose. Will you be going back soon? Thanks for your comments.

    • Hi Bernard, it’s always interesting to learn what the local and authentic specialities in different regions are. As for llama meat, it was the readily available meat for the Andes people from the North of Argentina for hundreds of years. The good news is that you don’t have to eat it if you don’t want to, but it’s good to know what the authentic food is. Thanks for the comments.

  12. Oh girls – this got us very excited for our upcoming Latin America trip. Ceviche is one of our fav foods and so easy to make.

    But nothing from Brazil?

    • Hi Stefan, Good point! We didn’t spend time in Brazil as this country deserves 6 months by itself. I was an exchange student in Brazil during college and I happened to spend 6 months there 🙂 My recommendations for dishes would be feijoada (typical dish with rice, beans and pork meat dating from the slavery), churrascaria (all you can eat BBQ with buffet of wonderful food, go there with an empty stomach!), , pao de queijo (wonderful cheese bread ball), surprisingly pizza (all you can eat) with interesting toppings (banana, chocolate…), dessert: doce de leite (dulce de leche equivalent), brigadeiro (chocolate candy) . Additionally: great exotic fruits and juices, caipirinha (cocktail made with sugar cane liquor). If you are there in June, don’t miss the Festa Junina which are June festivals from Catholic traditions where you can eat streetfood and all different type of local food. To tell you the truth I gained 8kgs from my 6-months stay in Brazil!!!

    • Hi Angela. Glad you love empanadas as well. They are so delicious. Visit an Argentinian or Latin restaurant in your area and I’m sure you’ll be able to taste one of these dishes. Thanks for your comments.


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