9 Authentic Dishes You Should Not Miss in South America

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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!

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1. Ceviche in Peru

Ceviche in Peru one of the best South American foods
Freshly prepared ceviche, one of our favorite South American foods

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.

READ MORE – Discovering Ceviche in Peru

2. Empanadas Salteñas in Argentina

Empanadas in Argentina one of our favorite South American dishes by Authentic Food Quest
Mouthwatering baked Argentina empanadas salteñas style

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. 

RELATED – Discovering Argentina Through Its Emblematic Empanadas

3. Reineta Fish in Chile

Reineta Fish in Chile is a South American dish not to be missed by Authentic Food Quest
Grilled Reineta fish in Valparaiso, 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

Cazuela de llama is one of the most unique South American dishes not to miss 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 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.

RELATED: Argentina Food Guide – Top 15 Authentic Food You Must Try

5. Juane from Peru Amazon Jungle

Juane from Peru one of the most delightful 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.

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.

READ MORE – Surprising Amazon Food from Peru

6. Chivito Sandwich from Uruguay

Chivito from Uruguay is one of the most filling South American dishes not to miss by Authentic Food Quest
Massive and colorful plate of the chivito sandwich

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.

READ MORE – Discovering the Chivito Sandwich: The Pride of Uruguay

7. Parilla or Steakhouses in Argentina or Uruguay

An asado in Uruguay with different cuts of meat is one of the best south american food experiences by Authentic Food Quest
A wonderful array of juicy cuts grilling in 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 one of the best South American foods by Authentic Food Quest
Tantalizing arepas not to be missed (photo credit Andread Isserano – Wikimedia)

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

Feijoada is a Brazilian national dish and South American dish not to be missed by Authentic Qood Quest
Filling Brazilian Feijoada (photo credit AndreRibeiro_Flickr)

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. 

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In Summary

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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40 Comments on “9 Authentic Dishes You Should Not Miss in South America”

  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!

    Zaria

    Reply
    • 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 🙂

      Reply
  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!

    Reply
    • 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 🙂

      Reply
  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!

    Reply
    • 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.
      Cheers!

      Reply
  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!

    Reply
    • 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!!

      Reply
  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!!

    Reply
    • 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!!

      Reply
  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!

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  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!

    Reply
    • 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!

      Reply
  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.

    Reply
    • 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!

      Reply
  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!

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  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!

    Reply
  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!

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  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?

    Reply
    • 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!!!

      Reply
    • 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.

      Reply

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