Latin American cuisine is based on a fusion of European, African
and indigenous cultures that combined their culinary traditions to
create cooking styles as diverse and unique as the countries that
make up the region.
Latin America has four broad culinary regions, each with its own
unique customs and cooking styles. Depending on where you are,
you’ll find coconuts cultivated at the ocean’s edge or grains grown
a mile above sea level. You’ll eat seafood from the Atlantic,
Pacific, or Caribbean and beef from some of the world’s most prized
cattle. Dessert could range from flans and crepes to exotic
tropical fruits. You’ll drink chicha (Peruvian corn “beer”) or wine
from Argentina or Chile. Wherever you are, you’ll enjoy explosive
flavours and culinary sophistication and often prepared
Northwestern Latin America: Northwestern South America,
especially the Andean Mountain nations of Ecuador, Bolivia and
Peru, boasts some of the most exotic food in Latin America.
Potatoes and quinoa, a highly-nutritious grain, originated here and
play major roles in most dishes.
Peru boasts more than 100 different potato varieties, including
a blue potato that’s becoming popular in trendy North American
restaurants. Peru also has some of the spiciest food in Latin
America, thanks aji amarillo, a yellow chile that adds heat to
everything from caucau (seafood stew) to papas a la huancaina
(spicy, cheesy potato salad).
North Central Latin America: Colombia and Venezuela’s
cuisine draws heavily on Spanish influences. Several important
seasonings, including cumin, oregano, cinnamon and anise came
directly from Spanish settlers. Flavour is also derived from
ancient Mediterranean ingredients like wine and olive oil and
fresh, local orange and lime juices.
Many dishes like tamales feature a combination of sweet and
salty tastes (raisins, prunes, capers and olives). The combination
of Spanish rice and Venezuela’s fresh and abundant seafood has
created some of the world’s best paella.
Southern Latin America: Southern Latin America comprises
Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay. In cattle country gauchos
(the Latin American version of cowboys) perfected the art of
preserving meat by cooking it on an open fire.
This tradition lives on and locals still enjoy large cuts of
fire-cooked meat and parrilladas, thick, juicy steaks grilled over
blazing oak. Meats are likely to be accompanied by simple but
flavourful sides: a tomato, onion and pepper relish called salsa
criolla and a parsley, garlic and vinegar sauce called
But there’s more to the region’s cuisine than beef. Chile has an
abundance of fresh seafood, and cooks add it to soup known as
caldillo de congrio (conger eel soup). Sopa Paraguaya, is a
Paraguayan corn bread similar to corn pudding.
Brazil: Brazil’s many cultures have created a national
cooking style marked by profound differences. Portuguese settlers
popularized olives, onions, garlic, wine and bacalhau (salt cod).
The natives of Brazil’s rain forests taught the Europeans to enjoy
tropical vegetables and fruits like madioca (cassava root),
maracuja (passion fruit) and caju (cashew fruit). African slaves
contributed okra, yams, peanuts, dried shrimp and dende (palm oil)
to the Brazilian melting pot.
Many consider feijoada to be the national dish. It’s a stew made
from black beans, and different meats like salted pork trimmings,
pork sausage and bacon and salted beef loin and tongue. Moqueca de
Peixe, is another common dish similar to bouillabaisse that’s
flavoured with garlic, cilantro and coconut milk. Shellfish, dried
meat, fresh fruits and red and black beans are also dominant
ingredients in Brazilian cuisine.
Latin American countries produce much of the coffee consumed
worldwide. Colombia and Brazil are most famous for their coffee
beans, but Venezuela, Ecuador and Peru also produce smaller crops,
mostly consumed in country.
Brazil produces about a third of the world’s coffee, both
Arabica and Robusto. The best known is Santos, named for the port.
Santos is grown from the original plants imported into Brazil and
is considered to be the best.
Colombia accounts for about twelve percent of the world’s coffee
consumption. The quality of the beans varies by where they are
grown, but overall they are known for being full-bodied and
flavourful. Thanks to the Juan Valdez marketing campaign, Colombian
coffee is recognized throughout the world.
Popular Latin American Dishes:
Latin America is home to more than a billion people and there’s
no shortage of tasty dishes enjoyed by the various cultures. Here’s
a sampling of some well-known (and savoured) dishes:
- Carbonada: Argentinean beef stew with rice, potatoes,
sweet potatoes, corn, squash, apples and pears.
- Chimichurri: Argentinean garlic-parsley-vinegar sauce
served with grilled beef.
- Churrasco: A smorgasbord of grilled meats from Brazil,
served on skewers and carved directly onto your plate.
- Empanadas: Pastries filled with seafood, meat, cheese,
vegetables or fruit are wildly popular. Although empanadas are
associated with Chile and Argentina, many other Latin American
countries have their own versions.
- Hallaca: Meat, vegetable, olive stuffing in corn dough,
steamed in plantain leaves that is popular in Venezuela.
- Llapingachos: Ecuadorian potato and cheese pancake,
often served with small bits of meat.
- Pastel de choclo: Chilean corn pie with meat,
vegetables, chicken, olives and hard-boiled eggs.
- Seviche: Uncooked seafood marinated with lime juice and
chiles (popular in Ecuador and Peru).
Try it today: