South American Cuisine Facts and History
The first people in South America started out as hunter-gatherers, having in their menu the wild equivalent of potatoes, tomatoes, avocado, and corn, hunting lamas and rabbits, and fishing in rivers and ocean. Around 10,000 BC, the native people in South America started growing their food, the first crops could have been the squash crops.
But, evidence was found that South American people also grew yucca roots, potatoes, corn, avocados, and peanuts. Today, the South American cuisine is a mix of several influences, having characteristics from the Native American cuisine, and from the Italian, African, and Spanish cuisines. Carne asada is highly appreciated in this cuisine, meaning grilled meat, which is served with a variety of other foods.
South American Cuisine Menu
The breakfast in South America tends to be rather light, consisting mainly in a cup of coffee, served with a lot of milk, and bread or sweet bread. Medilunas, which are some kind of croissants, are also served for breakfast, and some people may choose tea instead of coffee.
Usually, coffee with milk is served only in the morning, the coffee served later in the afternoon containing less milk. Also, if you are somewhere around Argentina, you will see that a cup of steamed milk, in which bittersweet chocolate was added to melt, is another popular drink for breakfast.
Served between noon and 2 p.m. the lunch is one of the most important meals of the day, so a variety of dishes will be served during this time of the day.
Meat, like chicken or beef, will be served with pasta, or salads, and accompanied by a drink, such as soda, water or wine, and ended with a dessert. Even so, people that usually go to work don’t have too much time to serve a proper lunch, so they normally have a sandwich, which is made at home before leaving for work, or they may serve food at a fast food restaurant.
People in South American love food, so you will see a great variety of snacks being sold on the street. Empanadas is one of them, which consists in baked, or even fried, pastries, filled with diverse foods like meat, cheese, spinach, or other various vegetables.
These are very cheap snacks and will be available almost anywhere. Ice cream is another popular snack in South America, especially in Argentina. Don’t be very surprised if you will see hot dogs being served at street food stalls, especially in Chile, as the people here love this kind of snack.
Dinner is another time for serving consistent food, starting in the evening, even as late as 9 p.m., which can last for hours. Rice, beans, cassava, meat, and vegetables, can compose the dinner. Meals can be accompanied by bread, salsas, which are all sort of sauces, and greens. Dessert can also be served after the dinner, and sodas, beer, or wine can be served as well, at the end of the day.
In South America, desserts are pretty sweet. Dulce de leche, translated as “sweetness of milk”, is a very appreciated dessert made with simmering milk, vanilla, sugar, and baking soda, the result being a thick, brown, but still fluid, dessert. It looks very much like condensed milk from a can.
Flan is another appreciated dessert, together with rice pudding, and alfajor, which is a sweet sandwich made out of two thick cookies and dulce de leche in between. Cakes, ice cream, and sweet meringue cream desserts, are also found as sweet treats in South America.
While in South America, you will find a lot of interesting drinks to try here. Corn beer may be one of them, tasting similar with regular beer but having a more cloudy appearance. Also, many spirits drinks are made out of distilled grapes, such as singani and fernet. Also, pisco is another popular drink, which is a grape brandy made in the winemaking regions of Chile and Peru. Infusion yerba mate is popular throughout South America.
Christmas in South America also means a feast, which starts with a large serving of food on the 24th of December. Roast turkey, pork, or fish, is served with fresh veggies and salad, with potatoes or dishes made out of spiced rice.
Fresh fruits and nuts will also be present on the table, together with a wide array of desserts, like pies, lemon tarts, chocolate cakes, and even panettone, a dessert of Italian influences. Also, people love toasting and hugging each other, wishing only the best, so alcoholic beverages and sodas will be served during the Christmas meal.
A few days before Easter, the people in South America avoid eating meat, opting for fish or vegetables dishes. Once the Easter day arrived, the table will be covered in a great number of delicious dishes.
Lamb stew and roast is quite appreciated for this celebration, served with a side dish made out of potatoes, rice with vegetables, or just vegetables. Also, desserts are also present, the Easter cake being one of the most popular. This is a type of fluffy sweet bread, in shape of a ring, decorated with pastry creams, fruits, nuts, and even small chocolate eggs.
Most Popular Recipes
• Asado – lamb, beef, or pork which is roasted in front of a campfire;
• Empanadas – pastry products made in the shape of dough pockets, which are baked or friend, after being filled with all sort of ingredients;
• Ceviche – raw fish cured in citrus juices, and spiced with chili. Onions, cilantro, and salt may also be added;
• Churrasco – grilled meat, usually beef, served hot, directly off the grill;
• Tamal – also known as tamale, which is a dish made out of starchy corn dough, filled with a variety of foods, from vegetables, to meat, fruits or cheese, all of them wrapped in leaves and cooked this way.
Most Used Ingredients
• Meat / Fish: chicken, beef, trout;
• Veggies: tomatoes, peppers, chili, plantains, potatoes, cassava;
• Fruits: bananas, coconut, guava, mango, papaya, citruses;
• Other: beans, rice, maize, quinoa.
Street Food – What to eat when visiting South America
If you are getting hungry while you’re in South America, you shouldn’t worry, because street food is various and highly available. Make sure to try cheviche, which is made out of fresh and raw seafood or fish, marinated in citrus juices and spiced with chili, as it tastes amazingly.
Arepas are another type of street food, made out from small corn bread buns, sliced and filled with avocado, cheese, eggs, or even jam. You should also try the picarones, which are similar to doughnuts, with an orange color given by the sweet potato or pumpkin in their composition, fried, rolled in sugar and cinnamon, and being extremely delicious and sticky. And let us not forget about empanadas, those small pastry pockets filled with all sort of ingredients.