From agricultural goods such as lima beans and corn, to geographical diversity of the Amazon basin and Andean mountains – learn how the eating habits of South American countries have been formed from a blend of ancient history and modern socio-economic movements.
Evolution of South American Recipes
While many South American foods are classified as traditional today - like tamales, hominy or plantain - these traditions were often shaped by the fusion of recipes from Amerindians, or indigenous people, and the various forces of colonization and immigration that the continent has witnessed. With the food norms brought by groups like the Spaniards and Portuguese, colonization brought many changes to the continent.
From Tierra del Fuego to Peru, many South American countries have integrated ancient agricultural traditions with modern ones. One great example of this can be seen through the lens of sugar. While there is no denying the tragedies engendered by the exploitation of slaves and indentured workers for the propagation of sugar cane plantations, it is also widely recognized that this trade transformed foods in South America.
While many historic accounts of the evolution of food on the continent involve a “pre-Columbian” notion of the Americas, this view of history doesn’t do justice to the culturally important, ancient civilizations and food rites independent of colonization narratives.
While obvious examples of this can be seen through awe-inspiring ruins, like the ones found at Machu Picchu in Peru, food can also serve as the gateway towards understanding and appreciating the ancient civilisations of South America. The growing and harvesting of the deliciously nutritious grain, quinoa, dates back to the Incan Empire.
While this account does not delve into the intricate progression of culinary practices in South America, it does reveal how important ancient, criollo or creole, immigrant and invading groups have been towards the formation of many of the traditional dishes of South America.
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South American Recipes Throughout the World
From passion fruit to maize, the influence of South American cuisine can be felt throughout the world. In fact, many of the dishes traditionally thought of as limited to the South American kitchen can be found in countries like Romania and India.
There are many reasons why South American dishes find their doppelgangers worldwide, one of which has to do with the fact that the colonization of South America introduced many new cooking practices to the continent from Europe and its other colonies.
One dish that seems to have escaped that is the empanada. While the origins of empanadas in the Americas are still a bit murky, they generally follow the same recipe involving a savory, stuffed, dough baked pastry. This comfort food is actually also eaten in the Philippines, where it developed independently from South American influence. There, the empanada is cooked by being either deep fried or baked.
From ceviche and cornmeal to beans and rice, there are many dishes that South America has either made popular or that hold similarities to dishes in other countries.
Top 10 Recipes from South American Countries
From Paraguayan to Peruvian cuisine, South American foods and food culture is incredibly rich and diverse. Whether you’re Central American, European or more, expand your drink and food options by trying any of these tasty recipes.
1. Argentina: Chimichurri
Whether you’re cooking the red or green version, chimichurri sauce is said to have originated with Basque settlers in Argentina. The preparation for Argentinian chimichurri is typically made from parsley, garlic, pepper flakes, olive oil and wine vinegar. Served as a side, but typically eaten as a condiment, this Argentine dish is best eaten fresh and can be poured on top of churrasco.
2. Bolivia: Saltenas
If you’re looking for a delicious alternative to arepas, look no further than the Bolivian version of empanadas. This empanada can be found made differently from city to city, but is generally made up of a meat filling wrapped up dough baked pastry.
3. Brazil: Feijoada
While caipirinha might be your go to Brazilian recipe, the national dish, feijoada, is even more satisfying to make. Especially popular in Rio de Janeiro, the dish is a black bean stew mixed with meats such as pork or beef. In the northeast, people typically add in vegetables like cabbage, potatoes or okra.
4. Chile: Pisco sour
While pisco today is primarily made in and associated with Peru and Chile, the origins of the drink are intensely debated between the two. In any case, it has not only stood the test of time but also become one of the most popular dishes in both countries. A brandy made from distilling grape juice, pisco can be made into a variety of different cocktails. The most popular preparation, the pisco sour, in Peru involves mixing pisco with egg white, syrup, lime juice and bitters. The Chilean preparation differs only with the omission of bitters.
5. Colombia: Aguardiente
The term literally translates into firewater, and is a general term for alcohol that ranges from 20% to 60% alcohol content. This liquor is the most popular drink in Colombian cuisine, especially in the Andean regions. The drink, made from sugar cane and flavoured with anise, is typically drunk neat and can be found made in a variety of different ways both in Colombia and around the world.
6. Ecuador: llapingacho
If you’re familiar with Colombian arepas, then you have a basic idea of what an Ecuadorian llapingacho is and how delicious it is. While the origin of the dish inside of Ecuador is still a bit murky, it basically involves frying up a cheese and mashed potato mix. While it is generally served along side eggs, sausages like chorizo, and salad, it’s preparation can vary. The crisp-like llapingachos can be made out of yuca and cassava too.
7. French Guiana: Fricassee
While there is a diverse array of foods that typify French Guiana, such as blaff, a seafood chowder, or roti, a stuffed flatbread – there is one food that continues to be a favorite amongst locals and visitors alike. While fricassee is just a general term used to identify the method of cooking meat, the French Guiana version serves this stew like concoction alongside a hearty helping of rice and beans. The meat used for this dish is normally game meat including tapir and paca.
8. Guyana: Pepperpot
Traditionally eaten on Boxing Day, pepperpot is a meat stew that can find its origins in the ancient civilizations of South America. It is typically flavoured with cassareep, a sauce derived from cassava root, cinnamon and chili peppers. This dish is eaten with bread, rice or Guyanese roti and normally takes several hours to cook.
9. Paraguay: Kaguyjy
Also known as mazamorra, variations of this dish can be found in many South American countries as well as in the Caribbean and Spain. In Paraguay, it is called kaguyjy in Guarani and is essentially a rice dessert considered to be one of the most traditional in the country. Cooked with honey, milk and sugar, kaguyjy is often comparable to locro, a thick corn stew typical of the Andean regions.
10. Peru: Picarones
While the history of churros and bunelos is still a bit murky, a general consensus has been reached over the origins of picarones. During colonial times, the Peruvian population started to make and modify the recipe of bunuelos as they were, then, too expensive to prepare. Made with squash and sweet potato, it takes on a circular form with a doughnut consistency. This delicious dessert is usually drenched with syrup.
Bonus South American Recipes
Suriname: Bojo Cake
While American cuisine is typically known for its flower based recipes, from apple pie in the north to the corn and meat pies of Chile – the Americas are also home to many flowerless delights. This is especially visible in the many desserts of South America, and one particular recipe is both easy and delicious to make. Surinamese bojo cake recipes can vary from family to family, but the recipe generally involves these raisins, cassava and coconut.
Uruguay: Capeletis a la caruso
If you didn’t know, Uruguayans eat a lot of pasta. Like many countries on the continent, Uruguayan gastronomy was influenced by the fusion of Amerindian, criolla or creole, and European cuisine. One country in particular, Italy, had a large influence on many of the classic dishes Uruguayans enjoy today. In fact, capeletis a la caruso was invented in the 1950s by a Montevideo restaurant. Named as an homage to the Italian opera singer Enrico Caruso, the sauce is comparable to bechamel and is generally made of cream, ham, cheese, mushrooms and nuts. The preparation of capeletis a la caruso naturally starts with making caruso sauce and adding it to round pasta like capeletis.
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Venezuela: Chicha de arroz
Like many of the world’s dishes, the exact origins of chicha are highly debated. In Venezuela, chicha de arroz is considered by many a traditional drink and can be bought alongside street food in many major cities. While in some countries this drink is normally fermented, the Venezuelan preparation involves boiling rice, milk and sugar and drinking it non-fermented. In the Andean region of Venezuela, this drink does involve adding fermented pineapple and is usually served on Boxing Day.