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Taste Buds Will Travel: The Single Foods You Must Try In South America

South America is a diverse continent comprising of some truly phenomenal cultures, each with their own authentic, local cuisine.  And from Guinea Pig in Peru to Frogs Legs in Bolivia, it’s the food that travelers tend to remember the most during their time here.

There are many books to learn about traditional food of South America, though to start you off, here are the single foods you must try while traveling through South America!

Peru- Cuy

Cuy may sound like an exotic cuisine, however you have most likely come across it before, and maybe even had it as a pet. Yes, cuy, as it is called in Peru, is just another name for Guinea Pig.

Although it may seem plain wrong to eat something many call a pet, it is quite the staple in Peru; usually baked or roasted over a spit. Cuy is so important a dish that a replica of Da Vinci’s ‘Last Supper’ hangs in  a cathedral in Peru’s capital Cusco, in which Christ and the 12 disciples are seated around a platter of well….cuy!

It actually has a nice gamy flavor, similar to that of rabbit, but don’t expect to be full after a meal of cuy.  Speaking from experience, it is quite full of bones and not much meat.

Cuy - It's what's for dinner

Photo credit: Erin

Brazil – Acaraje

Are you a fan of black eyed peas? No, we’re not talking about Fergie or Will I Am, but a Brazilian cuisine called ‘acaraje’.

Made from black eyed peas formed into a ball and then deep fried, they are then made into a round taco like shell and filled with fried shrimp and thick, spicy pastes made with cassava, cashews and okra. A tomato, onion and cilantro salad can also be added on top. I would probably stop there, but because Brazilians like it hot, they then add a very generous dose of hot sauce and peppers.

Argentina- Dulce de Leche

Diabetics beware; this dessert is a must have when visiting Argentina.

Translating as “candy of milk”, Dulce de Leche is a caramel like paste made from boiling sweet condensed milk until it becomes a delicious topping that can be put on ice cream, muffins, cakes, cookies, or your morning toast. It’s basically the equivalent to Australian’s beloved Nutella.

Argentineans try to incorporate this confection into every meal, and enjoy it between those meals as snacks. One of the best uses for dulce de leche is alfajores, two short bread cookies with dulce de leche in the middle and dipped in chocolate….move over Tim Tams!

A Photo by Kim Love.

Alfajores. Photo by Kim Love.

Chile- Pastel de Choclo

Your typical beef pie on steroids, Chileans have taken the simple and made it extraordinarily delicious.

The pastry of Pastel de Choclo is made up of a blended corn mixture of which is then filled with beef and onions along with slices of hard boiled egg, olives, and raisins. If this doesn’t sound amazing enough, the pie is then lightly sprinkled with sugar which becomes caramelized during the baking process.

Colombia and Venezuela- Arepa

Never has eating your daily bread been so delicious.

A corn flour bread, Arepa is eaten during any meal of the day and is fried, baked, or grilled. Originally eaten just as plain bread by indigenous tribes, it has recently become the base for which cafes in Argentina called Areperas have sprung up. Areperas are the McDonalds equivalent of Venezuela, and instead of hamburger buns, they use arepa to make a pocket like sandwich which can be filled with whatever you can dream up.

Local favorite fillers include chicken salad and avocado known as the Pepeada, shredded steak and cheddar cheese known as the Pelu’a, pork, tomatoes and avocado known as the Pernil, and chicken sauteed in a sofrito base with gouda cheese known as the Catira.

If you then find yourself in Colombia eating Arepa, you of course must accompany it with a cup of the finest coffee in the world. If you aren’t a coffee drinker, you will become one after visiting Colombia! These sandwiches are so good you may wish that a McArepera comes to a neighborhood in your hometown.

Carne Mechada Arepa. Photo by Brian Child.

Carne Mechada Arepa. Photo by Brian Child.

Boliva- Frog Legs

Go on, try’em. Promise you won’t croak after eating some…and you may even find yourself hopping mad for more!

Taken from Lake Titicaca, the largest lake in South America and one of the world’s highest elevated lakes at some 12,500 ft, Bolivia’s frog legs are famous all over the world. Believe it or not, over a billion frogs are eaten annually across the world so if you’re not on board already it may well be time to jump to it.

And ladies, not sure if eating a fried frog leg will have the same results as kissing a live frog but you never know. If that isn’t reason enough to give a leg a try then I don’t know what is!

Interesting fact: The most important meal in Bolivia is lunch, as it is in many South American countries. Many people come home from work at lunchtime to eat with their families.

Frogs legs - hop on it! Photo by Stu Spivak

Frogs legs – hop on it! Photo by Stu Spivak

Ecuador- Tamarillo

Remember that famous old question as to whether a tomato is a vegetable or a fruit?  Well in Ecuador a tomato is a fruit and only a fruit.

Native to the Andean regions of South America, the Tree tomato, or tamarillo, is a fruit which hangs from a tree, but unlike its ketchup ingredient counterpart (or tomato sauce counterpart for all you Brits and Aussies), this tomato is more sweet and not put over fries (or chips for all you Brits and Aussies once again).

The tree tomato is a fruit which is served in pretty much every manner you could think of, including dessert, making it the Ecuadorian equivalent to the beloved Aussie Milo.

So if you find yourself in Ecuador make sure to head on over to the Galapagos Islands which are under Ecuadorian rule. While there, you can contemplate Darwin’s theory of evolution as you sip on a nice cold tall glass of Tree tomato juice, taking in the beautiful view of all the boobies.  The Blue-footed boobies of course – an iconic species of bird on the islands.

Tamarillo. Photo by Daniel Panev.

Tamarillo. Photo by Daniel Panev.

Paraguay and Uruguay- Yuca

Eaten not only by the citizens of Paraguay and Uruguay, but by South American nations at large, yuca is the staple these two countries.

After rice and maize (corn), yuca is the third largest source of food carbohydrates in tropical nations. Without this root vegetable, nearly half a billion people residing in third world countries would lose their major food source.

It is thankfully very easy to grow and can withstand severe drought. Besides yucca, it also goes by the name ‘cassava’ or ‘mandioca’. Many people confuse yuca with the similar sounding yucca which is spelled with an extra “c”.

Yucca is not a staple food, rather it is a plant used mainly as ornamental shrubbery in gardens. Although yucca has many uses, you’ll probably enjoy eating yuca much more.

There are no shortage of meals served without yuca, so you are bound to encounter it as you travel anywhere throughout South America. While in Peru, we were fed so much yuca by our rainforest guides to keep our energy up while trekking through the jungle.  This was usually in the form of fries, as it is similar to a potato.

Megan is an Australian Journalist and award-winning travel writer who has been blogging since 2007. Her husband Mike is the American naturalist and wildlife photographer behind Waking Up Wild; an online magazine dedicated to opening your eyes to the wonders of the wild & natural world.

Having visited 50+ countries across all seven continents, Megan’s travels focus on cultural immersion, authentic discovery and incredible journeys. She has a strong passion for ecotourism, and aims to promote responsible travel experiences.

    

    18 Comments

  1. Great list and photos. Venezuela-style arepas in Colombia are amazing. My favorite is arepa con huevo — eaten for breakfast, it is a deep-fried arepa with a fried egg and a little meat inside. Greasy and delicious! Also, coconut rice in Colombia deserves a mention as well. South America is a great continent for those who like to try new and delicious foods!

    • We’re huge fans of everything greasy and delicious! Columbian arepa’s sound amazing! We haven’t ventured to Columbia yet but it’s on the list for our next trip. Heading back to South America in May this year for a few months so will be sure to have some coconut rice at some point – thanks Bryanna!

  2. Heading to South America for six months in two weeks, so will definitely be jotting these down to try along the way (particularly the Arepa!) – thank you!

    • Safe travels! Have a great (and delicious!) trip :)

  3. I remember being in Peru and being so tentative to eat cuy. I had one at home in a cage! Not one to back down from trying an exotic food I did it anyway, and was comforted by the fact that these Peruvian guinea pigs don’t really resemble the little guys we have here in America. They were huge! Much more pig-like, and for some reason easier to eat because of that!

    • I don’t blame you – it’s difficult to put a face to our food! I guess we’re so used to eating pig in western cultures that it’s much easier to wrap our head (and stomach) around!

  4. Didn’t dare to eat cuy in Peru, I kinda regret but I heard it’s quite heavy to digest? Seems like it’s not after all. I had no idea that the frog legs are a Bolivian dish! It’s usually said to be from my country…France!

    • I had been under the impression frogs legs were native to France as well! Sadly didn’t try them while we were in France – so will have to get back to compare the two dishes :D!

      Cuy is quite easy to digest – I think the main issues Westerners face are all mental!

  5. We started our trip to South America 3 month ago, Till now we enjoyed (too much) the Argentinian Dulce de lech.. Now we’re on our way to Uruguay, Peru, Bolivia and Colombia.. Looking forward to try the foods this continent has to offer :)

    • You can never have too much Dulce de lech :D! Safe and delicious travels throughout the rest of the continent!!

  6. I spent over three months in Bolivia and I never once saw frogs legs on the menu. Clearly I was going to different restaurants to you guys?! Totally agree about arepas though – I’m looking forward to making them a breakfast staple when I start working in Clombia next month :)

    • I guess so! We were told they were world famous as well, which may have been a ploy to make a sale, but still pretty tasty!!

      Have an amazing time in Columbia – I could stuff myself full of arepas all day long!! We’re back in South America in May, maybe we’ll bump into each other somewhere along the way!

  7. There are much better things to eat in Chile than pastel de Choclo! Empanadas, alfajores, seafood and pebre!

    • Empanadas are amazing – have a soft spot for Pastel de Choclo though :D

  8. La arepa is fantastic and so easy to eat. Thanks God I can eat my arepa even here in Nice…fortunately there is a “Marche du Monde” where I can buy the corn flower. But sorry..las areperas are in Venezuela not Argentina!

    • Thanks Carolina! Agree – Areperas are definitely from Venezuela; listed them under the section for Venezuela and Colombia :) What we meant was that their popularity has led to the rise of a lot of cafes popping up in Argentina as well :)

      There are a tonne of these chains in Buenos Aires specializing in Venezuelan cuisine … we probably could have worded that a little better though!

  9. Seriously great list! It’s all delicious!

    • Every time a comment pops up on this post and I revisit it to reply my mouth starts watering all over again :D! Thanks Jessica!!

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