Flavors of Latin America & the Caribbean

So you have come to Latin America? Welcome to the land of some of the best food in the world! Although rice and beans are staples here, don’t be fooled. With Spanish, Italian, and other influences, Latin America has something for everyone. Both immigrant and local flavors come together to take the “common” and create something delicious. Do not be afraid to try new things. Your taste buds will not necessarily be as scorched as with Mexican chili. Latin America offers both soft and bold flavors, so choose wisely.

Not to be outdone as a vacation hotspot, the Caribbean has many inexpensive and healthy juices with creative mixtures of different fruits. The traditional smoothies in the United States pale in comparison to Caribbean drinks. You can also start off your journey in paradise with plantains, a regional staple,  and if you are a bit more adventurous than the average traveler, yucas are an excellent choice as well. Mostly seen in local markets, yucas look like an overgrown root. Also known as Latin America’s potato, yucas are used to make practically everything here, from desserts to main dishes and everything in between. Although it can all seem very similar at times, it is important to realize that not all Caribbean food is the same. For example, Cuban rice, often colored yellow by annatto and adorned with black beans, is very different from rice from the Dominican Republic, which is usually white rice and served with stewed chicken and red beans. However, one common ingredient in the food of the Caribbean is green spice. Used in most popular Caribbean dishes, green spice is the one ingredient that sets Caribbean food apart from the rest. Aside from green spice, this region’s cuisine also includes a great deal of rice, peas, meat, and curries.

Very much based on roots and fruits, Brazil’s delicacies partly resemble those of the Caribbean. Fruits like papaya, guava, and mango are often eaten alongside açaí, berries grown mainly in northern South America. Sugar cane is another sweet type of produce that is used to make Brazil’s official drink, caipirinha. Other noteworthy beverages and foods include Guaraná Antarctica, a guava-flavored soda, coxinha, fried chicken, and breaded balls of cheese called pão de queijo.

Further south, Argentina is home to Italian, Spanish, and Jewish cuisine and traditions. Some like to think of Buenos Aires as one big Olive Garden. But don’t spend your time on every pizza place found on every corner. Stuffed quesadillas and mate, Argentina’s version of coffee, are worth trying, too. Due to European influence and Latin America’s gift of gab, café culture rings true here. It’s not unusual to spend hours with friends in a coffee shop. Both young and old always find an excuse to nimble on croissants and coffee with the Argentine classic, dulce de leche, a delicious brown sauce made from slowly heating sweetened milk. Cafes are a small chance to live like the locals. Also, every country will claim that dulce de leche was created there. So a) go along with the country’s “specialty” or b) prepare for a verbal duel of wits, bravado, and plenty other people joining in to claim their country’s “creation.”

For the traveler with a more carnivorous appetite, we recommend that they try asado and seafood. Latin America has entirely too much land and coastline to not have these foods. Feasted on throughout Latin America, asado consists of tons of beef, poultry, and pork, taking barbecues to another level. To see an asado is to see a meat market unloaded. For seafood, Chile is to fish what Argentina is to beef. Although the coast of Chile has a much colder climate, its specialty is seafood and caldillo de congrio, a kind of conger eel soup, definitely making a visit to this part of the country worth your while.

Before exploring the flavors of Latin America, it is also important to note that European influence is not the only spice this region has. Asian shops and carryout places are rapidly expanding throughout South America. They typically have more vegetarian options than most other eateries, making them a go-to place in several neighborhoods. In Brazil, Japanese cuisine is becoming increasingly popular, partly due to its growing Japanese population. Another way to eat your way through Latin America is by staying in an estancia, a ranch that simulates the gaucho, or cowboy, experience. Aside from the outdoor activities, such as horseback riding and fly fishing, estancias also give travelers the authentic experience of eating homemade food with locals. For a somewhat more refined experience with Latin America, be sure to visit Chile and Argentina, as it is cheaper to make wine in these countries and, therefore, wine tours are more substantive, whether done through a tour or with a bike.

From Mexico to Tierra del Fuego, from asados to yucas, Latin America is home. Home has many flavors but is ultimately where the heart and food reside. Ease your way or sprint across the region. After all, your stomach can only take you in the right direction!

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