South America: a taste bud tour
Food tourism is rapidly becoming a tasty option for travellers across the globe. Where better to be a gastronaut than in Sough America?
South America is fascinating. This huge continental peacock proudly bears all the hallmarks of travel desirability. From an enchanting ancient culture, vibrant multiculturalism and incomparable natural diversity, to thriving cities and the seductive allure of the Latino spirit, South America has all the ingredients for a food tourism extravaganza.
What is food tourism?
Food tourism is everything you would expect it to be – it is all about exploring and experiencing a country’s native and traditional cuisine. Although everyone eats a bit more than usual whilst on holiday, food tourism is a serious business – local grub is considered to be an integral part of the travelling experience, ranked on a par with climate, scenery and other attractions within a country.
South America is the ideal destination for a culinary voyage. Marinated over the centuries with the flavours of multiculturalism, the exotic elements of South American culture are infused and reflected in the national and regional dishes of this mammoth continent.
We take a look at some of the tastiest South American countries and cities, where you can fulfil your foodie fantasies and discover delectable dishes.
Brazil is the most visited country in South America. Famed for its wild carnivals brimming with revelry and passion, the food here is every bit as diverse as the country itself. Given that Brazil is one of the largest producers of beef in the world, it makes sense that meaty menus are a Brazilian speciality.
The nation’s signature dish is churrasco – a flame grilled meaty barbecue. Churrascarias, Brazilian steakhouses, can be found everywhere, often with regional twists and variations. In the northern Amazon region, beef is frequently swapped for jacaré – crocodile caught fresh from the rainforest.
The undisputed capital of Brazilian cuisine is the São Paulo. São Paulo is the seventh biggest city in the world – it wins on the sheer number of different restaurants and eateries alone. As well as fine dining, the city is a cultural oasis, with a hip-swaying music scene, annual Carnaval (it might not be as big as Rio’s, but it’s still dazzling), Pixação street art, ancient churches and frantic markets.
Tall and thin, Chile is the supermodel of the South American continent. Stretching from equatorial rainforests in the north through volcanoes, deserts, and Patagonian glacial fields, Chile has all the blessings of a fantastic travel destination. By far the country’s greatest asset however is its coastline. At over 4,300 km long, it’s no surprise that the waters of the Pacific Ocean play an ever-present part in Chilean culture.
For seafood fans, Chile will leave you feeling as happy as a clam. Thanks to Pacific Ocean currents, all the finest fruits of the sea are in plentiful supply along the Chilean coast. The capital city of Santiago, framed by craggy Andean peaks in the east and the infinite seas in the west, is deserving of a spot on any traveller’s itinerary.
Not only is this city a great place to sample mariscal (seafood soup), pastel de jaiba (crab pie), and ceviche (fresh raw fish seasoned with citrus and chilli), but there are also plenty of other activities and attractions to help you work up an appetite. The nearby El Colorado ski resort provides a panoramic opportunity to take in Chile’s epic landscape.
Travelling to and through Bolivia is all about sampling the flavours of authentic Latin American culture and history. Of all the nations in South America, Bolivia has the largest indigenous population, hailing right back to the era of the Inca Empire. Tradition remains strong in all aspects of Bolivian life.
One of the most poignant occasions on which to witness Bolivian customs is during the Diablada Festival, held annually on the shores of Lake Titicaca. This so-called Dance of the Devil is an ancient ritual to celebrate the forces of good and evil. It is also the ideal time to sample tantawawas, a type of bread shaped and decorated to resemble children.
Known in Ecuador as guagua de pan, and tantaguaguas in Peru, these bread babies are eaten throughout South America, particularly on the Day of the Dead. It might sound morbid, but this is a revered ritual to commemorate and remember those who have passed. This humbling spectacle is definitely not something to be missed!
Peru has a bit of a negative reputation when it comes to grub. Cuy (guinea pig to you and me) is a particular Peruvian speciality, particularly in the Andean highland regions. Guinea pigs were once considered to be a delicacy, reserved only for ceremonial meals. Today however they are widely farmed for their meat, which is used in a number of traditional dishes.
The practice of eating these childhood pets may seem unusual to us in the UK, but this is true of many aspects of Peruvian culture. Peru is a country crammed with spectacular and gobsmacking attractions unlike anything else anywhere on earth.
The crowning jewel in Peru’s tourism crown is of course the mountain-top city of Machu Picchu. Hidden from the world until 1911, this age-old Mayan ruin is an awe-inspiring mystery and must-see attraction.
If you thought Brazilian barbecue sounded tasty, wait until you get to Argentina. Asado and parrillada steaks are said to be some of the best in the world – carnivores will be spoilt for choice.
Veggies shouldn’t be put off. Argentinian food is heavily influenced by European flavours and cooking styles. Argentinian pasta and pizzas are as good as their authentic Italian forefathers. In the north west travellers will discover more native styles of cuisine, handed down from generation to generation, from as far back as the Inca Empire. Favourite dishes include locro stew, humita and tamal – a type of stuffed leaf.
Argentinian cookery owes a lot to this mixed European-Amerindian heritage. Food is not however the only thing to have benefited from multiculturalism. Nowhere has profited more richly from this diversity than the energetic port city of Buenos Aires.
Buenos Aires is the gateway to Argentina. In the wide Parisianstyle boulevards and grand colonial streets, there is a potent injection of feisty Latino spirit. The inhabitants of this city are proud of their ancestry and passionate about high culture. The city is well stocked with museums and art galleries. The Teatro Colon is one of the greatest opera houses in the world.
The city is a jigsaw of identities, experiences and colourful neighbourhoods just waiting to be explored.