When it comes to exploring foods of Latin America, why not start by looking beyond mainstream Mexican cuisine of Sonoran and Tex-mex origins. Try instead regional Mexican dishes such as Yucatan’s sikil pak, a roasted tomato, chive, and pumpkin seed dip, or poc chuc, mesquite pork shoulder with orange juice, red onion, roasted tomato sauce, avocado, black bean puree, and chorizo. Jalisco’s regional cooking features birria, a slow-cooked, spicy stew of marinated log of goat or lamb and ancho pepper. Oaxaca cuisine features estofadas, corn tortillas with onions, cheese, and various meats, accompanied by a sweet mole of peanuts and mild tomatillos.
When visiting Quito, Ecuador, a city located in the Andes yet straddling the equator, you’ll find the popular dishes reflect the fusion of pre-Columbian, Spanish, Iberian, and Andean peoples and their tastes. You’re likely to find high-end restaurants and local markets alike serving seco de chivo (goat stew), locro de papas (potato soup), empanadas, fritadas, aji sauce, and tamales. The ubiquitous aji sauce, made from cilantro, jalapeno peppers, and lettuce leaves is good atop anything, and Paila ice cream, a regional specialty, was invented here from handmade blackberry sorbet stirred with a wooden spoon.
Peruvian cuisine has famously contributed ceviche to international cuisine, while Pisco, a brandy-like drink, is their national liquor. This cuisine has become recognized internationally in the last few years for the varied dishes produced from its coastal, Andean, and jungle geographical zones and its fusion of pre-Columbian, Inca, Spanish, Basque, African, Asian, French, Italian, and British culinary influences. Ceviche incorporates an assortment of seafood marinated in citrus juice while pollo a la brasa, or marinated, roasted chicken is served with creamy aji sauce, Peruvian spiced casseroles are made from beef, pork, and chicken, skewers of grilled marinated meat are served with garlic sauce, and spicy potato cakes are stuffed with meat, seafood, or vegetables.
Venezuelan cuisine is both Andean and tropical with European influences as well as traditional native dishes. Plantains, coconut, corn, goat, seafood, and pasta make up a vibrant mix of the country’s food. Arepas, or corn cakes, are milder than tamales, perfectly able to soak up juicy flavors of meat, beans, or aji sauce, and often stuffed with meats fillings such as chicken salad with avocado, and then grilled or deep-fried. Patacones are sandwiches made with slices of twice-fried green plantain and generously filled with roast pork, shredded beef, cheese, lettuce or salsas. Pabellon criolo is the traditional beans-and-rice dish accompanied with flank steak, served with fried plantain on the side and topped with a fried egg.
These five Latin American cuisines are a sure start to exploring the rich and vibrant bounty of the Americas south of the border.