Though well known as an incredible cultural and adventure destination, South America’s reputation for fine cuisine is much less recognized. This is changing rapidly, though, as this southern continent emerges as one of the trendiest food regions on the planet. Today, Latin America serves up everything from velvet-soft Colombian sea bass to melt-in-your-mouth Argentine beef (paired, of course, with the finest Malbec).
All of this has been fostered by an incredible array of exotic, innovative and refined restaurants that have cropped up across the continent. Interested in checking these out, but quite sure where to start? Here’s a rundown of some of hottest Latin foodie destinations and dishes today.
1. Lima, Peru
Today’s culinary capital of South America, Lima Peru can boast an inspiring epicurean legacy handed down by its pre-Hispanic and colonial predecessors, while nourished by the innovative Pacific-rim influences from China and Japan.
Peruvian restaurants provide some of the most sophisticated gourmet experiences around, presenting a dazzling amalgam of flavors, spotlighted with glowing reviews in international food blogs.
With its abundance of exotic ingredients and Michelin-starred chefs, Peru’s explosive flavors are finally receiving the recognition they deserve. We suggest you experience world-class Lima restaurants such as Central, Maido or Astrid & Gaston, which have burst upon the scene with fusion delights unlike anywhere else. Where else can you sample quail eggs in hot sauce or Peking guinea pig on purple corn pancakes? In Lima, the exotic has no end.
2. Buenos Aires, Argentina
Though Buenos Aires is famous for the best beef in the world, when considering a foodie tour of the Argentine capital, don’t think of simply of steak; think “asado” – the medley of grilled delicacies of which sirloins are just one of the several succulent ingredients. Here, feasts of meat are served in a wide variety of preparations that include bife de chorizo (top loin steak), chorizo sausage and morcilla (blood sausage). However, while all of these are quite filling, they’re merely the prelude to costillas, a xylophone of ribs barbequed on a charcoal-fueled parrillada (grill). Experience this is one of the many parrillas (steak houses) found in every barrio, with the Palermo neighborhood being home to elegant restaurants like Don Julio, a favorite to gourmet eaters locally and from abroad. Such foreign travelers flock to Buenos Aires for bites of these mouthwatering meals paired with one of the country’s renowned Malbec wines.
While in this city, dubbed the “Paris of the South,” experience the sophisticated European flair evidenced in Buenos Aires’ delectable Latin cuisine.
3. Quito, Ecuador
Looking for a taste of truly traditional South American cuisine? Head to Quito, a city whose restaurant scene is hot on the heels of culinary driving forces like Lima and Buenos Aires.
Many travelers stopping in mainland Ecuador en route to its Galapagos Islands are pleasantly pleased to find the capital an epicenter of the country’s wholesome, home-cooked style of dining. Gastronomic trends here combine centuries-old indigenous traditions and the adroit artistry of innovative chefs who are building on the country’s classic cuisine. Prepared simply yet deliciously, Ecuadorian staples include beans, rice, plantains, yuca, and fresh fish. Try a zingy encebollado soup, or deep-fried corvina (sea bass) in a bowl of ceviche (raw fish), or llapingacho (a fried potato cake with peanut sauce).
While these great local dishes are called comida típica (which translates as “typical food”), you’ll pleased to find that these savory Ecuadorian dishes are anything but typical!
4. Cartagena, Colombia
Thanks to a vastly improved security situation, Colombia as a whole is yet another rising culinary star in South America. Within this country, not only have Bogota and Medellin stepped into the spotlight as gourmet foodie destinations… so has Cartagena.
This coastal city draws its culinary influence from the seafood and chili flavors of the Caribbean. Wandering through the cobblestone streets of Cartagena’s stunning UNESCO-declared “World Heritage” historic district, you’re sure to come across restaurants like La Cevichería, one of the continent’s finest fish restaurants. In this restaurant , like those throughout this seaside city, the menus are full and ever-changing. However, a sure bet is the catch-of-the-day ceviche, a raw fish dish made even more sabrosa when doused in coconut bits and lime.
5. Santiago, Chile
Surrounded by fields and orchards chockfull of all types of flavorful produce — from olives to papayas and everything in between — Santiago is the perfect destination for the true gourmand. Nonetheless, all tastes and preferences are catered for in Santiago.
From aijaco stew to beef rib empanadas and pastel de choclo (a meat pie made also with corn, eggs and olives), Santiago is a foodie hotspot …a culinary fusion of Spanish and indigenous flavors, coupled with some of the best wine in the world.
For elegant dining, inviting restaurants like Borago, Ambrosia, Terraza, and Restaurant 99 check off all the boxes. However, you shouldn’t overlook more popular venues like Mercado Central (“Central Market”), a hip, art-nouveau marketplace with tons of fresh and delicious seafood). Similarly, the stalls of the La Vega market are brimming with exotic fruits and vegetables worth sampling.
For food-minded travelers weighing South America as your next destination, simply pack your insatiable appetite and include one of these outstanding foodie destinations on your itinerary. Come and discover why everyone’s drooling over these amazing destinations.
Alfonso Tandazo is President and CEO at Surtrek Tour Operator. Surtrek Tour Operator is a well-established firm, specializing in custom-designed luxury tours in Ecuador, the Galapagos and throughout the rest of South America.