From the high protein, high energy, meat loving Argentineans and their asado, to the refined cuisine of the fish loving Peruvians, South America has it all. The region’s cuisine is not just the cooking of indigenous Indians, colonialist Spanish and Portuguese or their African slaves, but, instead, a fantastic blend of all those culinary traditions.
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3 Dec 2008 - 7:45 PM  UPDATED 26 May 2015 - 2:08 PM

This is the continent that gave the world some of its favourite staples, such as chocolate (Mayan, Honduras), corn, tomatoes (native from Mexico to Argentina), vanilla (Mexico), potatoes (Andes), and chillies (Ecuador).

South American cuisine is immensely varied, with a dish for every climate and occasion. From the mountains of the Andes to the rainforest of the Amazon, it encompasses some of the driest places on earth, and some of the wettest.

Like its vivacious people and cultures, South American food is full of bright colours. Corn, tomatoes, pumpkin, chillies and potatoes appear regularly in local cooking in their myriad of shades, and all contribute to the lively palette of South American cuisine - brilliant greens, reds and purples that tango on your tastebuds.

It’s not about food for food’s sake. South Americans don’t just eat to be sustained. They eat to party, to mourn, and to reconnect with family and friends. It’s a vital part of the social fabric.

 

View our South American recipe collection here.

South American Food Safari recipes
Pebre

In Chile this all-purpose salsa is a big favourite, often served with pumpkin fritters and some good local wine. It’s also an excellent accompaniment to barbecued meat and fish. Pebre includes a large quantity of onion, but the recipe calls for soaking the onion in sugar, then salt, which softens the raw flavour. (Instead of onion you could use a bunch of finely chopped chives.)

Ceviche

Most South American countries now have their own version of ceviche but it’s thought to be Peruvian in origin. Essentially it is marinated raw fish or crustacean that is "cooked" by the acidity of citrus juice (you can try prawns in this recipe instead of fish if you like). Passionfruit and tamarillo have been added to the marinade for extra flavour. It is a delightful, refreshing, hot-weather meal and reported by some South Americans to be a cure for a hangover! Alejandro serves it with cinnamon-scented sweet potato, but it is often served with cancha serrana (dried corn kernels that are roasted and salted).

Manjar blanco

Manjar blanco is a custard made from milk, vanilla bean and sugar, simmered until thick, rich and absolutely divine! It's a traditional sweet enjoyed daily throughout South America – as a filling for pastries, the sweet centre of alfajor biscuits and tejas (filled chocolates) or simply enjoyed on its own as a dessert. One devotee of this recipe described it as "pan-scrapingly good"!

Asado and chimichurri

Asado is a technique for cooking cuts of meat (usually beef) as well as sausages and offal on a barbecue. It is a traditional dish of Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and Paraguay and generally goes hand in hand with chimichurri, a spicy, garlicky parsley sauce. The meat is cooked without any embellishments, just very slowly over coals, until it melts in your mouth and cuts like butter. Fabian Conca uses two barbecues – a covered Weber to cook sausages like fresh chorizos, morcillas (blood sausages), beef intestines and sweetbreads, and an open grill for large pieces of flank steak and long lengths of beef spare ribs which he covers with newspaper and cooks for about an hour, turning every 15 minutes.

Food Safari's empanadas

Debate rages over which country invented the empanada and many varieties using different sorts of pastry abound. Empanadas are the ultimate snack food. They can be filled with any combination of cheese, chilli, meat, tuna, prawns, vegetables, egg and olives. Some recipes are baked whereas others are deep-fried.

Arepas

This Colombian snack food consists of a cornmeal patty cooked in a frying pan and served simply with butter and salt or with any number of fillings. Split the arepas open and fill with avocado, cheese, tomato, meat, fried chicken, beans or salsa. Or try the "arepa pizza" where chorizo, cheese and spicy chicken or beef strips are used as a topping rather than a filling. In northern Colombia, fried egg arepas are a favourite – the egg is fried into the patty. Arepas are also a good accompaniment to main meals.

Maté

This drink is a way of life in some parts of South America. Served in a gourd with a metal straw (a bomba or bombilla). This super strong tea is an acquired taste. Brewed from the dried leaves and small stems of the native "Yerba Mate" tree, its ancient, medicinal properties make it hugely popular.

South American essentials
Utensils: South American
Find out which special utensils you'll need on hand during cooking.
Tips: South American
These expert tips will help you achieve the perfect balance of flavours.
Featured businesses: South American
Contact the businesses featured in the South American episode of Food Safari.
Key ingredients: South American
Make sure your kitchen is stocked with these essential ingredients.