South American roasted chicken with guacamole, chorizo glazed with sherry and chickpeas. Mahi mahi, coconut and lime ceviche. Blackened salmon with papaya sauce, grilled lamb with chimichurri and sweet potato pieces. To learn more about home cooking, we asked 10 South American people about their favorite food.
The dishes presented here tell a personal story. They also offer a vision of the history of each country and highlight how communities have come into contact (voluntarily or not) with the multitude of cultures that have shaped South American cuisine. Traditionally, indigenous women made arepas by soaking corn kernels overnight to remove the husks before cooking, draining and grinding them with a wooden mortar called a pylon to form a dough. After forming discs with the dough, the women would grill the arepas on clay plates called aripa or budare, which may be the reason why the arepas got their name.
In the 1950s, the invention of pre-cooked corn flour made the process of making arepas faster, easier and more accessible. Colombian food anthropologist Julian Estrada Ochoa estimates that there are currently more than 42 varieties of arepa. These include the famous coastal egg arepa, stuffed with eggs and fried, the arepa with cracklings with pork crabs kneaded in the dough and the small, plump ball arepa perfect to accompany stews and soups. Velasco Merlo fills his favorite arepas with cheese, chicken, ham and a boiled egg.
Like many other South American dishes, the casserole has its roots in Spanish cuisine. Anthropologist Montecino Aguirre suggests that the colonists modified their recipe with ingredients from South America that the Mapuches used, such as potatoes, corn and pumpkin. In the 19th century, casserole was on every farm table and, today, it is a popular winter meal across the country. The word empanada comes from the Spanish verb empanar, which means to wrap something in bread or dough.
Empanadas were introduced to Argentina by Spanish colonists in the 16th century, and were later influenced by Syrian and Lebanese immigrants in the 18th and 19th centuries, who brought a similar open-faced cake called sofiha. For many years, empanadas were considered a working-class food because they are filling and easy to carry. Nowadays, empanadas are a symbol of Argentinian cuisine. This dish, once considered peasant food, became popular in Santiago in the 1900s with the massive migration of farm workers to the cities.
Nowadays, all Chileans like to share corn cake, and you'll find it in street stalls on September 18, Chile's Independence Day. However, tomato sauce and cheese baffle many European tourists. According to gastronomic writer Derek Foster, legend has it that in the 1950s, to disguise a burnt Milanese as a demanding customer, the owner of the restaurant, José Napoli, added the tasty ingredients and that's how the Neapolitan Milanese was born. The word pot refers to the traditional pot in which the Spanish cooked it.
However, like many South American dishes, Uruguayans adapted the recipe to the local ingredients they had access to, such as pumpkin and corn. In the 19th and 20th centuries, along with mate and roast, the pot was considered a symbol of the gaucho (cowboy) identity that was economical and nutritious. Nowadays, the pot is still an emblem of Uruguayan identity.