You wouldn’t visit Italy without having a pizza, and there’s no way you’d be able to avoid sushi during a vacation in Japan. Every country has some dish you absolutely have to try, so – without further ado – let me introduce you to four South American dishes which are culinary superstars in their own right.
Forget Maradona, Evita and the tango, Argentina’s one and only true love affair is with the cow. Meat (carne) is by default beef and its rightful place is above a sparse bed of wood coals. Argentines aren’t squeamish, and the grisly bits of the cow are usually served as a prelude to the enormous slabs of meat and short-cut ribs which are the piece de resistance of any asado.
The meat is heavily salted (but no other seasoning is added) and is usually accompanied by crispy bread rolls, a simple salad and a bottle of red wine. If you’re lucky enough to be invited to a local asado, jump at the opportunity. But if no such invitation is forthcoming a parillada mixta (mixed grill) in a local steakhouse won’t disappoint.
If it seems ridiculous to include the humble hot dog on a list like this, then you clearly haven’t seen – let alone eaten – a completo. The first and most obvious difference is that a completo is twice the size of an American hot dog, but what really sets the completo apart is its abundance of sauces and garnishes.
While the most basic version comes with gallons of mayonnaise, freshly chopped tomatoes and a liberal dose of sauerkraut, my favorite is the completo Italiano which substitutes the sauerkraut for mashed avocado – delicious, and a meal in itself!
Interestingly, a completo can also be a Brazilian hot dog which has as a bare minimum mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup, peas, corn, tomatoes, onions, Parmesan cheese and fries – personally I prefer the ‘minimalist’ Chilean version!
The meal that is literally translated as ‘poor man’s steak’ is served throughout South America but it achieves perfection in Chile and Peru. Consisting of French fries piled with onion rings and a steak and rounded off by a fried egg on the top, it’s not exactly a ‘health option’ but it sure does taste good.
I’m particularly fond of a Chilean interpretation which smothers the whole lot with mashed avocado, although I think this might be my own personal invention!
When I first tasted ceviche (in Bolivia, not Peru, in fact) I suspected my life would never be the same again. When, a few months later, I was able to sample it freshly prepared on the beaches of Peru, all doubt was removed.
Ceviche – a ‘salad’ of raw fish, sliced onions and fresh chillis marinated in lime juice – is refreshing, healthy and surprisingly filling. In its most classic form a firm, white-fleshed marine fish such as sea bass is used, but it can also be made with squid, mussels, freshwater fish or even duck (in this last case orange juice is substituted for lime juice). The bottom line is that ceviche is insanely addictive. Once the bug has bitten, there’s no turning back, so don’t try it on your Peruvian adventure unless you’re prepared to commit to a lifetime of seeking it out back home!
With the exception of ceviche, these four South American dishes may not be the healthiest meals you ever try. But hey, you’re on vacation…You can always hit the gym when you get home!