11 Traditional Foods from Central America and South America
South and Central American food fuse native ingredients with European, Asian, and African influences. From the southern part of the Andes to northern Mexico, Central and South American cuisine is full of flavors and colors.
Common ingredients in these flavorful dishes are corn, potatoes, cacao, chiles, beans, seafood, beef, chicken, and much more! If you enjoy cooking, it’s fun to make these dishes at home before your trip to Latin America.
From pupusas to rice and beans, these dishes vary in complexity and uniqueness. Read on to explore the culinary magic that is South and Central American food!
See also: Latin American Food: 15 Must-Try National Dishes of Latin America
11 Traditional Foods from Central America and South America
Let’s dive into the 11 traditional South and Central American foods from you’ll love! I included links to recipes for you to try out at home.
- Country: El Salvador
Pupusas are round corn cakes filled with your favorite ingredients! They are similar to pancakes or flatbreads that are made with cornflour and filled with cheese, meat, and beans. Many pupusas have peppers, spices, and garlic.
El Salvador’s traditional pupusas are cooked on a hot comal (griddle). They’re served with salsa (sauce) and curtido (lightly fermented cabbage relish.
This Central American food is similar to Colombian and Venezuelan arepas. If you’re ever in El Salvador, be sure to try this delicious dish.
- Country: México
Tacos are one of the most popular dishes in the Americas. Authentic Mexican tacos are now available in the United States and worldwide.
Mexico provides pork, beef, and chicken tacos almost anywhere in the country. They’re commonly topped with onion, cilantro, lime, and avocado—as well as salsas and hot peppers. There’s nothing better than having Mexican tacos in Mexico!
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- Country: Argentina
Bife de lomo (beef tenderloin) is the name of the cut of the meat. Argentina is known for its amazing steak. Bife is an expensive cut, and it’s juicy and tender. It’s often served with potatoes and bread.
Bife de chorizo (sirloin) is the most popular steak in Argentina. Be sure to order this South American food from a high-quality place or the chorizo could be too fatty.
4. Empanadas chilenas
- Country: Chile
Empanadas are a popular South and Central American food. It’s a fried or baked pastry filled with a variety of savory or sweet ingredients.
The most famous Chilean empanadas are filled with beef, but what makes them unique is their shape. They’re more square and slightly bigger than Argentinian empanadas.
This staple dish is the ultimate comfort food. Some people eat this South American food frequently, accompanied by soup or salad.
- Country: Perú
Ceviche is another South and Central American food that can be found in various forms depending on where you go. In Central America, it’s commonly prepared with cilantro, tomato, onion, and lime.
In Peru, it’s raw fish spiced up with onions, chili peppers, salt, and cooked in lime. It’s a fascinating recipe that people find refreshing and flavorful.
In many countries in Latin America, it’s easy to find fresh seafood. I’d recommend trying ceviche when you’re close to the ocean; that way, it’s likely that the fish will be fresh.
Peruvians are known for using fresh ingredients and love preparing your Peruvian ceviche right in front of you.
6. Arepas venezolanas
- Country: Venezuela
Arepa is another dish made from ground corn dough that’s common in Colombia, Panama, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and Venezuela. Arepas venezolanas are ubiquitous.
These golden disks from Venezuela may be stuffed with beans, avocado, cheese, onions, or sautéed beef. In Venezuela, the locals enjoy arepas for breakfast, lunch, or dinner and love to pair them with coffee or hot chocolate.
7. Gallo pinto
- Country: Costa Rica
Gallo pinto means “spotted rooster” in Spanish because of the speckled look the dark beans have against the white rice. It’s typically served as a breakfast food in Costa Rica accompanied with eggs, a slice of fresh cheese, plantains, tortillas, sliced avocado, sour cream, and a strong cup of coffee.
Locals prefer to eat their food at room temperature. The seasoning in gallo pinto is a vegetable-based condiment that’s popular in Costa Rica. It’s salty with a bit of cumin and pepper.
8. Baleadas hondureñas
- Country: Honduras
Baleadas hondureñas are the most famous food in Honduras. A thick wheat flour tortilla is filled with mashed beans and any other ingredients you like, such as eggs, cheese, avocado, hot sauce, and crema (sour cream).
The baleada originated in La Ceiba. Some say the beans look like bullets. It’s simple to make, flavorful, and unique.
- Country: Guatemala
Fiambre is one of the most famous dishes in Guatemala. It’s prepared for All Saints’ Day in honor of the departed. It’s been around since 1770 and started after a series of natural disasters in Guatemala caused food shortages.
When the Spaniards came for a visit, the cooks didn’t have a dish to offer, so they made a cold mixture of available ingredients that they had leftover and the guests loved it.
The recipe spread through the country and became a traditional Guatemalan dish eaten every November 1st. Fiambre is a cold salad with up to 40 ingredients, like vegetables, cold cuts, pork, and shrimp.
Families come together to prepare and cook it so that everybody can be a part of the tradition.
- Countries: Argentina and Uruguay
Choripán from Argentina and Uruguay is all about quality chorizo (pork sausage) and freshly baked bread. It’s usually eaten on the go and on the streets of Latin America.
The name choripán comes from chorizo and pan (bread). South Americans can’t get enough of it! It’s the perfect street food to enjoy by itself, with French fries, or with a green salad.
11. Arroz Caribeño con Frijoles Negros
- Country: Cuba
Rice and beans is a staple dish in Cuba and many Latin American countries. Beans cooked in broth with spices are commonly served with meat stews, vegetable stews, poultry, and seafood. What’s essential in preparing this dish is that it’s freshly made so that the rice and beans are freshly made.
Arroz caribeño often uses jasmine rice and red beans. No matter what rice or beans you try, it’s the perfect meal to eat with fried plantains. Make sure to try this staple dish next time you’re in the Caribbean!
Eat and Learn Spanish in Latin America
Food is a major part of Latin American culture. It’s a delicious way to immerse yourself in tradition while enjoying flavorful food! On your next trip to Latin America, practice ordering in Spanish and improve your fluency while you’re there.
Spanish is growing and growing in the U.S. When you learn Spanish, you get to be a part of a warm culture that is loving and welcoming. Not just that, learning a language helps you improve your cognition and decision-making abilities. It’s educational, beneficial, and fun!
Sign up for a free trial class at Homeschool Spanish Academy before your trip to Latin America and be ready to order your favorite dish in Central and South America. Learners of every level are welcome, including total beginners. Check out our programs, prices, and testimonials to find out why so many are learning Spanish!
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