Yum! Learn All About the Typical Latin American Breakfast Foods
For some cultures, breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but not in Latin America, where lunch is the key meal. In most Latin American countries, breakfast tends to be light while almuerzo (lunch) is the heaviest meal of the day.
While light it may be, it’s certainly delicious. Latin American breakfast fare ranges from empanadas to a multitude of clever combinations of cheese and bread. A sandwich or bread with coffee and fruit is typical for the first meal of the day. Sweet treats like doughnuts or muffins are more commonly consumed in the late afternoon as a snack with coffee.
A standard Latin American breakfast is light yet packed with sugar and/or protein to boost your energy in the morning. Of course, exceptions to the “light breakfast” rule exist and some heavier Latin American breakfasts are available.
Let’s jump in and explore the delicious world of the Latin American breakfast! I’ll focus on the three countries I’m most familiar with: Mexico, Guatemala, and Colombia. ¡Buen provecho!
Latin American Breakfast
Coffee and Other Latin American Breakfast Beverages
Coffee (el café) is the preferred drink across the Americas. (Interestingly, Chile and Bolivia are the two exceptions; consumers in those countries prefer tea.)
Drinking coffee is a cultural phenomenon in Latin America. Colombia has its tinto, Mexico its café de olla, and Guatemala its café chapin. Coffee is widely consumed at breakfast (as well as throughout the day) by the majority of Latin Americans, even kids! It tends to be weaker than what commercial coffee houses serve.
Other popular beverages for breakfast time include:
- El licuado – smoothie
- El té caliente – hot tea
- El chocolate caliente – cocoa
- El jugo de naranja – orange juice
- El atol – gruel (usually made with either oatmeal, flour, rice, or banana)
- La leche – milk
Breakfast in Mexico
Mexico is widely known for its delicious national cuisine. Mexican desayuno típico options include pan dulce (sweet bread) and coffee, as well as heavier options like huevos rancheros (fried eggs served over tortillas and topped with tomato sauce) or chilaquiles.
Chilaquiles are made from fried corn tortillas tossed with a spicy red or green sauce and topped with various ingredients. Enjoy them as a savory breakfast with a fried egg on top. Check out this YouTube video in Spanish on how to make chilaquiles by a Mexican señora.
Do you want to make your own? Here are the simple ingredientes you’ll need:
- 2 chiles serranos – serrano peppers
- 2 jitomates grandes – large tomatoes
- ½ cebolla – onion
- 5 dientes de ajo – garlic cloves
- Epazote – an aromatic herb
- 1 tablespoon consomé de pollo – chicken broth
- totopos de tortilla de maíz – corn tortilla chips
Breakfast in Guatemala
While Guatemala is not particularly known for its national cuisine, the breakfast options here (where I am currently living) are amazing.
El Desayuno Chapín
While light options like yogur, granola, and fruta are usually on the menu, el desayuno Chapín is the classic Guatemalan breakfast. The word Chapín is a slang term for a person from Guatemala. This typical Guatemalan breakfast plate absolutely must include these four basic elements:
- Los frijoles – black beans
- Los plátanos fritos – fried plantains
- Los huevos – eggs
- Las tortillas o el pan – tortillas or bread
Other yummy additions include:
- El chirmol – roasted tomato sauce
- El queso fresco – fresh cheese
- La crema – sour cream
- El chile picante – hot sauce
- Las frutas frescas – fresh fruits
- La longaniza – white sausage
- El chorizo – paprika-smoked sausage
If you want to order eggs the way you like them with your Latin American breakfast, you’ll need to know these words:
- Huevos estrellados – fried eggs (“sunny side up”)
- Huevos revueltos – scrambled eggs
- Huevos con tomate y cebolla – scrambled eggs, cooked with diced tomato and onion
- Huevos duros – hard-boiled eggs
- Huevos hervidos – poached eggs
- La yema – yolk
- La clara de huevo – egg white
- Duros – well done
- Medianos – medium
- Suaves – soft
Another unique breakfast that is popular in Guatemala is the tamal. (Side note: for the indigenous Mayan population in Guatemala, their first language is an indigenous Mayan dialect. For this reason, certain Spanish words have their final vowel cut off in the Guatemalan pronunciation. For example, tamal rather than tamale and guacamol versus guacamole.)
The tamal is made of una masa de maiz (corn dough) stuffed with a mix of tomato and bell pepper sauce, spices, local nuts, sesame, and usually a small piece of meat (pork or chicken). Fancier tamales may be decorated with capers, olives, and prunes. This style of Guatemalan tamale is soft wrapped in a banana leaf.
If you’re interested to know more, learn all the fascinating details about masa de maiz and tortillas in Latin American culture by checking out our blog post Tortilla Culture in Latin America.
Breakfast in Colombia
Last but not least, los Colombianos know how to make a well-balanced breakfast. Let’s discover six of the most popular!
The quintessential Colombian food, this corn cake is fried on a griddle. Arepas can be filled with cheese, beans, egg, or meat—or eaten plain. Though it may not be the healthiest, this delicious treat is crispy on the outside and soft and cheesy on the inside. Arepa de huevo is a popular Colombian street food. Corn arepas are filled with eggs, then fried until the eggs are fully cooked. Check out this receta para arepas en español!
Popular throughout much of Latin American, empanadas are small, portable snacks. They can be enjoyed anytime but are super convenient as a quick breakfast option. Empanadas are usually fried but they are muy rico baked, as well. The filling can be savory (cheese, rice, lentils, chicken) or sweet (fruit marmalade).
Enjoy this simple, savory breakfast dish of scrambled eggs seasoned with sautéed onions, tomatoes (and often bell peppers, too). It’s commonly served with arepas.
Watch out for this super addictive Colombian cheese bread. It’s perfect for breakfast or la hora de café (coffee hour, which happens daily in Colombia around 4 or 5 p.m.). Pandebono is made with cheese, eggs, tapioca flour (cassava or yuca starch) and precooked cornmeal, or masarepa.
This traditional Colombian soup is typically served for breakfast—and it’s known as a great hangover cure after a night on the town. It consists of boiled water and milk, green onions, coriander, parsley, and an egg that is cracked into the liquid as it cooks. It’s usually accompanied by arepas or stale bread. Changua is beloved in cold, mountainous regions of Colombia. It’s a great way to warm up and start the day off with a nourishing meal.
Calentado is a traditional Colombian breakfast consisting of last night’s reheated leftovers. Hence the name, which is the past participle of the verb calentar, to heat. It stems from the past, when much of the Colombian population lived in poverty and wasted nothing. This hearty breakfast usually includes rice, beans, plantains, steak, fried eggs, and arepas. Calentado is typically weekend fare due to the sheer amount of food.
What’s your favorite Latin American breakfast? Are there others you’d add to this list? Leave a comment and let me know!