I am sure that I don’t need to sell anyone on the importance of food to a traveler. This is more than epicurean pleasure; it is an edible scrapbook of your experiences. (Now there’s an image.) We’re here to look at your South American Food Goals.
Besides the singular pleasures of trying new and exciting foods, I would be remiss to leave out the social importance. Group travel for women should involve making friends, and I know of few better ways to do that than over a meal, especially in South America!
Let’s start simple: steak. Well, meat in general, I guess. Argentina is famous for its steak, but more expansively for its amazing barbecue (asado). Not that it is the only country on this list with amazing meat dishes, but you may already have this on your list. Try an afternoon spent enjoying various parrillada meats in a leisurely fashion.
For Boliva, I’m going to recommend savoury pastries. The first kind are salteñas: oven baked pastries filled with meat, potatoes, olives, eggs and sauce. The sauce is very saucy, and it is recommended that you do not attempt too much dignity whilst slurping it. The other type of pastry to try is similar, but has been deep fried instead of baked: tucumanas. These are a mid-morning snack, often served with a variety of sauces and condiments for dipping.
Although there are many famous main dishes from Brazil, my recommendations here are going to lean toward the sweet. First up is acai, which you may well have tried before as a “superfood”. Regardless of its recent trendy status, the berry is a staple in its native country of Brazil. Try it as a sorbet topped with granola as a refreshing treat. My other suggestion is personal, shown to me by a couple of Brazilian housemates once upon a time: brigadeiros. These are condensed milk, cocoa powder and butter rolled into balls. They are as delicious, and as bad for you, as they sound.
In a country that is composed of so much coastline (it’s the second longest country in the world) seafood is a must. There are many options to try from, though if you are a Pablo Neruda fan you might want to try conger eel soup in tribute. You should be able to find good seafood even inland, but another recommendation is the favored Chilean empanadas de pino, filled with ground beef and onion.
One of the most fun food experiments while traveling is to find local versions of what you might consider “boring” food. For Colombia, we’re looking at bread and soup. The “bread” is arepa, essentially a griddled pancake made out of cornmeal and served with butter. The soup is that world-wide favorite, chicken soup. The Colombian version is ajiaco, made with three kinds of potatoes and corn on the cob, as well as the all-important flavor of the guasca herb.
Again, it’s hard to pick just a single food to highlight, but I’m going with an old favorite of mine: fruit. You would be amazed at the wealth and variety of fruits available to you in Ecuadorian markets. Bonus points if you find and eat a fruit that you have never seen in your life before. Double bonus points if you follow the local custom of trying sour, unripe mango slices dipped in salt as a snack. Try diverting your women’s travel group into a market and seeing what everyone can find.
Guyana has developed as a real melting pot of many different cultures. Perhaps appropriately, many of the “don’t miss” dishes are stews. Try a pepper pot stew, often served on special occasions, flavored with peppers, cassava extract and cinnamon. Another great stew to try is the creamy megtemgee (varied spelling options) , with yams, plantains and various other items cooked in coconut milk.
Back to soup – sort of. Sopa Paraguaya, or Sopá Paraguaí, is in fact a solid “soup”. Made of mashed corn, eggs, milk, onions and cheese, it is a must-try for your Paraguay food goals. I would also suggest tereré. This cold-brew tea is a common drink in Paraguay, and you are likely to see people carrying around Thermoses of it. It is also called yerba mate, and is made with refreshingly bitter yerba herbs.
There are many South American countries that offer ceviche, raw fish prepared with a quick marinade of lemon or lime juice. However, it comes particularly highly recommended in Peru. Near the coast, you can expect fresh ocean offerings, but inland you might be served just-as-fresh river trout. You might also want to try Peruvian cuy chactado, or deep fried guinea pig… if only for the novelty factor.
Oddly enough, some of the most highly recommended foods in Suriname actually originated in Java, Indonesia. This is a result of the cultural blending that can be found in many South American countries. Try the fried egg noodle dish bami goreng for Suriname’s take on an Indonesian classic. For a more traditional dish, try something made with the cassava root. Cassava bread, for example, is a baked flat bread enjoyed throughout the country. You might also like telo, or cassava fries.
Hamburgers and hotdogs are another type of food that we might consider so ubiquitos as to be quite boring – not the kind of thing you’d order when you’re pursuing adventure travel for women. Looking for the local versions of these foods, however, can be great. Try the stack-of-meat on a bun that is the chivito, with a variety of extras added to the traditional base of steak. Instead of a hotdog, we’re looking at the choripan, with a deliciously seasoned chorizo sausage on a small baguette.
Let’s end with breakfast. A typical breakfast in Venezuela may include arepas, this time split and filled with a delicious assortment of butter, cheese, meats, beans and eggs among other items. You might also try the Venezualan Chachtios de Jamon, or ham crescent roll. Then there is the mandoca, a type of cormeal donut served hot with cheese and butter, or perhaps bananas or plaintains.
Looking for these new and exciting dishes can also give you a great opportunity to explore your destination. Of course, depending on the area, you might want to take a couple of friends with you, or a guide. But then, no-one’s likely to complain about getting dragged along to try some amazing food.