Since a lot of people ask me for recommendations about different things, I’ve decided to start this as a potential series to give some tips. I’ll list a few things you’ll typically hear, and I’ll try to give one personal recommendation that you may not get otherwise. For the first one, I’ll start with one of my favorite things: Food!
What people would normally tell you: Churrasco (grilled meat), Feijoada (Brazilian stew), Pão de Queijo (Cheese bread), Farofa, Moqueca (seafood stew), Acarajé (Afro-Brazilian spicy shrimp sandwich on fried cornbread), Açai (purple Açai berry sherbet). Of course, if you ask a Brazilian they’ll just tell you beans & rice. =P
Something a little special: Escondidinho
This is one of my favorites dishes in the whole world. It’s similar in form to a pot pie, but made with Yucca for the crust, and usually filled with Carne Seca (literally “dry meat”, kinda like jerky) mixed with some a creamy cheese like Queijo Coalho, Requeijão, or Catupiry. So much goodness!
You can find this anywhere in Brazil, definitely in the major cities, but the best ones are made in the Northeastern states.
What people would normally tell you: Meat (steak, Asado/grilled meat), Milanesa, Italian food like pasta and pizza, Choripan, Empanadas, Matambre, Lomito. If you’re really lucky though, someone might ask you on a date to McDonalds. Yes, this really happened–Three different times.
Something a little special: Locro
This is sometimes called the Argentine national dish, and is traditionally eaten on the 25th of May, the independence day. It comes from “Guisado Cuyo” (stew from the Cuyo/Andean region which predates the Spanish conquest), which has been fused with other foods, and is eaten from Colombia to Patagonia. It can be found anywhere in Argentina, but the best ones are outside of the cities on ranches with Gauchos. Like many soups, particularly those made by ranchers, it has many possible variations. Traditionally, the hearty stew it was made with potatoes or white beans and red meat, but in Argentina is commonly found with white corn and sausage, as well as things like pumpkin or butternut squash. I’ve had many different versions and they were all delicious, but personally I prefer not to ask what is in it.
What people would normally tell you: Ceviche, Lomo Saltado (marinated beef tips), Papas Rellenas (stuffed fried potatoes), Anticuchos (beef brochettes), Cuy (Guinea Pig), Tamales, Papa a la Huancayo (boiled potatoes with cheese and spices).
Something a little special: Ají de Gallina
Peruvian food is amazing simple as that. It is, in my opinion, the only cuisine that can compete with Mexican food. There is a great deal of variety and creativity in the dishes, and lots of spice! Being from Texas, I like a little kick, so one might imagine how happy I was to try it following a severe spice deficiency in Rio de Janeiro. I would recommend many dishes, but I think this one is a little less know, perhaps because it is relatively simple. It is a creamy shredded chicken in yellow chile sauce, usually served over rice and accompanied by some combination of hard boiled egg, kalamata olives, and walnuts. The yellow chile gives it a distinct flavor and lends it a bit of heat, but it isn’t overpowering and shouldn’t be a problem for the spice haters. Incredible.
What people would normally tell you: Aside from Chipa (cheesey breadish thing), I don’t really know.
Something a little special: Empanadas from Lido bar in Asunción. I wasn’t really in Paraguay long enough to comment on the food, but these empanadas were so damn amazing that I felt they deserved a mention. Apparently this is a pretty well known tourist stop, but seriously guys, these things are ridiculously good.
What people would normally tell you: Arepas (corn flatbreat), Sancocho (soup, varies by region), Tamales, Mondongo (another soup, they love soup), Bandeja Paisa (literally: tray from Medallin), Tostones (fried plantain slices).
Something a little special: Ajiaco
Colombian cuisine is also very special, and it’s a reflection of how regionalized the country is. Though they are all proudly Colombian, each “department” (read: tiny state) has its own distinct culture, complete with a typical dance, music, and accent, along with its own variation on traditional Colombian dishes like Tamales. They also seem love soup as much as I do, which made me happy. Ajiaco is a regional soup from Bogotá, the capital, and although I tried many delicious foods, this was one of my favorites. It is another soup, nice and creamy, made with chicken, a variety of potatoes, corn, local herbs, cheese, capers, and cream.
I ate mine in the Candalaria next to the cathedral, where there are a slew of little hole in the wall restaurants, literally right next to the one that Antony Bourdain ate tamales in. I went there too. Beat ya to it, Bourdain.
What people would normally tell you: Tacos, Enchiladas, Mole, Sopes, Gorditas, Chilis en Nogado, Esquites, Tamales, Chilis Rellenos, Huevos Rancheros, the list goes on indefinitely.
Things that do not exist: Burritos, Nachos, Chili con carne, Breakfast tacos. (these are tex-mex creations.
Something a little special: Chilaquiles
People in Texas are probably like.. Whaaaaat. Really. Chilaqilees? I eat chilaqilees every day!
Yes, in Texas we are all blessed enough to have access to some actual Mexican food. But generally the Chilaquiles I’ve had north of the Rio Grande can’t hold a candle (or, a jalapeño?) to the ones down south. Oft times they’re soggy chips topped with greasy fried eggs or some such nonsense, not exactly the most delicious breakfast food of all time. So, don’t get your tortillas in a bunch, and let these other folks discover this amazing dish in all its glory.
I should also probably mention that Mexican food is my favorite food, if I had to choose one food to eat the rest of my life, this would probably be it. It is completely distinct from any other cuisine, full of regional variety, and never the same outside of Mexico. There was an infinite list of dishes I could have chosen, like Pozole, a classic Mexican soup, or Tlayudas, a giant flour tortilla taco salad. Pretty much everything I’ve eaten in Mexico has been excellent, but I can never get enough chilaquiles. One piece of advice about real Mexican food though–don’t bother asking Mexicans if something is spicy. It’s spicy. They will tell you it isn’t because they’ve got some sort of mutant super power. But it is.
I like to imagine this dish is where American “nachos” came from; it involves cooked corn tortillas (often in the shape of a chip), which are then covered in red or green salsa, along with cheese, raw onions, cream, and chicken or eggs, and served with a side of refried beans and sometimes Molletes (fried bread). It is eaten with a fork. In the capital of D.F., the tortilla chips are typically hard and the liquids are added right before eating, which leaves them a little soft but still with a bit of crunch. I’ve been told, however, that in other parts it is served with a soupy/polenta like consistency. Mexicans claim its the best cure for a hang over, and I am prone to agreeing with them. I personally prefer red to green.
Well, there you go. Buen Provecho!