Some of the richest products of South American cuisine come from the middle of the continent, the Amazonia. In countries like Peru, there is a strong influence of the Inca and their cuisine. Potatoes are frequently grown as a result of this, and also plants such asquinoa. On the Southern tip of South America lies the Pacific Ocean, which provides a large array of seafood. Many plains are also on this continent, which are rich for growing food in abundance. In the Patagonia region south of Chile and Argentina, many people produce lamb and venison. King crab is typically caught at the southern end of the continent. Antarctic krill has just recently been discovered and is now considered a fine dish. Tuna and tropical fish are caught all around the continent, but Easter Island is one place where they are found in abundance. Lobster is also caught in great quantities from Juan Fernández. In Brazil, their most traditional dish is the feijoada.
African Influence on the Foods of South America
Africans brought and preserved many of their traditions and cooking techniques. They were often given less desired cuts of meat, including shoulder and intestines. Menudo, for example, was derived from the habit of the Spaniards of giving the slaves cow’s intestines. Slaves developed a way to clean the offal and season it to taste. Slaves in the southern United States also did the same thing to the pig’s intestines given to them. In South America, the scraps of food the landlords did not eat, and by mixing what they got they usually ended coming up with new plates that nowadays have been adopted into the cuisine of their respective nation (such being the case with the Peruvian tacu-tacu).
When discussing South American food, it’s best to separate the continent into four broad gastronomic regions.
Northwestern South America, especially the Andean Mountain nations of Ecuador, Bolivia, and Peru, boasts some of the most exotic food in Latin America. Potatoes and the highly nutritious grain quinoa originated here and still play major roles in the cuisine. Peru alone boasts more than 100 different potato varieties, including a blue (actually, it’s lavender) potato that has become the darling of trendy chefs in North America. Peru also has some of the spiciest food in South America. The preferred seasoning here is the aji amarillo, a fiery yellow chile that adds bite to everything from caucau (seafood stew) to papas a la huancaina (spicy, cheesy potato salad). A large Japanese community has also influenced Peruvian cooking.
North Central South America―in particular Colombia and Venezuela―displays a Spanish influence. The Spanish settled early here, and many of the most dominant seasonings of the region―cumin, oregano, cinnamon, and anise―came directly from Spain. For that matter, so did the local enthusiasm for fresh orange and lime juices and for the ancient Mediterranean flavors of wine and olive oil. Many dishes in northeastern South America, such as tamales, feature a contrast of sweet and salty tastes (in the form of raisins, prunes, capers, and olives). Plus, the combination of Spanish rice and Venezuela’s superb seafood gives rise to some of the world’s best paella.