South America is more than 6 million square miles large. It consists of 12 countries and an estimated 429 million people. The landscape is made up of mountains, jungles, deserts, coasts, and cities.
The diversity in geography, history, and people across this enormous continent has led to the development of culinary traditions and innovations that every food-centric traveler should experience for themselves.
As easily as you can find world-class restaurants serving up cosmopolitan dishes in Lima and Buenos Aires, you can also find indigenous delicacies that have been enjoyed for thousands of years as well as specialties that you’ve likely heard of before ever stepping foot here: ceviche, empanadas, and asado, for example.
If you’re a foodie looking for your next gastronomic adventure, South America may not have been on your radar. But after reading this guide to the best food in South America, you’ll be browsing Kuoda’s food tours with excitement.
Food in South America: What Can You Expect?
Prior to the arrival of Europeans in the 16th century, diverse populations of indigenous people lived all across South America. They grew beans, corn, potatoes, chilis, and a variety of fruits and vegetables, raised guinea pigs and llamas, and established regional culinary traditions that are now thousands of years old.
When Europeans arrived, they merged their own cuisine with local dishes and ingredients. They brought Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese influences, new foods like wheat, almonds, and citrus, as well as livestock such as pigs, chickens, and goats. In many coastal areas, African culinary traditions were adopted, and even Asian influence can be found in some parts of South America.
It’s this rich culinary history that makes food in South America truly unique – and a big reason why food tours of South America are one of Kuoda’s most popular offers.
The Best Food in South America
Regardless of where you’re traveling in South America, the food is bound to blow your mind. That is, if you know what to look for. Find out what food in South America absolutely cannot be missed in our country by country breakdown below.
Peru is nearly always ranked one of the top culinary destinations in the world. It owes this distinction not only to its diverse history and ethnic mixes, but also to 28 individual climates, each producing a gold mine of native ingredients that have been adapted into local cuisines.
Along the coast, be sure to try ceviche. Although you can find this dish of raw fish marinated in citrus just about anywhere in Latin America, Peru is where it originated – and the flavors of Peruvian ceviche really say it all.
In the Andes, the more adventurous foodies should indulge in a plate of cuy: a local delicacy that English-speakers would know better as guinea pig. Served whole after baking, roasting, or grilling, cuy is said to taste like rabbit or wild fowl and it’s been enjoyed in the Andean region for over 5,000 years.
If that doesn’t quite get your taste buds salivating, join a traditional Pachamanca. This communal meal is another pre-Columbian, Andean tradition that involves cooking pork, chicken, goat, beef, lamb, sweet potatoes, yucca, chili, cassava, and more in an earth oven (aka a smoking pit that’s dug into the earth).
For a deep-dive into more modern Peruvian cuisine, consider taking a cooking class where you can learn to make dishes like lomo saltado while sipping a pisco sour. Or come dine with us at some of the best restaurants in the world in Lima and Cusco.
Like Peru, Colombia has a number of different geographical regions, each with their own wealth of ingredients from which local cuisines were developed and each offering something special to the food-inclined traveler.
The tropical parts of Colombia produce an array of fruits that you might never have heard of or seen before. Mangosteen, banana passion fruit, pineapple guava, dragon fruit, golden berry, and cactus fruit can be found at just about any stand in coastal and jungle regions, but you can also sample them on a fruit tour in Bogota’s Paloquemao Market.
One of the highest altitude capital cities in the world, Bogota is also the place to try some of the country’s heartiest comfort foods. Specifically, arepas. Something between a tortilla and a pancake, arepas are eaten for breakfast, lunch, and dinner across Colombia. They can be sweet or savory, puffy or flat, stuffed or plain, and you can’t say you’ve visited without trying them at least once.
Of course, Bogota has more to offer than arepas (and great Spanish-inspired stews, and tasty pastries like bunuelos). The city has claimed a spot on the international culinary map in recent years and Kuoda clients get a taste of that reputation at Monserrate Restaurant, where the superb menu is only outdone by the views.
Ecuador may be the smallest country on this list and one of the smallest countries on the continent overall, but its culinary traditions are big. Here you can find an endless amount of fruit varieties from the Amazonian region, an abundance of seafood along the coasts, and the cozy comfort foods often found in high altitude towns and cities.
Of the latter, don’t miss locro de papas, a creamy potato stew that’s often filled with cheese and rinds, and served with toasted corn (canchita) and perfectly ripe avocado. Fried potato pancakes called llapingachos are another favorite. Something like a fried tortilla stuffed full with cheese, they’re bathed in a peanut sauce and served with fried egg, chorizo, salad, and avocado. You might even try your hand at cooking some of these dishes with one of Kuoda’s culinary tours and cooking classes.
When your sweet tooth kicks in, the Ruta de Chocolate in Guayaquil is sure to satisfy. Through haciendas, plantations, and estates, you’ll learn about the history of cacao in Ecuador, the home of the oldest variety of cacao in the world, dating back more than 5,000 years. And if there’s one thing that pairs perfectly with chocolate, it’s the wines of Bodega Dos, where we’ll teach you all about wine making and treat you to some of Ecuador’s best.
Wine connoisseurs will be very aware of the potential for world-class pairing and tasting menus in the vineyards near Santiago, thanks to the increasing popularity of Chilean varieties over the last 30 years. But those not up on their history might not realize that the first grapevines were planted in Chile in the 16th century, and the industry offers a number of varieties that are less evident outside of Chilean borders.
Pair your red with a horseback tour in Torres del Paine, where you’ll be served a selection of fine grilled meats. On the coast is the best place to sample some whites along with seafood plates filled with unique species of fish, crustaceans, mollusks, and even algae.
In the south of Chile is where you’ll find some of the oldest culinary traditions. The ancient cuisine of the Mapuche people included staples such as potato, piñones, seaweed, corn, pumpkin, merken, and beans. Those ingredients came to be combined with wheat, pork, chicken, beef, and sheep, giving birth to some of the most typical dishes in Chile.
Don’t miss chacarero (Chilean steak sandwich), cazuela (hearty stew of corn, pumpkin, potato, beans, and meat), and charquicán (potato, corn, peas, pumpkin, onions, green beans, and sun-dried meat).
The Argentinian culinary landscape is largely dominated by European traditions. Of which, wine is likely the most infamous. Mendoza is a traditional provincial capital that’s nestled into the foothills of the Andes – and it’s Argentina’s wine capital. This is where you can sample world-famous Malbecs with just-as-world-famous Argentinian, grass-fed steak.
Speaking of meats, Argentina is also famous for their asado. This traditional Argentine barbecue involves cooking beef, pork, chicken, chorizo, and morcilla on a parilla (an open fire). Served with plenty more incredible red wines and a small helping of salad, asado is just as much about the social event as it is about the delicious food.
But Argentina is also home to one of Kuoda’s most exclusive luxury tours: an exclusive stay at chef Francis Mallman’s La Isla. Up to ten guests can book a stay at Mallman’s rustic Patagonian home where he cooks up specialty meals for his guests on a traditional Argentine grill. He uses seven different techniques with the fire, which guests will have the opportunity to learn all about while enjoying some of the best meals they’ve ever had.
Believe it or not, Bolivia has a bourgeoning wine industry. Not surprisingly, the epicenter of the artisanal wine coming out of this unexpected place is located right near the southern border with Argentina, in a city called Tarija. This is where you can experience wine and cheese tours with bold and intense flavors that are impressing some of the most seasoned sommeliers.
Gourmet experiences aren’t limited to this small wine region, though. In La Paz, Kuoda travelers have the opportunity to eat at Gustu. One of South America’s top 50 restaurants, Gustu abides by a “kilometer 0 philosophy”, which promises that all ingredients in both food and drink are born, planted, developed, and/or transformed in Bolivia.
La Paz Is also where you can take part in the Bolivian street food scene. Number one among the must-try items are anticuchos. Also found in Peru, these are best described as meat and potato kababs that are grilled, served with a spicy peanut sauce, and eaten with your hands. Second only to anticuchos are papa rellena, or battered, stuffed, deep-fried potatoes.
Food Tours of South America with Kuoda
South America is quickly gaining a reputation for incredible food. What makes the cuisines of this continent so special is their historical significance and their diversity across geographic regions and people. From some of the best restaurants in the world to dishes that have been shared for over 5,000 years, food in South America is something that can only be experienced.
For the best of those experiences, customize a culinary trip with Kuoda.