South America has been on the tip of everyone’s tongues lately, with Peru leading the pack on food trends lists and appearing on our list of the top destinations for 2012. Lima and São Paulo were also included on our food lover’s bucket list last year. And in putting together our list of the most iconic dishes around the world, we dug even deeper into what sorts of unique ingredients and preparations make up the culinary landscape of South America.
From Argentina to Venezuela, there are an incredible amount of complexities in South American dishes, and there are similarities throughout the continent as well. Barbecued meats, for example, are ubiquitous throughout the area, served stew-like in Brazil or braised and shredded and eaten with beans, plantains, and cheese in Venezuela. Then, there are dishes that made the list that are more or less unique to specific countries, whether it’s ceviche in Peru or sopa Paraguaya from Paraguay.
One important thing about the foods that define South America is that they’re not exclusively made by professional chefs or in restaurants with tools and techniques that home cooks rarely use. The foods served most often and with the most passion in South America are being made at family barbecues and by home cooks just as well as by restaurant chefs. Asado, which translates roughly to "barbecue," is served everywhere in Uruguay, but is perhaps best when eaten at a family celebration; the Guyana pepperpot, too, is a long-cooking stew commonly served on special occasions and cooked in a home kitchen.
Home-cooked meals might be scarce for travelers, but there are plenty of restaurants serving these national specialties. And of course, this list is a starter kit. It should serve as a jumping-off point of what to eat when you’re jet-setting through South America for the first time or the 10th time. Because once you’ve sampled all these, there are more than enough regional variances and local specialties to try.