Latin American cuisine encompasses many countries, cultures, and traditions. Much of Central and Latin Americas restaurants in particular feature cuisine that stems from both native roots and colonial or immigrant influence. Consumers are getting a taste for authentic cuisines; In fact, the whole of the specialty food industry saw 11% growth between 2015 and 2017. So how can you, as a consumer interested in the best Latin American cuisine, tell the difference? Here are a couple fascinating mini-discussions that can introduce you to the diverse world of Central and Latin American cuisine.
The Hot Debate Between Peruvian and Mexican Ceviche
Do you know how many people just Googled “best ceviche restaurant near me“? Ceviche is fast becoming one of the trendiest dishes in Latin restaurants. But there is a debate ongoing — which is better? Peruvian ceviche or Mexican ceviche?
Like many Latin dishes, there are spin-offs and local variations across the continent. It is currently believed by most historians that ceviche got its start in Peru some 2000 years ago, or that it may be an iteration of a dish brought over by colonial Moorish women from Granada in conquistador days. Regardless, ceviche today is considered one of Peru’s national dishes and is served in many local Latin American restaurants, even earning its own national holiday. Yet many Latin cuisine lovers turn to Mexican iterations of ceviche. What’s the difference?
First of all, they often use different seafood bases. Mexican ceviche often uses shrimp, squid, or tuna. Sea bass is most traditional in Peru’s version, but sole is often seen in Lima.
Second of all, they are served differently. Typical Mexican ceviche will either be served with toasted chips or as a sort of “cocktail” with tomato sauce. Peruvian ceviche is less soup-like than most ceviche iterations, served promptly on a plate after the fish marinates.
Bolivian Food: Bland or Spicy?
Bolivia is one of the least-visited countries in South America, and as such, it tends to get little recognition for its food. Even when you visit the main cities and check out the restaurant scene, food critics have complained that menus are usually lackluster meat-and-potato affairs. But Bolivia is an example of the big impact of regional variations within a single country. In the Amazonian lowlands of Bolivia, the dishes tend to be simple and bland, using local ingredients. In the high altitude and cold climate of the Atiplano or Bolivian Plateau, spiced meals are much more common. Papas rellenas and salteñas are two common Andean dishes that often feature a kick of spice.
In fact, while many Americans have the perception that Latin food is more often spicy than not, they are surprised to find it’s the opposite. Chilean food, in particular, is known for being very mild. Even table-top spices found in some Chilean-Latin American restaurants have been lamented as too mild.
Following immigration and cuisine history, you’ll actually find that a lot of spice we recognize in Latin foods comes from the influence of Asian immigrants!
Do you feel motivated to learn more about Latin American cuisines? It’s a complicated realm of flavor, history, and local flair, but that means there is always a new and intriguing flavor combination to discover at your nearest Latin American restaurant.