Like any other culture, the Latino food plays a transcendental role in the cultural and social sphere in Latin American culture. They are not just a treat for your taste buds , but the typical South American food can tell a lot about who we are and about our history.
And if you are learning Latin American Spanish or culture, food will be a part of your learning process- that’s for sure.
That is the reason I wanted to write this article to tell you about Latin American cuisines, and how it connects us to our roots.
Food in Colonial Latin America
Now you probably know a thing or two about Spanish colonization of Latin America, that of the Portuguese and the Dutch.
What gets me is hearing that Latino food would never have been the same if the Spanish or the Portuguese had not colonized this continent. That the way we eat and drink or our table manners are imitations of European culture. That they are the ones who made the food the way it is.
Nah, not really. I think it is a big misunderstanding.
Another misunderstanding is that the Latin gastronomic culture and Latino food are not original. Since most of us are mestizos or mixed, the taste of our food hinges on the colonial roots.
In both these cases, I believe Latin food is denied its indigenous roots, creativity and history.
Now, yes, I can totally agree that many dishes in Latin America have definitely been influenced by the Europeans.
As we all know, centuries of colonization changed the whole of this continent. Many of the indigenous people suffered abuse, lost people they loved and were subjected to accept new customs and lifestyles that they would never have imagined.
Our ancestors lost priceless treasures that were part of their most precious assets; Irreplaceable treasures that they never recovered, tangible and intangible treasures that are gone for ever.
But history is one of those things that we human beings cannot change and the only thing left for us is to know it, to learn from it. We need to learn about the positive things and try to accept the mistakes we made, because history is already something that you can’t turn your back to.
Rural Kitchen in Latin America
During the colonization, many people in rural areas found a way to preserve their culture and food. People even made agreements with the Spanish people so that they could save their traditions.
Now, in modern times, we have a mix of the old and new. The old culinary practices that could survive still exist to this day, and have become the part of our tradition.
What is Latino Food Exactly?
Latino food is the traditional food consumed in Latin America. Now, we also love going for a cheeseburger or a Napolitana pizza or pasta or a shawarma roll every now and then, but that is not what we eat everyday.
Depending on the country you are in, the food can vary a lot.
Is Hispanic Cuisine = Mexican Food?
If you are living in the USA, there is a big chance that you would assume that Hispanic cuisine equals Mexican cuisine. And given that about 63% of Hispanics in the United States are of Mexican descent, you are not at fault.
Traditional South American Food
Food is communion with Mother Earth, with Mother Nature and with the community.
el alimento es la comunión con la Madre Tierra, con la Madre Naturaleza y con la comunidad.
When people ask me about foods that originated in South America, I tell them about corn. Many Indigenous people recognize themselves as children of the corn.
Ok, that might sound like a movie title, but it is true. Until people come to Latin America, the most corn they have seen is either white or yellow corn.
When you look beyond corn, there is yuca or cassava, potatoes, beans, haba or broad beans, quinoa, and a lot more.
The micro-climates and ecosystems that define the Latin American landscape also is the reason behind a great variety of species of fauna and flora. This is reflected in the different products and typical foods of each area of the country, where indigenous communities live.
Are Tortillas Mexican?
For the Mayans, the importance of corn in food was symbolized in the cult of the Kan deity – one of the Bacabs, the four gods who supported the sky.
The traditional cuisine of Central America, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic has the tortilla as a staple food.
So while Mexicans eat Tortillas more than anyone else, other Latinos do that as well. A tortilla is a flattened bread made with corn, a pre-Columbian treatment that consists of cooking corn in boiling water and lime before grinding it.
Chicha in Bolivia and Peru
If you go to Bolivia or Peru, you would come across Chicha. Chicha is a sweet, refreshing drink with alcoholic content. Traditionally Chicha was done by spitting out chewed corn. Not these days of course.
There is nothing like some chicha morada when it gets hot in Lima.
Arepas in Colombia and Venezuela
I am Colombian and I love our arepas. Made from corn and sometimes wheat, arepas come with so many flavors in Colombia. But it is the Venezuelans who take arepa to the next level.
Where did Tamales Come from?
Tamales are popular all over Central and South America. The dough is made from a corn (masa), and then wrapped around a filling in a corn husk or banana leaf. Then it is steamed. There are chicken tamales, pork tamales and tamales made with beef filling as well.
And there are tamales without any kind of fillings as well. They are just sweet tamales.
The shape, filling, and even wrapping for the tamales varies throughout the continent.