11 tastiest types of South American street food to get your tastebuds in a tango
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Something we’re certainly going to miss when we eventually (though who knows when?!) leave LatAm is the food. Hands down, it’s the best. South American street food is full to the brim with crazy-tasty recipes, with some foods we’d never have imagined together turning out to be b-e-a-utiful. This is a list of our top typical types of South American street food to try if you ever find yourself in this region.
Towards the south of the continent, you’ll find that a lot fo the typical South American street foods are very ‘meat & wheat’ with a lot of European influence. However, further up towards Colombia, things get a lot more corn-based, which is good news for those eating gluten-free in South America.
One thing we will say is that with the low prices and easy accessibility of South American street food, it can be a little hard to maintain your weight if travelling through the region for an extended period of time. We recommend signing up to lots of hikes to balance it all out!
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Luckily, we assure you that this list of best South American street food is worth all the effort. I’ve categorised all these typical snacks and dishes by heartiness, seafoodiness (that is now a word), sweetness and meatiness. And of course, don’t just try these once; you’ll probably find that the ways in which each are made are likely to be different as you arrive in new parts of each country. Get nibbling!
Hearty South American street food
Empanadas in Argentina
This style of empanadas is mostly found across the lower half of South America, but a fried version pops out again in the North. In Argentina, they take on the style of a Cornish pasty from England – a half-moon of thick pastry filled with meat and veg – my favourite was carne dulce (beef mince with raisins), whereas Andy is a fan of the chicken varieties. Empanada varieties in Argentina tend to be a lot more complicated than the single-ingredient styles of Uruguay and Chile.
Coxinhas in Brazil
These are FRIED BALLS OF GOODNESS and wholly attributable to my 12lb weight gain during 3 months in Brazil. At the very centre is pulled chicken, with dough around it and then a fried exterior. Coxinhas (pronounced coh-SHEEN-yas) are the answer to any and every pang of hunger whilst you travel throughout Brazil. The styles do change slightly across the country, I found the ones down south to be the simplest and therefore best.
Papas rellenas in Colombia
Minced beef rolled up inside a ball of potato and then deep-fried, think of this as a hot, potatoey Scotch egg. It looks an awful lot like a Brazilian coxinha, in fact. You typically only get proper papas rellenas from street stalls and small convenience store hot counters in Colombia, so the good news is they’re cheap as chips (cheaper, actually). In the below unattractive photo, the papa rellena is the one in my hand, Andy has a buñuelo, another South American street food popular in Colombia, which unfortunately I don’t really rate.
Tamales in Colombia
What I love about this type of street food in South America is that it’s not just a snack but a whole meal wrapped up in banana leaves. Inside, you’ll find steamed rice, chickpeas and often pork and potatoes, though it depends on the region of Colombia you’re in. You can see what they look like closed in the photo just above my ‘Hearty South America street food’ header ^^
Seafoody South American street food
Acarajé in North-East Brazil
Because of the painful slaving history in the North-East of Brazil, the heavily Afro-influenced state of Bahia became a hotspot for turning West African delights into jaw-dropping South American street food. Made from ground shrimp jam-packed into a black-eyed pea fritter, acarajé has a twin on the other side of the Atlantic, called akara.
Ceviche in Peru
While there are many different styles of ceviche across other nations in Latin America (with Colombia and some Central American countries adding tomato sauce or even cheesy Doritos), our favourite without doubt was the tangy citric taste of Peruvian ceviche. This typical dish consists of chunks of raw white fish (though it can be made with other ingredients such as shrimp) which are ‘cooked’ by the citric acid in lemon juice and served up with vegetables also mixed in the lemon. It can be a street food, but is often served up in Peruvian restaurants, too. You can get yourself enrolled on some absolutely cracking cooking classes in Lima or Cusco.
Sweet South American street food
Mango ceviche in Colombia
Colombia is getting some good airtime in this post. A twist on the traditional fish ceviche, Colombians soak mango strips in lemon juice and salt. Honey is then sometimes poured over the top. A delicious blend of sweet and bitter!
Queso Helado in Peru
Quite literally ‘frozen cheese’. With the consistency of ice cream, you can almost trick yourself into thinking this is the real thing. Variants include adding cinnamon (‘canela’) to make it more dessert-like. A lovely refreshing break on a hot day!
Espumilla in Ecuador
Now, here’s a gastronomical wonder. Made of unset merengue, espumilla more resembles ice cream, except it won’t melt in the heat. Dreamy! It’s an incredibly popular dessert and after-school treat in Ecuador, and is usually made with fruits like guava.
Meaty South American street food
Arepas in Venezuela
Slightly cheating here, as we didn’t go to Venezuela and don’t intend to until the political shitstorm is over, but there are so many millions of Venezolanos in Colombia that we quickly realised we preferred Venezuelan arepas over the Colombian style. These arepas are similar to stuffed pita bread, except the food-vessel is made of maiz/corn (hello, gluten-free) and they don’t waste half as much space on green stuff.
Whereas a Colombian arepa is more of a side-dish so will just be buttered with cheese or egg or maybe one meat, a tip-top Venezuelan arepa will contain a mix of meats, butter, some beans, cheese and then a sauce of your choice – often guacamole, garlic mayo or salsa golf (we’d describe it as a shrimp cocktail sauce sort of taste – like a mix between mayo and ketchup). It’s normal to eat the arepa with the sauce in your hand the entire time as you reapply before every bite.
Our favourite Venezuelan-style arepas of all time were from a street food stall on a busy motorway bridge: check out our Cali, Colombia guide to find out directions. It’s unfortunate that in all of our searching we never found anything to even come close to this beautiful parcel of pulled pork, pulled chicken, beef brisket, avocado, quail egg and veg!
Anticuchos in Bolivia
Although arguably native to Peru, the tastiest places we tried anticuchos were all at street food stalls in Bolivia. This is typically made up of strips of grilled beef heart covered in an amazing gravy-like sauce and served up with potatoes. Don’t be put off by the ingredients list; this dish is delish!
Beef steak in Argentina & Brazil
Ok, fiiiiiiine we’re cheating again. This isn’t typically street food, but honestly, could we write a food post without mentioning the legendary South American steaks?! Argentina’s reputation for steaking is extremely well-earnt. Other than the odd splash of chimichurri, Argentinian steak is usually served up with little more than salt – they don’t need anything to make it taste any better! Our favourite cuts in Argentina were Bife de Lomo and Bife de Chorizo for a juicy, thick slab. Over in Brazil, picanha cuts are out of this world, and also didn’t help my 11% weight gain in 12 weeks.
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