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Full text of "Fast Kit"


Jose Rafael Lovera 

l£ Greenwood 


Food Culture in 

South America 


Translated by Ainoa Larrauri 

Food Culture around the World 
Ken Albala, Series Editor 

Westport, Connecticut ■ London 

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data 

Lovera, Jose Rafael. 

Food culture in South America /Jose Rafael Lovera ; translated hy Ainoa Larrauri. 
p. cm. — (Food culture around the world, ISSN 1 545-2638) 

Includes bibliographical references and index. 

ISBN 0-313-32752-1 (alk. paper) 

1. Cookery, Latin American. 2. Cookery— South America. 3. Food habits — South 
America. I. Title. II. Series. 
TX716.A1L68 2005 
641.598— dc22 200.5005501 

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data is available. 

Copyright © 2005 by Jose Rafael Lovera 

All rights reserved. No portion of this book may be 
reproduced, by any process or technique, without the 
express written consent of the publisher. 

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 2005005501 
ISBN: 0-313-32752-1 
ISSN: 1545-2638 

First published in 2005 

Greenwood Press, 88 Post Road West, Westport, CT 06881 
An imprint of Greenwood Publishing Group, Inc. 

Printed in the United States of America 

The paper used in this book complies with the 
Permanent Paper Standard issued by the National 
Information Standards Organization (Z39. 48-1984). 

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 

Illustrations by J. Susan Cole Stone. 

The publisher has done its best to make sure the instructions and/or recipes in this book 
are correct. However, users should apply judgment and experience when preparing reci- 
pes, especially parents and teachers working with young people. The publisher accepts no 
responsibility for the outcome of any recipe included in this volume. 


Series Foreword by Ken Albala vii 

Acknowledgments ix 

Introduction xi 

Timeline xv 

1. Historical Overview 1 

2. Major Foods and Ingredients 39 

3. Cooking 77 

4. Typical Meals 93 

5. Eating Out 127 

6. Special Occasions 137 

7. Diet and Health 153 
Glossary 165 
Resource Guide 167 
Bibliography 175 
Index 177 

This page intentionally left blank 

Series Foreword 

The appearance of the Food Culture around the World series marks a 
definitive stage in the maturation of Food Studies as a discipline to reach 
a wider audience of students, general readers, and foodies alike. In com- 
prehensive interdisciplinary reference volumes, each on the food culture 
of a country or region for which information is most in demand, a remark- 
able team of experts from around the world offers a deeper understanding 
and appreciation of the role of food in shaping human culture for a whole 
new generation. I am honored to have been associated with this project 
as series editor. 

Each volume follows a series format, with a chronology of food-related 
dates and narrative chapters entitled Introduction, Historical Overview, 
Major Foods and Ingredients, Cooking, Typical Meals, Eating Out, Spe- 
cial Occasions, and Diet and Health. Each also includes a glossary, bibli- 
ography, resource guide, and illustrations. 

Finding or growing food has of course been the major preoccupation of 
our species throughout history, but how various peoples around the world 
learn to exploit their natural resources, come to esteem or shun specific 
foods and develop unique cuisines reveals much more about what it is 
to be human. There is perhaps no better way to understand a culture, its 
values, preoccupations and fears, than by examining its attitudes toward 
food. Food provides the daily sustenance around which families and com- 
munities bond. It provides the material basis for rituals through which 
people celebrate the passage of life stages and their connection to divinity. 

viii Series Foreword 

Food preferences also serve to separate individuals and groups from each 
other, and as one of the most powerful factors in the construction of iden- 
tity, we physically, emotionally and spiritually become what we eat. 

By studying the foodways of people different from ourselves we also 
grow to understand and tolerate the rich diversity of practices around the 
world. What seems strange or frightening among other people becomes 
perfectly rational when set in context. It is my hope that readers will 
gain from these volumes not only an aesthetic appreciation for the glo- 
ries of the many culinary traditions described, but also ultimately a more 
profound respect for the peoples who devised them. Whether it is eating 
New Year's dumplings in China, folding tamales with friends in Mexico or 
going out to a famous Michelin-starred restaurant in France, understand- 
ing these food traditions helps us to understand the people themselves. 

As globalization proceeds apace in the twenty-first century it is also 
more important than ever to preserve unique local and regional traditions. 
In many cases these books describe ways of eating that have already begun 
to disappear or have been seriously transformed by modernity. To know 
how and why these losses occur today also enables us to decide what tradi- 
tions, whether from our own heritage or that of others, we wish to keep 
alive. These books are thus not only about the food and culture of peoples 
around the world, but also about ourselves and who we hope to be. 

Ken Albala 
University of the Pacific 


Writing this book has been a challenge and a pleasure at the same time. A 
challenge, because great efforts were necessary to compress the vast infor- 
mation represented by the food culture of more than 12 countries. And a 
pleasure, because for years I have been dedicated to the study of this topic 
and because, as a South American, I am pleased to be given the opportu- 
nity to spread this culture in the United States. Many people have made 
contributions to this book. It would be impossible to mention them all, 
but I want to refer to some of them either by name or in a general way, to 
all of whom I express my most sincere gratitude. Both the editor of this se- 
ries, Ken Albala, and the acquisitions editor of Greenwood Press, Wendi 
Schnaufer, not only allowed me to be the author of this book, but also 
patiently read each of the chapters, making suggestions and encouraging 
me constantly throughout the work. I particularly want to express my pro- 
found appreciation for the contribution of the numerous friends — experts 
on the gastronomy of the different South American countries — who have 
conversed with me during the journeys I have undertaken for a number 
of years to the different zones of the continent. I must also express my 
gratitude to two persons who worked as my research assistants, namely 
Cordelia Arias Toledo and Marilyn Sivira, who were also involved in the 
transcription of the manuscript. Similarly, I need to mention Ainoa Lar- 
rauri, whom I hired to translate the manuscript — a task she performed to 
my satisfaction. I had fruitful long talks with her aimed at guaranteeing 

x Acknowledgments 

that the English version accurately expressed my ideas and the informa- 
tion I had gathered. I also want to thank Graciela Valery de Velez, among 
other people, for help with recipes. I hope I have fulfilled the objective 
of spreading the South American food culture, while I assume the entire 
responsibility for any possible defects of my work. 


Giving a detailed account of South American food culture is a challeng- 
ing task. This continent comprises more than 10 countries, its inhabitants 
do not all speak the same language, and the food traditions of the different 
societies vary in some ways. People's diets are not only the result of certain 
traditions — cultural heritage, cooking techniques, and so on — but they 
are also strongly related to the geographical environment. The vast South 
American continent can roughly be divided into four large zones, taking 
into consideration geographical and cultural characteristics: the Andes, 
the Llanos and Pampas, Amazonia, and the coastal areas. 

The Andean region starts from western Venezuela and runs in a southerly 
direction along Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina, 
down to Tierra del Fuego. The Andes can be considered South America's 
backbone. They feature a great number of mountains, plateaus, hillsides, 
and valleys. Countless rivers run from their highlands, while perennial 
snows cover their summits. Almost all climates can be found in this elon- 
gated region, from hot to cold. It was the cradle of the only urban cultures 
that existed in the region in pre-Hispanic times and, traditionally, the 
place where the largest number of inhabitants would settle. Headquarters 
of the most developed agricultural systems in ancient South America, the 
Andes are the birthplace of the potato, which is a staple food of the con- 
tinent, and the place where corn and beans were grown — two key foods 
that were never totally displaced despite the transculturation process that 
took place with the arrival of the Europeans. 

xii Introduction 

The Llanos and Pampas zone not only refers to the Venezuelan and 
the Argentinean plains, but also includes, by extension, the Brazilian and 
Uruguayan ones, which can be put on an equal footing for the purposes of 
the general classification that is being proposed here, although they are not 
exactly equal. This zone features vast expanses of mostly plains — some of 
which were seabeds, according to geologists — stretching from the central 
region of Venezuela and running along northeastern Colombia, southern 
Brazil, Uruguay, and practically halfway through Argentina, between the 
Andes and the Atlantic coasts (from east to west) and between the At- 
lantic Ocean and Patagonia (from north to south). These vast plains have 
herbaceous vegetation and an average height of about 1,000 feet. The 
climate in the Venezuelan and Colombian Llanos is mostly hot, whereas 
that of the Pampas is temperate to continental. These regions were not 
peopled by sedentary tribes; neither were they home to any urban culture 
during pre-Hispanic times. With the arrival of the Europeans, cattle and 
horses were introduced in the New World and reproduced copiously in 
the Llanos and Pampas, to such an extent that their inhabitants — the 
llaneros and the gauchos — are typically regarded as stockbreeders. 

Amazonia, in a very broad sense, stretches to the north and to the south 
of the equator and comprises the Guianas; southern Venezuela; southeastern 
Colombia; parts of Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru, and Paraguay; and the northern 
half of Brazil. It is characterized mainly by lowlands covered by forest and 
crossed by countless rivers, among which the most important are the Ama- 
zon and the Orinoco. The climate is predominantly tropical. The zone had 
been occupied by a few wandering tribes before the arrival of the Europeans 
and, even today, is the least populated area in South America. A typical 
foodstuff of this zone is cassava root, which is still a staple in the region. 

The coastal zone, making up the continental perimeter and charac- 
terized by lands at sea level, can be divided into three subregions: the 
Atlantic coasts, which more or less stretch from the Guianas to Tierra del 
Fuego; the Caribbean coasts, which actually correspond to the borderline 
that runs from the mouth of the Orinoco River to Panama, but which for 
cultural reasons generally include the shores of the Guianas; and finally 
the Pacific coasts, which stretch from the borderline between Colombia 
and Panama to Tierra del Fuego. This coastal zone has a variable climate, 
but this is the area through which the Europeans entered the continent 
and therefore was the home of the first settlements they founded. As it is 
next to the sea, this zone has always profited from its bounty. 

The arbitrary division here must only be taken as a guide that facilitates 
locating typical South American dishes and as a simplified form of what 

Introduction xiii 

could be called a gastronomical map of South America, Gaining a clear 
picture of South American food culture requires first familiarizing oneself 
with the history of its people, who are the result of a strong biological and 
cultural mixing process that took place during the last 500 years. This 
process gave rise to a new society with particular food ways that include 
a mixture of the different cultures involved. Nowadays, the foods that 
were mainly used by the Indians still play an important role in the South 
American cuisine, though along with other toods that were brought by 
the successive immigrations that took place during those five centuries. It 
is particularly important to highlight that the South American region fea- 
tures dishes, cooking techniques, and thus food habits, which have played 
a role throughout history almost without modification for time immemo- 
rial. Therefore, historical references are of key importance — or, rather, 
are necessary for the understanding of a reality in which the past is still 

Historically regarded as a woman's work, food preparation is in recent 
times also performed by men. There are still two ways in which cooking 
can be considered: in rural parts, the practices of the colonial times are 
still in use; in urban areas, modernization brought about by urban sprawl 
and new cultural transfers has transformed cooking. 

South Americans eat at least three times in a day. The mealtimes vary 
within the continent; there are differences among the countries. Dinner 
is perhaps the most important of the three meals. In any case, the dishes 
that are typical for each of these three occasions will be presented insofar 
as is possible. 

Most meals are eaten at home, but there have been food vendors on the 
streets, in the markets, and even along the pathways since colonial times. 
During republican times, restaurants, cafes, and other public food stands 
began to appear, which led people — especially in a city — to spontane- 
ously or by necessity start eating out more frequently. 

South Americans celebrate a great number of both secular and religious 
events that involve food. For many of these celebrations, special dishes 
are served. 

Regarding nutrition, South Americans preserve some ancient traditions 
from the pre-Columbian or the colonial times, but they also have up-to- 
date dietary knowledge — especially in the cities. Studies have been done 
on the calorie content of die typical diet of tropical lands, as well as on 
the nutritional values of the staple foods. In contemporary times, certain 
socioeconomic problems have brought about changes in the food habits, 
which have had important effects on the population's health. 

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6000-3000 B.C. Gourds (Curcubita pepo) are present in Peru. 

5800 B.C. Beans (Phaseolus lunatus) are present on the central coast of 


5000 B.C. Potatoes (Solarium tuberosum) are cultivated in the Andean 


4000 B.C. Corn pollen is present in Ecuadorian Amazonia. 

3000 B.C. Corn (Zea mays) spreads from Central America to North and 

South America. 

2500 B.C. Algae is consumed in coastal Peru. 

2000 B.C. Peanuts (Arachis hypogea L.) are cultivated in Peru. 

2000-1900 B.C. Potatoes are cultivated in Peru. Perhaps they were domesti- 
cated in Venezuela by this time. 

1400-900 B.C. Cassava (Manihot esculenta) is cultivated in Colombia and 


Corn is cultivated on the Pacific coast and the western moun- 
tain range of Ecuador and Peru, the eastern and central moun- 
tain range of Bolivia, and the northern mountain range of 

1000-900 B.C. Potatoes are cultivated in Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, and Ecua- 

xvi Timeline 

Sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas) are cultivated in Venezuela, 
Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. 

700 B.C. Aztecs and Incas are the first to be credited with trading and 

consuming of tomatoes. 

600-500 B.C. Squash (Cucurbita maxima) is present in Argentina. 

500-600 A.O. Cassava is domesticated in Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana, 

and Brazil. 

600-700 Squash is present in northern Chile. 

1400-1500 Terrace cultivation (andenes) is practiced in the Andean zone. 

1498 Italian explorer Christopher Columbus catches sight of the 

South American coasts for the first time when he sails into the 
Gulf of Paria, between Venezuela and Trinidad. 

1500-1600 Sorghum (Sorghum vulgare) from Africa is introduced to Bra- 


Wheat {Triticum spp.) is cultivated in Venezuela, Colombia, 
Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Bolivia, Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil. 

The cultivation of rice (Oryza saliva) begins in Venezuela, Bra- 
zil, and Bolivia. 

Bananas (Musa spp.) are domesticated in Colombia, Ecuador, 
Peru, Brazil, Paraguay, and Bolivia. 

Yams {Dioscorea alata), native to Africa, are brought to Brazil, 
Peru, Guyana, and Suriname along with the African slaves. 

Sugar cane {Saccharum officinarum) is cultivated in Venezuela, 
Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina. 

Sweet potatoes are cultivated in Guyana, Suriname, French 
Guiana, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Argentina. 

1500 Expedition led by Portuguese navigator Pedro Alvarez Cabral 

reaches the coasts of Brazil. 

1509 Spanish navigator Juan de la Cosa, sailing for Spain, arrives in 

Turbaco, Colombia. 

1516 In February, Juan Diaz de Soils, a Spanish navigator, reaches 

the mouth of the River Plate in Argentina. 

1519 Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan catches sight of the 

coasts of Brazil, particularly the Cape of San Agustin. 

Timeline xvii 

1520 The Portuguese start producing sugar in Brazil. 

1521 Brother Bartolome de las Casas founds the first mission on the 

mainland, in Cumana, Venezuela. 

1 524 Inca prince, Huayna Capac, dies in Quito and his sons Huascar 

and Arahualpa start fighting each other for control of the em- 

1527 Spanish conqueror Juan de Ampfes founds the city of Coro in 

western Venezuela. 

1532 Francisco Pizarro, a Spanish conqueror, finally arrives in Peru 

and manages to take control of the Inca Empire. Portuguese nav- 
igator Martim Afonso de Sousa establishes a colony in Brazil. 

1 542 The Viceroyalty of Peru is created. 

1546 Francisco de Orcllana carries out the Amazon River expedi- 


1555 Andres Laguna's work Pedacio Dioscorides Anazarbco, accrca 

de la materia medicinal y de los venenos mortiferos (Pedacio Di- 
oscorides Anazarbeo, Concerning Medicinal Material and 
Deadly Poisons), one of the most famous books on medicinal 
plant repertoires, is published in Antwerp, Belgium. 

1 569 Colonists in Brazil enjoy a diet largely based on the dish known 

as feijoada completa y a kind of cassoulet. 

1590 The work Historia natural y moral de las Indias (The Natural 

and Moral History of the Indies) by Jesuit missionary Jose de 
Acosta is published in Seville, Spain. 

1615 Cacao (Thebroma cacao L.) is first cultivated in coastal Venezu- 


1677 Cacao is cultivated in Brazil. 

1700-1800 Planned cultivation of rye {Secale cercale) takes place in Brazil 

and Argentina. 

Oats (Avena sativa) are introduced by the Europeans to Colom- 
bia, Ecuador, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, and Argentina. 

1714 The Dutch bring coffee plants to Suriname. 

1717 Viceroyalties of New Granada and Brazil are created. 

1741 The existence of coffee in the province of Caracas (Venezuela) 

is pointed out. 

xviii Timeline 

1776 Viceroyalty of the River Plate is created. 

1800-1900 In the early nineteenth century, the book Cozinheiro Imperial ou 

Nova arte do cozinheiro e do copeiro em todos os seus ramos (Impe- 
rial Cook, or the New Art of Cooks and Butlers in All of Their 
Fields) is published in Rio de Janeiro under the initials R.C.M., 
with a second edition in 1843. 

1810 On April 19, a governing junta is installed in Caracas. 

On July 20, a Patriotic Junta is installed in Bogota. 

The independence of Buenos Aires is proclaimed on May 25. 

In Santiago de Chile, independence from Spain is declared 
with the installation of the governing junta on September 18. 

1811 On July 5, the Independence Declaration of Venezuela is 


1816 The Congress of Tucuman meets on July 19 and declares the 

independence of the United Provinces of the River Plate (now 
Argentina and Uruguay). 

1818 In Venezuela, the German physician J.G.B. Siegert develops 

his amargo de Angostura } a beverage that improved digestive 
well-being and that was then used in cocktails. 

The Battle of Maipu allows for Chile's proclamation of inde- 
pendence with the victory of the patriots. 

1819 Simon Bolivar's victory in the Battle of Boyaca seals Colom- 
bia's independence. 

1820 The independence of Ecuador is declared. 

1821 Simon Bolivar's victory in the Battle of Carabobo seals the in- 
dependence of Venezuela. 

Peru's independence is proclaimed on July 22. 

1822 The Cry of Ipiranga takes place on September 7. The inde- 
pendence of Brazil from the Portuguese Crown is proclaimed. 
A monarchic regime is adopted, led by Don Pedro I, who is 
proclaimed Brazil's emperor on December 12. 

Antonio Jose de Sucre's victory in the Battle of Pichincha seals 
the independence of Ecuador. 

1824 Antonio Jose de Sucre and Simon Bolivar's victory in the Bat- 

tle of Ayacucho seals the independence of Peru. 

Timeline xix 

1828 The book Elementos de Hijiene (Elements of Hygiene) by Jose 

Felix Melizalde is published in Bogota, Colombia. 

1848 The Manual del cocinero practice) (Handbook of the Practical 

Cook) by Antonia and Isabel Errazuriz is published in Val- 
paraiso, Chile. 

1853 The work Manual de artes, oficios, cocina y reposteria (Handbook 

of Arts, Trades, Cooking, and Baking) is published in Bogota, 

1861 The text entitled Cocina campestre (Country Cooking) is pub- 

lished in Venezuela as part of the work El agjicultor venezolano 
(The Venezuelan Farmer) by Jose A. Diaz. 

1866 The Manual de buen gusto que facilita el modo de hacer los dulces, 

budines, colaciones y pastas y destruye los errores en tantas rece' 
tas mal copiadas (Handbook of Good Taste that Facilitates the 
Preparation of Sweet Dishes, Puddings, Cookies, and Pastries, 
and Eliminates the Mistakes Made During the Copying of So 
Many Recipes), by Valentin Ibanez, is published in Arequipa, 

1868 The first edition of the work Coleccion de medicamentos indige- 

nas (Collection of Native Medicines), by Geronimo Pompa, is 
published in Puerto Cabello, Venezuela. 

1889 Brazil is proclaimed a republic on November 15. 

1890 Juana Manuela Gorriti's work Cocina eclectica (Eclectic Cui- 
sine) is published in Argentina. 

1893 El cocinero prdctico (The Practical Cook) is published in Quito, 

Ecuador, under the initials A.G. 

1900-2000 In the early twentieth century, the first electrical appliances 

(gas and kerosene stoves, fridges) start to be imported to South 
America, mainly from the United States. 

1928 First institute for nutritional matters in South America, the 

Instituto de Nutricion de Argentina, is founded. 

1931 Brazil establishes a National Coffee Department. The collapse 

of the world coffee market brings about an economic disaster 
and helps precipitate a revolt in the southern provinces. The 
Coffee Department aims to supervise the destruction of large 
quantities of Brazil's chief export item in order to maintain 
good prices in the world market. 

xx Timeline 

1945 Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is founded. 

1950s Importation of electric stoves, blenders, and other household 

appliances such as microwaves begins to increase, while the 
food industry also begins to expand (canned and frozen foods 
and pasteurized milk, among others). 

1970s-2004 Professional culinary art schools are founded in South America. 


Historical Overview 

The South American continent, which begins with the eastern border of 
the Republic of Panama, has a total area of more than 7 million square 
miles, roughly twice as large as the United States. This vast territory rep- 
resents 12 percent of the earth's surface. It consists of 12 independent 
countries and a French colony. From north to south, these countries are 
Venezuela, Colombia, Guyana, Suriname, Ecuador, Brazil, Peru, Bolivia, 
Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Argentina, plus the French overseas depart- 
ment called French Guiana. The South American population amounts 
to slightly more than 350 million inhabitants (almost 6 percent of the 
world's population), 75 percent of whom currently live in cities. Two 
languages are mainly spoken in this continent: Spanish and Portuguese. 
However, in some regions people commonly speak indigenous languages, 
such as Quechua and Aymaran (Peru and Bolivia) or Guarani (Paraguay). 
Catholicism is the major religion. 

Since this sociopolitical scene is the result of a lengthy history, its fun- 
damental cultural and historical milestones are provided for the context 
needed to understand South American food culture. 


Giving a historical account of the current South American societies is 
not an easy task, because they go back thousands of years and are char- 
acterized by considerable complexity and cultural variety. Therefore, the 

2 Food Culture in South America 

most relevant aspects will be presented, as well as examples that would 
allow the most comprehensive overview as possible. Many issues related 
to the history of this continent remain controversial. There are still de- 
bates on the origins of the human being in the Americas and, particularly, 
the first inhabitants of that region. There are some areas, such as the trop- 
ical rain forest, that lack a precise historical account, because not enough 
archaeological excavations have been carried out there. Besides, there are 
still important gaps concerning the post-Colombian period, especially in 
terms of regional history. 

Indigenous Peoples 

According to archaeologists and anthropologists, the vast continental 
territory called South America was settled by successive waves of im- 
migrants coming from Central America and the Pacific Islands. Most 
specialists agree that the first settlers of the North American continent 
arrived from Asia through the Bering Strait during the Pleistocene Era 
(40,000-35,000 B.C.) and that they continued south along the Pacific 
coast of North America toward Mexico, Central America, and South 
America. They were primitive people using roughly carved stone tools. 
They were nomadic hunter-gatherers, who traveled along the route as 
they acquired their means of subsistence. Though at a slow pace, this first 
migration wave eventually reached the southern end of the continent. In 
the years that followed, approximately 12,000-10,000 B.C., a second wave 
of settlers entered through the same northern point. They also owned 
lithic tools, but these were somewhat more developed. This second wave 
more or less followed the same route to the south. 

Other scholars believe another migration wave entered through the 
southern part of the continent on the side of the Pacific Ocean. These 
experts argue that there are cultural similarities between Polynesians and 
South American Indians, including the use of artificial irrigation, the pro- 
duction of chicha (a cold drink made with corn), chieftaincy, the triangu- 
lar plaited sail, and the sweet potato, among others. 

Those people who went to live in South America underwent a cultural 
evolution, and some of them even carried out agricultural practices. For 
example, archaeologists have found evidence of both the cultivation of 
potatoes (Solarium tuberosum) on Peru's Cordillera Oriental and Cordil- 
lera Central (eastern and central mountain ranges), which can be traced 
to around 8000-6000 B.C., and of corn (Zea mays) in Ecuador and Peru to 
around 3100-1750 B.C. There is also indication of the growing of manioc 

Historical Overview 3 

(Manihot esculenta) in Colombia and Venezuela, dating back to approxi- 
mately 1500 B.C. 

Such agricultural development implied that these people had adopted a 
sedentary lifestyle. This is how the first villages and cities started to appear 
in some areas. When one comes to this point in history, it is almost in- 
evitable to think about the Inca Empire, but it is important to make clear 
that long before this domination took place, a number of other important 
cultures had existed, which are referred to as the pre-Inca cultures. Some 
of the most significant are the Chavin culture (1000-200 B.C.), which 
settled on the northern part of the Andean mountain range (Cordillera 
Andina) of what is now Peru and is considered to be the oldest Andean 
culture; the Paracas culture (400-100 B.C.) and the subsequent Nazca cul- 
ture (0-800 A.D.), which took hold along the southern coast of Peru and 
the north of Chile; the Mochica civilization (0-600 A.D.) and the Tiahua- 
naco or Tiwanacu culture (100-1000 A.D.), which settled in what is now 
Bolivia; the Huari people (600-1100 A.D.), who had an influence on the 
Peruvian northern, central, and southern mountains; and the Chimu cul- 
ture (900-1400 A.D.). Other cultures developed in what is now Venezuela 
and Colombia, namely the Timoto-Cuica and the Chibcha or Muisca cul- 
tures, which settled in the altiphmo central (central high plateau), and the 
Tayrona culture, which took hold in the mountain range known as Sierra 
Nevada de Santa Marta. The empire found by Europeans when they ar- 
rived on the Pacific coasts of South America (i.e., the Inca Empire) had 
extended all the way from the border of Colombia and Ecuador (in the 
north) down to central-northern Chile (in the south). They were a rigor- 
ously structured civilization in terms of their political organization. The 
ruling sovereign was the Inca emperor; just below him was his family and 
the military, which he used to preserve his power; then followed a great 
number of officials and farmworkers. They did not have a writing system, 
but they kept numerical and factual records with an accounting system 
they had invented of knots on strings of different length and color called 
quipus. Cities and villages surrounded by fields had developed in this vast 
land, where everything was linked by an extraordinarily built and pre- 
served road system. Two main roads went from north to south — one along 
the coast and the other one along the mountain — with various intersec- 
tions at the most important and strategic points. Along these trails there 
were carefully spaced way stations called tambos that served as storehouses 
and shelters for the messengers and the soldiers, who needed to rest and 
stock up with provisions. In cities such as Cuzco and Quito, apart from 
ordinary housing, they had built enormous palaces, temples, and fortresses 

4 Food Culture in South America 

with stone slabs so finely cut that they fit perfectly when put together. Even 
today, there are traces of those magnificent buildings in the Peruvian and 
Bolivian Andes. The emperor was considered a direct descendant of God, 
so he married his sisters to guarantee pure-blood descendants. By the third 
decade of the sixteenth century, the Inca emperor had died without hav- 
ing decided which one of his two sons — Huascar or Atahualpa — would be 
the next emperor, so the two brothers fought each other for control of the 
empire and in the process placed its unity at risk. 

Specialists in historical demography have not agreed yet on the number 
of inhabitants of the Inca Empire. However, some of them accept the hy- 
pothesis that this empire comprised no fewer than 30 million people. It is 
very difficult to estimate the rest of the pre-Columbian South American 
population, because it was represented by nomadic tribes and a cluster of 
villages that have been identified only by means of unsystematic archaeo- 
logical excavations, and because chroniclers of the conquest period have 
not provided useful data on the issue. 

A great number of tribes emerged in the rest of the continent (in the 
Venezuelan coast and plains, the Orinoco-Amazonas region and the rest 
of Brazil) and did not achieve the level of urban development that char- 
acterized the Inca. They preserved a nomadic lifestyle or settled in small 
villages made up of huts or bohios. A very similar panorama character- 
ized Paraguay, Uruguay, and Argentina, where the Guarani and the Char- 
rua people constituted the main ethnic groups. In Chile, the Araucanian 
people were the most relevant ethnic group, and finally, in the Southern 
Cone, there were the Patagonians. The wide range of names and loca- 
tions was a result of the existence of different cultures, among which were 
different levels of agricultural development and culinary practices. This 
was more or less the map of the South American ethnic groups before the 
arrival of the Europeans. 

Some of the cuisines of the South American indigenous population 
will now be described. For simplicity, a general overview will be pre- 
sented instead of a detailed account of the variety of diets recorded by 
the very different native cultures in the past. Their diet was based on the 
use of corn and cassava, supplemented with some leguminous plants as 
well as animal proteins obtained through hunting and fishing or through 
the domestication of animals, plus the use of a natural sweetening sub- 
stance: honey. Their cuisine barely contained fats. Hot pepper was the 
condiment of choice, although in the Andean region they used certain 
herbs like huacatay, as well as rock salt; in the coastal regions they used 
sea salt, though always in small quantities. The indigenous people knew 

Historical Overview 5 

how to make the best use of fire. They had learned how to cook their 
food by placing it directly upon the heat or grilling it on wooden sticks 
(barbacoa) in order to smoke it. They sometimes just placed their food 
over the embers or on flat pottery made of fired clay (budares or aripos), 
or even covered the food with leaves and buried it to cook it over stones 
that had been previously stacked and heated by a fire until ready to be 
used as a heat source (pachamanca) . According to some chroniclers, they 
built clay containers with their hands, which they used to boil liquids 
by placing them over three stones of similar size that surrounded their 
fires, although most of the time boiling was achieved by dropping hot 
stones inside the pots. In the Andean region they mastered practices 
to preserve certain foods like camelidae meat or game, as well as tubers 
and fruits that used to be dried by exposure to the sun or to the very low 
temperatures of the high plateaus called paramos. Their cooking utensils 
included baskets; stone knives and axes; mortars or metates; wooden grat- 
ers and spoon-like spatulas; containers made of certain dried fruits, like 
the fruit of the totumo or calabash tree {Crescentia cujete) or the pumpkin 
(Cucurbita maxima); and pottery. 

The Indians did not use any tables, because they ate sitting on the 
ground, putting the containers on leaves. They were not used to talking 
or drinking water during meals. In the Andean region they ate three times 
a day, while the tribes of the tropical zone only had two meals. 

Their dishes were not as simple as it is commonly believed. Some good 
examples of this sophistication would be the preparation of the casabe 
and the cachiri (from Amazonia), as well as the arepa, the humita and the 
chicha (from the Andes). The casabe is a bread made from bitter cassava 
(Manihot esculenta) — a tuber that contains lethal hydrocyanic acid. Pre- 
paring it involves using meticulous techniques, which range from shred- 
ding the pulp and squeezing out the poisonous juice (yare), to then baking 
big round flat breads about half a centimeter (1/4 inch) thick from the 
obtained flour (catibia) on round clay griddles. 

Such extraordinary culinary techniques should be considered innova- 
tions of high value, taking into account that countless humans relied upon 
the end product for sustenance for at least two millennia. The casabe was 
also the first food the Indians could put into storage, which provided them 
with a means of survival during shortages. 

Corn (Zea mays) — another staple food in the indigenous cuisine — was 
used for the preparation of different dishes. Making arepas (another type 
of native bread) required the application of a number of techniques: first, 
the grains had to be removed from the corncobs once they had been dried; 

6 Food Culture in South America 

then, they had to be boiled and ground in the metate until a dough was 
obtained, which was shaped into small flat balls and then cooked on a 
budare placed over the embers. The humita or huminta was a bread bun 
made from fresh corn (choclo) wrapped in its leaves and then boiled. As 
for the chicha, its preparation required not only separating the kernels 
from the corncobs, but also fermenting and grinding the corn, which was 
often performed by women who chewed it. 

It did not take long for this scene to change when the Europeans ar- 
rived and extended their dominance, which implied the extermination of 
a large number of natives by means of simple elimination, the transmis- 
sion of diseases that did not previously exist in the continent, the pasture 
of camelidae (llama, vicuna, and alpaca), and the changes made to the 
land farming system and the diet itself. 


In 1498 Italian navigator Christopher Columbus decided to embark on 
his third journey, in order to return to the islands he had "discovered" 
six years earlier. In the beginning of August of that same year, he acci- 
dentally landed in the south coast of the island of Trinidad because of a 
miscalculation, and sailed into the Gulf of Paria near the mouth of the 
Orinoco River, where he sighted for the first time the north coasts of 
South America. At first, he thought he had landed in the coast of a huge 
island. It was not until some time later that he realized he had reached a 
continent. This geographical fact was confirmed with the subsequent voy- 
ages of Columbus and other sailors serving the king and queen of Spain. 
This region comprising the east, north, and west coasts of Venezuela was 
called Tierra Firme (mainland). Following in Columbus's footsteps, the 
Florentine navigator Amerigo Vespucci also decided to travel to the new 
continent, although he claimed he had reached its coasts before Colum- 
bus, in 1497. This man is particularly interesting because the New World 
Columbus had discovered was named after Vespucci. How is this possible? 
In 1507, in a small town of Lorraine called Saint Die, a group of scholarly 
men decided to revise Ptolemy's well-known Geography, and since they 
had read Vespucci's letter regarding his journey and his claim of having 
found a New World, they decided to include it at the end of the treatise, 
which was published in 1507 under the title Cosmographiae Introductio . It 
stated that a new continent had been discovered and they decided to des- 
ignate it America in honor of the Florentine seafarer. They also included 
in this work a world map made by one of the editors, Martin Waldseemul- 

Historical Overview 7 

ler, in which the word "America" was used to name the recently discov- 
ered lands that corresponded to South America. But it was not until 1538, 
when the famous cartographer Mercator published his well-known Atlas, 
that this name started to be applied also to the north portion of the New 
World. Since then, there was not only a South America, but also a North 
America. The work published in 1507 was so successful that in that same 
year seven editions had been produced, which enabled the quick spread- 
ing of the name America. 

The remarkable discoveries carried out at the end of the fifteenth cen- 
tury and thereafter were due to the actions taken by the kingdoms of 
Spain and Portugal — the only European nations that were relevant naval 
powers at that time. They were known for the large number of extraor- 
dinarily courageous and vigorous domestic and foreign sailors, explorers, 
and soldiers who had decided to serve these nations, winning for them 
most of the discovered lands. Soon after the explorations began, a great 
rivalry broke out between the Spanish and the Portuguese regarding the 
rights they had or would have in the future over the New World. As was 
usual at that time, the two rivals decided that their controversy on the 
possible rights to conquer and colonize those lands would be settled by 
the then pope, Alexander VI. In May 1493, the pope issued a bull called 
Inter caetera, which drew an imaginary line on the globe 100 leagues west 
of the Azores islands and granted the Spanish all lands to the west of 
the line and the Portuguese those on the east. This line was later moved 
270 leagues further west with the Treaty of Tordesillas, signed in June 
1494 by the monarchs of the two rival countries. The division decreed 
by this agreement extended 48 degrees west of the Greenwich Meridian. 
Taking into consideration that people did not know what the geography 
of the South American continent was like at that time, it is particularly 
remarkable that this dividing line coincided almost precisely with a series 
of well-defined natural obstacles that extended from north to south. The 
most important of these obstacles was the vast Amazonian rain forest, 
which buffered against a collision between the two European powers for 
many years. 

So the Spanish and the Portuguese started to conquer territories and 
establish colonies within the limits that had been set for them. This was 
an easier enterprise for the Spanish, because they found well-organized 
government systems dependent on a central power, like in the case of 
Nueva Granada (now Colombia) and Peru, which enabled them — by 
taking control over the supreme centers of power — to dominate the rest 
of the population, which was accustomed to submitting to authority 

8 Food Culture in South America 

without resistance. Before the end of the sixteenth century, the Spanish 
colonial empire had reached its peak in terms of geographic expansion. 
Between 1520 and 1590 no fewer than 60 cities were founded, among 
which are the capitals of the Spanish-speaking countries that exist today, 
except for Montevideo, which was founded in 1726. These capital cit- 
ies were Quito (1534), Lima (1535), Buenos Aires (1536), Asuncion 
(1537), Bogota (1538), Santiago de Chile (1541), La Paz (1548), and 
Caracas (1567). 

Around 25,000 Spaniards are estimated to have traveled from Spain 
to South America from 1493 to 1600. However, the white population 
residing in this portion of the New World is said to have amounted to 
85,500 inhabitants by the year 1570, while the African slaves, mestizos (a 
mix of indigenous and white), and mulattoes (a mix of black and white) 
numbered 169,000. The estimated number of the indigenous population 
was some 5,750,000. This demographic description reveals the growing 
number of Spanish descendants, as well as a significant increase in the 
number of descendants resulting from the mix of Spanish and the rest of 
the population. It also shows that there was still a very large number of 
indigenous people. 

The Portuguese are said to have proceeded at a slower pace, as they had 
to deal with rebel tribes located in what is now Brazil and spread through- 
out large expanses of land. They settled along the Atlantic coasts and 
were left exposed to attacks from indigenous tribes from the interior or 
from other European sailing nations coming from the sea, as was the case 
of the French and the Dutch. During the same period used to account for 
the number of cities founded by the Spanish, the Portuguese only man- 
aged to establish 1 1 new cities. Three of them are still very important 
nowadays: Pernambuco (1536), Bahia (1549), and Rio de Janeiro (1565). 
They would have probably been more successful if they had not embarked 
on the project of establishing and maintaining an empire in the East In- 
dies at the same time. Besides, Portugal's population and resources were 
much smaller than those of the Spanish. 

The contingent of conquerors and colonizers was heterogeneous. As for 
Spain, there were Andalusians, Castilians, Catalans, Basques, Aragonese, 
and Galicians. It can be said that the notion of the "Spanish people" 
emerged in the Americas, because the different Iberian countries that 
embarked on the venture of colonizing it had to remain together in the 
new lands as a whole block in order to be able to confront the indigenous 
people. Especially during the first years, those who set sail for the new 
continent were men who left their families in Europe or who were single. 

Historical Overview 9 

This was a military undertaking. They had to fight their inhabitants to 
win new lands and subjugate them. So the number of European women 
who went to South America was not significant. This factor contributed 
to the mixing that took place between the Spanish and the indigenous 

Giving a general account of the European conquerors' diet is as chal- 
lenging as describing that of the natives. In fact, this task would even 
result in a more significant distortion of reality, because by the fifteenth 
century the Iberian Peninsula — only referring to the Spanish and the 
Portuguese — featured very precise and well-differentiated gastronomic re- 
gions. These regions were so different that it is very difficult to generalize 
in order to present a diet that applies to all the Iberian societies. Geog- 
raphers have developed a gastronomic regionalization that could be used 
to give an account of the European diet, although it dates from the twen- 
tieth century. It records food traditions and habits that could perfectly 
apply to the time before the discovery of the Americas if some adjust- 
ments are made. In this sense, a main difference has been set between the 
Mediterranean and the so-called Central European diets. The Mediterra- 
nean diets include those of the former kingdoms of Andalusia, Granada, 
Murcia, Valencia, Aragon, Catalonia, New Castile, a fair portion of Old 
Castile, Leon, Galicia, Asturias, the Basque Country, Navarre, and a large 
strip of land on the north of Aragon along the Pyrenees, as well as central 
and southern Portugal. The basic difference between these two diets is 
the use of lipoids: the Mediterranean cuisine is characterized by the use 
of vegetable fat, specifically olive oil, while the Central European one 
is known for that of animal fat, specifically lard or butter. Actually, the 
Mediterranean diet is basically vegetarian, whereas the Central European 
diet is meat-based. 

A number of other differences in these two cuisines could be certainly 
mentioned here, but the common gastronomic features represent a diet 
similar to that of the Iberian conquerors who came to the New World. 
The most important common features are the use of wheat and wine. 
Wheat is Europe's grain of choice when it comes to making any type of 
bread. All Iberian regions use it, although barley, rye, and oats were also 
commonly used with that purpose, but to a lesser extent. In any case, 
wheat has played the most important role, because since the beginnings 
of Christianity it has been associated with religion, as bread made of 
wheat was the only one that could be used for transubstantiation (i.e., 
consecrated in the Mass and considered to be the body of the risen Jesus). 
Grapes are another key component of the European food culture. Wine 

10 Food Culture in South America 

was incorporated into religion too, as it was declared holy to represent 
the blood of Christ in the Eucharistic sacrament, again by means of its 

Apart from these two basic elements, some others that also featured 
in the conquerors' typical diet, though to a lesser extent, are European 
tubers (mainly turnips and carrots), bulbs (garlic, onions, chives, shallots, 
leeks), stalks (celery, borage), leafy vegetables (cabbage, chard, spinach, 
lettuce, endive, thistle), other garden vegetables (eggplant, cucumber, red 
cabbage, squash), products from the orchard (citrus, figs, pomegranates, 
almond fruit, peaches, quinces, olives), legumes (chickpeas, broad beans), 
rice, and a great variety of aromatic plants (oregano, coriander, parsley, 
thyme, marjoram, rosemary, bay, mint) and others that were used as con- 
diments (saffron, capers). As for the meat, there were (in order of impor- 
tance) pork, beef, sheep, goat, poultry, and some game such as partridge, 
wild boar, and venison. It is also essential to mention a great variety offish 
and shellfish caught in the Mediterranean Sea, the Atlantic Ocean, and 
the different freshwaters. 

Salt and honey were very ubiquitous in Iberian dishes. Later, they also 
started using cane sugar, as a result of the Arab influence. In the book 
Libra de agriculture written by Abu Zacaria in the twelfth century, there 
are already records of sugar production. The use of some spices from the 
Far East — such as pepper, cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon — also spread 
throughout the peninsula. 

The Iberian cooking utensils were mainly made of metal or fired clay. 
The cutlery was made of iron, as were gridirons, frying pans, cauldrons, 
skewers, mortars, ladles, spoons, skimmers, and carving knives and forks. 
Some saucepans were made of copper. Pitchers, deep pans, plates, trays, 
and so on were made of china. Bottles, glasses, and different types of bowls 
were made of glass. Some silver pieces should be also mentioned, as well 
as mortars that were made of stone or wood. 

Iberians cooked on stoves using different methods: stewing, frying, bak- 
ing, or roasting. 

The peninsular food culture was first influenced by the Goths, the 
Greeks, and the Romans in ancient times. Then the Arabs came and cer- 
tainly left their mark as a result of their long domination in a significant 
portion of the territory. 

The Iberian culinary practices had been recorded since the early Mid- 
dle Ages in cookbooks that had been written by hand in royal courts and 
convents. The books written in the convents are especially significant, 
because many of the religious orders that established houses and con- 

Historical Overview 1 1 

vents in the South American continent brought with them their food 


Throughout history all conquests have been characterized by the pres- 
ence of violence, and that of the Americas was no exception. The indig- 
enous people not only submitted to the authority of the Europeans, but to 
a greater extent they were also enslaved by them. The natives were forced 
into hard labor, which resulted in a considerable decrease in their popula- 
tion. Although the Spanish monarchs decreed laws to protect the natives, 
many atrocities were committed because of the failure to adhere to those 
laws. Especially in the warm regions, the decrease in the indigenous popu- 
lation — and the subsequent lack of labor force to work in agriculture and 
mining — gave rise to the trade of African slaves, who were brought to the 
continent to supplement such deficiency or simply because they were con- 
sidered to be more resistant to arduous labor and the inclemency of the 
weather. Africans were brought everywhere throughout the Spanish and 
Portuguese empires. However, the largest contingents were brought to the 
equatorial region. This new demographic element, which was culturally 
heterogeneous, was another ingredient for the mixing that in the end re- 
sulted in an extremely diverse population in terms of features and color. 

The blacks who were brought to South America were native to the 
lands stretching from below Cape Verde down to the Cape of Good Hope, 
bounded by the vast Atlantic coast to the west. It remains unknown ex- 
actly how far into the interior of Africa the Europeans penetrated in order 
to get slaves. The largest contingents of black slaves who were brought 
to the ports to be sold had probably been found in Africa's interior. The 
major source area was generically called Guinea. Nevertheless, some of 
the slaves brought to Brazil — where the slave trade carried on until the 
middle of the nineteenth century — are said to have been exported from 
Mozambique and even from some other African locations. A number of 
scholars who have researched the slave trade from Africa to the American 
continent have made partial estimates regarding the number of Africans 
who were brought to South America from the beginning of the conquest 
to the middle of the nineteenth century. The number of slaves trans- 
ported to Brazil, for example, has been estimated at 4 million, whereas 
those delivered in the former Spanish Empire (now the South American 
Spanish-speaking countries) are said to have amounted to 2,5 million. 
Although the estimates on these issues remain hypothetical, almost all 

1 2 Food Culture in South America 

historians agree that the number of slaves carried from Africa to South 
America was much larger than that of the Europeans who crossed the 
Atlantic with chat same destination. However, not all South American 
colonies belonging to the Spanish Empire experienced the same influx of 
African slaves. For example, Venezuela and Colombia faced the arrival 
of a greater number of Africans than those brought to Peru and Chile. 
Before slave trade took place in Africa, the continent featured the coex- 
istence of many cultures with their own typical diets. Although it cannot 
be said that they were similar in every respect, they can all be integrated 
for the purpose of this book, presenting a general picture of the African 
food habits based on the many common characteristics they showed. For 
example, vegetables played a key role in all African diets. Meat was not a 
significant food for most of them, as it was often eaten by rich tribe chiefs, 
the nobility, and a few hunting tribes. The great majority of Africans did 
not eat it — only very little and on formal occasions. Some tribes, such as 
the Jolofo and the Mandingo, raised cattle, sheep, and goats. Sheep and 
goat were eaten more frequently, as their meat was thought to be supe- 
rior to that of cattle. This w T as probably due to the fact that cattle used 
to be attacked by the tsetse fly. The animals that were mostly hunted by 
the African tribes were the antelope, the oryx, the gazelle, and the hare. 
There were also certain groups who basically hunted giraffes, hippopota- 
muses, and elephants. They fished to such an extent, both in the sea and 
in fresh waters, that fish must be included in this general account of the 
African food culture. 

The diet of the people living in most parts of these areas depended on 
agriculture, which they practiced through techniques as rudimentary as 
those used by the Indians in South America. The African diet featured 
the following key ingredients: three native grains, namely millet (Pen- 
nisetum typhaideum), sorghum (Sorghum vulgare), and a wild rice variety 
(Oriza glaberrima)\ a rhizome, namely yams (Dioscorea alata); a number of 
legumes, namely cowpeas (Vigrw sinensis), broad beans (Viciafaba), chick- 
peas (Cicer arietinum) , and lentils (Lens culinaris); as well as squashes, 
eggplants, cabbages, cucumbers, onions, and garlic. Their typical fruits 
were melons, watermelons, tamarinds, dates, figs, baobab fruits (Adansonia 
digitata), pomegranates, lemons, and oranges. As sweetening substances 
they used honey and, to a lesser extent, cane sugar, whose cultivation was 
introduced in earlier times (the eleventh century) by the Arabs and then 
(in the fifteenth century) expanded by the Portuguese. Africans used very 
little salt and seasoned their food with a variety of pepper (Piper guineense) 
and ginger. They also used palm oil (from Elaeis guineensis) and a marga- 

Historical Overview 13 

rine from a tree called karite (Elaeis guineensis), although sesame oil also 
played a role to a lesser extent. 

Africans used very few utensils to prepare their foods. They used grind- 
ing stones, big pounding mortars, dried pumpkins used as bowls, wooden 
containers and spoons, iron-made knives, and the skin of goats sewed into 
bags to store grain. They were accustomed to sitting on the ground to eat. 
They would put their food inside containers generally made of vegetables 
and place them on leaves they put on the ground. 

The stories told by travelers and slave traders, along with the concep- 
tions the Europeans had of the blacks well from the start — that they were 
strong and had robust constitutions — are why they considered them fit to 
do the hardest labor, and are what could be a reason to believe that the 
African diet was highly nutritional 

Other Immigrations 

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, a series of pro-independence 
movements started to emerge, which later on consolidated and put an end 
to the Spanish domination in the 1820s. Those were the years of the 
so-called Wars of Independence, which not only caused much shedding 
of blood in the battlefields and the collapse of the Spanish administra- 
tion, but also inner migrations, like that of Venezuelans traveling to the 
south (until they arrived to Peru, Bolivia, or Chile) under the leadership 
of Simon Bolivar. As is the case in any migration process, people do not 
travel alone; they carry their customs with them and learn new habits. 
Without a doubt, this situation laid the foundations for people to get to 
know each other's traditions, especially food habits. It is very common, 
therefore, to find Venezuelan recipes in Peruvian traditional cookbooks 
or Peruvian delicacies within the Venezuelan cuisine. This is the case of 
bienmesabe (a dessert prepared with eggs, sugar, and coconut) or chupe (a 
soup similar to the North American chowders). 

Brazil was an exception, because it did not gain its independence by 
means of a war, but merely through political arrangements. When Na- 
poleon s troops invaded the Iberian Peninsula, threatening the Braganza 
monarchy of Portugal, King Joao VI fled with the whole royal family to 
Brazil, where he ruled until 1821, when he could return to Lisbon, as Por- 
tugal had been recovered. He left his son Pedro as regent in his vast New 
World dominion. In the following year, the latter decided to declare Brazil 
to be independent of Portugal and was proclaimed constitutional emperor 
of the new country. 

14 Food Culture in South America 

Once they had consolidated the political and social process of their in- 
dependence from the Iberian Peninsula, the South American countries 
strove to establish new trade relationships with Europe, trying to enter 
the international economic system. It is important to make a distinc- 
tion between the experience of Brazil and that of the remaining territory 
that belonged to the Spanish Empire, because the former did not fight 
a bloody battle to gain independence, as was the case of the Spanish- 
speaking countries. When Brazil became an independent empire ruled 
by a descendant of the Braganza family, the immigration policy carried 
out in this new country was aimed at encouraging European immigrants 
to go to Brazil. In the case of the colonies that had belonged to Spain, 
the War of Independence took a long period of time — a bit more than 
a decade — during which the immigration policy came to a halt and the 
native population decreased because of the enormous loss of life caused 
by the conflict. Once this last war had been overcome and the adminis- 
trative issues had more or less returned to normal, European immigration 
was fostered, playing a more significant role since the 1830s, which is 
precisely the moment when the first immigration wave began. Based on 
the argument that "peopling means ruling," the South American coun- 
tries stimulated the import of technology and foreign human capital that 
was able to operate it without having to train the local population, which 
would have been a slow and expensive process. More than 70 percent 
of the 59 million Europeans who left their continent with overseas des- 
tinations between 1824 and 1924 went to North America, whereas 21 
percent chose Latin America. Half of these 1 1 million people decided to 
go to Argentina, a third chose Brazil as their destination, and a twentieth 
went to the small country of Uruguay. 

A first migration wave (1835-57) quietly manifested in South America 
within the framework of governmental policies aimed at the establish- 
ment of farming and craft-based colonies, most of which did not succeed 
as expected, resulting in a fall in the population. This first European mi- 
gration wave mainly headed for the United States. The colonies of Euro- 
peans that had settled in South America during the first migration flood 
especially included Swiss, German, French, Irish, Welsh, Spanish, and 
Italian people, who totaled several tens of thousands of immigrants, Brazil 
received the largest number of them, followed by Uruguay, Argentina, 
Chile, Peru, and Venezuela. 

The second migration wave lasted until 1930 and was more significant 
than the first one. The farming population of less industrialized Euro- 
pean countries massively migrated to the South American continent, as 

Historical Overview 15 

well as some Asian contingents from China, India, Syria, and Lebanon, 
who arrived both in the north and the south of South America. The 
Japanese mainly went to Brazil. Within this period, there was a better 
situation in the South American countries, which helped them host a 
large number of immigrants. In 1880 Europe started to suffer a strong 
demographic pressure that could not be offset by the less industrialized 
countries of the Mediterranean or Eastern Europe. As a result, an even 
larger contingent of people started to migrate to the new continent — a 
trend that lasted until 1935. Within the framework of this transoceanic 
immigration movement, Argentina was the leading country in terms 
of the number of immigrants received, which amounted to 3.4 million 
between 1881 and 1935. Then followed Brazil, which received 3.3 mil- 
lion immigrants between 1872 and 1940. Most of these people were Ital- 
ian (the largest contingent), Spanish, Portuguese, French, and — though 
in smaller amounts — Russian, Turkish, Yugoslavian, Polish, German, 
English, and Japanese, among other nationalities. In Argentina, at least 
three-fourths of the total number of immigrants decided to settle per- 

A third migration movement was triggered by the Spanish Civil War 
and World War II. In those countries that received the most immigrants, 
such as Brazil and Argentina, the migration of foreigners into their 
countries was restricted. Out of the 7,092,000 European emigrants who 
traveled overseas between 1946 and 1957, 1,757,400 arrived in South 
America. However, the region soon reopened as an immigration destina- 
tion, first to Spanish citizens, who headed for Chile and Venezuela during 
and after the Spanish Civil War, and then to other European citizens flee- 
ing their countries in the postwar period, who chose the most attractive 
places of the continent from 1946 to I960, namely Argentina, Brazil, and 

The Asian immigrants started to arrive in South America in the mid- 
nineteenth century. An example would be the Chinese, who were hosted 
by Peru starting in 1849. Between 1859 and 1874, 87,000 Chinese en- 
tered the country, most of them becoming part of the agricultural labor 
force. By 1876, Asians represented 1.9 percent of the total population of 
Peru, according to the census carried out that year. 

The turcos — who were not Turks, incidentally, but mainly Syrian and 
Lebanese that were so called because of their Middle Eastern origin — 
started to arrive to South America in 1870. They specialized in retail 
and peddling, which is the reason why they would have to endure some 
hostility thereafter. Nevertheless, they showed a great capacity to adapt 

16 Food Culture in South America 

to the new environment, to some extent due to their physical appearance, 
which was very similar to that of the Southern Europeans. 

While in Argentina most immigrants were European, Brazil recorded 
a very significant immigration flow of Japanese starting in 1908. Their 
contribution in terms of the number of immigrants began to grow in a 
slow but progressive manner, until they became the leading immigrant 
group and the foreign population that had mostly (92 percent) decided 
to permanently settle in that country. Japanese immigrants, along with 
European ones, settled on family farms located in Sao Paulo State. This 
contributed considerably to the intensification and diversification of ag- 
ricultural practices in that region — coffee being the most important agri- 
cultural product. 

At that time, a great number of workers called "coolies" started to arrive 
from India. Some of them had been tricked into traveling to South Amer- 
ica. In most cases, they escaped from the sugarcane or coffee harvest, or 
from the laying of railroad tracks to go to the cities, thereby becoming a 
floating population group that specialized in trade and street peddling and 
contributed their food habits to some South American countries. 

These immigration movements influenced the food culture of the con- 
tinent by reinforcing the European culinary habits (i.e., their use of wheat 
and wine, along with their meat-based diet). They did not have the same 
influence everywhere. It depended on the number of immigrants who ar- 
rived to each place, who mostly ended up settling in the cities. While the 
Asian immigrants — especially Chinese and Japanese — influenced Peru's 
and Brazil's food cultures, the Guianas and eastern Venezuela were more 
influenced by the food habits brought from India, out of which the most 
remarkable contribution is perhaps the use of curry, which remained un- 
known in the rest of the continent for a long time. It is also important to 
mention the contribution made by those coming from the Middle Eastern 
Arab countries, as they helped — along with some Sephardic Jewish im- 
migrants — to spread the enjoyment of some of their typical dishes, such 
as unleavened bread, the sweets prepared with honey and almonds, and 

The establishment of restaurants was basically carried out by Italians 
and Spaniards, who wanted to make their typical dishes known. Since 
1950, the Chinese also made incursions into the meal-service business, 
in which they proved to be very successful, so much so that it can be said 
that it is almost impossible to find a South American village or city with- 
out a Chinese restaurant. The type of Chinese food that prevailed in most 
South American countries was Cantonese. Some of the dishes became 

Historical Overview 17 

very well known, such as spring rolls; rice or noodles with pork, beef, or 
chicken and vegetables (seasoned with soy sauce); and desserts such as 
small Chinese oranges and lychees. 

Five Centuries of Mixing 

During the 500 years that followed Columbus's arrival, a biological as 
well as cultural mixing took place. The combination of the various food 
cultures had a different evolution and intensity depending on the time 
period — whether it was the colonial or the republican times — and the 
immigration movement taking place. The process was much more intense 
during the colonial times than afterward, but nowadays South Americans 
are still suffering changes in their food habits, which are not so much a 
consequence of the immigration of people anymore, but of the spreading 
of food habits that are related to the "American way of life" that gains 
ground thanks to the technological developments in the communication 
networks and to the penetration of transnational food corporations. 

Colonial Times 

The mixing process was more intense in colonial times. An expert in 
the field of the conquest and its cultural effects in Latin America stated 
the following: 

In the field of folk culture, in a somewhat limited sense of the term, the processes 
at work in the acceptance or rejection of the Spanish elements by Indian cultures 
are less clear than in the two foregoing categories. We are dealing here with areas 
of culture not of primary concern to State and Church and with areas of culture 
in which obvious superiority either does not exist or cannot be easily recognized. 
This is an area in which chance, and perhaps the personality of unusual individu- 
als, both Spanish and Indian, seems to have played an unusual role. With re- 
spect to such things as dietary patterns, superstitions, folk medicine, folklore, and 
music, Spanish traits found themselves in competition with indigenous traits, 
and often with no clear advantage. 1 

At first, the conquerors depended on the indigenous population to get 
their food, so they got used to eating corn, cassava, and potatoes, as well as 
tropical fruits such as pineapple, guava and soursop, among others. How- 
ever, they never abandoned the hopes they had of reproducing their food 
culture in the new lands, so as soon as they managed to pacify a territory 
and establish cities, they started to transfer the vegetables and animals of 
Europe to the new continent. An example of what Europeans brought to 

18 Food Culture in South America 

South America within this agricultural colonization process would be the 
harvest of sugar cane and the processing techniques to obtain sugar from 
it. This product faced fierce rejection by the indigenous people. Some 
chroniclers of that time recorded that this sweetening substance would 
not only make them feel sick, but also cause stomach problems, so they 
considered it to be a cause for illness. Indians had a very similar reaction 
toward meat, be it pork, beef, or sheep. 

The Spanish were used to eating a lot and at least three times a day, 
mainly because they had suffered real hardship in their homeland in the 
past. So they tried to impose their dietary patterns on the indigenous pop- 
ulation from the start, but these people had always been moderate in their 
eating habits and suffered greatly. Some of them even died because of 
the health-related problems arising from this imposition. Father Joseph de 
Acosta, in his book entitled Historia natural y moral de las Indias (Natural 
and Moral History of the Indies), wrote that one of the key causes for the 
fall of the indigenous population may have been this change in their diet 
imposed by the conquerors. 2 Nevertheless, it seems that the conquerors 
never considered this to be a cause for an increase in mortality, as they 
held that the products and food habits they were used to in Europe were 
superior to those of the indigenous people. Their way of thinking is illus- 
trated in the following quotation from a defender of the Spanish coloniza- 
tion, the Jesuit Jose Nuix y Perpina, in 1780: 

The arts and the industry were brought to those people by the Spanish. They im- 
mediately provided them with the tools needed to work the land and to manufac- 
ture the most utilitarian goods. The deserts were filled with the animals needed 
for agricultural, culinary and other practices. New fruits suddenly appeared on 
the landscape, while the fields fulfilled the expectations and desires of the new 
growers. The forests had been abandoned; the laborious hunting and hazardous 
fishing practices were no longer carried out. The Natives did not live in their huts 
anymore, but in comfortable and healthy dwelling places. They started to eat more 
nutritious , delicious and ordinary food [italics added]; they stopped being naked and, 
at the end, they were ashamed of their previous condition. 3 

This opinion is certainly typical of the conquerors' way of thinking and 
does not exactly correspond to what really happened. Especially in the 
countries with predominantly indigenous population (Colombia, Ecua- 
dor, Peru, and Bolivia), most of the natives maintained their pre-His- 
panic food habits for centuries. It is true, though, that a food hierarchy 
was established, according to which the European edible plants (wheat, 
grapevines, and olives) were considered to be superior to those of the New 
World (corn, cassava, and beans). 

Historical Overview 19 

However, there is no doubt that after all this rejection, the Indians 
adopted some of the European foods, while the Europeans definitely ac- 
cepted many of the native ones as part of their culinary repertoire. For 
example, in the beginning of the conquest, Europeans replaced quince 
(Cydonia vulgaris Pers) with guava (Psidium guajava Raddy) to be able to 
prepare the typical Spanish jam. They also began to use annatto (Bixa 
orelhma L.) because of the lack of saffron (Carthamus tinctorius L.), which 
was very much used by the Spanish to dye their foods. 

During the eighteenth century new tree species were brought to South 
America. One of them, and probably the most important one, is the 
mango (Manguifera indica L.), which acclimatized so quickly and spread so 
effectively throughout the whole equatorial region of the continent that 
many people thought it was native to the New World — although it had 
originated in India, as its name suggests. Another tree that was brought to 
the continent — in this case from the Pacific Islands — was the breadfruit 
tree (Artocarpus communis Forst.), which is usually associated to the fa- 
mous Bounty ship sent to transplant it; the nutmeg (Myristica fragrans L.) 
and the tamarind (Tamarindus indica L.) were also some of these "trans- 
oceanic plants." 

By the eighteenth century, the cultural-mixing process that has been 
referred to had brought about a type of cuisine that was practiced by the 
members of the South American societies called criollas, as they in turn 
resulted from the mixing of the various ethnic groups. There is a phrase 
that has been found in documents dating from that century that helps to 
define what this type of cuisine is about, namely "eating the country's own 

Republican Times 

During the nineteenth and the early twentieth century, as already 
mentioned, South America received new waves of immigration, which 
allowed for the arrival of some other new foods. The influx of Europeans 
at that time, for example, gave a boost to import trade, allowing for the 
entrance of beer, turkeys raised in North America, and some tree species 
like those of mandarin, grapefruit, and macadamia. New animals also ar- 
rived in South America during this period, including fish such as trout and 
salmon. These were mainly bred in the Andean region, from Venezuela 
and Colombia (trout) down to Chile and Argentina (trout and salmon). 
Other important transplants were those of soy, sorghum, and fruits such as 
kiwis and raspberries. 

20 Food Culture in South America 

But perhaps the most important innovation that took place in South 
America during the twentieth century regarding food habits was the 
emergence of fast food, as a result of the basically urban trend toward 
the adoption of the "American way of life." The first food that emerged 
within this context in South America was the hot dog, which came to be 
so successful — always in the urban environment — that by 1930 one could 
already buy hot dogs in food stands on the street. The hamburger would 
come next and rapidly spread throughout the region. Compared to the 
hot dog, it was preferred in later times, because it was promoted by large 
multinational corporations. Today, fast food restaurants selling hamburg- 
ers in any South American city within everyone's price range has without 
doubt resulted in its remarkable popularization. 

It is also remarkable that there have been some interesting cases of 
indigenous fast foods. In Venezuela, the arepas (type of breads made with 
corn) have been the most popular food for as long as memory can recall. 
They started to be sold in the 1950s in small restaurants called areperas, 
where one could have them with either cheese, shredded or stewed meat, 
black beans, or many other fillings, plus a batido (fruit shake). This snack, 
which one could have very quickly and even standing, was equivalent to 
a complete meal. These types of small restaurants can compete with and 
sometimes even overshadow those selling foreign fast food. 


The inhabitants of South America, like those of the other continents, 
have gone through all the different evolutionary stages throughout history 
concerning their relationship with the environment. Such stages have 
not excluded each other, but have rather overlapped during the transition 
phases. As a result, different ways of life coexist nowadays, ranging from 
gatherer tribes to contemporary agro- industrial enterprises. In between 
these two extremes, intermediate agricultural and stock-breeding prac- 
tices are found in the region even today. So anyone who would travel 
throughout the whole South American region to conduct research on the 
issue would certainly be in touch with all the different traces that make up 
the history of agriculture. Some manifestations of the most representative 
milestones in the evolution of food procurement will be presented here 
in chronological order, with a brief description of some of them, as well as 
remarks on their technological evolution since then and how the various 
ways of life have survived until the present. 

The first example to be introduced is that of the foraging peoples, 
whose description has triggered much discussion among anthropologists. 

Historical Overview 21 

The pre-Columbian agricultural practices, especially the small produc- 
tion units called conucos (in Venezuela and Colombia), chacras (in Ecua- 
dor, Peru, and Chile), or rogas (in Brazil), will be particularly referred to. 
Then, terrace cultivation, known as andenes in the whole South Ameri- 
can Andean region, will be mentioned. There will of course be allusions 
to the production units that appeared with the arrival of the Europeans, 
that is, the haciendas (plantations) that allowed for the flourishing of the 
colonial agriculture characterized by the production of many commercial 
fruits, such as cacao and coffee. This evolution culminates in the creation 
of plantations devoted to agro-industry. Finally, the domesticated animals 
will be discussed, both those native to the New World and those brought 
by the Europeans to be part of their farms and stockyards. 

Gathering, Hunting, and Fishing 

The early studies in ethnology considered the so-called primitive peo- 
ples to be essentially nomadic and gatherers. Later, they were also referred 
to as hunters and fishermen. These categories have been used for a long 
time to describe them, but modern anthropologists have concluded that 
it is very unlikely that those peoples had simply been gatherers or solely 
gatherers, hunters, and fishermen, as research on such ways of life has 
shown that the primitive peoples developed the domestication of plants 
to a certain extent due to their foraging needs. So if one of these groups 
specialized in the gathering of a certain type of fruit, it would then gain 
knowledge — through practice and observation — on the growth of the 
plants that produced that specific type of fruit, as well as on the appro- 
priate time of year to harvest them. These people would even start to 
introduce changes to the plants, paving the way for their domestication. 
A similar process took place regarding their habits and the distribution 
of animals throughout the lands. This basic relationship with nature that 
was aimed at searching for ways to meet their needs for food provision, 
clothing, and housing led to the development of agricultural and stock- 
breeding practices that would result in the establishment of the group in a 
fixed place and, therefore, in its transition to civilization. 

The nomadic peoples living principally from gathering, hunting, and 
fishing inhabited the vast rain forest area lying in the basins of the Ori- 
noco and the Amazon rivers. Some examples are the ethnic groups from 
the linguistic families Tupi-Guarani and Arawak, who were established in 
the areas between the two rivers. But those peoples who resided on the 
lands near the rivers — which were prone to flooding — developed simple 
agricultural practices thanks to natural irrigation in a relatively short 

22 Food Culture in South America 

time. Some of these primitive tribes are still found in Venezuela, Brazil, 
Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. They have preserved their pre-Columbian 
Neolithic lifestyle with very little change. An example of the current 
times would be the Nukak peoples, who are part of the Maku group along 
with other hunter-gatherer tribes of the northwestern part of the Amazon 
basin. These people first came into contact with missionaries in the 1980s. 
Even though they incorporated the use of metal utensils like pots and ma- 
chetes, they continued living according to their old customs in general 
terms. Their staple food is cassava, which they now combine with other 
manufactured products such as threshed rice, refined sugar, and pasta they 
buy in town stores. They are still hunters, and their favorite game includes 
monkey, bdquiro (peccary), terrapin, lapa (paca) or agouti, and certain 
birds. They have significant knowledge of plants, and it can be said that 
they are on the way to becoming farmers. 

Simple Agricultural Practices 

The infant agriculture practiced by South Americans before the arrival 
of Columbus was based on the slash-and-burn farming method, which in- 
volves clearing a patch of forest by cutting the trees and shrubs and setting 
them on fire, in order to make the land fit to grow the crops. Even though 
the nutrient-rich ashes served as natural fertilizers, the soil was depleted 
in a relatively short time period, so they had to clear a new land patch and 
shift their cultivation. This traveling form of agriculture was in keeping 
with the nomadic lifestyle of primitive farmers. 

The agricultural tools used were almost entirely limited to the macana 
(a solid wooden sword-like weapon with fire-hardened sharp edges) and 
stone axes used to cut down the trees, as well as the digging stick. The 
latter was used to dig holes where cuttings (as for cassava), root sprouts 
(potatoes), or seeds (corn) would be inserted. They did not know of the 
plow, nor did they scatter seeds. Their small sown fields or conucos are still 
found in some regions of South America. They have been used to harvest 
crops in almost the same way for as long as memory can recall, although 
in republican and more recent times they started to be fought as they were 
considered a bad agricultural practice. Traditionally, the crops grown in 
conucos were cassava or corn, beans, and pumpkins, and later also fruit 
trees, both native (guava, soursop, etc.) and foreign (citrus and banana). 

Developing Agriculture 

The development of the South American agriculture mainly took place 
in the Andean region by the sedentary peoples that established clusters of 

Historical Overview 23 

villages, like the Timoto-Cuica (Venezuela), important kingdoms like the 
Chibcha (Colombia), and, last but not least, the Inca Empire or Tawuan- 
tinsuyo (Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia). The agricultural practices recorded 
in the Andean region included irrigation; fertilization, with guano (bird 
droppings) in Peru, or manure from llamas, vicunas, and alpacas; terrac- 
ing (necessary in those mountainous lands); and seed (corn) and tuber 
(potato) selection. The terraces built on the mountain slopes were par- 
ticularly significant; they were called andenes because they were typical of 
the Andean mountain range. This system involved the creation of various 
levels at different heights, where they could experiment on the cultiva- 
tion of different species. This allowed them to find out which was the best 
habitat for the cultivation of certain seeds, as was the case of the various 
corn and potato varieties. The Andean peoples did not have plows either, 
so they also used the digging stick to break up the land, as did their fellow 
peoples from the tropical rain forest. 

The Inca Empire not only recorded significant agricultural practices, 
but also a very effective system of storage and distribution of crops, along 
with an organized farming regime that allowed for an alternation of the 
harvest of the emperor's lands with that of communal and even private 

Commercial Agriculture 

The arrival of the conquerors brought about the establishment of pro- 
duction units that were larger than the conucos and generally devoted 
to only one kind of crop, while the andenes were abandoned to a great 
extent. These new units were the haciendas, which were mainly used to 
grow fruits destined for exportation. They were also intended for the cul- 
tivation of highly demanded cultures that would be sold in the domestic 
market. Europeans brought the plow, which was only used on flat or less 
rough terrains. This was an unknown tool in the New World, and the type 
brought by the Europeans to their colonies was the one used in Andalu- 
sia (Spain). Plows were pulled by oxen yoked by the horns and mainly 
used in the sugar-cane plantations — a plant native to Asia that had been 
brought by the Arabs to Spain through the African northern coast, and 
then transferred to the Americas. 

The other important fruits cultivated in the haciendas were cacao (na- 
tive to South America, according to the latest paleobotanical studies) and 
coffee (native to Asia, and introduced in the eighteenth century in the 
Caribbean region and then in Brazil and the rest of the continent). Due 
to their intrinsic characteristics, the cultivation of these two cultures did 
not allow for much mechanization, except for the processing phase. The 

24 Food Culture in South America 

harvest had to be performed manually, as did the weeding and the planta- 
tions' maintenance. 

The haciendas had been established by the conquerors and their descen- 
dants, and since the agricultural practices carried out in them were of an 
extensive nature, their owners were always keen to extend their holdings 
however possible. This is how large estates came into existence. Within 
the vast haciendas there continued to be conucos, small chacras, or rogas, 
as the farmworkers and even slaves were allowed to have their own sown 
fields, both for their subsistence and in order to provide the neighboring 
haciendas and villages with food products that were called "the fruits of 
the country." The evolution of the haciendas not only resulted in the 
appropriation of vast expanses of land, but also in the establishment of 
facilities to process the fruits: trapiches or ingenios (i.e., sugar-cane mills), 
and oficinas or talleres (for cacao and coffee processing). It was in these 
places that mechanization took place, at first depending on the force of 
the humans or beasts (oxen, mules, and donkeys), then on steam, and 
finally on electric power. 

The haciendas were real power and population centers. Especially in 
Brazil, cities originated mainly as a result of the plantations established 
both by colonists and missionaries. 

The Agro-Industry 

In the middle of the twentieth century, modern production units 
started to be founded, featuring a much higher degree of mechanization 
and an economic organization aimed at producing fruits on a large scale 
to be processed in the newly established food industries. A great techno- 
logical transfer had taken place, which was aimed, in the food sector, at 
the production of canned and packed foods — flours and other precooked 
products — to meet the demands of the growing urban population. This 
form of agricultural production began to gradually overshadow the role 
of the haciendas, and it is currently the most important food-production 
source. At this stage of the process, a great number of foreign corporations 
with highly developed know-how arrived in the Americas. The large 
agro- industrial companies started to compete with the hacendados (land- 
owners) and, obviously, with the still surviving conuqueros (smallholders) 
too. Canned foods were already used when these large foreign enterprises 
were established; since the end of the nineteenth century, consumption 
of canned foods had become a habit because of the growing importation 
of these types of products. Large sugar and corn mills, along with factories 

Historical Overview 25 

of sardine and other canned fish, are some good examples of this new stage 
that transformed the plantation world that had prevailed for a couple of 

In any case, none of the breakthroughs in the field of agriculture that 
have been briefly presented here completely replaced the previously exist- 
ing forms of land use, which is why old and modern agricultural practices 
coexist today. 

Domesticated Animals in Pre-Columbian Times 

When the Europeans first arrived in South America, they thought the 
domestication of animals had not yet taken place. Very soon, though, 
as they conquered that part of the New World, they realized that the 
domestication of animals and even stock breeding already existed there. 
The native practices were very specific. They featured a whole hierarchy 
of shepherds. Colonial chroniclers recorded in their stories the existence 
of certain animals that had been incorporated by the Indians into their 
everyday life, giving these animals names based on the similarities they 
showed with the European ones, as they often did with most of the new 
things they found in the Americas. For example, when they saw the cam- 
elidae from the New World they called them carneros del Peru (Peru's rams) 
or carneros de la Tierra (rams of the land), because they produced wool as 
well as the rams from the Old World did; they considered certain mute 
canines without hair to be "dogs," and certain web-footed birds that lived 
mainly in lands below 1,200 meters (4,000 feet) to be "ducks." 


These distant relatives of camels are the llama, vicuna, alpaca, and 
guanaco. The former three had all been tamed by the natives, while the 
last one was a wild animal they usually hunted. They all dwelled in the 
Andean region and endured domestication not only to become beasts of 
burden, but also to serve as a source of wool and meat. 

The llama (Lama glama) was bred by the Incas, who were known to 
have been shepherds. This practice allowed them to be promoted up to 
a high social standing, as those who carried out pasturage activities were 
organized in a hierarchy that ranged from simple herders to pasturage 
chiefs — the latter enjoying great prestige. These animals were considered 
to be holy and were often sacrificed in religious ceremonies, but they were 
also used as a source of meat — called charqui once salted and dried — and 

26 Food Culture in South America 

as beasts of burden. The wool they produced was not of excellent quality 
and was only used to make ponchos for the community. Due to the strict 
organization that characterized the Inca Empire, llama sacrifices required 
previous special authorization of the Inca emperor; those who infringed 
this rule were harshly punished. 

The alpaca (Lama pacos) is said to have originated in the Andes near 
Lake Titicaca (between Peru and Bolivia), although they are nowadays 
found in other highlands of Peru and Bolivia. Whereas the llama used 
to be the lncas* beast of burden of choice, the alpaca was its main source 
for fiber production. While the llama prefers living in dry, arid, and not 
extremely cold environments, the alpaca needs to live in humid and even 
swampy cold areas endowed with fresh pastures. Alpacas are shorn when 
they reach two years of age — an activity that is always carried out during 
the rainy season, as this is the time of the year when their fleece is the 
cleanest. Alpaca wool is so fine that there were unsuccessful attempts to 
transfer this species to Spain during colonial times. Other attempts were 
also made in later times — in the middle of the nineteenth century — to 
acclimatize alpacas in Australia, but they were not successful either. Al- 
paca wool has been one of Peru's most important export items since 1836, 
when the Englishman Titus Salt discovered a way of manufacturing very 
fine cloth from this raw material. Like with the llama, the alpaca meat 
is dried and salted with culinary purposes. About 18 kilograms of usable 
meat can be obtained from a well-developed male specimen, while female 
ones only produce about 9 kilograms. But these are not the only purposes 
that alpacas can serve: their dried excrement can be used as fuel, which is 
of great importance, taking into consideration that firewood is scarce in 
the areas where they reside. 

The vicuna (Vicngtia vicugna) — very similar to the llama in terms of 
its physical appearance — is the smallest among the South American ca- 
melidae and also the most graceful and elegant. Its wool is as soft as silk 
and is of a light brown color that is known as "vicuna color." It resides in 
the Andean highlands, near the snowcapped mountains, up in the high, 
humid grasslands. While this delicate animal is used to prepare a highly 
prized cured meat, its preciousness comes from its wool. No wool is as fine 
and as delicate as that of the vicuna, which is why in the times of the Inca 
Empire only the emperor and his family could wear clothes made from vi- 
cuna. During the Spanish domination and then the republican times, vi- 
cunas became endangered due to the expansion of uncontrolled hunting, 
leading to successive banning of this practice and to the establishment of 
strict regulations for its processing. 

Historical Overview 27 

The guanaco (Lama guanicoe) is the only species of the genus that has 
always lived in a wild state. Its habitat extends from the south of Ecua- 
dor down to Patagonia, The guanaco is the tallest South American four- 
legged animal (approximately 1 . 1 meters or 3,6 feet). However, the higher 
the land it inhabits, the shorter the size of the specimen. Guanaco is not 
only known for its meat, which is used for culinary purposes, but also for 
its skin, which serves in the production of blankets. Its wool is also used 
to make certain fabrics, and even its bones are used to produce a great 
variety of objects. 

The Mute Dog 

When the Spanish arrived in South America, they realized that some 
indigenous tribes — especially those living in lands below 1,200 meters 
(4,000 feet) — had small four-legged animals they raised near their rooms 
and fattened up for culinary purposes as if they were piglets. These ani- 
mals had no hair and did not bark; they only howled. According to the 
chronicles, the Spanish conquerors were soon enthusiasts of this little 
animal's meat, clearly contributing to its rapid and definitive extinction. 
The disappearance of this species led many people to doubt whether these 
gozques (as the Spaniards called them) had really existed, but modern 
archaeology has proved they did. 

£uy or Guinea Pig 

These rodents (Cavia porcellus), similar to small rabbits, are referred 
to in the Andean region by the name cuy because of the brief squeals 
they produce when captured. They were domesticated all throughout the 
continent, from the warm Amazonian lands (where they were known as 
acures) to the cold, high Andean plateaus. They were very much prized 
for their meat, and even today are used for culinary purposes in rural areas, 
although they can also be found in certain urban restaurants, especially 
in Peru. Guinea pigs reproduce frequently and in large numbers, and have 
been a very important source of protein for South American farmers for 

The Muscovy Duck 

This web-footed bird (Cairina moschata) — also known as pato amazonico 
(Amazonian duck) or pato real (royal duck) — was very much prized for its 


Food Culture in South America 

Man enjoys eating guinea pig and potatoes, Cuzco, 
Peru. © TRIP/C Rennie. 

good-tasting meat. It had been domesticated by the Indians, and when 
the Europeans arrived they immediately got used to eating it. The Euro- 
peans liked its meat so much that by the seventeenth century they had 
already transferred it to France, where it was crossbred with the duck 
of Nantes, as the South American bird was well known for its delicious 
liver. The livers obtained in France today from this hybrid animal can be 
said to owe their high quality to the sensory characteristics of the Mus- 
covy duck's meat. 

Domesticated Animals Brought from Abroad 

The arrival of Europeans in the New World not only involved the con- 
quest of ever-expanding territories, but also the transfer of breeding ani- 
mals. As the conquerors entered the South American lands, they tried 
not to totally depend on the foods they could get from the natives, so they 
brought with them cattle and pig herds, as well as sheep and goat flocks. 
These animals entered the continent with the members of the expedi- 
tions, who set aside some couples for future breeding and sacrificed others 

Historical Overview 29 

for their own maintenance. It can be said that this livestock represented 
a kind of mobile pantry, which no doubt contributed a great deal to the 
success of many of the expeditions. It was impossible for the conquerors, 
incidentally, to prevent the escape of some cows or pigs when arriving in 
the new continent, which eventually went deeper into the scrublands and 
the jungle, changing their eating habits and becoming wild animals as a 
result of their new free condition. The fact is that the livestock introduced 
by the Spanish and the Portuguese reproduced so frequently and in such 
large numbers that they became a valuable possession to the colonists 
and even to the indigenous peoples who had undergone transculturation. 
The poultry brought by Europeans deserve a chapter to themselves. These 
birds also adapted to the new environment and reproduced abundantly. 
There is no doubt that the transfer of new animal species was one of the 
most successful undertakings of the Europeans in the New World, which 
meant a real revolution for the Indians. 


The Spanish and Portuguese conquerors' main source of power was cer- 
tainly the use of firearms, horses, and dogs, thanks to which they could 
clearly assert their superiority over the Indians. But it is also true that 
the expeditionary forces could not survive and penetrate the new lands 
without food. In this sense, there is no doubt that livestock represented 
another pillar of the European domination. 

There are records of cattle raising in the Caribbean coasts of South 
America — now Colombia and Venezuela — since the 1520s. In the 1530s 
cattle were brought to Ecuador and Peru, and then to the rest of the con- 
tinent. It can be said that by the seventeenth century they were already 
spread throughout all South America, but especially in the different 
plains known as the Colombian-Venezuelan Llanos, the Brazilian Plani- 
cies and the Argentinean Pampas. Bovine herds proliferated so rapidly 
that, at the end of the eighteenth century, the Spanish and Portuguese 
together already owned some million head of cattle. It is particularly re- 
markable that livestock was not raised in farms in South America, but 
in complete liberty. Vast expanses of land could not be easily enclosed. 
When the cattle herders of the Llanos or of the Pampas needed to brand 
the animals, they had to start looking for them in the extensive savannas 
to round them up. The same procedure had to be followed before obtain- 
ing the different products from them. So it can be said that cattle raising 
in South America was carried out in liberty. Bovine herds were bred as a 

30 Food Culture in South America 

source of food, but mainly to use their hides. So during the time devoted 
to obtaining the various products from them, a great number were slaugh- 
tered to get many hides, and since the stockbreeders could only make use 
of part of the fresh meat and another part that they salted to produce 
jerky, many skinned animals remained abandoned in the fields, becoming 
the food of birds of prey and other carnivorous animals. Beef was never 
an expensive product during colonial and then republican times. Salted 
meat had to be desalted before its consumption, losing all its blood. This 
is why people became accustomed to having it fried or at least well done 
(as is the case oi shredded meat). Some authors have noted that the 
hefty build and strength of many natives taking part in the independence 
armies had to do with their high meat consumption. As for the Colom- 
bian and Venezuelan cattle herders or llaneros, pasturage was very much 
similar to hunting, which enabled them to learn a number of stratagems 
to bring together all the animals, tame them, and then guide them to a 
specific place to complete their work. This is how they developed a kind 
of technique in which spears, hamstringing knives, and machetes played 
a key role. In the nineteenth century, when the llaneros were striving for 
independence, they applied this same technique to fight the troops that 
Spain had sent to suppress the independence movement, and, according 
to some people, this was a key factor in their victory. 


Pigs played an even more important role when brought by the conquer- 
ors, because they could be managed more easily. Their introduction in 
South America dates back to approximately 1509, and they reproduced 
as rapidly as cattle did. In the new lands, their diet changed. Their sta- 
ple foods now included corn, cassava, and some tropical fruits like yel- 
low momhins and guavas. This apparently led to an improvement in the 
quality of their meat, which was very soon considered to be even better 
than that produced in Europe. Many conquerors native to the province of 
Extremadura in Spain had been swineherders or had at least owned pigs, 
so they knew a lot about the breeding of this animal. Francisco Pizarro is 
perhaps the best-known example. 

People make use of almost everything from swine, but what was mostly 
exploited in the Americas was their meat, and especially their fat. Lard 
(a product that is still very popular) was always used instead of olive oil 
in the new lands, because the olive tree — whose oil was very much used 
in Spain for cooking — did not flourish in most of South America. Other 
items that appeared as a result of the introduction of swine were sausages 

Historical Overview 3 1 

and cold meat. Preparation techniques were taught by both Spanish and 
Portuguese to the natives of the Americas. This is how the consumption 
of blood sausages, chorizos, spicy sausages, and other types of sausages and 
cold meat in general was spread throughout the whole continent, except 
for the Amazonian region. 

Ovines and Caprines 

Sheep were very much prized in the Iberian Peninsula, not only for 
their wool but also for their meat, which was generally preferred to that of 
cattle. Just like cows and pigs, sheep were brought to the South American 
continent from the beginning of the conquest, but they prospered mostly 
in the Andean region. They were introduced in large numbers; for ex- 
ample, Diego de Losada (Caracas's founder) brought with him 4,000 rams 
in 1567, while there had already been rams in Lima since around 1530. 
Thanks to the docility of this animal, the Indians of the region soon got 
used to breeding them, but due to this same quality they were easily seized 
by the wild animals of the Americas, hindering their prosperity to a large 
extent. The natives especially bred them in order to use them as the trib- 
utes they had to pay to the Spanish. 

As for the goats, they were brought from the Canary Islands, Guinea, 
and Cape Verde. In the 1520s they had already been introduced, notably 
prospering in the Caribbean coasts. They were mostly appreciated as a 
source of soft leather (cordovans), which was very much used during co- 
lonial times. Compared with all the other four-legged animals that have 
been mentioned so far, goats were less important. Nevertheless, they be- 
came the most significant source of protein in the arid zones, thanks to 
their capacity to adapt to such environments. 

Livestock was considered by the Iberian conquerors and colonizers to 
be their most precious possession, although the different meat types pro- 
duced were not equally successful. As the old Hispanic saying goes: 

The cow is noble; La vaca, nobleza; 

the sheep is wealth; la oveja, riqueza; 

the pig is a jewel; el puerco, tesoro; 

the goat is your help. la cabra, socorro. 


Cocks and hens were also brought by Europeans in their expeditions 
to the Americas. At first, breeding poultry was not an easy task; they 
required a lot of attention, as they were frequently attacked by preda- 

32 Food Culture in South America 

tory animals. The indigenous people soon accepted them and started to 
breed them — also as a resource with which they would pay the tributes 
imposed by the conquerors. They spread throughout the whole conti- 
nent, including the Amazonian region, where they can still be found. 
The high value of their meat was strongly related to the fact that corn 
kernels became their staple food when they arrived on the South Amer- 
ican continent. These birds played a very important role in the colo- 
nists' diet. Their eggs had always been a key ingredient of the peninsular 
cuisine, which could be maintained thanks to the breeding of these ani- 
mals in the Americas. Even the cocks — which were partly devoted to 
fights — were also famous for the substance they would give to broths 
when they were very old. 

During the expeditions to trade slaves, the guinea fowl (Numida melea- 
gris) was also transferred to South America, which many African slaves 
ended up breeding with much dedication in the new lands. 

Another fowl that eventually played a significant role in the South 
American cuisine was the turkey. This bird was native to Central and 
North America and called guajolote by Mexicans. It was brought by the 
conquerors to Europe and, both there and then in North America, was 
subjected to a special type of breeding that produced high quantities of 
meat. This "developed" turkey was introduced in South America dur- 
ing the nineteenth century, becoming subject to breeding, although to a 
much lesser extent than hens. 


The main consequence of the cultural mixing was the predominance of 
the Spanish and the Portuguese languages, as well as of these peoples' cus- 
toms and of the Catholic religion. However, the myths and superstitions of 
the Indians and the Africans did not totally disappear. The sobriety of the 
natives always contrasted with the Europeans 1 tendency to eat a lot. Eating 
with the family and showing a sense of Iberian hospitality became habits, 
which then began to fade in the twentieth century due to the social changes 
brought about by the ever-intensifying urban-development process. 

The Religious Factor 

The conquest of the New World by the Spanish and the Portuguese was 
not only aimed at achieving political domination. Since the beginning, 
it was proclaimed that its fundamental motive would be the replacement 

Historical Overview 33 

of the indigenous peoples 1 religious beliefs with the Catholic religion, or, 
as was commonly stated in the source material of colonial times, "the 
extirpation of idolatry from the Indians." The conqueror's sword entered 
the new lands along with the priests or the missionary's cross. The Eu- 
ropeans were imbued with the idea of saving the souls of those gentiles 
and spared no effort to do so. They not only had to destroy temples and 
idols, but also had to teach their languages — Spanish and Portuguese — if 
they wanted to be successful in their evangelization. They certainly had 
to be able to communicate with the new subordinates in order to transmit 
to them their beliefs as well as the instructions observed by Christians. 
The missionaries made notable efforts to learn the indigenous languages 
and create catechisms to teach Christianity to the neophytes of the New 
World, but the final goal had always been that the natives would learn the 
languages of the conquerors. So their task was twofold: to teach them how 
to read and write, and to spread the Christian gospel. 

All the priests' zeal was not enough to eradicate the religious beliefs of 
the South American Indians: the lands were too vast, the settlements too 
far from one another, the apostles preaching the religion too scarce, and 
the old beliefs of the indigenous peoples too deeply rooted. The contin- 
gent of people that had to be converted to Catholicism increased when 
large numbers of African slaves — who were also pagans and had their 
own religious beliefs — began to be transported to the Americas. During 
the domination practiced by the Spanish and the Portuguese in South 
America, the official religion of the Europeans coexisted with the many 
religions of the natives and the Africans. The latter continued to be prac- 
ticed secretly or surreptitiously during Catholic religious ceremonies they 
pretended to accept. The Indians and the Africans looked at the images 
of the different Catholic saints thinking of their own traditional deities, 
and when the missionaries taught them to worship, they would practice 
it thinking of a pagan god instead of a saint. An example would be the 
slaves in Brazil — mostly from the African Yoruba culture — who identified 
Jesus with Obatala, Our Lady of the Rosary with Yemanya, Saint John the 
Baptist with Shango, and other saints with other deities of their own. 

Myths, Superstitions, and Taboos of the Indigenous People 

Before Columbus's arrival there was a great variety of religions in the 
Americas, most of which considered certain foods to be holy. Among the 
indigenous populations animism prevailed, which was based on the be- 
lief that the different elements of nature possessed particular spirits that 

34 Food Culture in South America 

had to be respected and to which offerings should be made. From the 
chronicles, it is known that in the Andean region potatoes and corn were 
considered to have their own gods, while the origins of their cultivation 
had been surrounded by a number of legends. On the one hand, the fertil- 
ity of plants was a main concern in the religion of the Andean peoples. 
There existed, for example, the "Corn Mothers" — called saramama by the 
Incas — as well as the "fields' guards," who were in charge of farming the 
land, but whose role was not only a practical but also a religious one. They 
had to refrain from consuming salt and hot pepper and from having sexual 
relations with their wives on the days they had to work the land. On the 
other hand, almost all the tribes spread throughout the immense Amazo- 
nian basin believed — and there are some ethnic groups in those territories 
that still believe — that there was a kind of deity among hunter peoples, 
which they called "lord of beasts" in their different languages. They still 
believed that each animal species that was a hunting target had a kind of 
protective spirit. In addition, hunters had certain taboos: the prohibition 
to grill their own seized prey is the most common example. 

In the Andean region, many ceremonies related to agriculture involved 
individual or collective offerings of different types of food, like that of 
chicha, as they believed it would foster the land's fertility. 

The Arrival of Christianity: Fasting, Prohibition of Overindulgence, and Exclusion 

The conquerors' religion entailed a great number of rules and practices 
related to food. Of great significance were the fasting precepts that had to 
be observed in certain times of the year, for example during Lent, or every 
Friday the whole year. In the Spanish literature of the fifteenth century 
there are many examples of such eating prohibitions, while at the same 
time there is the tendency to overindulgence or greed, which was consid- 
ered to be a mortal sin. The Spanish peoples who lived during the Co- 
lumbian times have usually been regarded as frugal, but it is very probable 
that they actually had no alternative and that they did not live that way 
voluntarily. Food was not particularly plentiful in the Iberian Peninsula 
during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. This situation changed for 
Europeans when they arrived in the New World, founded cities, estab- 
lished farms and haciendas, and obtained so much food they could give 
free rein to the satisfaction of their hunger. 

The three main pillars of the Christians' diet and religious liturgy were 
wheat, grapevines, and olives. When they arrived in the Americas, and 
after a great number of attempts, they found it unfortunate that those 

Historical Overview 35 

cultures could not be transplanted in the whole South American region, 
but only in a small part of it, particularly in the lands with cold weather. 
The fact that these traditional European cultures did not prosper in many 
parts of the continent did not affect the conception the conquerors had of 
them, as they continued to consider them superior to those typical of the 
Americas, like corn and cassava. They never thought that corn and cas- 
sava could replace the European cultures within the context of religion; 
preparing the host — a key element of the holy mass — with corn or cassava 
flour was prohibited. The traditional beverages of the New World were 
likewise never considered possible substitutes for wine in the celebration 
of this religious sacrament. 

In Europe, Christians were allowed to eat aquatic animals such as fish 
or shellfish during periods of abstinence. This practice continued to be 
carried out in South America, but the range of aquatic animals extended 
to include amphibians, as is the case of carpincho or chiguire (capybara), 
which made this religious eating restriction easier to bear. It is also worth 
mentioning that the conquerors benefited from the so-called Bull of the 
Holy Crusade, which was a papal permission to eat meat and dairy prod- 
ucts without major restrictions. As the religious authorities considered 
the conquering practices to be related to the dissemination of the faith, 
the procedures applied were similar to those that had been carried out 
by the Europeans in the Holy War or Crusade of the Middle Ages to 
recover the Holy Sepulcher and expand the Christian faith among the 
unbelieving Muslims. Europeans also brought to South America their dis- 
criminatory views on the Jews. The Christians were heavy pork consum- 
ers, which differentiated them from the Jews. They were proud of this 
food habit and were suspicious of anybody who rejected ham or bacon. To 
be able to keep everything in order, they transferred to the New World the 
Inquisition practices aimed not only at prosecuting heresy and witchcraft, 
but also at ensuring the observation of the fast and abstinence precepts. 

During the time of the Catholic kingdom, the conquerors and colonists 
that set sail for the Americas eventually imposed many of the European 
beliefs on the emerging societies of the New World. It was considered, for 
example, that passing the salt shaker from hand to hand would bring bad 
luck, while giving another person a knife would sever a relationship. 

Religious Blending 

The different beliefs of Indians, Europeans, and Africans were blended 
in the South American societies. A gaucho (cattle herder of the Argen- 

36 Food Culture in South America 

tincan Pampas) who was very tar from any settlement would cross himself 
and say a numher of prayers hefore eating his vegetable and meat stew in 
order to drive away any evil from his food, believing that no food could 
be eaten if it had not been blessed. There are also traces of the ceremo- 
nies carried out in Peru and Bolivia during the times of the Inca Empire. 
Some examples would be the rites performed in August and May to cel- 
ebrate sowing and harvesting, respectively. These ceremonies not only 
involve mass celebration, but also traditional pre-Columbian offerings to 
the land. 

Food Habits 

According to the conquest chroniclers, one of the causes of the de- 
crease in the indigenous population was the conquerors' imposition of 
their food habits. Such intervention has been considered lethal, not only 
because of the changes in the native diet components, but also because 
oi the incorporation of the Spanish habit of eating three times a day and 
in large quantities, when the Indians had always been moderate in their 
eating habits. There are plenty of testimonies on the conquerors 1 lavish 
meals, in which they consumed in one or two days what would have fed 
the Indians for weeks or months. However, the Indians' sobriety should 
not be taken for granted. Even though according to the source material 
available they ate in moderation, in the sense that they did not commit 
overindulgence, all their physical features indicate that their diet was a 
very balanced one and that they fed themselves properly. They had shiny 
hair and healthy teeth, and Indian women gave birth easily without the 
help of midwives. Once conquered, the natives were deprived of their 
free access to food to a great extent and had to comply with the rules im- 
posed by the invaders who had seized their lands. This is the reason why 
they started to feel hungry and to steal fruits and edible animals, which 
explains in turn why the Europeans started to brand them as insatiable- 
and thieving people. 

It was said before that those who came to the Americas in the discovery 
and conquest times had a sort of pent-up hunger that made them display 
overindulgence in food and drink when they became aware of all the food 
riches the New World offered to them, which were cultivated and bred by 
the natives or the slaves for them. Beef especially was so abundant in most 
of the new lands that it was within everyone's reach due to its ridiculous 
price. Thus, a meat-based diet became a habit that imposed itself as a 
pattern, which prevails even today, although the great majority cannot 

Historical Overview 37 

follow it because of their economic conditions. There is still a widespread 
idea that a meal without meat should not be called a meal. 

The family was the essential core in the Iberian tradition. When the 
new cities were founded and the houses were built in the European way, 
the house of the family continued to be the appropriate place for the 
meals. Families were large and not only comprised father, mother, and 
children, but also grandparents, in-laws, and close friends — all taking part 
in the food habit of choice. Europeans, especially Spaniards, had a strong 
sense of hospitality, which also used to be a manifestation of wealth or 
of an acceptable living standard. This feature did not vanish when they 
crossed the ocean. The less privileged copied such behavior, as it would 
apparently make them look in some way like the wealthy. Even today, 
any tourist or traveler will be received in any humble South American 
household with a warm welcome, where they will be offered a cafecito 
(a small cup of coffee), a mate, or any other little snack regardless of the 
hosts' social standard. 

The accelerated urban-development process had an influence on those 
patriarchal customs. The rapid pace of the city life, which has partly dis- 
mantled the family, has brought about a decline of this traditional hospi- 
tality. In the city, life tends to be anonymous and individualism eventually 
prevails; people need to go to work, and the houses are often left empty. 
Food prices have spiraled in those mostly underdeveloped economies, 
which is one reason why South Americans are less friendly than in the 


1. George McClelland Foster, Culture and Conquest: America's Spanish Heritage 
(Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1960), p. 229. 

2. Joseph de Acosta, Historia natural y moral de las lndias y vol. 1 (1590; reprint, 
Madrid: Ramon Angles, 1894), p. 250. 

3. Jose Nuix y Perpina, Reflexiones imparciales sobre la humanidad de los espaholes 
en las Indias, vol. 2 (1780; reprint, Madrid: Ediciones Atlas, 1944), pp. 174-75. 
This work was originally published in Venice in Italian as Riflessioni imparziali 
sopra Vumanitd degli spagnuoli nelVlndie. The original text in Spanish: "Las artes 
y la industria, por medio de los espafioles, fueron a domiciliarse entre aquellas 
gentes. Proveyoseles inmediatamente de instrumentos para el cultivo de la tierra 
y para las manufacturas mas utiles, y se poblaron los desiertos de los animates nee- 
esarios para la agricultura, para el alimento y para otros usos. La tierra comenzo 
a verse cubierta de nuevos frutos, y el campo correspondfa ventajosamente a los 
deseos y a las esperanzas de los nuevos cultivadores. Abandonados ya los bosques, 

38 Food Culture in South America 

las cazas penosas y las pescas arriesgadas, en vez de chozas habitaron en albergues 
comodos y sanos; alimentdronse de comida mas nutritiva, mas sabrosa y regular [ital- 
ics added]; cubrieron su desnudez y, finalmente, se avergonzaron de su antiguo 


Major Foods and Ingredients 

The mixing process that gave birth to the South American society called 
criolla preserved the major foods used by the Indians since pre-Columbian 
times (potatoes, corn, beans, and cassava) and other native ingredients 
(hot pepper, vanilla). However, the presence of the Europeans led to the 
incorporation of new food sources brought from the Old World and even 
from Asia and Africa, which became part of the culinary heritage of South 
Americans. The most important contributions were grains (such as wheat 
and rice), spices, sugar cane, some fruits such as citrus, and especially meat 
and poultry. The South American cuisine was extraordinarily enriched 
by the great variety of edible species taken from the sea or the rivers. The 
incorporation of the different livestock species brought by the conquerors 
resulted in the manufacture of the main dairy products. As for drinks, na- 
tive beverages such as chicha ended up coexisting with wine, coffee, and, 
more recently, carbonated beverages. 


Beans are native to the Americas. Botanists gave them the name Phase- 
olus — a Latin word derived from the Greek word phaselos, meaning "small 
basket." This name was given to them because this plant contained the 
beans in a sort of receptacle. Even though all South Americans know 
very well what the word frijol (bean) refers to, this is not the name used 

40 Food Culture in South America 

colloquially in all countries of the continent. In Argentina, for example, 
they call it poroto, and in other parts the name has suffered some changes 
and resulted in words like frejol or frisol. The cultivation of this legumi- 
nous plant in the New World dates back to earlier than 6000 B.C., as ar- 
chaeological remains have testified in Mexico and Peru. Bean crops were 
spread by the indigenous populations from these two key points to the rest 
of the continent, so when the Europeans arrived in the New World this 
plant was grown almost everywhere. It had always been present in the pre- 
Columbian diet, along with corn, which resulted in the aforementioned 
positive nutritional effects. 

There are more than 100 different varieties of beans, which are differ- 
ent in shape, color, taste, and nutritional values. In general terms, only 
some of them are eaten in South America nowadays — most of them being 
kidney-shaped with colors ranging from white to black. In Venezuela, 
black beans receive the name caraotas, which are heavily consumed in 
this country as they are a key ingredient of a number of typical dishes, 
such as pabellon, sopa de caraotas, and carabinas (a sort of corn-made ta- 
male filled with beans). Black beans are not only used to prepare savory 
dishes, but also sweet ones. 

Due to their high protein value, black beans can substitute for meat, 
which is the reason why they have been called "the poor man's meat." Ac- 
cording to a number of research studies, the iron they contain is much less 
assimilable. The nutritional value of red beans is similar to that of black 
beans, although they taste differently. 

Capsicum: From Sweet to Hot 

The royal chronicler Peter Martyr d'Anghiera announced, in his de- 
lightful Renaissance style, one of the many novelties of the New World. 
His story recounts how the discoverers, in their first return journey to 
Spain, had brought with them certain elongated and rough vegetable 
capsules of different colors that were hotter than peppers. This is how 
the capsicum or "the pepper from the Indies" — as it was then called — 
arrived in the Old World. The Swedish botanist Linnaeus gave it the 
name Capsicum frutescens y while the Nahuatl called it chilli and the Que- 
chua uchu, but the Taino word aji was the one that prevailed and remained 
for posterity as a South Americanism, as was the case of many other Taino 
words. This discovery enriched the range of spices known in the Old 
World and, at the same time, justified Columbus's sailing of the unknown 
ocean looking for the spices of the East. The explorer had not found the 

Major Foods and Ingredients 41 

famous pepper, but he discovered this new spice from the Americas in- 
stead, which soon won over the Europeans. The use of capsicum quickly 
spread throughout Spain, because by 1565 Nicolas Monardes — a famous 
physician from Seville who showed great interest in the products of the 
Americas — said that there was no vegetable garden without it. He also 
said that capsicum was used in all stews and pots, exalting its enormous 
economic value, because black pepper was much more expensive, while 
the cost of capsicum was only the effort of sowing it. This member of the 
Solanaceae family, whose cultivation in South America dates back to more 
than 7,000 years, was soon as successful in other European countries as it 
had been in Spain, from where its cultivation spread to Italy and other 
parts of the continent. Since the sixteenth century, this hot fruit from the 
Americas has become famous, and it eventually penetrated all cuisines of 
the Old World, appearing as an ingredient in many culinary preparations. 
However, there was also a variety of this fruit that was not hot, but sweet. 
The latter sweet variety was bigger than the hot variety and constituted 
the origin of the Spanish pepper or pimiento. 

The hot variety is very much used in Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and the 
Amazonian region as an ingredient of a number of dishes, whereas in Ven- 
ezuela, Chile, and Argentina the sweet variety is preferred. In these latter 
countries, each person adds the peppery flavor to his or her own food, to 
taste, using a capsicum sauce container called an ajicero. 

Cassava or Manioc 

Botanists classed this root vegetable as a member of the Euphorbiaceae 
family and called it Manihot esculenta y honoring the original word the Gua- 
rani people used to refer to it: mandiog. Cassava had been grown in the 
continent as a means of sustenance for many centuries before the arrival of 
the Europeans. There are basically two varieties of cassava: the sweet one 
(eaten as a vegetable) and the bitter one. Although the latter contains a 
poisonous substance (hydrocyanic acid), it was transformed into a food 
thanks to the inventiveness of South American Indians. They changed 
death into life, so to speak, as they enabled this root to be eaten in the 
form of bread (called casabe) or starch (known as tapioca or manoco). In 
almost all South America, including Brazil, cassava is known as mandioca, 
but in Venezuela and Colombia it receives the name yuca — a word of West 
Indian origin, specifically from the language of the Taino natives. 

Some specialists point out that the methods used to process bitter cas- 
sava originated in the Lower Orinoco River, where archaeological remains 

42 Food Culture in South America 

have been found as evidence of their application, dating back to the early 
first millennium B.C. Nevertheless, according to other specialists, those 
methods originated in the region of the Magdalena River in Colombia. 

Europeans brought cassava from South America to Africa in the six- 
teenth century, where it flourished so well that it became a staple food 
and made many Africans believe it is native of their continent. The slaves 
taken to South America in the seventeenth century and in the following 
centuries already knew cassava when they arrived in the New World, so 
they simply reinforced the general consumption of this root vegetable. 

Because there are two types of cassava — bitter and sweet — it is very im- 
portant to be able to differentiate between them when shopping, as there 
is no clear difference in shape or color. This is obviously dangerous to 
some extent, because a mistake could lead to food poisoning. Experienced 
buyers already know how to differentiate them, especially because sweet 
cassava has two easily removable skins — a thinner outer one and a fleshier 
inner one — while the skins of bitter cassava are thicker and more difficult 
to remove. This is why shoppers usually break the tuber in two, in order 
to be able to identify them, which is a very common practice in the South 
American markets. It is also remarkable that sellers not only tolerate this 
from buyers, but typically break the vegetable themselves for display. 


It has been said, and rightly so, that South Americans are the people of 
maize. This grain is certainly a symbol of their cuisine, just like rice is an 
Asian icon or wheat represents Europe — although according to modern 
statistics wheat consumption is quantitatively higher than that of corn 
in South America. Corn (Zea mays) has always played a main role in the 
South American cookbooks, overshadowing the other ingredients, thanks 
to the great number and wide variety of dishes in which it appears. 

Chroniclers called it "the wheat from the Indies" in an attempt to ex- 
press how important it was for the sustenance of the New World's inhabit- 
ants. Transcribing the term used by Tainos, they also called it Ma-Hiz — a 
name that quickly spread and supplanted the other names that had been 
used in the region to refer to this plant during pre-Columbian times. The 
Aztecs had called it centli or cz'ntiz, while the Incas had called it z^ra. 

This fleshy grain is the base of almost all the regional dishes, ranging 
from the arepa (the traditional bread of Venezuela and part of Colombia), 
to the various pies, cakes, and mazamorras (corn-based milky puddings), 
including the Ecuadorian, Peruvian, and Chilean hollos (bread buns) and 

Major Foods and Ingredients 43 

tamales, the pamonhas from southern Brazil, and beverages such as the 
atoles (hot corn drinks) and the chicha. The annual per-capita corn con- 
sumption in South America amounted to 23.7 kilograms in 2001. 
According to specialists: 

Fifty to 80% of the niacin in corn cannot be assimilated by the human body; 
consequently, people whose diet is comprised almost solely of corn often suffer 
from pellagra, a disease caused by a niacin-deficient diet, which affects the cen- 
tral nervous system, the digestive system, the skin, and the mucous lining of the 
mouth. The ancestral practice of adding lime, caustic soda, or ashes to corn was 
an instinctive way of compensating for the nutritional deficiencies of this cereal, 
as the addition of these substances makes the niacin in corn assimilable. 1 

This nutritional benefit used to be reinforced by the consumption of 
beans — a staple in the pre-Columbian diet — which explains why Indians 
and their descendants now have never suffered from pellagra. 


The potato (Solarium tuberosum) is said to have originated in the An- 
dean highlands, particularly in the basin of Lake Titicaca, from where it 
began to spread throughout the rest of the Andean region during pre- 
Columbian times. The European conquerors and colonizers eventually 
helped to disseminate its use in the rest of South America, so that by the 
seventeenth century it was a common food beyond the Andean zone. 
The Spanish chroniclers of the conquest who tasted the potatoes called 
them turmas or criadillas (truffles) at the beginning, as their shape was 
very similar to that of the animals' testicles. However, in Spanish Amer- 
ica and the Canaries, this tuber was then called papa — a word from the 
Quechua language. In Europe, Spaniards called it patata, as they confused 
it with the name of another tuber that was also native to the Americas, 
namely the batata (sweet potato; Ipomoea batata) , which then gave rise 
to the English name "potato." In Peru and Bolivia, there are hundreds 
of different varieties of this Solanaceae family member of many different 
sizes and colors, most of which used to be eaten by the indigenous popu- 
lation. This root vegetable was immediately accepted by the conquerors, 
but it took at least 100 years for it to be adopted in Europe, where it 
underwent a number of delicate treatments that resulted in new potato 
varieties that differed from those of the New World in shape and texture. 
Some of these new varieties are now paradoxically imported from South 

44 Food Culture in South America 

Potatoes have been one of the most important South American staple 
foods for time immemorial. Although the ways to prepare it have changed 
with time, traditional recipes still coexist in the South American cui- 
sine with the now very famous French fries. In the Peruvian highlands, 
potatoes are also consumed in the form of chuno or chuno (potato flour), 
which is obtained by freezing and drying potatoes through exposure to the 
elements. Out of the 3,000 existing potato varieties, around 100 are used 
today for human consumption. 

Llapingachos (Ecuador) 

• 2 pounds potatoes 

• 1 onion, finely chopped 

• 1/2 pound white cheese, crumbled 

• 2 tablespoons butter 

• 1 teaspoon salt 


• 1/2 pound peanuts, toasted and ground 

• 1/2 cup milk 

• 3 tablespoons onion, finely chopped 

• 3 tablespoons butter 

Wash, peel, and boil potatoes until tender. Mash them and mix them with a 
tablespoon of butter and a little bit of salt. Saute the onions. Add the crumbled 
cheese to the onions. Shape the mashed potatoes into small balls and stuff them 
with the cheese-based mixture. Seal and brown them. Sprinkle with the peanut 

Sauce. Saute the onions in a tablespoon of butter. Add the peanuts and the milk. 
Cook over medium heat until it thickens. Serve all the fried balls and the sauce 
in separate bowls. (6 servings) 


A key South American beverage is chicha. Although the first docu- 
ments recording the use of this word date back to the very early sixteenth 

Major Foods and Ingredients 45 

century, etymologists still disagree on its origin. According to some, this 
term was first used by the Panama's Cuna Indians; others say it was an Ar- 
awak or Otomi term; yet others even base their arguments on the opinion 
of the accredited Spanish chronicler Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo, who 
considers chicha a Taino word. In any case, it is particularly remarkable 
that even though this word was originally used to designate a fermented 
corn beverage, it was then also used to refer to beverages obtained from 
any grain. There are records of this word in the pages written by almost all 
the conquest and colonial chroniclers, and the corn-based type has been 
consumed since. There are different ways to prepare chicha depending on 
the region, but the method generally consists of grinding the corn kernels, 
adding guarapo de pina (sweet pineapple juice), and then fermenting the 
mixture. According to some chroniclers, this latter task was traditionally 
entrusted to the old women, who chewed the preparation and then spit it 
out in a jug in order to speed up the fermentation process. Some particular 
Spaniards were somewhat disgusted when they first saw this practice. They 
had no reason for rejecting this method, though, as it had also been ap- 
plied in a number of regions in Spain to prepare the famous aioli sauce. In 
fact, women chewed the garlic cloves, which were then gradually mixed 
with oil and stirred together. This produced the well-known emulsion the 
inhabitants of the Iberian Peninsula have been preparing and using as a 
sauce, creating real culinary delicacies for time immemorial. Corn-based 
chicha was produced by most of the South American Indian tribes. In more 
recent times, its preparation and consumption have been confined to the 
Andean region and the areas inhabited by the surviving pre-Columbian 
ethnic groups. But, since long ago, chicha has also been prepared with rice 
instead of corn, resulting in a beverage that has been industrially manu- 
factured in some countries like Venezuela and Colombia. 

Mate (mate) is a bitter and greenish infusion or tea made from the 
leaves of a tree native to South America called Ilex paraguariensis , Ilex 
mate, and Ilex curitibensis . It is mainly consumed in the southern zone of 
the continent, in Argentina, southern and southwestern Brazil, Paraguay, 
Uruguay, and central and southern Chile, although it is also consumed in 
some parts of Peru and Bolivia. Mate is a Guarani word that was used to 
designate the gourd (a member of the Curcubitaceae family and scientifi- 
cally known as Lagenaria vulgaris) that served as a container for the bever- 
age. The Spaniards Hispanicized this word by designating the drink with 
the name of the container. By calling the infusion matter yerba-mate, as 
it is known in the Spanish-speaking countries, it is being designated with 
the name of two different botanical species. 

46 Food Culture in South America 

In pre-Hispanic times, it was grown by the Guarani Indians, who intro- 
duced it to the other ethnic groups, like the Quechua and the Chiriguano 
indigenous peoples. 

The Spanish and the Portuguese appreciated and adopted this bever- 
age, which had been referred to during the eighteenth century in Spanish 
as the de las misiones (missions tea), the del Paraguay (Paraguay tea), the del 
Sur (tea of the south), or the de los jesuitas (Jesuits' tea), and in Portuguese 
as erva de palo (stick herb) or congonha verdadeira (real congonha). 

This stimulant and invigorating beverage is consumed in different forms 
depending on the region. Bitter or sweet, it is in any case sipped through 
a special straw called a bombilla, which is made of silver or other less valu- 
able metals. 

As for cocoa, it shall be said first that each period of time in history 
has featured a specific beverage that characterizes it as a whole. The sev- 
enteenth century, the Italian Seicento, was marked by chocolate, which 
settled in the European courts and abbeys once introduced by the Span- 
iards. It was a dense, sweet, and aromatic foam-covered potion — in other 
words, noble. The history of its consumption can be divided into two long 
phases: the first one — ranging from the pre-Hispanic to the early nine- 
teenth century — marked by the consumption of the beverage (cocoa), 
and the second one, in which the production of a solid (chocolate) from 
the cacao plant began. Nowadays, the consumption of the solid product 
of the Theobroma tree prevails over that of the beverage. The seeds of 
this plant are industrially processed to produce bar chocolate that is sold 
in the form of candies or desserts of various types. By contrast, the word 
chocolate only referred to the delicious beverage during colonial times. 

Of Foreign Origin 

Even though coffee is native to Asia and was only introduced in South 
America in the second half of the eighteenth century, when the coffee 
plantations started to prosper — especially during the nineteenth century 
in Venezuela, Colombia, and Brazil — the infusion it produced displaced 
some native beverages like cocoa, taking root in the South American food 
habits to such an extent that coffee can be considered a typical beverage. 
However, most of the South American coffee production is exported. Due 
to their habit of using the diminutive form of words, South Americans 
very soon baptized this beverage as the cafecito or the cafezinho. 

By the year 2001, the annual per-capita coffee consumption was 1.7 ki- 
lograms, less than half the equivalent in the United States (4 kilograms). 

Major Foods and Ingredients 47 

Carbonated beverages, the invention of which dates back to the late 
eighteenth century, did not arrive in South America until the second half 
of the nineteenth century, with the establishment of the first specialized 
industries. Their dissemination basically took place during the following 
century, when refrigeration and ice production had spread. Due to their 
refreshing nature, they became very popular, especially in the tropical 
zone. The fact that some plants had established in South America for the 
production of carbonated beverages did not affect the imports, which had 
been carried out mainly from the United States. As they became popu- 
lar in the region and as some of the countries adopted industrialization 
policies during the twentieth century, many transnational enterprises that 
produced these beverages established their plants in the region to spread 
their own brands. 

However, new versions of carbonated beverages have been produced in 
South America, taking into consideration people's likes and giving them 
typical regional names. In Peru, for example, there is a yellow-colored 
lemon-flavored type of carbonated beverage called Inca Cola. Something 
similar happened in Brazil, where guarana (Paullinia cupana H.B.K.) was 
used as a flavoring agent of a carbonated soft drink. The seeds of this 
woody plant native to the Amazonian region were first used by the Indi- 
ans to make a substance with which they would prepare one of the most 
stimulant beverages that has existed — as it contains three times as much 
caffeine as coffee does. The consumption of this guarana-based soda has 
spread in Brazil since the 1970s, while it has also been exported to other 
South American countries. 

Beer used to be imported during the nineteenth century. It was not until 
late in that century and in the early twentieth century that beer indus- 
tries began to be established in South America. The first beer plants were 
founded in Peru in 1863, in Ecuador and Uruguay in 1866, in Brazil in 
1888, in Colombia and Venezuela in 1889, in Paraguay in 1894, in Chile 
in 1896, and in Argentina in 1908. Beer's low alcohol content, its refresh- 
ing nature, and its reasonable price were key factors for its rapid spread 
in the South American region, especially where there was no production 
of wine. The beer industry has developed a great deal, especially in Bra- 
zil and Venezuela. Many types of beer are produced, from cerveza negra 
(dark beer) to cerveza rubia (lager), and from bitter to the pilsner type, 
including a number of other smooth or light classes. By the year 2001, the 
annual per-capita beer consumption was 36.21 — lower than that of the 
United States (89.51), though. Beer marketing has been so successful and 
has developed to such an extent that two of the largest South American 

48 Food Culture in South America 

transnational corporations are devoted to this industry, exporting large 
quantities of this beverage to the United States. 

The main South American producers of wine are Argentina, Chile, 
Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, and Uruguay. Argentina produces the largest vol- 
umes but is the country with the lowest export rates, as it consumes a 
ninth of its own production. This country is followed by Chile, which 
is Latin America's largest wine-exporting nation. This country has been 
capable of quickly renewing its wine industry and taking great care in 
the marketing of its wines, which are currently well known around the 
world. Wines produced in the other aforementioned South American 
countries are consumed domestically and lack the reputation of the Ar- 
gentinean and Chilean wines. In Argentina and Chile, unlike in the 
equatorial countries, wine is a popular beverage consumed by every- 
one — from farmers and workers to great magnates. This vast wine cul- 
ture is not seen in the rest of the nations of the continent, where wine 
has been consumed on a small scale and only by the middle classes living 
in the urban areas. 


The use of salt in South America during pre-Columbian times was not 
homogeneous. It played a very weak role, for example, in the Amazonian 
Basin, where it was replaced by capsicum, or even in regions where it 
abounded, like in the Goajira Peninsula (Venezuela and Colombia). In 
other regions, it was obtained from different sources (i.e., from salt mines, 
the sea, or mineral deposits). Some mainland indigenous peoples did not 
use it as an ingredient to prepare their foods, but rather as a kind of com- 
plement that each person would use to taste when eating. Some Indians 
would have a piece of salt near them at mealtimes, which they would lick 
from time to time. 

The presence of the Dutch in the Caribbean in the seventeenth cen- 
tury, where they established and took control of the Curacao, Bonaire, 
and Aruba islands, and, for a considerable period of time, also the Araya 
Peninsula in Venezuela, was not only aimed at playing a role within the 
Caribbean trade market (which they did through smuggling), but also at 
taking possession of the salt mines of Araya, which would grant them a 
continuous provision of the precious mineral, without which they would 
not have been able to develop their economy, based on the production of 
salted herring, butter, and cheese. South Americans, especially the dwell- 

Major Foods and Ingredients 49 

ers of the Andean region, do not use much salt as an ingredient when 
cooking or eating. Yet their consumption ol this mineral remains high, as 
they still eat salted meat and fish. 


The transfer of sugar plantations to the New World was based on the 
development of the sugar industry carried out by the Spanish and the 
Portuguese in the islands they had colonized in the Atlantic Ocean, 
namely the Canaries, the Azores, and Sao Tome. Sugar cane first arrived 
in the Caribbean, brought by Christopher Columbus from the Canary 
Islands in his second voyage of 1493, In 1496 sugar was shipped to Eu- 
rope for the first time from the Spanish island of Santo Domingo. De- 
spite the express will of the Spanish Crown to expand sugar cultivation 
throughout the islands, it was in the mainland where the sugar industry 
mostly developed. The slaves brought to the New World to work in the 
mines of the Crown soon started to work in the sugar plantations, which 
prospered in Paraguay, as well as in the Pacific coasts and the fertile 
valleys of South America, the mainland production beating the insular 

Although the exact date of the sugar cane s arrival in Brazil is uncertain, 
by the year 1526 the Portuguese were already shipping large quantities of 
sugar to Lisbon. A century later, they were among the most important 
European suppliers of this sweetening substance produced in Brazil Sugar 
factories underwent a considerable and constant evolution in this South 
American country, so that by the year 1683, 66 factories produced 2,700 
tons of sugar that were transported by 40 ships to Eurupe, where the prod' 
uct stopped being a luxury good to become ever more affordable to the 

South Americans consumed unrefined sugar — commonly called dulce 
(sweet) — during colonial times, as the refining industry had been expressly 
banned by the peninsular authorities. The first modern refining factories 
were established in the continent in the nineteenth century. However, 
people continued using unrefined sugar. It is in fact an ingredient of many 
of the typical South American sweet and even some savory dishes. 

Nowadays sugar is consumed both in its natural and in its refined form. 
The natural or noncentrifugal form is known in Venezuela as papelon or 
panela, in Argentina as raspadura^ in Brazil as rapadura, and in Peru as 
chancaca. In 2001, the per-capita consumption of noncentrifugal sugar 
was 45.2 kilograms, while that of refined sugar was 3.5 kilograms. 

50 Food Culture in South America 


Vinegar was brought to South America by the explorers and conquerors 
and soon started to be produced in the new lands during colonial times, 
although the vinegar arriving from Europe continued to be considered the 
best. The latter was called "vinegar of Castile/ 1 obviously alluding to the 
place where it was produced. Vinegar production was carried out without 
much effort, as wine or any other alcoholic beverage acidified when left 
exposed to the air. Balsamic vinegar is very famous today and has been 
imported to all the South American countries, although it is generally 
used only in the main cities. 

Dairy Products 

During the colonial Spanish domination, cow's milk consumption and 
at the same time the production of butter, whey and cream, and cheese 
spread throughout the region. Cheese was also obtained from goat's milk. 
Up-to-date sanitary laws are now enforced in all South American coun- 
tries, where milk and dairy products are pasteurized everywhere, except 
for some small-scale farmhouse production units. 

Up until the middle of the twentieth century, milk was usually deliv- 
ered in the South American cities by a milkman, who would go from door 
to door announcing his presence by shouting, "LecheroJ" (the Spanish 
word for "milkman"), sometimes sounding a cowbell and selling the milk 
that had been obtained from the cows that same morning. He would have 
it stored in metal containers (first of copper and then of aluminum) that 
held about 40 liters, which were commonly called cdntaros. He used to 
carry these containers on a donkey or mule cart, and the neighbors would 
reach the milkman with their own vessels in order to have him fill them 
up with a small receptacle of about 1.5 liters of capacity called a cdntara or 
cantarilla. This tradition is still practiced today in isolated rural areas, but 
now the metal containers have been replaced by plastic ones and the cart 
has been replaced by a motor vehicle. 

Almost all dairy products are salty, because when they started to be pro- 
duced in colonial times, the only method to preserve them was through 
salt. This explains why South Americans are accustomed to this taste. It 
is very difficult, for example, to find fresh cream (i.e., no salt) unless one 
is in a city. 

South American cheeses are typically fresh (i.e., unripe) and produced 
with cow's milk. The amount of salt can vary from one cheese type to 

Major Foods and Ingredients 51 

another, hut this mineral is always present. There are different classes 
depending on their consistency, ranging from cuajada (curd) to the so- 
called quesos duros (hard cheeses). Nowadays they are industrially pro- 
duced, hut the small production units located in the country (not in the 
capitals) have not disappeared hecause of this. In certain regions, where 
goat raising plays an important role — as is the case of north-central and 
northwestern Venezuela or northern Peru — there are also cheese variet- 
ies that are produced from goats milk, though always unripe. During 
the twentieth century, especially in the second half, South Americans 
started to produce a number of new cheese classes in an attempt to imi- 
tate some of the famous European cheeses such as Brie, Camembert, or 
Roquefort (native to France); the Parmesan cheese (from Italy); and 
some other lesser-known classes. The underlying purpose of trying to 
copy these foreign cheeses has been, from the very beginning, to stop or 
to reduce the imports of cheese and thus save the countries of the region 


This dye (Bixa orellana) has been referred to with different names: 
onoto, achote, achiote, bijo, and bija. In the Guianas, Brazil, and Argentina 
it is called urucu. It is native to South America and is cultivated in warm 
tropical zones. The annatto tree is small and produces capsule-like fruits 
about 5 cm (two inches) in diameter, which open into two valves when 
dried to release the seeds. The indigenous communities of the Americas 
used it in different ways, but especially for body painting. It was rather 
late that annatto began to be referred to as a culinary ingredient in the 
equatorial Americas. The Iberian conquerors were accustomed to using 
saffron to dye certain foods like rice — a habit they had probably inher- 
ited from the Arabs. As they did not find any saffron in the New World, 
they started using annatto as a substitute. It was not only used to dye 
rice, but also many other dishes, such as the corn dough used to prepare 
some of the tamales, soups like the ajiaco hogotano, sausages, and even 
potato-based dishes. But it has also been used in South America to dye 
certain sweet dishes, for example as an ingredient in the caramel coating 
of certain dishes like the caquitos (Venezuelan small sweet balls). If used 
in excess, there is a risk that the food will get an overpowering taste by 
acquiring the annatto seed f s flavor. 

52 Food Culture in South America 


Also called azafrdn, azafrdn de raiz, azafrdn quitense, quillocaspi, sauna, 
and azafrdn de los Andes, the palillo root (Escobedia scabrifolia R. and P.) 
was used by the Indians to color food yellow. It abounds in the Peru- 
vian mountains and is widely used in this country to dye rice and certain 


The South American region has been blessed by nature with regard to 
its fish repertoire, as it is endowed with a great variety of marine species 
from the two oceans bordering the continent and by the fauna riches of its 
rivers — particularly the Orinoco, the Amazon, and the Parana. The pre- 
Columbian Indians showing the greatest interest in the sea products were 
those inhabiting the territory of what is now Peru. They also stood out 
for the creation of the most varied fish-based recipes. The arrival of the 
Europeans simply reinforced the general liking for fish, which eventually 
developed into a key feature of the resulting mixed society's cuisine. 

Even though the fishing activity is nowadays carried out through mod- 
ern trawlers, these coexist with a great number of small boats driven by 
fishermen, who are protected by the state and whose practices are consid- 
ered to be friendlier to the environment than those of industrial fishing. 

There is a preference for white-meat fish among South Americans, 
some maritime species being particularly appreciated, namely pargo (Lut- 
janus spp.), which is a kind of snapper; mero or grouper (Epinephelus spp.); 
lenguado (Paralichthys adspersus), which is a kind of sole; pejerrey or silver- 
side (Odontesthes regia regia Humboldt); and corbina (Ciluf gilberti). They 
are followed by fish of darker meat like carite or mackerel (Scomberomorus 
spp.) and cazon or shark (Carcharhinus spp.). As for the freshwater fish 
living in the vast continental river network, there is high consumption 
along the rivers, but also a considerable proportion is salted and taken to 
the nearest urban markets. Bagres (catfish) are the most famous freshwa- 
ter fish, which include a number of varieties — some of them rejected by 
the urban populations because of their reputation for living on unsavory 
scraps. The most coveted freshwater fish is probably the Brachyplatistoma 
genus, known in Venezuela as valenton, in the Guianas as lau4au, in Brazil 
as surubim, and in Argentina as surubi. 

As for crustaceans and mollusks, lobsters and oysters are the most fa- 
mous within the gastronomical field. In order of importance — and prob- 

Major Foods and Ingredients 


lrapa man drying fish, Paria, Venezuela. © TRIP/M Cerny. 

ably due to their lower price — these are followed by crabs, river shrimp, 
mussels, clams, and scallops, as well as cephalopods such as octopuses and 



Avocado — baptized as Persea gratissima Gaertn. and also as Persea ameri* 
cana L. — is the fruit of a tree from the Lauraceae family, which is native 
to Central America and northern South America, where the greatest va- 
riety of its species and subspecies can be found. There are archaeological 
remains proving that it was first cultivated in 3,000 B.C. in the Peruvian 
coasts. Since the early days of the conquest, the Spanish conquerors praised 
the appearance and delicious taste of the fruit, which they compared to 
a pear. Martin Fernandez de Enciso mentions the avocado in his Suma de 
Geografia, published in Seville in 1519. There are different names in the 
continent to refer to this fruit, namely cum or euro, used in Venezuela and 
in the Colombian Magdalena River region, and probably a word from 
the Chibcha language; palta, used in Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and 
Argentina, a name that apparently derived from the Ecuadorian J i varan 
language and was then adopted by the Quechua language; ahacate, used in 

54 Food Culture in South America 

Brazil; and, last but not least, aguacate, a name resulting from the Nahuatl 
language that spread widely throughout South America. 

This fruit was very popular during pre-Columbian times, when it was 
consumed raw without any special preparation. In northern Peru, the In- 
dians would hold a party that lasted about a week to celebrate the ripening 
of the fruit. The youth would congregate in an open area; from here they 
would race to a nearby hill and try to catch and court the beloved women. 
This ceremony was a symbol that combined human fertilization with the 
search for the land's fertility. Since their arrival in South America, the 
Spanish and the Portuguese adopted the avocado and used it in new ways 
for culinary purposes, adding sugar, honey, or even vinegar and crushing 
it to make sauces. Today, the avocado has even been transformed into a 
dessert with a popular avocado-based ice cream prepared in Brazil. 

The papaya was one of the first fruits discoverers and chroniclers found 
when they arrived in the Americas. It is known in Venezuela as lechosa 
and in Brazil as mamao. But the Europeans first called it higuera de las In- 
dicts (fig tree from the Indies), and from this inadequate name the botanist 
Linnaeus decided to name it Carica papaya. Carica was the Latin term for 
figs, while papaya, according to the laborious but challenging research 
carried out by lexicographers, seems to derive from the word mapaya, used 
by the Venezuelan Tamanaco Indians to designate this fruit. 

Papayas are native to the New World, but it is not clear whether they 
originated in the Antilles, in Central America, or in South America. The 
papaya plant grows rapidly and is endowed with a hollow, nonwoody stem 
upon which there is a crown of large leaves divided into several lobes. The 
papaya tree can be "male" or "female." The fruit of the female is ovoid- 
shaped and has few seeds, while that of the male is elongated. 

It is eaten fresh, either cut into pie-like or round slices, or into irregu- 
larly shaped pieces to be used in salads, as well as blended in shakes. Papa- 
yas have antidyspeptic properties, as scientific studies have demonstrated 
that its pulp has an enzyme called papain, which assists in transforming 
proteins and thus contributes to proper food digestion. Besides, papain 
(similar to pepsin) is used to tenderize beef. Agricultural workers have 
been aware of this property of papain since ancient times, wrapping tough 
meat with papaya leaves or cooking it with them. 

Soursop, cherimoya, and the other members of the Annonaceae family 
amount to no less than 800 species. One of the most important genera in 
this family is known as Annona, which includes three fruits that are na- 
tive to the intertropical regions of the American continent, namely sour- 
sop (Annona muricata), cherimoya {Annona cherimola), and sugar apple 

Major Foods and Ingredients 55 

(Annona squamosa). These three fruits have delighted a great number of 
palates with their white and fleshy pulp. The generic name Annona is 
derived from Latin and means the food or provisions for a whole year, 
thus symbolizing abundance. As for the word cherimola, etymologists de- 
bate on its Quechua or Quiche origins (meaning "fruit of cold land" in 

Cherimoya— native to Central America and then successfully acclima- 
tized in South America — is the sweetest fruit in the family and the one 
with fewer seeds, which explains why it is so much appreciated. It is con- 
sumed fresh, as well as in the form of ice creams and other desserts. 

Passion fruit (Passiflora edulis), also called maracuyd (from the Quechua 
word murukuya), is a climbing herb native to Brazil. Its name refers to the 
Passion of Christ, because, for pious Christians, the style of the flower was 
similar to the nails with which Jesus was crucified, while the five petals 
surrounded by a reddish crown stood for the five wounds of Jesus and the 
crown of thorns that was put on his head. What is actually eaten from the 
fruit are the seed kernels and the mucilage surrounding them, which are 
wrapped in a thin white coating that is just below the fruit's skin. One 
variety — Passiflora ligularis — mainly grows in the temperate highlands of 
the South American continent, and is commonly known as parchita ama- 
rilla or parchita coloniera in Venezuela, and as granadilla in Colombia. 

Guava (Psidium guajava) is one of the 2,750 species of the Myrtaceae 
family. It is the fruit of a relatively tall tree with a fine smooth trunk, eas- 
ily removable bark, grayish green rounded leaves, white flowers (not very 
big, but very beautiful), and round or pear-shaped fruits of four to eight 
centimeters (two to three inches) in diameter. The fruit has many small 
seeds surrounded by a sweet-sour generally reddish pulp that gives off a 
strong perfume when the fruit is ripe. This perfume may have led the great 
Linnaeus to name it Psidium guajava, as the Psidia region (a former Roman 
province of Asia Minor) was famous for producing the best perfumes of 
that time. Its Taino name, guayaba, was the word used to refer to this fruit 
from early on. 

This beautiful and delicious fruit has been given special consideration 
by the food industry. There are many varied guava products in the market, 
among them guava nectar, marmalade, compote, or even frozen pulp. 

Prickly pears (Opuntia spp.) are native to Mexico and the southwest- 
ern United States. In Latin America, this fruit is known as tuna and the 
cactus in which it grows as nopal (Opuntia ficus indica). This cactus is 
very versatile and propagates very easily, because its stalks grow on any 
land in which they are sown. Prickly pears were eaten by the Indians as 

56 Food Culture in South America 

they expanded throughout the whole continent. Today, the Opuntia spe- 
cies can be found almost everywhere in the world, except for the polar 

Cacao (Theobroma cacao) was called by Linnaeus Theobroma (food of 
the gods) due to the impression both the fruit and its history had made 
on him. Records of the origins of one of the most distinguished cacao 
varieties have been found in Venezuela. In fact, some experts have even 
argued that cacao is native to the region south of Lake Maracaibo, from 
where it then spread to the north and also to the west; others say that the 
plant is native to the Amazonian region. By contrast, the use of cacao 
as a beverage was an invention of the Central American pre-Hispanic 
tribes, who passed on this already ancient custom to the conquerors ar- 
riving from Europe. Clear evidence of this is the often described scene 
of the Aztec chief Montezuma offering conquistador Hernan Cortes the 
famous beverage. 

Cacao-farming techniques have remained essentially the same up until 
the present. A visit to one of the farms would certainly show that all the 
practices carried out there — from sowing to harvesting — have been the 
same since very distant times. The tools are old, the facilities for drying 
and fermentation are centuries old, and the nomenclature used to refer to 
the various processes is ancient. One can say that this type of agricultural 
land use has survived since colonial times. Some progress has obviously 
taken place, especially in the fields of plant pathology and genetics, and 
there has been great progress in chocolate production. 

The Europeans first used Indian labor to process cacao, but they were 
very soon replaced by slaves. Cacao and people of color have been thus 
related since the early colonial South American history. 

Brought from Abroad 

The coconut palm — baptized by Linnaeus as Cocos nucifera — is a mem- 
ber of the Palmaceae family, which includes 1,200 species that are spread 
throughout the world. It is native to Malaysia and the Pacific, from where 
it spread to the New World. This migration was not humankind's doing, 
though, but was rather the result of a fortuitous expansion that may have 
occurred by the ocean long before the fifteenth century, according to the 
experts. In his famous Diccionario Critico Etimologico (Critical Etymologi- 
cal Dictionary), Corominas explains that the name coco was given to the 
fruit by Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama's men in 1498, when they 
came across it in their voyage in the Asian seas. When the European sail- 

Major Foods and Ingredients 


Opening coconuts for milk, Sunday market, Sao Paulo, Brazil © TRIP/ 
M. Barlow. 

ors arrived in the Americas, coconuts already existed there, though only 
in the southern part of the Central American isthmus. The discovery of 
this elegant and fruitful palm in the New World gave rise to a great deal 
of controversy on its origin, which has now been settled by demonstrating 
that it is definitively native to Asia. 

This big tropical nut is used tor culinary purposes in a great variety of 
ways, resulting in a number of delicious sweet and savory dishes, among 
which the most remarkable are especially those that make up the South 
American confectionery repertoire* 

Bom — Bocado de Coco (Coconut Delight Dessert) (Bahia, Brazil) 

• 4 cups water 

• 1 pound sugar 

• 8 eggs 

• 1/4 pound butter 

• 1/5 to 1/4 pound coconut, grated 

• 1/4 pound wheat flour 

58 Food Culture in South America 

Mix sugar and water until a syrup is made, caramelizing this mixture over low 
heat. Add the butter while cooking. Mix the eggs in a deep bowl without beating 
them. Add the syrup, grated coconut, and wheat flour, and mix well. Pour the 
mixture into previously greased or syrup-coated individual baking tins and oven- 
bake at moderate temperature until brown. (8 to 10 servings) 

Bananas (Musa paradisiaca) — though native to Asia — were transferred 
by the Europeans to mainland Africa on the eve of the European contact 
in the Americas. They had then been brought to the Canary Islands and 
were transferred to Hispaniola in 1516 by Brother Tomas de Berlanga. 
This member of the Musaceae family not only grew well in the Caribbean 
Basin region, it also spread rapidly to the rain forest and even to the An- 
dean zones. Plantains, which reproduce without the intervention of hu- 
mankind, soon became a precious source of food for the Indians, Africans, 
and Europeans inhabiting the continent, often replacing wheat bread. 
This fruit contributes high nutritional values to the South American diet 
and is commonly eaten in different forms: roasted, boiled, or fried. 

Tostones (Venezuela) 

• 2 unripe plantains 

• 1 cup vegetable oil 

• salt to taste 

Peel the plantains. Cut them into thin round slices. Fry the slices of plantain 
until they start to brown. Remove them from oil and let drain. Place them on a 
chopping board and flatten them with a mallet until their edges start to break. Fry 
them again until brown. Sprinkle with salt and serve on a platter. 

Mangoes {Mangifera indica) are native to India. Mentioned in the San- 
skrit texts of very ancient times, this tree was introduced to eastern Africa 
by the Arabs and then brought to the western side of the continent by the 
Portuguese, who eventually transplanted it in the eighteenth century to 
their colonies in northern Brazil, from where it spread in the second half 
of that century to the Antilles, the Guianas, and then to Venezuela. The 
fruit is eaten fresh, as well as in shakes and juices. It is also cooked to make 
up a sweet dish with syrup or made into jelly, the latter requiring that the 
fruit be unripe, which is then sweetened with cane sugar. Some time ago, 
people started to consume this fruit in the form of a chutney (a sort of 
marmalade), which has gained popularity up to the present. 

Other important foreign fruits are oranges, mandarins, lemons, and 
pomelos. Botanists created the term Rutaceae to designate the family of 

Major Foods and Ingredients 59 

plants, which includes rue and citrus, although some use the generic term 
Aurantiaceae to refer to the family of the latter, based on the yellow or 
golden color of their skins. According to paleobotanists, this family is 
about 20 million years old, thus having a great number of ancestors. These 
balloon-shaped fruits, say the economists, are among the five most impor- 
tant fruit products of the world, while, according to gastronomes, there 
is no doubt that they are among the most delicious ones. The members 
of this large family are native to Asia, from where the successive human 
migration waves brought about their expansion to Africa, Europe, and 
the Americas, mostly in ancient times. The most common of these fruits 
are sweet oranges (Citrus sinensis L); bitter oranges (Citrus aurantium L.), 
also called in Spanish naranja cajera, naranja de Sevilla, or bergamota; green 
lemons (Citrus aurantifolia Christ.); mandarins (Citrus reticulata Blanco); 
pomelos (Citrus maxima Burm.); and citrons (Citrus medica L.). They are 
all very well known in South America, especially for their different uses 
at home — from juices to conserves and marmalades, to which they con- 
tribute their unique bitter taste. 

Generally associated with breakfast and famous for their vitamin C con- 
tent, oranges give their particular acidic taste and aroma to both desserts 
and main dishes. Moreover, thin strips of their crystallized skins constitute 
a much-beloved delicacy, A great proportion of their production is used 
by the food industry to make concentrates, juices, and marmalades. 

Lemons, which have almost always been used on fish dishes, are also 
essential to the preparation of a number of South American fruit drinks. 
The most famous is the agua de panela or papelon con limon (an unrefined 
sugar, water, and lemon drink), which helped Venezuelans and Colom- 
bians resist the inclemency of the weather before carbonated beverages 
came into existence — the latter being mortal enemies of an ancient tradi- 

Mandarins are not only sought after because of their unique sweet-sour 
taste, but also for the ease with which their skins peel and their segments 
come apart. They are also used to prepare refreshing juices, shakes, and 
sherbets. Although they grow well during the whole year, it is particularly 
in November and December when these deep-orange-colored balls prolif- 
erate in fruit stores and in stands along the streets, as well as in the mar- 
kets, attracting everyone's attention with their vivid color that delights 
the senses. 

Pomelos are usually consumed as juice, although sometimes they are 
eaten fresh at breakfast, by cutting them in two, removing the seeds, sepa- 
rating the segments with a special curved blade knife, and finally sprin- 

60 Food Culture in South America 

kling sugar on top. They also are used in desserts, the most famous dishes 
being the dulce de toronja en almibar (pomelos in sweet syrup) and manjar 
(prepared with the rose pomelo variety), the latter dish getting the first 
prize within the framework of the pomelo culinary repertoire. 

All these citrus fruits except mandarins, which may have been intro- 
duced in the twentieth century, are recorded in the old South American 
documents of the sixteenth century, so they have taken on gastronomical 
significance in the countries of South America. 

Grains Brought from Abroad and a Native Pseudocereal 

When the Europeans arrived in the Western Hemisphere, they were 
quite surprised to find a very large healthy and robust population who did 
not know wheat (Triticum spp.) and nourished themselves instead with 
cassava and corn. This was not easy to believe, as the words wheat and 
sustenance were synonyms to the inhabitants of the Old World. 

When Europeans arrived in South America, they obviously tried to re- 
produce in the new lands their culinary traditions, in which wheat played 
a key role. They were not as successful everywhere as they had expected. 
The new seed mainly prospered in the areas with a mild climate, and, 
even there, Europeans faced the difficulties posed by the New World's 
voracious plagues affecting the crops. Nevertheless, they persevered to 
such an extent that they managed to acclimatize wheat not only to some 
parts of the Andes, but also in the Argentinean cultivable lands, where 
this grain is nowadays still produced in large quantities. 

Because wheat was brought by the conquerors who ended up dominat- 
ing the whole region, it was eventually considered to be superior to the 
remaining grains, and since the Iberian food culture spread throughout 
the whole continent, wheat has played a key role as an important ingredi- 
ent in South American cuisine until current times. 

Wheat flour is mainly used to make bread, of which there are differ- 
ent types depending on the South American country. It also plays a key 
role in the production of pasta — a food that has become a very important 
ingredient of the current regional diet, not only due to its low price, but 
also because it is easy to prepare. Wheat flour is also used to make differ- 
ent pastries and desserts. Although in some of the countries it has to be 
imported, wheat has become a basic product. 

By the year 2001, the annual per-capita wheat consumption in South 
America amounted to 58.2 kilograms — more than twice the consumption 
of the South American native grain of choice, corn. 

Major Foods and Ingredients 61 


This grain (Qryzct sativa) was brought to South America by the con- 
querors in the sixteenth century. There is proof that it was grown in Ven- 
ezuela and Colombia at that time. Soon afterward, it was introduced in 
Peru, specifically in the Andean mountain range's east slope and in the 
Amazonian region. By the seventeenth century, it was grown in Brazil and 
in the other countries more to the south. During the second half of the 
eighteenth century, rice was extensively produced in the Guianas, which 
was very much related to the incorporation of land workers brought from 
India, Java, and China. Today, it is popular in South America, because of 
its low price and the fact that it can be easily obtained and is abundantly 
cultivated. In 2001 13,225 metric tons of rice were produced in South 
America, whereas 6,513 were produced in the United States. As for the 
consumption statistics, the annual per-capita rate is 29.9 kilograms, while 
that of the United States is only 9.2 kilograms. 

Even though rice has been accepted in the South American gastron- 
omy, it is only used as an accompaniment, as there are still objections to 
it being considered a main dish, probably due to its low nutritional value. 
But those holding such an opinion are perhaps unaware of the key role it 
plays as a main dish in many cuisines. In South America, an example is 
the Peruvian arroz con pato. 


This dicotyledon (Chenopodium quinoa), whose seeds' albumens are 
rich in flour, has been classed as a pseudocereal. Its common name is 
from the Quechua language. It is native to South America and has been 
used since time immemorial by the Indians, who considered it the sec- 
ond most important grain, after corn. It was a holy plant for the Incas, 
who used it to pay tributes. Quinoa is resistant to unfavorable ground or 
climate conditions. It was extensively grown in the Andean region dur- 
ing pre-Columbian and even colonial times, becoming less important in 
republican times (i.e., in the nineteenth century), as it was replaced by 
other products such as corn. Today, quinoa is again gaining some ground 
thanks to the announcements made by the experts regarding its high 
nutritional value. Its cultivation is being developed again, which has re- 
sulted in a considerable increase in its consumption. This pseudocereal 
has been used in modern times in different ways — there is even a quinoa- 
based dish very similar to risotto. Today, flour obtained from dry quinoa 
kernels is sold in the market. 

62 Food Culture in South America 


Brought from Abroad 

Parsley (Petroselinum crispum Mill.) was very well known in ancient 
times, though not as a flavoring agent, but as a medicine. Native to 
Macedonia and Central Asia, it was introduced in the South Ameri- 
can continent by the European conquerors in the sixteenth century. 
The leaves of this herb are of a deep green color. There is a variety 
with densely curled leaves, which is known as curly parsley — in Spanish 
called criolla — and there is another variety with flat leaves called French 
or Spanish parsley. Parsley is consumed either raw or cooked, and it is 
one of the various herbs that serve as flavoring agents of broths and 

Coriander (Coriandrum sativum; in Spanish, cilantro) is native to the 
Old World. Its aroma and taste would bring back any South American 
to his or her childhood memories. Coriander is in fact an ingredient 
of all the cuisines of this region, to a lesser or greater extent, as it ap- 
pears in many of the South American culinary preparations. It is used, 
for example, to prepare pisca — a kind of soup commonly consumed in 
the Venezuelan Andean region. Of all South Americans, those who are 
probably mostly keen on the use of coriander are Chileans, whose cui- 
sine even features a sauce that is exclusively prepared with coriander, 
and a beverage on which it is based called chinchivi, which dates back 
to the late eighteenth century. This shows that Chileans have not paid 
much attention to the old popular Hispanic saying that goes "Coriander, 
good herb ... but not in excess." 2 When the conquerors arrived in South 
America, they found an herb with aroma and taste that were very simi- 
lar to those of coriander, which they called cilantro de monte (wild cori- 
ander) or culantro. This is the Eryngium foetidum, which is botanically 
different from coriander, although naturalists included it in the same 
family — the Umbelliferae. Its leaves are a bit broader, elongated, and 
serrate-dentate. This herb is used as a substitute for coriander, especially 
in rural areas, and is not the only native herb used in South America, as 
demonstrated below. 


A great variety of herbs native to South America are used in the region. 
Only those that usually appear in the cookbooks representing the typical 
cuisines will be presented and described here. 

Major Foods and Ingredients 63 

Huacatay (Tagetes minuta) is a cultivated herb that grows wild in the 
coasts and mountains of Peru and in Amazonia. Its leaves and tender 
young shoots are used as condiment in the preparation of stews, roasts, 
and of one of the typical Peruvian dishes: the pachamanca. 

Guasca (Galinsoga parviflora L.) is an herb from the Compositae family 
that has been used for culinary purposes by the South American Indians 
since ancient times. It is native to the Andean region of Colombia, and 
there it is mainly used as a condiment, although its use has also spread to 
other countries. Guasca is essential for a soup prepared in Bogota known 
as ajiaco . 

jambu (Spilanthes acmella Murr. and Spilanthes oleracea L.) is an herb 
native to tropical Brazil. In English it is called "paracress," while in Por- 
tuguese it is either called agriao do Brasil, agriao do Para, or jambu. It is 
used for the preparation of some typical dishes of the Amazonian region, 
like Pato no tucupi and tacaca, which is a thick soup flavored with tucupi 
(cooked juice from bitter cassava), dry shrimp, sometimes freshwater fish, 
and the jambu. The leaves have a slightly numbing effect on the tongue 
and the mouth because of their hot flavor, compared by some people to 
that of pepper. 


The first South American cities started to emerge as soon as the con- 
querors' settlements transformed from camps into villages. These new 
population centers would start from the main plaza square, the streets 
always following the city-planning grid pattern inherited from ancient 
Rome. The Cabildo was established as the main authority to regulate 
the different activities in the new societies, one of the most important 
being wares supply. Beef provision and trade was particularly important, 
as the Europeans could not do without it, and the Indians who had 
undergone transculturation also demanded it to a certain extent. Meat 
supply was carried out by means of a sort of tender — called remate in the 
old texts — that had to be attended by those who owned cattle and had 
any interest in selling them. On a sheet of paper, they had to specify 
the price of an arroba of beef (about 30 pounds) and that of the other 
cattle products such as suet. They also had to state the way they would 
charge the money, either cash or by means of land-products bartering, 
because in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, cash was consider- 
ably scarce. 

64 Food Culture in South America 

The tender winner would be granted written permission to sell meat 
to the neighbors for a year. This person could proceed "to weigh the beef 
joints," as it was referred to at that time and even in more recent times. 
This is precisely where the Spanish expression pesa (weighing) comes 
from, used in the past to refer to the butcher's shop and remembered by 
many people from their childhood — a name that has changed, though, 
into frigorifico (fridge) as a result of the modernization of the process to 
preserve this food. 

Beef became the food of choice for the South American town and city 
dwellers, playing a role in the repertoire of typical dishes, the asado argen- 
tino (Argentinean roast) being perhaps the most famous. Traditionally, 
beef has to be very well done in South America in order to be eaten, in 
contrast to the American barbecue, which is rather eaten rare. This habit 
dates back to the early regional history of farming, as cattle were mainly 
used in colonial times as a source of leather, which was a very important 
export good. After cattle processing, lots of meat was left over, and since 
the modern food preserving methods of refrigeration did not yet exist, 
meat had to be cut into strips — tasajo or cecina — and then salted. These 
pieces of meat had to be desalted before consumption, and usually they 
were then boiled (if a soup was to be prepared), fried, or cooked. Frying or 
cooking required grinding or shredding. In these most common culinary 
preparations beef was neither juicy nor reddish, as is the case of fresh 
grilled or fried beef. This tradition took root to such an extent that even 
today, when Uruguayans or Argentineans prepare their asado (roast), they 
like it well done. The same is true for the bistec criollo typical of Venezuela 
and Colombia, which is a thin beefsteak that needs to cook for a long 
time. Jerky (dry salted meat) is used in Bolivia to prepare a typical dish 
known as majao . 

Majao (Bolivia) 

3/4 pound jerky 
10 cups water 

4 tablespoons oil 
2 cups rice 

5 eggs 

5 medium slices ripe plantain or cassava 
2 medium onions, peeled and finely chopped 
1/2 tomato, chopped and seeded 

Major Foods and Ingredients 65 

• 1/4 paprika, chopped and seeded 

• 1/2 teaspoon salt 

• 1/2 teaspoon pepper 

• 1 teaspoon ground oregano 

Sofrito. Pour three tablespoons of oil in a frying pan. When it is very hot, add the 
onions, tomatoes, paprika, oregano, salt, and pepper. Saute for about 15 minutes. 
Set aside. 

Dish. Cook jerky in 4 cups of water for 1/2 hour or until just right for eating. Let 
it cool. Then, remove from water, place on a chopping board, and crush slightly 
using the blade of the kitchen knife. Shred into thin strips. Add the shredded 
meat to the sofrito. If the mixture is dry, add some of the cooking stock. 

Brown the rice in a separate frying pan with the remaining tablespoon of oil. Set 
the remaining 6 cups of water to a boil; add the browned rice, jerky, and sofrito 
mixture. Stir well. Cook over high heat for 10 minutes, and then over low heat 
for 5 minutes, making sure that it does not dry out. Serve with a fried egg and a 
piece of fried plantain or fried cassava. (5 servings) 

One of the peculiarities of beef sale in South America is the great vari- 
ety of names used to refer to the cuts of meat, which are not only different 
from those of Europe and the United States, but also among themselves 
in the region, varying from one country to another both in shape and 
name. This could be referred to as a real gastronomic Babel, hindering 
communication between people from different countries. The following 
are some clarifying examples of the different names given to some meat 
cuts that can be considered to be almost homologous. The beef rib section 
would correspond more or less to what is known in Argentina as the bife 
ancho, which, in turn, is in some way equivalent to the Venezuelan solomo 
de cuerito. The sirloin cut, to give another example, would correspond to 
the Argentinean lomo, which is known in Venezuela as lomito. What is 
referred to as tira de asado in the south is known as costilla in the north, 
and what is called cuadril in the former is punta trasera in the latter, and so 
on and so forth depending on the country. 


In colonial times, South Americans used to eat the Iberian pork spe- 
cies, but, with time, a wide range of varieties started to be consumed, as 
new species were imported both from Europe and North America. The 
South American cuisine features many culinary preparations that use loin 

66 Food Culture in South America 

with hones in the form of steaks, as well as ham, which is still prepared at 
home following the traditional recipes like that of the so-called jomfin del 
pais from Peru. Chops are used in the typical stews and in Chinese dishes. 
Pork legs are famous in the whole continent. Pork tat and bacon are obvi- 
ously consumed too, the latter now industrially produced. The countless 
and varied farmhouse or industrially produced sausages deserve a chapter 
to themselves, ranging from blood sausages, chorizos, and spicy sausages 
of Spanish-Portuguese origin to the German-style sausages introduced by 
the successive migration waves of Germans. 


Unlike porcine meat, caprine meat — also very popular in the conti- 
nent — has not undergone an industrialisation process, which explains 
why it is still prepared in very traditional ways, generally only at home 
and in certain typical restaurants. Cheese is the only goat product that 
is produced on a certain industrial scale, though it is only consumed in 
some places and, more recently, in big cities, where it is sold as a delicacy. 
Sweets can also be made from goat milk. 


One of the domestic animals that goes a long way back is sheep (Qvis 
aries). By the time of the discovery and conquest of the Americas there 
were many herds in the Iberian Peninsula. It was only to be expected that 
the European conquerors would load these animals on their ships, and 
that, once settled in the new lands, these would multiply and be adopted 
by the natives. There have always been two very good reasons to raise this 
animal: its wool and its meat. As it met the clothing and food demands 
of the peoples, sheep soon became very popular at that time. Besides, 
lamb consumption in South America has been reinforced by the Iberian, 
French, Italian, Arab, and Hebrew traditions since the late nineteenth 
century, both at home and in restaurants, to the extent that nowadays one 
can say that lamb is consumed more frequently than in the past. 

The Llama Family 

The consumption of South American camelidae has been considerably 
reduced until the present, still taking place in rural areas of countries such 
as Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia. It is not commonly found in cities — only 

Major Foods and Ingredients 67 

sometimes in certain typical restaurants, as is the case of Peru, where there 
is a traditional meal known as olluquito con charqui (charqui being salted 
llama meat). There is no doubt that this drop in consumption has been 
the result of new legislation and a number of protectionist measures, as 
well as of the abundance of other meat types in the market. 

Poultry: Chicken, Turkey and Duck 

The domestic birds that soon adapted to the New World, and whose 
breeding spread throughout it, are nowadays industrially bred, so it is dif- 
ficult to find examples of domestic corn-fed breeding, as it was done in the 
past. This means that a parallel industry has emerged aimed at producing 
food for poultry farms. Today, because chicken and hen meat is plentiful, 
most people can afford to buy it, and it has been progressively replacing 
beef, especially among the lower classes. 

Most turkeys produced in South America are either bred in medium or 
large poultry farms or imported from the United States. Turkey has gained 
popularity in South America, due to the influence of the American cus- 
toms. It is essentially prepared for Christmas, combined with the other 
typical national dishes, such as the hcdlaca — the Venezuelan Christmas 
tarn ale. 

Ducks are less popular, though they are still important, for example in 
Peru and Brazil. Chinese immigration has been fostering the consump- 
tion of these web-footed birds recently, as many Asian dishes feature 
their meat. All Chinese restaurants have a duck-based dish on their 


Hen eggs were incorporated in the South American diet with the arrival 
of the Europeans early in the sixteenth century. This food is consumed in 
its raw form or cooked as an independent dish at any time of the day, but 
it is also an ingredient of countless savory and sweet dishes. By mixing 
eggs with olive oil and seasoning them with garlic, salt, and vinegar, one 
obtains the most important and delicious sauce of the Spanish-Portuguese 
tradition: mayonnaise. In the past, its preparation required a lot of pa- 
tience, a strong arm for whipping, a special knack in the wrist, and the 
slow incorporation of fat into the mixture in order to be successful. Today, 
electrical appliances have reduced the time needed and the risks of failing 
when preparing mayonnaise. 

68 Food Culture in South America 


The lowland tapir (danta) is mainly found in South American forested 
areas. This mammal is almost as large as a horse, but it is particularly 
heavy and stout. It has a trunk that is simply a large movable nose. Under 
the threat of being hunted, lowland tapirs can react violently, lowering 
their heads and using all their heftiness to knock down their opponent 
head-on. This is the reason why they were never easy prey for the Indians, 
who lacked firearms. They love rivers, where they go to bathe and where 
they swim easily. Lowland tapirs are usually active at night. Their meat 
was eaten by the indigenous peoples and soon caught the attention of the 
Europeans. The first stories heard in the Old World about lowland tapirs 
were announced by the chronicler Peter Martyr d'Anghiera in his famous 
Decadas ocednicas (Ocean Decades). 

The stories told by the travelers of the nineteenth and twentieth cen- 
tury often recorded the consumption of danta meat — either grilled fresh, 
or salted, desalted, and then shredded and fried in lard or oil, the latter 
dish known as pisillo in the Venezuelan and Colombian plains as well as in 
the Guianas. Nowadays, there are protection laws in all South American 
countries against the indiscriminate hunting of lowland tapirs. 

The peccary — known in the region as bdquiro, tallasil, or pecari — can 
be described as a sort of American wild boar, which is less hefty than 
the European strain and does not have a tail. Classed by zoologists as 
members of the Tayassuidae family, peccaries have a dorsal gland that the 
conquest chroniclers thought was their navel. Through this fleshy bump 
these animals release a strong, musky odor. However, their meat was very 
much appreciated by the Indians, then by the Europeans and thus by the 
criollos. Peccaries live in herds, and when they feel threatened they fero- 
ciously charge their enemy as a group. They can be very dangerous toward 
imprudent people who dare confront them; the most advisable thing to 
do is to climb a tree or a high rock. This animal is sought after both for its 
skin and for its tasty meat. However, peccary hunting has also been very 
much regulated by protectionist laws. 

The paca or lapa is a rodent that resembles a South American hare. 
Classed by the specialists as a member of the Caviidae family, pacas were 
considered to be precious game by Indians and then by the European con- 
querors and colonists. They have been hunted until the present and are 
now in danger of extinction in some places; therefore, they are also pro- 
tected by laws banning paca hunting or only allowing it during a short 
season. Their meat has been compared to that of piglets, as pacas have a 
lot of fat, although the taste is much stronger. 

Major Foods and Ingredients 69 

Capybaras (chiguire, capibara, or carpincho) are referred to scientifically 
as Hydrochaerus hydrochaeris, which means "aquatic-terrestrial, aquatic- 
terrestrial," stressing the capybaras' amphibious habits. They are the 
world's largest rodents and have short legs to sustain their voluminous 
bodies, no tail, a big head with small ears, and coarse fur. The fatty meat of 
this sort of "water pig" — as it was once called by some chroniclers — is very 
much sought after and particularly appreciated by the Venezuelan and 
Columbian llaneros. It is eaten either fresh or salted and then prepared 
in the aforementioned pisillo form. Along with iguanas, armadillos, and 
terrapins, capybaras are commonly hunted during Lent, as the Catholic 
Church did not forbid the consumption of their meat during this time of 
the year based on their amphibious habits. 

Armadillos — from the Dasipodidae family — are probably the typical 
South American edentate animals. There are many different species of 
armadillo in South America, but the smaller ones are mostly consumed. 
They are scarce and only eaten in rural areas, due to the existing protec- 
tionist policies and the difficulties involved in hunting this animal. How- 
ever, there are some typical armadillo-based dishes in South America. For 
example, in Brazil (in the region of Minhas Gerais), a dish called Tutu de 
feijao a mineira is prepared using armadillo meat. 

As for venison, the South American members of the Cervidae fam- 
ily are represented by a number of genera. There is the Andean deer or 
huemules, living in the southern end of the Argentinean and Chilean 
mountain range; the marsh deer— known as veado galheiro grande in Brazil 
— which is higher than the Andean race; the pampas deer (ciervo de las 
Pampas), known in Argentina as venado and in Brazil as veado campeiro; 
and others from the Mazama genus, which are smaller than the others 
mentioned, but very much appreciated, especially in Venezuela and Co- 
lombia. Venison is considerably sought after and represents an important 
prey for those who devote themselves to this sport, which is incidentally 
also regulated through a great number of legal policies aimed at protect- 
ing the species. 

Viscacha — a member of the Chinchillidae family — is a rodent that mainly 
abounds in Peru and Argentina and can be found either on the plains 
and the mountains. Its meat is white and very tasty, which explains why 
is it hunted and consumed quite regularly in the country without much 
culinary elaboration. In modern times, farms have been established for 
the raising of this hare-like animal, which is now also canned in pickling 
brine and sold in Argentinean supermarkets, transforming viscacha into 
somewhat of a mass consumption product. 

70 Food Culture in South America 

The handu or South American ostrich (Rhea americana) is typically 
found in the southern part of the continent, northeastern Brazil, and 
eastern Bolivia. This animal has been hunted since pre-Hispanic times 
with implements invented by the South American Indians called bo- 
leadoras avestruceras (ostrich bolas). These consisted of two balls made 
of stone (or any other heavy material) covered with leather and strongly 
tied with thongs. The hunter would wield the boleadora by one of the 
balls — called the manija (handle) — powerfully whirl the other ball above 
his head, and subsequently throw the weapon to entangle the neck of the 
ostrich, which would fall to the ground as a result. With the arrival of 
the Europeans, a third ball was incorporated to the boleadoras, in order to 
use them to catch cattle by throwing them to their legs. Today, nandues 
are raised in farms, as their meat has become a valuable product that is 
considered a rarity, and which is served more and more often in restau- 
rants. In Uruguay, nandu raising has proliferated, becoming an interest- 
ing export item. 


There are a great variety of nuts, among which the most famous in 
South America are walnuts (Juglans spp.), almonds (Prunus amygdalon), 
hazelnuts {Corylus spp.), macadamias {Macadamia integrifolia) , pecans 
{Cory a spp.), Brazil nuts (Bertholettia excelsa), and cashews (Anacardium 
occidentale) . Pecans, cashews, and Brazil nuts are native to the American 
continent, the latter two specifically to South America, present in the 
Guianas and the Amazonian region for time immemorial. 

Peanuts {Arachis hypogaea) are the fruits of a leguminous plant native 
to the South American continent, which may have originated in Brazil 
or Bolivia. However, peanut is a Taino word, thus of West Indian origin. 
They are not only consumed as fruits per se, but are also used in the manu- 
facture of vegetable oils, as well as sauces and sweets, especially nougats. 
Due to their great nutritional value, their consumption is also widely rec- 


The Liliaceae family stands out in botanic repertoires for having many 
members, but also because more than a few species play a key role in a 
great number of typical dishes of the region. The onion — Allium cepa, 
for the naturalists — is a basic ingredient common to all South Ameri- 

Major Foods and Ingredients 71 

can stews that, despite its humble nature, has been essential in the whole 
continent, for both poor and rich. They all have been delighted in this 
vegetable, which — as Chilean poet Pablo Neruda once said in his famous 
"Ode to the Onion" — makes people cry without hurting them. The onion 
arrived in South America very early, in conquerors' and missionaries' 
knapsacks, and was grown with success levels that have been maintained 
until the present. 

Another bulb from the same family is the chive (Allium schoenoprasum 
L.). Known as cebollin, cebollino, or cebollina in Spanish and correspond- 
ing to the famous French ciboulette, chives are extensively harvested and 
consumed in South America. 


If the onion is the lady of the Amaryllidaceae , garlic has to be considered 
the gentleman, due to its fundamental role. After a long but productive 
journey from Central Asia to the New World, this member of the family, 
called Allium sativum by botanists, was brought by the Europeans and set- 
tled itself in the South American subsoil and cauldrons. In Spanish, garlic 
bulbs are called cabezas de ajo (garlic heads) and their pieces or cloves are 
known as dientes de ajo (garlic teeth). This rhizome can be white, reddish, 
or purplish depending on the variety. The unmistakable flavor it gives to 
food is so strong and peppery that it makes people use it in moderation, but 
at the same time it is so much associated with the traditional taste prefer- 
ences of the peoples of the region that it would simply be impossible not to 
use it. Cold weather and dryness favor its cultivation. The bigger the size of 
its cloves (which depends on the garlic variety), the smoother its flavor. 


In Spanish, the spices used for cooking are called especias, which is 
different from the word especie, which means class, category, or group of 
equal elements. Before the arrival of the Europeans in the New World, the 
indigenous populations knew of and used some spices, which then won 
well-deserved fame throughout the whole world. Hot pepper (Capsicum 
spp.) — called "the pepper from the Indies" by the Europeans — and vanilla 
(Vanilla planij vlia) , which both disconcerted and captivated the conquer- 
ors, are only two examples of what can be called "the new spices" within 
the historical framework of the Western culture. These two spices play a 
very important role in South American cuisine. 

72 F< h '.. | Cu It it re i n S< i u t h A QQ et ica 


The common spices known as black or white pepper (Piper nigrum) are 
members of the Piperaceae family, a term that derives from the Sanskrit 
word pippaliy alluding to the fact that this plant is native to the Malabar 
Island and southern India. It is currently grown in the tropical regions 
around the globe. 

Except for some isolated (though successful) cases, the attempts to in- 
troduce pepper in the Spanish American lands from the sixteenth to the 
eighteenth century failed. It was not until the nineteenth century that it 
began to be cultivated both in the Antilles (Santo Domingo, Trinidad, 
and Puerto Rico) and in South America, showing considerable success in 
French Guiana, from where it was then brought more to the south, to the 
Para River region (Brazil), late in that century. 


The fact that cinnamon is a bark is what makes it so particular among 
spices from a botanical point of view. This originality is obviously rein- 
forced by its penetrating aroma and pungent taste. One of the justifica- 
tions Columbus put forward in order to get backing for his risky voyage to 
the New World was the offer to bring cinnamon to Spain without having 
to go through the long, complicated, and expensive trading circuit people 
had to cover by land and then through the Mediterranean in order to gain 
access to this precious ingredient. 

During colonial times, the Spanish tried to introduce cinnamon in South 
America, but they were frustrated in their attempts, as they did not manage 
to cultivate a single plantation, and the trees of the species they transplanted 
ended up as a garden curiosity. However, they found out that there was a 
plant with a bark that had a similar aroma to that of authentic cinnamon. 
This plant was Aniba canelilki, known in Venezuela as canelilla, in Brazil as 
casca do maranhdo, in Peru as canela muena, and in Colombia as canela de 
Santa Fe. It was used as a medicine to fight arthritis, chronic colds, and other 
illnesses. In the eighteenth century, the Colombian sage Celestino Mutis, 
who carried out a famous botanic exploration focused on useful plants, pro- 
moted the use of this cinnamon variety as a substitute for the original one, 
following the then common trend of finding aromatic products in the Span- 
ish America that could replace die Asiatic ones. This South American cin- 
namon is still used in rural areas. In general tenns, cinnamon is used both 
in the form of sticks, to scent certain desserts during their preparation, and 
ground, sprinkling it over custards and other sweet dishes. 

Major Foods and Ingredients 73 


Among the numerous members of the Myrtaceae family, the Eugenia 
caryophyllata Thunb. stands out for its prominent organoleptic (sensory) 
characteristics. This is the plant that produces the worldwide famous 
clove — in Spanish called clavo de especia or clavo de olor — which the Span- 
iards are said to have called garofe in the seventeenth century, and which, 
even in the following century, can be found as girophle in the Diccionario 
de Autoridades (Spain's dictionary of attributed quotations). It is native to 
the Moluccas Archipelago, but this fact was zealously concealed as a se- 
cret by the Oriental peoples, and later on by the Portuguese and Spanish 
seafarers, who even forged the charts once they had arrived in the islands 
in the sixteenth century in order to conceal the approach routes leading 
to the place where this aromatic plant used to grow, as its trading price 
was very high at that time. 

During the eighteenth century, a number of attempts were made to 
transplant cloves to the Guianas, Brazil, Jamaica, Martinique, Haiti, and 
even Trinidad, with no remarkable success. This spice did not prosper in 
the Americas, but in the countries where its trade flourished, it became an 
imported good from the very early colonial times, and its demand has not 
decreased since. It played a remarkable role in Spanish cuisine and began 
to be used in South America when the conquerors arrived. This spice 
took root in a great number of dishes that are nowadays an integral part of 
the regional culinary heritage, especially that of sweet dishes. 


This member of the Umbelliferae family — called Cuminum cyminum by 
Linnaeus — is a small annual herb of white or rose flowers, with tiny and 
very aromatic fruits, whose seeds have played a role in the human diet for 
as long as memory can recall. South Americans use cumin seeds often, as 
a result of the Spanish and Portuguese influence. They use it so much that 
those who are not accustomed to the flavor usually find it repulsive. 


This beautiful member of the Ubelliferae family was baptized by Lin- 
naeus as Pimpinella anisum — a compound name of a hybrid nature, as the 
first term derives from the Latin word bipennula (having two wings) and 
the second term from the Greek word anison (which could be translated 
as "matchless"). This aromatic plant is said to have originated in Egypt. It 

74 Food Culture in South America 

was grown in South America since the early colonial times, as it adapted 
to the new lands with relative ease. Its seed is used both in baking and in 
the preparation of sweet dishes. It is impossible to forget mentioning star 
anise or "Chinese anise," also called badiana. This is the variety botanists 
designated as lllicium verum Hook., a name that alludes to its organoleptic 
characteristics, because it means "real seduction." The cultivation of this 
type of anise was not as successful as that of common anise, although it 
has prospered in some regions, like Ecuador. 


Botanists called it Vanilla phmifolia, alluding to its capsule-like elongated 
fruits and its flat leaves. This herbaceous plant is a member of the very 
large Orchidaceae family. According to some experts, it is native to Central 
America, where it was found by the Spanish in the early conquest times, 
surprising and delighting their sense of smell. Other specialists argue that 
it is native to the Amazonian region. In modern times, synthetic vanilla 
can be produced through the chemical processing of eugenol — obtained 
by distilling clove essence. This type of vanilla has gained more ground 
in the market due to its lower price, but it has not been able to replace 
the natural one within the framework of haute confectionery, because it 
lacks the unique aroma of the latter. Nevertheless, this synthetic vanilla 
essence is currently used in all South American countries. 


According to the Renaissance physician Francisco Hernandez, in the 
Viceroyalty of New Spain (Mexico) there were numerous varieties of a 
fruit that had been designated by the Aztecs with different names, among 
them tomatl and xitomatl, from the Nahuatl language; later on it was bap- 
tized as Lycopersicon esculentum Mill, by the botanists, who considered it to 
be a member of the Solanaceae family and native to the New World. How- 
ever, specialists are still debating whether this fruit originated in Central 
America or in the Andes. In the eighteenth century, a wild variety was 
found in Peru, commonly known as tomate cimarron. South American na- 
tives ate it in its raw form as a fruit. The use of tomatoes as a condiment or 
as a base for the preparation of sauces emerged and was improved during 
Spanish domination. 

Spaniards who went to the Americas familiarized themselves with 
the use of the tomato from the very beginning, but it took longer for 

Major Foods and Ingredients 


*- r 

Outdoor Chilean market. © TRIP/J. Drew, 

it to cross the borders of the Iberian Peninsula and spread throughout 
the rest of the European continent, as it had a reputation for being 
poisonous, just like many of its relatives from the Solanaceae family. 
After Spain, Italy is said to have been the first country that accepted 
tomatoes as part of their cuisine. Tomatoes were then incorporated in 
all European culinary repertoires, playing a very important role up until 
the present. 

There are different varieties of this fruit, basically due to their differences 
in shape. The most important ones are the tomate manzano, which — as 
suggested by the Spanish name — is similar to an apple (manzana); the 
tomate perita (plum tomato), which is similar to a small pear {perita) or 
plum; and the small tomate cereza (cherry tomato), similar to the cherry 
(cereza). South American cuisines still feature the use of raw tomatoes in 
salads, but also of its cooked form as an ingredient of one of the key basic 
sauces of many of their typical dishes, namely the sofrito. 

Vegetable Oils: Sesame, Peanut Palm (Deride), and Corn 

Until recently, frying and pastry cooking were done with pork and beef 
lard, winch explains why vegetable oil does not appeal in the traditional 
cookbooks of the region. The only vegetable oil used since colonial times 

76 Food Culture in South America 

has been olive oil — called aceite de Costilla (oil from Castile) at that 
time — almost exclusively used in salads. It was not until the twentieth 
century that the use of vegetable oils obtained from corn, sesame, pea- 
nuts, sunflower seeds, and even soy became popular, as local industries 
were established. However, this change was also the result of the imports 
of vegetable oils, mostly from the United States. The introduction of this 
new type of fat resulted in a considerably lighter diet on the one hand and 
in a slight change in the taste of fried food and typical South American 
sweet dishes that traditionally used animal fat on the other. At the same 
time, vegetable fat started to be produced, especially for confectionery 
purposes. Although the use of animal fats has not totally disappeared from 
the South American cuisine, it is nowadays very limited, existing only in 
certain rural locales. The per-capita consumption of animal fats in 2001 
amounted to 2.8 kilograms. 

In the twentieth century, olive-oil imports also increased due to the im- 
migration of Italians, Spaniards, and Portuguese, which boosted this prod- 
uct's demand and eventually popularized it throughout the whole South 
American region. However, olive-oil consumption has not increased sig- 
nificantly since then, the annual per-capita consumption not being higher 
than 0.1 kilograms. In Chile and Argentina the olive-oil sector is starting 
to develop. 


1. The Visual Encyclopedia of Food (New York: Macmillan, 1996), p. 345. 

2. "Es bueno cilantro . . . pero no tan to." 




In each of the three cultures that played a role in the history of the South 
American society, cooking has always been considered women's work. 
South American women in charge of the domestic chores were the ones 
who developed a type of cuisine that mixed the traditions of Indians, Eu- 
ropeans, and Africans. This cuisine became known as cocina criolla. 

South American Natives 

Since pre-Columbian times there has been a clear gendered division of 
labor among Indians. Men are the leaders of the communities, perform 
the religious duties, are the specialists in rituals and cures (the so-called 
chamanes), and are in charge of constructing the houses and other build- 
ings, as well as of fighting wars, hunting, fishing, and preparing the land 
for cultivation. The women's job is to carry out the culinary tasks, as well 
as those related to the sowing and harvesting of the primary food sources. 
This implies that women only leave their village or shantytown to do the 
farm work in the nearby field. 

Perhaps the only exception to the rule stating that cooking is solely a 
woman's task is roasting meat — game meat in particular — which is per- 
formed by men in a primitive manner. They are in charge of lighting the 
bonfire and throwing the bagged animal in the fire or on the embers, often 
without previously skinning or plucking it. It is the llaneros and the gau- 
chos who are actually in charge of roasts. 

78 Food Culture in South America 

Women do not simply cook corn and cassava; they also prepare casabe 
or mafioco, as well as sauces based on the use of capsicum and some herbs. 
They also serve the prepared food to the men and do not partake in the 
act of eating with them — they would eat alone and at the end of the meal. 
A similar habit is common in many South American households. In fact, 
in both rural huts and humble urban houses, those who sit at the table to 
eat are the men — the head of the family and his older sons — while the 
woman serves them the dishes she has prepared, keeping some food for 
herself, which she eats at the end of the meal, often in the kitchen. Set- 
ting the table and washing the dishes have always been a woman's task. 


The conquerors' habits were somewhat similar, as they considered 
kitchen labor to be in the domain of women. As far as the housework is 
concerned — with the exception of the male cooks working for the court 
or for wealthy households — Europeans followed the same pattern of South 
American Indians. This habit, strongly related to the Arab traditions in 
which the woman had to stay confined in the house most of the time, is 
reflected in certain old sayings that are still on many people's lips, such as 
"Mujer honrada, en casa y pierna quebrada" (The honorable woman, at 
home with a broken leg); "El tocino hace la olla, el hombre, la plaza y la 
mujer, la casa" (The bacon in the pot, the men out in the world and the 
women at home); and "La olla y la mujer, reposadas han de ser" (Both pots 
and women should always be quiet). 1 


The role with African women has always been limited to the farming 
and cooking duties. As an exception, the men in charge of the religious 
worship perform the sacrifice and also prepare the propitiatory victims 
(often birds) during the liturgical ceremonies. As for the kitchen work, 
women have played a key role in the improvement of certain grinding, 
fermenting, and food-preservation practices, and have therefore been re- 
sponsible for a relative progress in the field of cooking technique. 

The Ever-Growing Number of Exceptions 

There are exceptions to the traditional concept of cooking always being 
women's work. The evolution of this line of work until today shows the 
emergence of male culinary-related duties on a daily basis. 

Cooking 79 

The Cooks of the Past 

During colonial times there were certain exceptions to the rule that 
associated cooking with women. Various types of documents refer to male 
slave cooks who probably learned the trade in the New World, as they had 
no other option under the conquerors' domination. Slaves were consid- 
ered to be objects — or at least machines — and were thus included in wills, 
in which the trade they mastered was sometimes also mentioned, as this 
implied a certain added value. There are also records of domestic servants 
in newspaper notices published by masters claiming slaves who had run 
away, and their characteristics were specified to facilitate their capture. 
Even though these individuals are sometimes described as skillful cooks, 
most of them probably did not master the trade, either because they had 
learned it by force or because of their usually low educational level. Most 
of them were illiterate and were engaging in the particular task for the first 
time in their lives. However, there were some exceptions to this rule, such 
as the famous cordon bleu of the Viceroyalty of the River Plate known 
as Monsieur Ramon ("Raymond" spelled in the Spanish way), who ran 
an academy in the late eighteenth century, where the slaves of wealthy 
households would go to learn how to cook. 2 

According to the chronicles of colonial times — especially from the 
eighteenth century — as well as of the subsequent republican times, there 
were also foreign cooks, almost always French or Italian, who worked for 
important officials or very wealthy families. Examples of this were vice- 
roys and captains general. In the Viceroyalty of Santa Fe— now more or 
less Colombia and part of Venezuela — Viceroy Manuel de Guirior had 
a so-called Monsieur Lasala as a cook in 1773; there was also the cook 
of Santiago de Liniers (viceroy of the River Plate), the French Pierre 
Payette, in 1795. Another interesting piece of information about the 
presence of French cooks in the culinary field is available thanks to the 
descriptions made of the banquet held in honor of River Plate Viceroy 
Aviles on March 14, 1799, in nearby Buenos Aires — a dinner that went 
down in history, in which Joseph Dure is said to have been the main cook 
and Pierre Botet the pastry cook. 3 There are documents recording that, in 
1799, Francois Combe and then Juan Bautista Botelle were the cooks of 
Manuel de Guevara Vasconcelos (captain general of Venezuela). 4 As for 
colonial Brazil, Gilberto Freyre confirms the European origin of the cooks, 
who made up a "cooking staff working for captains general or viceroys, 
noblemen from overseas and rich people, also of European origin, aristo- 
cratic expressions of a transoceanic aristocracy, though, that had no roots 
in the new lands." 5 

80 Food Culture in South America 

But also in republican times, the presidents of the emerging South 
American republics had French cooks working for them. To give one 
significant example, in 1826, the French cook Louis Lemoyiven and the 
pastry cook Francois Fremont were part of Simon Bolivar's entourage in 
Lima. 6 

The situation in Brazil was similar. When Portugal's King Joao VI left 
Lisbon, escaping from the invasion of Napoleon Bonaparte's troops, to 
settle the vast Brazilian colonies, he had French cooks taken to Rio de 
Janeiro, the new capital of the monarchy. After Brazil's independence was 
declared and King Joao's son, Pedro I, was proclaimed emperor, Gallic 
(male) cooks continued to be preferred, as they were during the lengthy 
reign of Pedro II. This Braganza family had to maintain a court that lived 
as luxuriously as possible; thus, the imperial kitchens had to be endowed 
with such human resources to ensure the good taste that befitted the mag- 
nificence of great state festivities at that time. 

The practice of cooking by men was therefore associated with foreign 
ways and, in any case, these services could only be afforded by high digni- 
taries and other wealthy people. 

During the second half of the nineteenth century and at least until the 
1930s there were establishments, usually run by foreign ladies, devoted to 
training young women to be domestic servants and especially providing 
them with the culinary knowledge needed to be good servants. These 
were the first cooking academies exclusively for women, but they obvi- 
ously paved the way for the modern cooking schools for both male and 
female students. 

The New Culinary Vocations 

During the nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth centuries, the 
continental panorama did not change significantly. However, in the sec- 
ond half of the twentieth century, the cooking profession flourished in Eu- 
rope — particularly in France — and those practicing it gained considerable 
social prestige and a high economic status, which soon had an influence 
on South America. It was mainly during the 1970s that the expansion 
of mass communications and the consequent globalization phenomenon 
brought about the emergence of many culinary vocations — especially of 
men. Young men could explain to their parents that the culinary profes- 
sion was neither only for women nor socially unacceptable at the interna- 
tional level. This is how the traditional conception of male cooks changed 
and an era of professionalization began, with the creation of cooking 

Cooking 81 

schools in the main South American cities. In Argentina, the following 
schools emerged: the Instituto de Gastronomfa Profesional Mausi Sebess; 
the Instituto Argentino de Gastronomfa; the International Buenos Aires 
Hotel and Restaurant School (IBAHRS); Ott College, Acassuso; the 
Bue Trainers; the CESYT — Centro de Estudios Sociales y Technologicos; 
the Escuela Argentina de Cocineritos; and the Escuela de Gastronomfa 
of the Instituto Superior Mariano Moreno, all in Buenos Aires; Azafran 
(a school for the training of professional cooks) and Celia Escuela Inte- 
gral Gastronomica, both in Cordoba; and the Escuela de Cocineros Pa- 
tagonicos, located in Patagonia. 

In Peru: Le Cordon Bleu Peru, the Escuela de Alta Cocina D'Gallia, 
the Escuela de Cocina Chef Bleu, and the Escuela de Alta Cocina of the 
Instituto de los Andes, all located in Lima, In Brazil: the Atelier Gour- 
mand and the Escola Wilma Kcivesi de Cozinha, located in Sao Paulo. In 
Venezuela: the Centro de Estudios Gastronomicos (CEGA), the Instituto 
Culinario de Caracas, the Instituto Superior de Artes Culinarias, and the 
Centro Venezolano de Capacitacion Gastronomica, all located in Cara- 

The emergence of cooking schools, fostered by the considerable in- 
crease especially in the number of young men showing serious interest in 
the culinary arts, changed the panorama that had prevailed for centuries 
in the continent. It paved the way both for the study of modern culinary 
techniques and for the need for innovation in the preparation of the typi- 
cal South American dishes. 

Today, prizes are awarded to young cooks in an attempt to emulate the 
great European cookery competitions, such as the Bocuse d'Or. This is 
the case of the Gran Concurso Culinario Latinoamericano Azteca, which 
was held for the first time, in Mexico City, in 2003. At the same time, 
associations of Latin American chefs have been created, like the Foro 
Panamericano de Asociaciones Culinarias Profesionales, the Asociacion 
de Chefs del Peru (ACHEP), Los Amigos de los Chefs (in Quito, Ecua- 
dor), the Asociacion de Chefs de Bolivia (in La Paz, Bolivia), the Asso- 
ciacao Brasileira Da Alta Gastronomia (ABAGA, in Sao Paulo, Brazil), 
and the Asociacion Uruguaya de Chefs (in Montevideo, Uruguay). The 
members of these professional associations are mostly young people who 
have been studying at the regional schools and also at foreign ones, such 
as the Culinary Institute of America or Le Cordon Bleu. They serve to 
foster their members' professional improvement, implement better work- 
ing conditions, and act as employment agencies and contacts with foreign 
associations for exchange programs. 

82 Food Culture in South America 

Today, hotels, restaurants, public institutions, private firms, and even 
wealthy families look to both cooking schools and professional associa- 
tions to get skilled labor. Besides, the figure of the culinary entrepreneur 
has emerged in the past few years, resulting in the establishment of new 
restaurants, often holding the name of the founder chef and offering what 
could be designated as cuisine d'auteur. 


There are two coexisting cooking styles: a rural one, with the traditional 
procedures resulting in rustic but still delicious food, and an urban one, 
in which the resources of modern culinary technology are used and the 
aesthetic needs are taken into consideration for the creation of a product 
that better meets the contemporary visual and taste expectations. 

Two Coexisting Worlds 

As most of the population in contemporary South America live in cit- 
ies, the accelerated urban development experienced in the continent dur- 
ing the second half of the twentieth century would seem to have brought 
about drastic changes in people's habits. However, this has not been ex- 
actly the case, as the rural population that migrated to the cities carried 
their food habits with them. Besides, the household structure has not un- 
dergone radical changes, so rural habits still persist in urban households, 
obviously mixed with some features of the modern age, but keeping up the 
old traditions to a greater extent. This phenomenon not only shows in 
family relationships, but especially within the culinary sphere. 

The Rural Woiid 

A number of traditional elements can still be found in the different 
cooking processes, especially in the rural communities. These people still 
use coal or firewood stoves, clay containers, and ancient utensils such as 
the round iron griddle called a budare or aripo in Venezuela and a callana 
in Colombia, which is used to cook corn-based dishes. The old manual 
machines made of cast iron and used for grinding corn have not disap- 
peared either. This is also true for the grinding stone or metate (also called 
a baton) and of the large wooden mortars called pilones, also used to grind 
corn, which have not fallen into disuse. The kneading of the typical corn 
breads is still done by hand, and when the typical sweet dishes of fruit 

Cooking 83 

with syrup are prepared, there is still the habit of guessing when the syrup 
is just right without using a thermometer. Another example is the contin- 
ued use of whisks and beaters instead of mixers. 

Regarding food preparation, the procedures are still somewhat rus- 
tic. For example, vegetables are peeled and cut without worrying much 
about removing every little bit of skin or making the pieces uniform in 
size. Steaks are of random size, some of them have bone pieces or even 
chips, and very often skin and gristle have not been removed. Within 
this framework of more or less rudimentary practices, it is very difficult to 
find a proper piece of meat where these parts have been removed, which 
in many South American countries is called a despresado of chicken, hen, 
duck, rabbit, and other edible animals. The same is true of beef joints. 

These rudimentary practices do not result in dishes that are a delight to 
behold, although they can be very tasty. This is not only the case in a do- 
mestic setting, but also in many modest restaurants and some workplace 
cafeterias. Here, food is prepared as it has been done for time immemo- 
rial (i.e., without paying attention to the aesthetic factor). These rough 
cooking practices should not only be considered typical of the traditional 
South American cuisine, as they are also found in other places, including 
Europe. On the other hand, one cannot deny that the upper classes some- 
times prove to be more careful when processing food ingredients, which 
results in a better presentation of the dishes. 

The Urban World 

The urban elements that have been incorporated into the culinary field 
of the region since the middle of the twentieth century are the result 
of technological modernization, infiltration of foreign foods and habits, 
and concern for nutrition and aesthetics. In the early twentieth century, 
the importation of appliances aimed at making the culinary work easier 
began to increase. Kerosene stoves began to be imported, followed by gas 
stoves and finally by electric stoves, marking the different stages of the 
contemporary evolution in this matter. Middle-aged South Americans 
are able to reconstruct the changes that have occurred since their child- 
hood based on their memories of smells and sounds. They can remember 
their parents' kitchen, with clay and wooden pottery that made very dif- 
ferent noises from those made by cooking pots and other metal utensils 
of more recent times. They could probably remember the monotonous 
sound of the pounding mortar or of the metate by listening to the shrill- 
ness produced by a blender. Similarly, they would be able to differentiate 


Food Culture in South America 

Large wooden mortar (pilon). 

the crackling of a wood fire from the warm silence of the gas flame or the 
electric stove.' 

Importation and use of kerosene, gas, and electric stoves spread signifi- 
cantly throughout the continent after World War II. After the stove, the 
second most important modern electrical appliance that has been incor- 
porated is probably the refrigerator. Since the 1950s, the refrigerator was 
used for water storing and cooling instead of the tinajero — a wooden cup- 
board, in which the filtering stone to obtain drinking water was placed, 
along with the earthen jar that would catch the water and the containers 
to serve and drink it. 

Today, domestic and commercial South American kitchens are full 
of modern devices for food processing. These appliances not only make 
things easier for their users, but also save them time. Also, these items 
have been eradicating, although not completely, many beliefs regarding 
the skills of cooks. An example is the idea that certain people have a 
knack for beating a cake mixture or obtaining a smooth emulsion such as 
mayonnaise sauce. The Spanish expression for this is tener buena mano, 
which means "to have a skilled hand." Another key application of these 
modern devices, especially at home, is the cutting of uniform vegetable 
pieces. To a certain extent, electrical appliances have been successful be- 
cause many traditional or typical regional dishes can be prepared using 
these devices, and often an accompanying cookbook shows how. 

Cooking 85 

Of course, technological progress can also be seen in the wide range of 
canned, frozen, and vacuum-packed foods that can be stored in a pantry 
for a relatively long time, which changed the old habit of daily shopping. 
In the past, housewives had to go to the market every day to buy the ingre- 
dients they would use to prepare the meals of the day — a habit that even 
manifested in the colloquial Spanish expression el diario (literally "the 
everyday"), which corresponds to the day-to-day food expenses. Today, 
food shopping is done less often, thanks to the packaged and canned food 
and, of course, the fridge — especially its freezer section. 

Another invention that appeared in South American kitchens in the 
second half of the twentieth century brought about significant changes to 
the practice of cooking, namely the microwave oven. Almost all South 
American households have one, even though some people are concerned 
about health effects. 

With culinary modernization, typical dishes from other regions are now 
available in the market — frozen, canned, or packaged in any other form. 
So nowadays, in many cities of the continent, one can buy boxes with 
the ingredients to very quickly prepare a pizza, or cans that only have to 
be opened and heated in a double boiler (en bono de Maria) to make the 
Spanish bean stew called fabada or the French cassoulet, sparing oneself 
the difficulties and the time usually needed to prepare such dishes. 

Modern dietary knowledge has also brought about certain changes in 
cooking, as the effort to avoid eating too much fat or sugar has resulted in 
some transformation of the traditional recipes, basically reducing the propor- 
tion of the ingredients that could be detrimental to one's health. Similarly, 
the importance given to the presentation of dishes has changed. The proper 
appearance and attractiveness of food are a main concern nowadays. 

Another consequence of the saturation of modern technology in the 
kitchen is that many of the utensils that were used in the past for cooking 

Grinding stone (piedra de moler). 

86 Food Culture in South America 

are now only decorative elements. Especially in urban households and 
typical-food restaurants, it is common to find old pounding mortars now 
used as flower pots, as well as old grinding stones now used as mere decora- 
rive objects, creating an old atmosphere in modern kitchens. 

Books on Food Culture 

There is a large collection of books documenting the South American 
food culture, both cookbooks and books on the history, the folklore, and 


The publication ot cookbooks began in the nineteenth century, but 
handwritten recipe books existed since long before and are still used today. 
Culinary titles are now considered a key field by the regional publishing 
houses. They have flooded the market with books, brochures, and maga- 
zines containing not only countless recipes, but also techniques, tricks, 
and general information on the topic, which are useful to both house- 
wives and chefs. 

Handwritten recipe books must be considered a highly useful source of 
information, as they really show what the actual domestic culinary prac- 
tice is. These books are made based on a selection of recipes that have 
been either provided by relatives or friends or taken from books or any 
other written material and copied for everyday use. Cookbooks, by con- 
trast, are mostly used as works of reference and reflect what could be called 
the ideal culinary practice, which does not always materialize. Both types 
of gastronomic information sources date far back. Handwritten notebooks 
are older than the cookbooks, and, in South America, some of the note- 
books, dating back to the eighteenth century, still survive. It is not easy 
to find this type of handwritten material. They eventually get damaged or 
destroyed as a result of constant use and exposure to heat, as well as stains 
from the ingredients used for cooking. The few that still exist are jealously 
kept in the bosom of the families that made them. 

The first printed cookbooks were published in the middle of the nine- 
teenth century. It was only then that the recipes that made up the typical 
culinary heritage of each South American country were printed, becoming 
a sort of corpus representing the particular food cultures of each country. 
Some of the first well-known works of reference include the following. In 
Venezuela, Corina campestre — as part of the work EI agricukor venezolano, 

Cooking 87 

written by Jose A. Diaz — was published in 1861, and, three decades later, 
the book Cocina criolla o guia del ama de casa, written by Tulio Febres Cor- 
dero (Merida, Venezuela: Tipografia El Lapiz), was published in 1899. In 
Colombia, a cookery handbook by an anonymous author came out in Bo- 
gota in 1853 entitled Manual de artes, oficios, cocina y reposteria, published 
by Nicolas Gomez Press. The third chapter of this book, devoted to cookery, 
was extracted from this first handbook and published as an independent 
book in 1874 by the same press under the title Manual de cocina y reposteria, 
conforme a los usos y alas costumbres de nuestro pais y del extranjero. 

In Ecuador, the book EI cocinero prdctico was published in Quito in 
1893 — the author acknowledged under the initials A.G. In Peru, the 
handbook Manual de buen gusto que facilita el modo de hacer los dukes, 
budines, colaciones y pastas y destruye los errores en tantas recetas mal copia- 
das was printed in Arequipa in 1866, written by Valentin Ibanez. In the 
same city, the third edition of the book La mesa peruana o sea el libro de 
las familias precedido del arte de trinchar y de las reglas que deben observarse 
durante la comida, an anonymous work, was published in 1867. In the 
second half of the nineteenth century, Juana Manuela Gorriti's work Co- 
cina eclectica (Buenos Aires: 1890) came out in Argentina. And finally, 
in Chile, Eulogio Martin's Ciencia gastronomica (Recetas de guisos y potajes 
para postres) was published in Santiago in 1851, the work Cuaderno de 
guisos y postres came out in Santiago in 1865, and — perhaps the most fa- 
mous — Manual del cocinero prdctico, written by Antonia and Isabel Erra- 
zuriz, was printed in Valparaiso in 1848. There were a number of editions 
of the latter, as well as a reprint entitled Novisimo manual del cocinero 
prdctico (Santiago: 1896). In Brazil, the book Cozinheiro Imperial ou Nova 
arte do cozinheiro e do copeiro em todos os seus ramos was published in the 
early nineteenth century in Rio de Janeiro, the author concealing his or 
her identity through the initials M.R.C. Its second edition was printed 
in 1843, and the fifth in 1866 — the latter being particularly interesting, 
as it featured typical recipes of the country that had not been included in 
the previous editions. 

These books contain relatively substantial repertoires of what their au- 
thors considered to be the typical dishes of their respective countries, and, 
on the other hand, they also include a number of French-style dishes, 
because French cuisine had a great influence on the South American 
continent at the time. These old books still play an important role, as 
many dishes are prepared using the ingredients and methods originally 
presented. In fact, the recipes from a large number of contemporary cook- 
books have practically been copied from the old ones, with just a few 

88 Food Culture in South America 

modifications. In other words, the old cookbooks are still part of the cur- 
rent food culture. 

In the twentieth century, more and more cookbooks were published. 
The number of typical dishes they contained grew with time, some of 
them even only featuring very particular dishes that were typical of each 
of the countries. In most cases, especially until the 1950s, almost all reci- 
pes presented in such books were somewhat faulty, as they were not precise 
about the ingredients' measurements, used local terms that were unclear 
to nonnatives, lacked the ingredients 1 scientific names, and had other de- 
fects of this kind. By the 1980s and 1990s, though, the style was better and 
the content more precise. Cookbooks containing typical recipes were also 
published in languages other than Spanish, enabling a more effective and 
wider spread of the South American cuisine. 

It is worth mentioning the most important cookbooks of some of the 
countries of the region. In Venezuela, there is EI libra de Tia Maria, by Maria 
Chapellin, which was published for the first time in 1956, and Mi cocina a la 
manera de Caracas, by Armando Scannone, which came out in 1982 (both 
in Caracas); in Colombia, there is Cartagena de Indias en la olla, written by 
Teresita Roman de Zurek and published in 1963, and Gran libro de la co- 
cina colombiana, published in 1984 under the supervision of Fernando Wills 
(both in Bogota); in Peru, there is Comidas criollas peruanas, by Francisca 
Baylon (n.d.), and La gran cocina peruana, by Jorge Stanbury, published in 
1995 (both in Lima); in Brazil, there is Dona Benta: Comer bem (n.d.), pub- 
lished in Sao Paulo; in Argentina, there is El libro de Dona Petrona, written 
by Petrona C. de Gandulfo, published in 1907, with many editions (almost 
all of them in Buenos Aires); and in Chile, there is La buena mesa, by Olga 
Budge de Edwards, published in 1954 in Santiago de Chile. 

This list was presented to illustrate the general scale, but the number of 
cookbooks that have been published in South America during the twentieth 
century is extremely large, especially if one takes into consideration those 
published since the 1980s, when a culinary publishing boom took place. 

A key role in the spreading of information is played by periodicals, among 
which specialized magazines deserve to be mentioned: Carta Blanca and 
Entremeses, from Peru; Cocina y Vinos and Zona Gourmet, from Venezuela; 
Gula, from Brazil; Cuisine and Vim, from Argentina; Vino Gourmand, from 
Chile; Bebidas y TsAanjares, from Colombia; and Cocina, Arte y Vida, from 
Uruguay. The gastronomic sections of the main national newspapers of 
the different countries, or of the most widely broadcast magazines, are also 
important. These publications, which are more accessible to the masses, 
have significantly contributed both to the reinforcement of the culinary 

Cooking 89 

traditions and to the spreading of the modern techniques applied in the 
kitchen. Besides this, photographs have played a key role in this type of 
material and have led to the improvement of the dishes' presentation in 
the domestic setting. 

The influence that culinary TV programs have had since the 1980s is 
also significant. These programs are broadcast on almost all the national 
channels of the region, as well as on foreign channels via satellite. This 
medium has aroused the South American public's interest in cooking to a 
greater extent than perhaps books and magazines. By teaching techniques 
applied in the most industrialized countries, as well as recipes from exotic 
countries, such programs have significantly stimulated South American 
modernization and creativity. 

Finally, the great importance of the Internet, through which its users 
can obtain gastronomical information of any of the countries in a few 
seconds, must be acknowledged. Not only historical or cultural, but also 
practical data can be downloaded and accessed, including old and new 
recipes as well as many kinds of culinary techniques. 

Academic Approaches 

At the universities and other public and private educational institutes, 
special attention has been given to the study of food culture, primarily in 
the schools of hotel management and tourism, which have significantly 
developed since the 1980s. Two key examples of such an interest are the 
Escuela Profesional de Turismo y Hotelerfa (Professional School in Tour- 
ism and Hotel Management) at the Universidad San Martin de Porres, in 
Lima, Peru, and the Espacio Academico: Ciencia y Cultura de la Alimen- 
tacion (Academic Space: Food Science and Culture) at the Universidad 
Nacional Experimental del Yaracuy, Venezuela. Important research work 
and diffusion of information on the topic are being carried out in both of 
these schools. In fact, the Universidad San Martin de Porres is noted for 
the publication of a vast number of culinary books. A number of research- 
ers working for these institutions or freelancing have been researching the 
topic of food culture of their own countries for a considerable time. They 
have been publishing the results of their studies in the form of articles or 
books. The topics in such publications range from sociological or anthro- 
pological to nutritional matters, also including historical and folklore-re- 
lated issues. In this sense, the relatively extensive literature on the topic 
proves that South Americans are more and more concerned about the 
origins and the evolution of their food. 

90 Food Culture in South America 

As for the studies on food history, there are representative books in 
almost all South American countries. In Brazil, there is the book Historia 
da Alimentacao no Brasil, written by Luis da Camara Cascudo (2 vols., Sao 
Paulo: 1967); in Chile, Apuntes para la historia de la cocina chilena, by Eu- 
genio Pereira Salas (Santiago: Editorial Universitaria, 1977); in Paraguay, 
Panorama de la realidad historica del Paraguay: Proceso de formation y evolu- 
tion social del pueblo paraguayo a los fines nutricionales, written by Francisco 
Americo Montalvo (La Asuncion: 1967); in Peru, La nutrition en el Antiguo 
Peru, by Antunez de Mayolo (Lima: Banco Central de Reserva del Peru, 
1985), and the books La cocina en el Virreinato del Peru (Lima: Escuela Pro- 
fesional de Turismo y Hoteleria, Universidad San Martin de Porres, 1996) 
and La cocina cotidiana y festiva de los limenos en el siglo XIX (Lima: Escuela 
Profesional de Turismo y Hoteleria, Universidad San Martin de Porres, 
1999), both written by Rosario Oliva; in Colombia, the books Historia de 
la cultura material en la America Equinoctial: la alimentation en Colombia y 
en los parses vecinos, written by Victor Manuel Patino (Bogota: Biblioteca 
de la Presidencia de la Republica, 1984), and Mesa y cocina en el siglo XIX, 
by Aida Martinez Carreno (Bogota: Fondo Cultural Cafetero, 1985); and, 
in Venezuela, Historia de la alimentation en Venezuela, by Jose Rafael Lov- 
era (Caracas: Centro de Estudios Gastronomicos, 1998). 

Food researchers are also coming together to exchange information. 
The I Congreso sobre la preservation de las cocinas regionales de los paises an- 
dinos (First Congress on Preservation of the Andean Countries' Regional 
Cuisines) — called by the Universidad San Martin de Porres — was held in 
Lima, Peru, in 2003. A second congress of this kind will be held in 2005, 
in Santiago de Chile. This event is significant evidence that the research 
community devoted to the issue of food culture in South America is start- 
ing to institutionalize. Before 2003, specialists attended the congresses on 
Patrimonio Gastronomico y Turismo Cultural en America Latina y el Ca- 
ribe (Culinary Heritage and Cultural Tourism in Latin America and the 
Caribbean) in Puebla, Mexico, the first of which was held in 1999. The 
fifth congress was held in 2004, but the first one specifically devoted to the 
South American continent was the one held in Peru in 2003 . 8 Among the 
topics discussed in all of these congresses are the role of cooks, culinary 
education, features of the culinary literature, history of cooking as a trade, 
and its current and future challenges. 

Toward a New South American Cuisine? 

A number of elements are paving the way for the emergence of new 
trends in the culinary field, the most important being the accelerated ur- 

Cooking 91 

banization experienced by the countries of the region to a greater or lesser 
extent, the globalization phenomenon, and the resurgence of the attempts 
to preserve national cultural features. Many young people who became 
cooks and chefs during the 1980s and 1990s and learned the modern 
cooking techniques are now giving free rein to their creativity by taking 
advantage of the knowledge they have acquired and investigating native 
ingredients to reinterpret the old recipes and invent new ones. Some of 
these young chefs brought their ideas to fruition by establishing restaurants 
in cities such as New York and Miami with the objective of attracting a 
new public with their cuisine. Others stayed in their native countries and 
devoted themselves to offering their compatriots and the visitors coming 
from the main South American cities both their new versions of the tradi- 
tional dishes and the results of their creative cuisine. The chefs abroad have 
been quite successful, especially because of the exotic nature of the cuisine 
they offer. Those who stayed have had to fight against a culinary orthodoxy 
that is not easy to overcome. Most South Americans — accustomed to the 
traditional presentation of dishes and to the habitual use of certain ingredi- 
ents — have rejected this new type of cuisine. Nevertheless, urbanites, who 
have become familiar with the contemporary cuisine, as they usually travel 
to other countries and often visit foreign restaurants — especially French 
ones — are now more open to the new offerings. Besides, as the behavior of 
this kind of elite has always been a model to be followed, their acceptance 
of this new trend has helped to overcome the rejection by the masses little 
by little. In any case, a new trend is already taking shape, which can be 
understood as the emergence of a new South American cuisine. 

This new trend is evolving along different paths, as a result of the dif- 
ferent degrees of nationalism featured by the chefs. Some try to present 
the typical dishes in an innovative — sometimes even avant-garde — way, 
but are careful to retain their authenticity so as to be familiar to the pal- 
ate. Other chefs, foreign-born or of foreign ancestry, try to combine their 
own culinary traditions with that of the country in which they work, al- 
lowing for a new kind of mixing process. The best example is perhaps 
the so-called nikei cuisine, which is a mixture of Japanese and Peruvian 
cuisines. The results of this combination are incredibly original, enabling 
this cuisine to become one of Peru's gastronomical epitomes and tourist 
attractions. Another group of chefs create new dishes by using ingredients 
that are native to the South American countries. The dishes they create 
have sometimes been so successful that they could be considered brand 
products. Even though these groups are evolving in different directions 
and pursuing different goals, there is no doubt that, as a whole, they all are 
clear signs that a new South American cuisine is emerging. 

92 Food Culture in South America 


L Antonio Castillo de Lucas, Refranerillo de la alimentation (Madrid: Graficas 
Reunidas, S.A., 1940), pp. 52, 129. See also Jose Deleito y Pinuela, La mujer, la 
casa y la moda (Madrid: Espasa Calpe, 1946). 

2. Guillermo Furlong, Historia social y cultural del Rio de la Plata, vol. 2, El trans- 
plante social (Buenos Aires: Tipogratica Editora Argentina, 1969), p. 353. 

3. Ibid. 

4- Jos6 Rafael Lovera, Manuel Guevara Vasconcelos o la politica del convite (Ca- 
racas: Academia National de la Historia, 1998), p. 45. 

5. Quoted in ibid., p. 31. 

6. Simon B. O'Leary, ed., Memorias del General O'Leary publicadas por su hijo, 
vol. 24 (Caracas: lmprenta de El Monitor, 1884), p. 14- 

7. Jose Rafael Lovera, Historia de la alimentation en Venezuela (Caracas: Centre 
de Estudios Gastronomicos, 1998), p. 203. 

8. The memoirs of these congresses, containing material related to Venezuela, 
Colombia, Brazil, Peru, Chile, and Argentina, have been all published in Mexico 
by CONACULTA — those from the three first congresses in 2002 (in three vol- 
umes), and those from the fourth congress in 2003, 


Typical Meals 

Daily mealtimes have followed a relatively similar pattern for the last five 
centuries in South America. In the urban context, at least three meals 
have always been eaten, while in the rural context, just two is normal. 
The three main meals eaten in cities are designated as desayuno (break- 
fast), almuerzo or comida (lunch), and cena (dinner). Another one can be 
added to these, called merienda (snack). In the rural context, the meals 
are called desayuno and cena. Mealtimes have always been related to the 
daily work schedule. In the case of urban dwellers, there is a deeply rooted 
habit of having a break at noon, which has become so important that it 
even had to be acknowledged by labor laws. Even though these patterns 
are found throughout South America, the mealtimes sometimes change 
from one country to another. In Venezuela and Colombia, for instance, 
breakfast is generally consumed very early in the morning, between 7 and 
8 A.M.; lunch takes place between 12 and 1 or 1:30 P.M.; and dinner is 
eaten between 8 and 9 P.M. The farmers living in these two countries 
have breakfast even earlier, usually between 5 and 6 A.M., and their sec- 
ond meal is eaten around 6 P.M. More to the south, the mealtimes are 
different. For example, in urban Chile and Argentina these three meals 
are consumed at least one hour later than in Venezuela and Colombia; 
however, in northern Chile and Argentina, farmers eat their meals at very 
early hours, just like the Venezuelan and Colombian ones. The so-called 
merienda, which is not necessarily eaten every day, in the urban context 
occurs between 4 and 5 P.M. In general terms, this meal is typically eaten 

94 Food Culture in South America 

by children, and not so much by adults. It can be said that the acceler- 
ated pace of life in contemporary times has resulted in the prevalence of 
breakfast and dinner as the most important mealtimes. 

In Venezuela, the three essential meals have been designated as los tres 
golpes (literally "the three hits"). This expression of the everyday language 
is used to refer to people's purchasing power. So those people with the less 
financial resources are said que no tienen para los tres golpes (not to be able 
to afford the three meals). In other countries, like Argentina, food is re- 
ferred to as el puchero (the stew), so there will be people who no les alcanza 
para completar el puchero (cannot even afford the stew). A great variety of 
dishes can be prepared for each of these meals. Thus, only some illustra- 
tive examples will be presented. 


The first meal of the day, breakfast (desayuno or pequeno almogo), is 
bread-based. There is a very wide range of bread types, as there are differ- 
ent ingredients that can be used to make it, different means of obtaining 
these ingredients, and various ways to prepare and consume the bread. 
Even though the concept of bread is univocal and universal inasmuch as 
this product is essential to human beings, detailed research on the differ- 
ent cultures shows that the concept actually becomes diverse and specific. 
The European conquerors of the sixteenth century used the word almost 
exclusively to refer to wheat bread, but for the contemporaneous native 
peoples of the Americas, bread was made from corn or cassava. Many Af- 
rican slaves, though, considered plantains to be their bread. 

The typical South American types — mainly based on the use of corn 
and cassava (or manioc) — are discussed here first, then the wheat breads, 
and finally the plantain-based types. Although corn and cassava or man- 
ioc breads dominate, consumption statistics indicate that wheat bread has 
been playing an ever more considerable role. Another very important ele- 
ment of South American breakfasts is coffee, which is consumed either 
alone or with milk. 


From north to south, the most important corn breads are arepas (from 
Venezuela and part of Colombia) and tamales (found in the rest of the 
continent), plus a variety of the tamales known as humita. 

Typical Meals 95 

Arepas on a griddle {budare). 

An arepa is a patty of about 10 to 15 cm (about 5 inches) in diam- 
eter and 1 to 3 cm (3/4 inch) thick, made with corn flour, no yeast, and 
sometimes even without salt. Making arepas involves removing the corn 
kernels from the corncobs, which, once soaked, would be ground in the 
metate or in the pilon. Then, the dough obtained is shaped into patties 
by pressing small amounts of dough against the palms of both hands. 
These small patties are cooked over a flame on a griddle, which used to 
be made of clay and is now made of iron. This griddle has been recently 
substituted by a kind of waffle iron made of cast iron, and lately some 
industries are even manufacturing an electrical appliance that serves the 
same purpose. Nowadays, the food industry produces a precooked corn 
flour that saves people all the hard work that is required to obtain the 
dough. This product has enabled the successful survival of this dish that 
dates back to pre-Columbian times and that still plays a role within the 
hectic everyday life of contemporary times. Arepas must be eaten when 
they are freshly cooked, or they will go stale; reheating them does not 
work well, and they tend to become moldy quickly. This South American 
bread is more or less the equivalent of the hoecake, which was shaped 
similarly to the arepa, used to be eaten during colonial times in the south- 
ern United States, and named for the process the African slaves used to 
cook the corn dough. The name arepa derives from the Carib word erepa, 
which appears in the vocabularies written by the Spanish missionaries of 
colonial times as an equivalent of food, sustenance, or bread, and which 
in turn derives from the word aripo, which was used to refer to the round 
griddle used by the natives to cook the bread. It would seem that the 
Cumanagoto tribe inhabiting the northeastern part of what is now Ven- 
ezuela were the ones who started to use the word arepa to designate this 
corn-based patty — a term that then spread throughout the rest of the 
Venezuelan territory as well as in Colombia. 

Arepas are always part of everyday breakfasts and can also be eaten 
throughout the day, as in many cities they are eaten for lunch, filled with 
cheese, stewed meat, chicken, or beans, with ground pork cracklings some- 
times added to the dough. Such preparations have very picturesque names, 

96 Food Culture in South America 

like the one used in Venezuela to refer to arepas filled with stewed chicken 
and pieces of avocado, namely reina pepiada, which would be something 
like "saucy queen," or the term used to designate arepas filled with black 
beans and white cheese, namely domino. Arepas can be considered the 
fast food of the inhabitants of these regions. Even though this bread is 
commonly cooked on a griddle, in Colombia it is sometimes fried in oil. 
Another remarkable aspect includes the fact that arepas are also prepared 
adding grated brown sugarloaf (i.e., unrefined sugar) and aniseeds to the 
dough. This type of arepa is consumed as an afternoon snack with grated 
white fresh cheese. 

Cornmeal has also been used to prepare other types of small breads, 
with an elongated instead of a round shape, known as tamales. They are 
not only typical of South America, but are also a key feature of the food 
culture of other regions, such as Mexico. The general term used to refer 
to these corn breads is native to the Central American territory, spe- 
cifically deriving from the Nahuatl language, in which they were called 
tamalli — a term that was then spread by the conquerors throughout the 
rest of the New World. In the Andean region, within the territory that 
once corresponded to the Inca Empire, they were designated with the 
Quechua word humintas, which is still used in Peru, Bolivia, and Chile. 
However, in this same area, people differentiate between tamales and 
humintas today, the main difference being the fact that the former are 
made with dried and cooked corn and the latter with fresh corn (called 
jojoto in Venezuela and choclo in Peru). Besides, there are different types 
of tamales depending on their filling, ranging from the Venezuelan hal- 
laca — consisting of corn dough filled with a stew made of pork, hen, and 
even beef, plus other ingredients — to the Peruvian tamale, whose fill- 
ing is only a piece of pork dewlap and a black olive. The Venezuelan 
hallaca and Peruvian tamales are wrapped in plantain leaves, while the 
others are wrapped in the same corn husks. South American tamales are 
boiled and not steamed, as is the case of the Central American ones. 
The varieties of tamales that are considered in order to classify them as 
breads are those prepared only with the corn dough (i.e., those without 
fillings). There are sweet and also savory tamales, while some are simply 
neutral tasting. They are eaten for breakfast, as snacks, or sometimes are 
even served for lunch or dinner as an accompaniment to heavy stews. In 
Brazil, a variety of tamale called pamonhas is sweetened with sugar, and 
grated coconut and cassava are added. Pamonhas are typical of Bahia, 
Paraiba, Recife, and Ceara. 

Typical Meals 97 

Humitas (Bolivia) 

10 ears of fresh corn and their husks 

11/2 tablespoons sugar 

3 eggs 

2 pounds cheese, grated 

1/4 cup lard 

1/4 cup butter 

salt to taste 

Remove the husks and set aside. Grate the raw corn and mix it with the beaten 
eggs. Melt lard and butter and add them to the mixture. Add the cheese, sugar, 
and salt. Mix everything well and place spoonfuls of the mixture in the corn 
husks. Close them by doubling the husk. Tie them in the middle. Cook (prefer- 
ably steam) for 1 hour. (10 to 12 servings) 

Cassava or Manioc 

Another bread type that is traditionally prepared in the tropical zone of 
South America since pre-Hispanic times is the casabe. There is also the so- 
called manoco — another food consumed as bread and typical of Amazonia. 
The casabe is a big, round, flat bread made from bitter cassava, which is pre- 
viously grated and pressed to obtain a mixture that is spread with a wooden 
spatula on a round griddle (made of clay in the past and of iron nowadays) 
called a budare, aripo, or callana. This bread is not seasoned, so its flavor is 
simply that of the tuber used to prepare it. The diameter of this sort of pan- 
cake or cracker ranges approximately from 40 to 60 centimeters (15 to 25 
inches), and it is usually no thicker than half a centimeter (1/4 inch). As 
it is impossible to serve a cracker of this size on a table, it is usually broken 
up into four or more pieces, which is done by pressing on the bread with 
the side of the hand. Nevertheless, smaller casabes of five to six centimeters 
(about 2.25 inches) in diameter are being produced in the main Venezuelan 
and Colombian cities, and are served along with other breads like arepas 
and tamales. There are basically two types of casabe: a thicker one, which is 
difficult to break and also to chew, which is usually soaked in broth or water 
when it is on the table, and a thinner type, which can thus be easily bro- 
ken and was called a xau-xau in the past and a galleta (cracker) today. The 
thicker type of casabe was consumed in pre-Columbian times by the tribe 
chiefs and witch doctors. Manoco is also obtained by pressing grated cassava, 


Food Culture in South America 

but it is then only coasted a little on the griddle and stirred to obtain a kind 
of lumpy and dry starch. This food is used as an accompaniment to stews, 
just as if it were, for example, rice. In contemporary times, cassava flour is 
commonly used to prepare some kinds at'arepas or small tamales. 

Other Breads of Wheat or Plantain 

Even though neither wheat nor plantains are native to South America, 
their early transfer to the region, plus the European and African influ- 
ence, paved the way for breads based on the use of these ingredients to be 
accepted and to become popular. The bread made with wheat flour, taken 
to South America by the conquerors, was soon appreciated, and with time 
its consumption spread throughout the region, to the extent that currently 
it is very popular and competes — sometimes quite successfully — with the 
South American breads. There is a very wide range of these breads, not 
only because of the different regions where they are prepared, but also due 
to the differences arising from the seasons of the year in which they are 
made, which will be described in chapter 6, "Special Occasions." Gener- 
ally speaking, though, loaves of bread similar to the French baguette or 
to the Galician bread types are prepared in Venezuela, as well as certain 
round bread rolls seasoned with unrefined sugar and aniseeds called ace- 
mitas, which are native to the Andean region of that country. In Colom- 

Bread sellers, one drinking matey Caacupe, Paraguay. © TRIP/M. Barlow. 

Typical Meals 99 

bia, both in Cundinamarca and in Boyaca, mogolla is prepared, which is a 
bread made with wheat bran, while in Popayan, pambazo is prepared — a 
bread loaf made with whole wheat flour, yeast, eggs, salt, sugar, lard, and 
lukewarm water. Currently, the bread-making industry has gained consid- 
erable importance in the entire continent. Almost every food store sells 
loaves, which are made in the American style, bringing about the popu- 
larization of the electrical appliances that toast them. 

Plantains are also used to prepare dishes that take the role of bread. The 
unripe fruit is sliced into very thin rounds and fried, receiving the name 
tostones in Venezuela. In Colombia, a similar dish is prepared, the pata- 
cones, which consist of thicker slices that are first mashed, then fried and 
sometimes seasoned with garlic. In some tropical zones, the role of bread 
is also played by balls made with cooked and mashed plantains, which are 
known as bolas de pldtano. These plantain balls have been traditionally as- 
sociated with the slave population and are only eaten in rural areas today. 

Egg Dishes 

Eggs are constantly present in South American breakfasts. They can be 
served in different forms: fried, scrambled, or as omelets. Scrambled eggs 
can include onions, chives, and chopped tomatoes — in which case the 
dish is called perico in Venezuela. Omelets can feature onions, tomatoes, 
and also diced fresh cheese, as well as pork chorizo sausage, and are usually 
seasoned with cumin and salt. 


Fruit is generally eaten for breakfasts, but it can also be part of lunch. 
The range of fruits with which nature has provided South America is 
incredibly wide. Therefore, there are countless fruit dishes in the differ- 
ent continental zones, so only a few examples will be presented. To this 
end, two key fruits have been chosen for being the most prestigious ones 
within the regional cuisine, namely avocados and plantains. The ensalada 
de aguacate (avocado salad) is one good example. It is served either as a 
starter or as a side, especially with grilled meat. Its preparation involves 
cutting the avocado pulp in segments that are then seasoned with oil, 
vinegar, and onions, plus salt, pepper, and sometimes hot pepper. An- 
other well-known dish made with this fruit is the aguacate relleno (stuffed 
avocados), which came about because of the ease with which the fruit 
can be cut into half lengthwise (without peeling it), the big pit removed, 

100 Food Culture in South America 

and then each half stuffed with a salad made of shrimp, crab, or chicken 
mixed with mayonnaise sauce, and generally garnished with parsley. This 
is a starter in almost all South American restaurants but is also prepared 
at home. 

Plantains are also a common food in South America, especially in the 
tropical region. One famous plantain dish used as accompaniment is pre- 
pared by removing the skins, cutting them only a little lengthwise and 
filling them with butter and fresh cheese, wrapping them in wax paper or 
tinfoil, and finally oven roasting them. Another way to prepare them is 
by slicing the ripe fruit on the diagonal and frying them. They can also 
be used to prepare the typical dishes known as tostones and patacores men- 
tioned earlier. 


The alcohol-free beverages of choice in South America, generally avail- 
able for breakfast, are coffee and cocoa. Coffee plays a much more impor- 
tant role than cocoa. Coffee has become the national beverage of Brazil 
and Colombia (large coffee producers) and also of Venezuela (a minor 
producer). This does not imply that coffee is a common beverage in only 
these three countries. It is actually consumed in the whole region every 
morning before work, both in the country and in the city; during a break 
at work; and after dinner. The South American coffee production is not 
only one of the largest in the world, but also one with the highest qual- 
ity, as Colombia and Venezuela have fine Arabica-type coffee beans that 
successfully compete with coffee beans from other world regions. Cocoa, 
which played the main role up until the nineteenth century, has not com- 
pletely vanished in contemporary times, probably thanks to the fact that 
the chocolate industry produces soluble cacao powder in large quantities, 
providing for a very popular product that is even imported by other coun- 
tries, especially the United States. Cocoa is nowadays consumed either 
hot or cold. 

There are other typical beverages in the region that, depending on their 
preparation, can be classified as alcohol-free or as alcoholic drinks. First of 
all, there is chicha, which is consumed in the whole Andean region and in 
Amazonia. This beverage is mostly prepared with corn, but sometimes it 
is also made with cassava or with rice. Corn chicha — one of the most im- 
portant legacies of pre-Colombian Indians — continues to be very appre- 
ciated by many people. Its preparation varies depending on the country, 
but a common procedure is followed everywhere: corn is ground and left 

Typical Meals 101 

to ferment with some water, to which other ingredients are added, such 
as pineapple peels and some unrefined cane sugar. During the first half of 
the twentieth century, the consumption of this strongly fermented drink 
was so high that it even became prohibited by the law, as its consumption 
was considered a cause of alcoholism among the indigenous populations. 
This was the case particularly in Colombia. Other drinks are designated 
as chicha } but they are not made with corn, as is the case of cachirri, which 
is made with fermented cassava, in the Amazonian region, and which is 
practically only consumed by native tribes still living in these vast areas, 
as well as by some criollos living there, who have become accustomed to 
drinking it. In Venezuela and Colombia, a drink called chicha is prepared 
with rice and aromatized with almond essence. Even though this rice chi- 
cha is slightly fermented, it cannot be considered an alcoholic drink. In 
these two countries, this beverage is industrially produced and sold in all 
supermarkets, while there are still vendors called chicheros selling it on 
the street. 

Within this subclass of alcohol-free beverages, there is a drink that is 
more liquid than chicha, consisting of unrefined sugar or brown sugarloaf 
diluted in water with some lime. This refreshing liquid is known in the 
Colombian-Venezuelan Andean zone as agua de panela, papelon con limon, 
aguamiel, and also guarapo. It is consumed either raw or cooked depending 
on the locale. Sometimes pineapple peels are added to this guarapo, result- 
ing in certain fermentation. 

Other typical alcohol-free beverages are the fruit drinks, designated 
as frescos, caratos, or batidos. These are prepared with tropical fruits like 
papaya, guava, mango, pineapple, and soursop, among many others, and 
are sweetened with cane sugar. Sometimes, different fruits are mixed to 
obtain new flavors. In South America, these drinks still compete with 
carbonated beverages, among which there are some that are native to the 
region, such as Inca Cola or Guarana. 


Despite the limitations imposed by the accelerated pace of contempo- 
rary life on lunch (almuerzp or almogo), it can still be said that for South 
Americans there is no lunch if there is no soup. Pots and soups play a 
very important role in South American cuisine, most of them stemming 
from their analogous European dishes. The habit of eating soup as the first 
course in a meal is deeply rooted among South Americans, so the homes 
and restaurants where they are not offered should be considered excep- 

102 Food Culture in South America 

tions. Very often, it is even the case that soup is the only thing served, 
especially in a poorer household. If suddenly more people come to the 
house at mealtimes, there will not be any problem in receiving them and 
giving them something to eat if there is a soup, as some water could simply 
be added to it — as an old popular saying states — so that there is enough 
for everybody. There are countless types of soups, because the ingredients 
that are normally available to the people in the markets and any other 
food stores can be combined in innumerable ways. Some representative 
ones will be described here. 

South American Pots 

The pots prepared in South America basically stem from the food cul- 
ture of both pre-Columbian natives and the Europeans that conquered 
and colonized the new lands. The Carib indigenous people used to pre- 
pare a kind of soup that was very hot, using hot peppers, water, certain 
herbs, and pieces of game meat. This sort of concoction is still consumed 
in some Caribbean islands, where it is called "Caribbean pot," and in 
the Guianas, where it is called "pepper pot." As for the Iberian influ- 
ence, South American pots are reminiscent of the famous olla podrida 
that appears in the Spanish and Portuguese recipe books of the European 
contact period. The olla podrida can be considered the mother of many of 
the soups consumed in the different South American countries. Some of 
its South American offshoots are the Venezuelan hervidos and sancochos, 
based on the use of stocks of beef, poultry, or fish; the Colombian ajiaco 
and other Colombian soups also known as sancochos; the Brazilian cozido; 
and the Argentinean puchero. The puchero is the one most similar to the 
Iberian pot. 

Puchero (Argentina) 

2 pounds beef short ribs 
1/2 pound lean and salted pork, sliced 
1 1/2 pounds chicken, cut into pieces 

3 Spanish chorizo sausages 

4 quarts water 
6 peeled carrots 
6 medium onions 

Typical Meals 103 

6 cloves garlic, chopped 

1 small squash, peeled, cleaned, and sliced 

6 tomatoes 

1 cabbage, vertically cut into eight parts 

1 green pepper, seeded 

6 medium potatoes, peeled 

6 leeks, cut into 3 -inch pieces 

1 16-ounce can chickpeas, drained 

2 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped 

Fill a large pot with 4 quarts of water, bring to a boil, and add the beef, pork, and 
chicken. Put the lid on the pot and cook over medium heat for 1 1/2 hours. Add 
the chorizos and carrots and cook for 30 minutes more. Add the onions, garlic, 
squash, tomatoes, cabbage, green pepper, potatoes, leeks, chickpeas, and parsley. 
Continue cooking for 30 minutes more until potatoes are tender. Remove the 
meat and arrange on a platter. Do the same with the vegetables, placing them 
around the meat. Serve the broth in soup dishes and bring everything to the 
table. Each person will help him or herself directly from the platter. (10 to 12 

This sort of "offspring" of the Iberian pot is generally characterized by 
the use of South American vegetables, such as cassava, taro, arracacha, 
sweet potatoes, corncobs, and an ingredient of African origin, the yam. 
An example of these kinds of soups is the ajiaco bogotano. 

Ajiaco Bogotano (Colombia) 

1 large chicken 

6 small yellow potatoes 

1 cup butter 

3 large onions, finely chopped 
1/4 cup capers 
8 medium white potatoes 
6 cups chicken stock 
1 teaspoon salt 
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper 
3 guasca leaves (optional) 
3 tender corncobs, cut into halves 

104 Food Culture in South America 

Cut up the chicken into pieces and season it with salt and pepper. In a pot, brown 
the chicken in butter. Add the onions and stir to keep it from burning. Pour 
in the chicken stock and let boil. Slice half of the white potatoes and add to 
thicken the stock, along with the corncob halves. Let boil until all the ingredi- 
ents are well cooked. Dice the remaining white potatoes and add along with the 
yellow ones (whole). Cook until tender, which means the soup is ready. Add the 
capers and guasca leaves just before serving. (6 servings) 

Sometimes, the stocks made with beef, fish, or certain sea products are 
thickened with milk, and fresh cheese and eggs are added. These soups 
are called chupe and are equivalent to the American chowders. In the An- 
dean zone, and particularly in Peru, chupe de camarones (shrimp chowder) 
is very popular; this soup is usually hot, as chopped hot peppers or chili 
paste is added. 

Chupe de Camarones (Peru) 

2 cups shrimp, peeled 

2 pounds white-fleshed fish, cut into medium-sized pieces 
1 pound potatoes, peeled, water-boiled, and chopped into large pieces 
1 cup peas 
1 pound rice 
4 cups milk 

3 eggs, beaten 
1 cup vegetable fat 

1 onion, chopped 
6 tomatoes, peeled and diced 

2 red peppers, seeded and diced 
1 cup white cheese, diced 
salt, pepper, and oregano to taste 

Brown the onions in preheated fat. Add the tomatoes and one of the red peppers, 
and cook for about 15 minutes. Add the potatoes and peas. Then add the milk 
and the rice and stir well. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and oregano. Cook 
for 15 to 20 minutes. Add the other red pepper, the fish, and the beaten eggs. Let 
it cook for 15 minutes more. Remove from heat and add the cheese just before 
serving. (6 to 8 servings) 

In Venezuela, chupe de gallina (hen chowder), which does not have eggs 
but does have asparagus, is prepared. 

Typical Meals 105 

Varied Soups 

Many other soups are prepared throughout the continent, such as the 
green plantain soup, which is not only consumed by adults, but especially 
given to the kids when they have an upset stomach, due to its binding 
properties — something like the Iberian apple compote. The repertoire 
of South American soups also features countless preparations based on 
beans. The beans are stewed and then either left whole or reduced to a 
puree that is then diluted with stock. Some examples would be the white- 
bean and the green-bean soups — both from Antioquia, Colombia — based 
on the use of pork stock. There is also the chupe de porotos (Chilean bean 
chowder), considered one of the top dishes of Chilean cuisine, which in- 
cludes celery, bay leaves, red pepper, garlic, ginger, and tomatoes and is 
dyed with saffron (diluted with sherry) or ground Spanish paprika. An- 
other example is the sopa de feijdo preto (Brazilian black-bean soup); a ham 
bone is used to prepare the stock, to which hot pepper is added, as well 
as leeks, onions, celery, cumin, cloves, chopped-up hard-boiled eggs, lime 
slices, and sometimes cream and some wine. 

Not all South American soups are prepared using multiple ingredients, 
though. People also consume soups like consomme, especially the one 
made from hen, which has been always known for its invigorating proper- 
ties and was therefore given for 40 consecutive days to women who had 
just given birth. So when a man would find out that his wife was pregnant, 
he would start to set aside enough money to be able to buy 40 hens, so that 
she could follow such a diet. (This practice is still carried out in the rural 
areas.) Besides, hen consomme has played an important role in wakes, as 
it is served to the deceased's relatives and friends to keep them awake. Of 
course, this soup was also consumed in other occasions, especially at im- 
portant dinners where this dish would contribute certain elegance. 

Many times, soup is the only dish eaten at lunch. Yet it can be followed 
by a dish with beef or fish, or also with vegetables, like rice — usually ac- 
companied by beans and fried plantains, as is the case of the Venezuelan 
dish called pabellon: 

Pabellon (Venezuela) 


• 1 pound black beans 

• 1 tablespoon brown sugar 

• 3 tablespoons vegetable oil 

106 Food Culture in South America 

1/2 medium red pepper, cut in strips 

1 medium onion, finely chopped 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1/8 teaspoon cumin 

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped 


2 cups rice 

4 cups water 

3 tablespoons vegetable oil 
2 cloves garlic 
1/2 medium onion 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1/2 large red pepper 

Fried Meat 

1 pound flank 

1 clove garlic, finely chopped 
1/2 large onion, peeled and finely chopped 
1/2 cup vegetable oil 

2 tomatoes, peeled and diced 
1/4 tablespoon salt 


2 ripe plantains 

1/4 cup oil 

Beans. Wash beans well and soak overnight. The next day, boil in water until 
soft. Make a sofrito with the onions, garlic, salt, cumin, and pepper. Add this 
sofrito to the soft beans and mix in brown sugar. Stir carefully and let boil over 
medium heat until it thickens. 

Rice. Rinse the rice well. Boil the water with the condiments. Add the rice. Let 
it boil until the water starts to reduce. Turn heat to very low and cover the pot. 
Remove from heat when the grain is puffy. 

Fried meat. Boil the meat with salt until it is tender. Drain the water and shred 
the meat. In a frying pan, saute the onion, tomatoes, and garlic for 15 minutes 
to prepare a sofrito. Add the shredded meat and mix well. Continue frying for 15 
minutes more. 

Typical Meals 


Plantains. Peel and cut the ripe plantains diagonally into l/4-inch-thick slices. 
Fry them in very hot oil. 

Place each element on a separate serving dish. People will serve themselves a por- 
tion of each ingredient, which they will mix or eat alternately. (6 servings) 


Dinner (cena or jantar) is probably the most important meal of the day 
in the continent. Some of the typical dishes that can be featured by this 
meal are presented here. 

Stews, Fried Food, Roasts, and Salads 

Even though the South American food culture features a wide range of 
meats and meat- based recipes, there are three main classes: beef, pork, and 
poultry r . It is remarkable that the prices of these very meat types have con- 
siderably increased since the early 1990s. The highest price increase has 
been for beef and pork. Poultry can still be afforded by the majority of the 
population. Most of the recipes used to prepare meat have Spanish roots, 
although some of them are pre-Columbian recipes that have evolved with 
the incorporation of foreign ingredients or European ways of cooking. 

The beef-based dishes can be classified in two main categories: those 
prepared outside and those prepared in the kitchen. The best examples of 

Parrdla — sheep barbecue, Tierra del Fuego, Argen- 
tina. ©TRIP/Eric Smith. 

108 Food Culture in South America 

those made outside are probably the terrtera Ikinera, typical of Venezuela, 
and the Argentinean roast (asado). Both have been traditionally prepared 
by the inhabitants of the Llanos and Pampas and involve the use of more 
than one freshly obtained piece of meat and sometimes the whole animal. 
The cooking procedure is relatively easy: first, a sizable bonfire should be 
lit; then, when the embers have formed, metal or hard wooden sticks must 
be driven into the pieces of meat and placed around the embers. The meat 
is not seasoned; only a little salt is added when the meat is ready — mostly 
when it is very well done. Those who will eat the meat (traditionally, the 
Venezuelan llaneros and the Brazilian, Uruguayan, and Argentinean gau- 
chos), armed with very sharp knives, cut the parts they feel like eating and 
take them with their hands to bring them directly to their mouths. Oth- 
ers will have their pieces cut and served in a wooden tray or on a pewter 
or china plate, and use a knire and their hands to cut and eat the meat. 
This is said to be the traditional and authentic way to prepare and con- 
sume a roast. These roasts are usually eaten without side dishes, although 
sometimes they can be accompanied by certain corn-bread rolls, casabe, 
or any boiled tuber. Nowadays, there are restaurants known as parrilladas 
or churrascarias in almost all South American countries where people can 
consume such roasts ready made. These places are even endowed with 
smoke extractors, which are not always as efficient as they should be, as 
the clients' clothes usually end up smelling of parrilla (roast). This dish 
has become very popular in almost all South American cities, and dif- 
ferent varieties have emerged in different places* An example of such an 
evolution is the case of the Argentinean-style restaurants that were es- 
tablished in Venezuela in the middle of the twentieth century. They only 
served meat in the beginning but soon began to add other dishes, such as 
boiled cassava, corn-bread rolls called hallaquitas, arepas, fresh cheese, and 
a sauce called guasacaca made of avocado and herbs, which is native to 
Venezuela, as well as another hot sauce prepared with hot pepper. More- 
over, this Venezuelan version of the Argentinean parrillada eliminated the 
entrails served in Argentina and replaced them with sausages and cho- 
rizos. This is, in fact, a very peculiar example of the Argentinean roast's 

Meat is also prepared in the kitchen. There are countless dishes pre- 
pared there, and they vary depending on the part of the animal that is 
being used and the cooking method applied. In Argentina — to start with 
the country whose cattle is the most famous — there is a very popular dish 
called matambre, made with the flank (i.e., the cut taken from between 
the nh hones and the skin of the animal). This cut (also known as mat- 

Typical Meals 109 

ambre in Spanish) is seasoned with salt, pepper, hot pepper, some oil and 
vinegar, parsley, and bay leaves. The whole piece is then rolled, tied with 
a string, wrapped up in wax paper, placed in a container, and roasted. 
Then, when it is ready, it is cut into slices that can be served with dif- 
ferent side dishes. In Colombia, especially in the area of Cundinamarca, 
the same meat cut, known as sobrebarriga, is used to make a dish with 
the same name. Preparing it involves boiling the meat for a long period 
of time to tenderize it; seasoning the water with onions, garlic, oregano, 
thyme, bay leaves, coriander, and other herbs; and then draining the meat 
and roasting it after marinating it with bitter beer. It is usually served 
with potatoes or rice. In Peru, the typical dish is the anticuchos , which 
are chunks of cattle heart marinated with vinegar, hot pepper, garlic, and 
other condiments and then skewered and grilled. Peruvians are very keen 
on preparing this dish, which is not only offered in almost all inexpensive 
restaurants, but also in food stands on the street. In Venezuela, people 
usually consume the falda (skirt) cut, which is almost equivalent to the 
cut known as matambre in Argentina. It is first boiled, then shredded and 
cut into 5 to 8 cm (about 2.5 inches) long strips, and finally stewed using 
the sofrito sauce as a base. 

In Uruguay, the popular meat dish is the carbonado,. It is prepared with 
veal that is cut in small cubes and browned in the pot where the sofrito has 
been prepared; then different vegetables are added, and when everything 
is tender, peach and apple pieces are added, as well as rice. This is left on 
the stove until the rice is cooked. 

Carbonada (Uruguay) 

1 pound veal meat 

3 peaches, peeled, pitted, and diced 

1/2 cup oil 

3 tablespoons stock 

1 tablespoon vegetable fat 

1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped 
3/4 cup squash, peeled and diced 

2 tomatoes, peeled and diced 
2 corncobs, cut into halves 
3/4 cup rice, cooked 
1 medium potato, peeled and diced 
1 apple, peeled, seeded and diced 


Food Culture in South America 

2 cloves garlic 

1 sweet potato, peeled and diced 

1/8 teaspoon oregano 

1/8 teaspoon thyme 

1/8 teaspoon bay leaves 

1/2 tablespoon parsley 

1/4 tablespoon salt 

Dice the meat. Saute garlic and onions, add the meat, and let brown. Add the 
tomatoes, fat, and herbs. Add the vegetables to the meat. Season with salt and 
pepper. Cover and let cook over low heat until tender. Add peaches, apple, and 
rice. Cover again and put on low heat for 15 minutes more. (6 servings) 

In Chile, the most highly prized meat-based dish is the empanada, 
which consists of a wheat pastry that is filled with a stew made from small 
pieces of meat, carrots, black olives, raisins, and hard-boiled eggs and sea- 
soned with celery, oregano, onions, cumin, and hot pepper. It is not fried, 
but roasted, unlike many other empanadas. 

Pork is very popular in South America, which is the best proof of the 
great influence exerted by the Iberian cuisine in the region. Practically 
all the dishes prepared with pork have an Iberian origin, which becomes 
clear if one takes a look at their names: jamon, chicharron, chorizos, Ion- 
ganizas, and morcillas, among others. No matter where it is raised and 
consumed, nothing goes to waste from this generous animal, because 
what is not used for eating is used for something else. The hams that 
used to be prepared in Spain and Portugal before the conquest are con- 
sidered the ancestors of some of the South American hams, like the 
Venezuelan pernil and the Peruvian jamon del pais. The pernil consists of 
a leg of pork marinated in garlic, vinegar, oregano, and cumin, which is 
then roasted in the oven until golden brown on the outside and juicy on 
the inside. It is prepared for certain special occasions and is presented 
in slices, drizzled with the cooking juices. These slices are also used to 
prepare a sandwich made with small, elongated wheat-bread buns — a 
kind of snack that is served in many restaurants along Venezuelan roads. 
The jamon del pais, native to Peru, is a similar dish that is also prepared 
with the leg of the pork, but is boiled in water instead of roasted. It 
is previously seasoned with cumin, hot pepper, oil, and pepper; tightly 
wrapped in a piece of fabric; and tied with a string. It is eaten as a main 
course, presented in slices, or used to fill sandwiches, in which pieces of 

Typical Meals 1 1 1 

black olives and a sauce made with thinly cut onions, hot pepper, and 
lime are also added. 

A special snack that is appreciated in practically all South American 
countries is the chicharrorij which requires frying and then sprinkling of 
salt. It is usually eaten while having a couple of drinks or simply as a 
snack. In some areas, chicharron is also added to the cornmeal dough of 
arepas and tamales. To this end, it is previously fried, well drained, and 
ground. Many South Americans enjoy eating it at breakfast. 

The sausages of the cocina criolla deserve a section to themselves. Even 
though their preparation is based on the Iberian patterns in general, in 
South America they have been adapted in some ways. For example, in 
the eastern part of Venezuela, the morcilla (blood sausage) features large 
quantities of a small capsicum, known there as aji dulce (sweet pepper), 
which is not hot and provides food with a very special scent. Grated sug- 
arloaf is also added to the blood, lending morcillas a very particular sweet 
flavor. By contrast, in Colombia, one of the most appreciated sausages is 
the longaniza (spicy sausage), which is a kind of long chorizo of some 20 
cm (8 inches) that is not sweet at all, but rather salty. 

Along the northern coast of Venezuela, as well as in some parts of Brazil 
and northern Peru, kid meat is used to prepare a wide range of very popu- 
lar dishes. In Venezuela, these dishes are prepared with salted goat meat, 
which is known as salon del chivo. The cooking procedure includes desalt- 
ing the meat and then stewing or frying it, always preparing the sofrito. 
Brazilians — who refer to this animal with two names, either bode (male) 
or cabra (female) — eat it roasted or stewed. And Peruvians use this animal 
to prepare a stew they call seco de cabrito, generally using the leg of the 
animal, which they season with salt, pepper, cumin, garlic, and hot pep- 
per; then they add orange juice, brown the meat in oil, and add coriander 
and chicha to finish cooking. 

The sheep taken to the Americas by the conquerors did not acclima- 
tize to the warm regions, but rather to those with temperate or cold cli- 
mates. Today, their meat is consumed especially in Peru, Brazil, Chile, 
and Argentina. In Argentina, a popular dish called cordero patagonico is 
very appreciated by gastronomes. In contemporary times, African sheep 
accustomed to the warm climate have been brought to Venezuela, for ex- 
ample. However, in Venezuela, lamb is not popular due to its somewhat 
rancid flavor. In the Andean countries, there is the seco de cordero, the 
cooking procedure of which is very similar to that of goat stew (seco de 
cabrito). In Brazil, people prepare a dish known as buchada, both with ram 
and with goat. The main ingredients of the dish are the head, entrails, 

112 Food Culture in South America 

intestines, legs, and blood of the animal, usually seasoned with coriander, 
chives, tomato, cumin, pepper, garlic, hay leaves, and vinegar. Typical- 
food recipe books recommend that these parts of the animal be extremely 
well washed before stewing. This Brazilian dish would be equivalent to 
the mute de ovejo prepared in western Venezuela, where it is also known as 
mondongo de chivo or mondongo de camera. 

Llama meat, along with that of alpaca, vicuna, and guanaco — fre- 
quently eaten during pre-Colombian times — are currently only consumed 
in some places, especially in the Andean rural areas. When offered in 
modern restaurants, they are appetizers. There is a dish, though, which is 
still consumed in Peru and Bolivia. It consists of a stew made with a tuber 
known as olluco (Ullucus tuberosus) in Peru, as melluco in Ecuador, and as 
ruba in Colombia, plus charqui (salted llama meat), hot pepper, cumin, 
pepper, parsley, and some stock, and is dyed with a yellowish color using 
a little annatto. 

Hens have traditionally been the most appreciated domesticated birds, 
as their meat is considered to be of the highest quality and to provide 
the greatest sustenance. This is why they were preferred over chickens. 
Nevertheless, chickens are more consumed than hens nowadays, as they 
are less expensive. There are different ways of preparing hen depending 
on the zone within the South American continent. It can be roasted, 
stewed, used as a broth, or even fried. For example, in Peru, there is the 
famous dish aji de gallina, the preparation of which requires boiling a big, 
fat hen; removing the meat from the bones; shredding it; and adding it to 
a mixture of garlic, onions, pepper, different hot-pepper varieties, cumin, 
milk-soaked bread, and crumbled fresh cheese. This preparation is usually 
served with rice and is decorated with olives, hard-boiled eggs, lettuce, 
and parsley. It is a succulent dish that quickly sates anyone's appetite. In 
Brazil, hen is washed with lime juice; the meat is removed from the bones 
and seasoned with garlic and salt; it is put to cook in a pot where dry 
shrimp and peanuts have been previously sauteed in oil; stock is added — 
preferably from the animal — and it is cooked until the meat is tender; and 
at the end, some palm oil or dende (as it is called in Brazil) is added. It is 
usually served with farofa, which is thick cassava flour. This succulent dish 
is called xinxim de gallina. Hen meat is also combined with rice or cous- 
cous, or used as a base for a pickling dish with vinegar, onions, carrots, bay 
leaves, and hot pepper. In Venezuela, the most famous hen-based dish is 
the hervido — a kind of broth, to which potatoes, cabbage, arracacha, and 
other Venezuelan tubers are added. A number of dishes are prepared spe- 
cifically with chicken, such as pebre (a Catalan word meaning "pepper"). 

Typical Meals 1 1 3 

which consists of a chicken stew made with a lot of pepper. In Venezuela, 
this dish also features tomatoes, onions, garlic, olives, raisins, capers, cin- 
namon, and cloves; some sweet wine; and a little hit of grated hrown sug- 
arloaf. But there are many ways to prepare chicken: roasted, stewed, fried, 
or grilled. This latter form is very popular in almost all South American 
countries; many people go to specific restaurants where it is prepared as 
a specialty, not only to consume it there, but also for takeout. The Mus- 
covy duck — native to South America and known there as pato amazpnico 
(Amazonian duck) — is commonly found in farms in the rural areas and 
even in many cities of the region. It is either raised at home or purchased 
in the market. The Muscovy duck is a favorite delicacy throughout the 
continent, featuring a wide range of recipes depending on the country. 
For example, in Brazilian Amazonia, there is a famous dish known as pato 
no tucupiy which consists of a roasted duck previously marinated in salt, 
bay leaves, black pepper, cumin, and vinegar. Once roasted, it is cut into 
pieces and cooked in a juice from bitter cassava, to which garlic and an 
herb called jambu are added. It is served with cassava flour. It is a delicious 
dish for those who are accustomed to eating it, but a bit strange for those 
who have it for the first time. There is also the Peruvian dish arroz. con pato 
(rice with duck), which is prepared with lots of chopped coriander. When 
more liquid than usual is added to this dish during cooking, it is called 
aguadito de pato (duck soup) — a recipe native to the Chiclayo zone. 

Even though all South American countries have created laws to protect 
wild animals, especially those species that have traditionally been hunt- 
ing targets, some people — mainly from rural areas — continue to hunt and 
poach, and obviously continue eating game meat. Among the most appre- 
ciated game meats are that of paca or lapa, which is either stewed or oven 
roasted, and that of armadillo or tutu (as it is called in Brazil), which is 
usually stewed. Another animal that is hunted, although today raised on 
farms (especially in Argentina), is the viscacha, which is pickled. 


Both the coasts bordering practically the whole continent and the 
vast and complex network of rivers watering its interior offer a bounty 
to South American cuisine. Seafood and fish have been consumed since 
pre-Columbian times and are an extremely important source of nutrients 
for the population. 

One of the most famous dishes from the Pacific Coast is said to be the 
cebiche, which is found up the coast even to Mexico. This fish should be 

114 Food Culture in South America 

very fresh and preferably of white meat. During pre-Columbian times, it 
was cut into pieces, marinated with hot pepper, and eaten raw. Then, with 
the arrival of the Europeans, it began to be marinated in lime juice from 
the lime tree they brought over, along with onions and coriander. 

From the coasts of Ecuador to the north, preparing cebiche involves using 
tomatoes and sometimes orange juice and even oil, pepper, or garlic. The 
only condition for this food not to be detrimental to one's health is that it 
should be freshly taken from the sea, which also provides for a really deli- 
cious flavor. Thus, a genuine cebiche cannot be prepared if extremely fresh 
fish are unavailable. A mixed variety of cebiche includes not only fish, but 
also shrimp, lobster, mussels, and other sea products. Nowadays, other 
ingredients, like mushrooms and chicken, are also used to prepare it. 

Cebiche de Pescado (Ecuador) 

1 pound fillets of white-fleshed fish (very fresh) 

1/2 cup lime juice 

1 teaspoon salt 

1 medium onion, cut into very thin, round slices 

1 medium ripe tomato, peeled, seeded, and finely chopped 

1 teaspoon parsley, chopped 

1/2 medium red chili, finely chopped (or 1 teaspoon hot sauce) 

Cut the fish fillets into 1 1/2-inch-long by 1/2-inch-wide strips. Place them in a 
bowl with the lime juice and salt. Set aside to marinate for 3 hours. Then add 
the onions, tomatoes, parsley, and the chili. Mix well and adjust seasoning. Serve 
cold. If desired, accompany with toasted bread and avocado slices. (4 servings) 

In Peru, cebiche is usually served with corn kernels (choclo) and with 
sweet potato (camote). The fish is marinated in the lime juice for a very 
short period, compared to what is usually the case in Chile, where the 
fish is cut into strips and marinated a whole day with vinegar, white wine, 
onions, garlic, and aromatic herbs. It is in fact one of the most versatile 
dishes of South American cuisine, which probably accounts for its great 
success among both natives and foreigners. 

Cebiche (Peru) 

• 2 pounds red snapper 

• 1/8 tablespoon Tabasco sauce 

• 3/4 cup lime juice 

Typical Meals 115 

1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, chopped 

1/2 teaspoon salt 

1 medium red onion, peeled and finely sliced 

1 tablespoon red pepper, finely chopped 

6 leaves iceberg lettuce 

1 fresh medium hot pepper 

Cut fish in 1-inch by 1/2-inch strips. Set aside in the fridge to marinate for 2 
hours in lime juice, salt, and Tabasco sauce. Afterward, add chopped onions, hot 
pepper, and cilantro, and leave in the fridge for 1 hour more. Serve cold on a leaf 
of iceberg lettuce with round slices of onion on top. Accompany with crackers or 
toasted bread triangles. (6 servings) 

If cebiche is the typical fish-based dish of the Pacific South Ameri- 
can coast, fried fish is the typical one of the Atlantic coast, including 
the Caribbean one. Big fish is cut into round slices, while small fish is 
fried whole. Fish is fried in a lot of hot oil and, once drained, is simply 
served with lime slices, accompanied by the typical plain boiled rice. 
The Spanish-speaking South American countries inherited this tech- 
nique from Andalusian cuisine. Sometimes, fried fish is marinated, along 
with some vegetables, such as onions and carrots (in round slices), green 
beans, bay leaves, and Jamaican pepper, in which case it is called esca- 
beche. This is also an old Iberian dish, to which hot pepper is also added 
in some countries of the Andean zone, such as Peru. As for fish stews, it 
can be said that in the Caribbean coast, from Colombia, Venezuela, and 
the Guianas, fish is stewed in milk extracted from coconut pulp, while in 
Brazil this technique is also applied, not only for the preparation offish, 
but also of shrimp, to which palm oil (dende) is added — resulting in a dish 
called muqueca. 

Muqueca Bahiana (Bahian Boiled Fish) (Brazil) 

1/3 cup lime juice 

2 green peppers, finely chopped 
6 fillets (approximately 1 pound) white-fleshed fish 
4 tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped 
1/2 cup olive oil 

1 cup coconut milk, extracted from pulp 

2 1/2 teaspoons salt 
1 cup hot water 

1 16 Food Culture in South America 

• 2 cloves garlic 

• 2 tablespoons flour 

• 3 large onions, finely chopped 

Mix salt, two chopped onions, and lime juice in a howl. Add the fish and set aside 
to marinate for about 2 hours. Pour the mixture in a saucepan. Add the tomatoes, 
the remaining onion, green peppers, and oil. Adjust salt and add 3/4 cup coconut 
milk. Cover the saucepan and cook over low heat for about 20 minutes. Remove 
the fish from the pan. Add the cup of water to the remaining sauce. Mix vigor- 
ously. Strain. In the remaining coconut milk, dissolve the flour and add to the 
sauce. Cook this over low heat, always stirring until it thickens. Make sure lumps 
do not form. Place the fish on a serving dish and pour the sauce over it. Serve 
with white rice. (6 servings) 

Brazilians also prepare fish or shrimp in coconut (always using palm 
oil), hut adding cassava — a dish that receives the name vatapd. To the 
south of the Andean region, in Chile, there is a famous dish called con- 
grio enfuente, which is best prepared with red cusk-eel (Genypterus chilen- 
sis). This is a stew prepared in a clay dish or pot, using onions, tomatoes, 
hard-boiled eggs, toasted bread slices, parsley, hot pepper, salt, and pepper. 
Fish fillet pieces are intermingled with layers of the ingredients until the 
container is filled. A layer of toasted bread is put on top. It is then oven 
roasted, which results in a juicy fish. 

In South America, a wide range of freshwater fish have successfully 
competed with the fish from the sea for time immemorial. In large rivers 
like the Orinoco, the Amazon, the Parana, and the Paraguay, there are 
plenty of very tasty fish, which are thus very much sought after by the 
people either living by the rivers or far from them, but who are still very 
aware of their gastronomical value. One of the most coveted inhabitants 
of these waters is probably the one called valenton in Venezuela, tau~lau in 
the Guianas, surtibim in Brazil, and surubi in Argentina. This fish has firm 
meat — as it is usually more than three feet long — and has a very good fla- 
vor. This gift from the rivers can be prepared in varied ways: grilled, fried, 
or stewed, and either without any seasoning or with varied sauces. In the 
Orinoco river basin, there is a famous fish known as morocoto (Piaractus 
brachypomus) with a flat body, a brownish -gray color that lightens toward 
the abdomen, and thick bones. Locals cut the fish in such a manner that 
they are able to take some sort of ribs out of it, which are generally fried 
after seasoning with garlic, lime, and some hot pepper. Another fish from 
the same region is the pavon (Cichh. orinocensis), which can get over 60 
cm (23 inches) long and reach up to 12 kilograms. It is of a yellowish 

Typical Meals 1 1 7 

color and has three dark spots running along its body, plus another one on 
its tail. It is not only found in the Orinoco river, but also in the Amazon 
basin. It is very much sought after due to the high quality of its meat, and, 
just like the kiu-lau, it can be prepared in a number of ways. Many people 
prefer to grill it, which requires gutting. 

Even though the South American region is endowed with a great vari- 
ety of fish, its inhabitants decided to also breed some species brought from 
abroad, such as trout and salmon. Fish breeding has taken root in Venezuela, 
Peru, and Argentina. By the middle of the twentieth century, trout breeding 
was already carried out in Venezuela and Peru, even of the so-called trucha 
salmonada (salmon trout), which is larger than the common one. In Ar- 
gentina, not only trout, but also salmon production has prospered, Salmon 
breeding in Chile must be highlighted, as it has brought about prosperity for 
many entrepreneurs, becoming one of the key export items of this country 
due to the size and quality of the specimens produced. 


It is only natural that countless dishes have been invented in South 
America on the basis of vegetables native to the continent, such as pota- 
toes, cassava, corn, beans, and palmettos. There is also rice, which — even 

Xikrin Indian eats traditional 
food, Amazon, Brazil. © TRIP/ 
Ask Images. 

118 Food Culture in South America 

though native to Asia — is perfectly acclimatized to many locations of the 
continent, becoming one of the staples for South Americans. 

Among tubers, first and most important are the potatoes. These kinds 
of queens of the Andean cuisine are appreciated from north to south, not 
only as sides to other dishes, but also as independent preparations, as is 
the case of the papas chorreadas (from Colombia). The latter are prepared 
with medium potatoes, which are peeled and boiled in salted water until 
cooked; the water is drained and they are served on a plate. The potatoes 
are then covered — therefore their name, chorreadas — with a sauce made 
with grated cheese, tomatoes, onions, salt, cumin, and pepper. 

Papas Chorreadas (Colombia) 

12 medium potatoes 

1 large onion, finely chopped 

1 pound white cheese, grated 

1/2 pound tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and finely cut 

1 tablespoon salt 

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin 

1/4 teaspoon ground pepper 

Thoroughly wash the potatoes. Peel them partially, leaving some skin on, and boil 
them. In a separate frying pan of medium depth, saute the onions and tomatoes 
with the condiments in the oil until onions are translucent. Remove the mixture 
from heat and add the grated cheese, evenly mixing it. Serve the potatoes on a 
flat platter and cover them with the sauce just before serving. (6 servings) 

The country with the widest range of potato-based recipes in the An- 
dean zone is probably Peru. One of them is the papas a la huancaina, con- 
sisting of boiled potatoes that are cut into round slices; covered with a 
sauce made with hot peppers, fresh cheese, and oil; and then decorated 
with slices of hard-boiled eggs and black olives. Another dish is the causa 
(literally "cause") — a curious name for a dish consisting of mashed pota- 
toes (prepared with hot pepper and cheese) bordering a chicken or tuna 
stew. In a similar dish, the ocopa, peanuts and shrimp are added to the 
mashed potatoes. There are many other Peruvian recipes, though, based 
on the use of this appreciated tuber. 

As for the dishes prepared with cassava — rather typical of the Ama- 
zonian region — they involve peeling the tuber, cutting it into elongated 
pieces, and either frying or boiling them. The pulp is also used to prepare 

Typical Meals 119 

a pastry that is used in the preparation of empanadas (to be filled with 
cheese or meat) and also ofbunuelos. In Colombia and Venezuela, the fa- 
mous root arracacha — also known as apio criollo — is used to prepare bunue- 
los that, once fried, are covered with sugarloaf syrup scented with cloves. 
Corn also plays a very important role and is used to prepare count- 
less dishes ranging from the South American breads — the arepas, tamales, 
and humitas — to different types of pies, such as the pastel de choclo (very 
popular in Chile and Argentina), the polenta (the typical Venezuelan pie, 
made with tender corn and filled with stewed pork or chicken), and the 
mazamorras (prepared in the whole continent). 

Pastel de Choclo (Chile) 


2 pounds lean beef, chicken, rabbit, or pork 

2 medium onions, peeled and finely sliced 

3 tablespoons olive oil 
1/2 tablespoon white pepper 
1 tablespoon dry ground oregano 
1 tablespoon cumin (in grain form) 
1 tablespoon cooking salt 
1 tablespoon ground paprika 


tender corn kernels from 12 ears of corn 

5 tablespoons and 1 teaspoon unsalted butter 

1 tablespoon cooking salt 

1 tablespoon and 1 teaspoon sugar 

1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg 

5 cups corn pulp, ground and drained 

Additional Elements 

3 hard-boiled eggs, sliced 

8 black or Kalamata-style olives, pitted and sliced 
milk (have some close at hand in case it is necessary) 

Stuffing. Boil the beef (or chicken, rabbit, or pork) for 1/4 hour. Then cut it into 
chunks of about 2 cm (1 inch). Preserve stock. Put the onion in a saucepan and 

120 Food Culture in South America 

cover it with oil. Add the meat and cook for 5 minutes. Add the spices and a 
ladleful of the stock. Adjust seasoning. Remove from heat and mix well. 

Dough. Crush the corn kernels in a Mender or dicer until well ground, adding a 
little milk if necessary. Place the obtained paste in an aluminum or Teflon sauce- 
pan. Add the butter, nutmeg, and salt. Cook over medium heat, always stirring 
to keep it from sticking. Remove from heat after 1/2 hour or when a thick paste 
has formed. Add the sugar and mix well. Spread a thin layer of the paste (choclo) 
in a deep serving dish, add the stuffing, place the hard-boiled egg slices and the 
sliced olives on top, and then cover with the remaining choclo paste. Bake in a 
preheated 350°F oven until the pie surface browns. (6 to 8 servings) 

Also, corn kernels are used as an accompaniment to a number of stews or 
as an ingredient for the preparation of salads or even soups. One of the foods 
that is commonly consumed in the whole Andean region is corncobs, which 
are simply grilled or boiled in salted water. Then butter and salt are added 
and any other sauce is served with them. In South America, corncobs are 
considered a very popular snack, as they are commonly sold in public areas, 
such as squares, markets, and bus or railroad stations, especially by women, 
who generally offer a wooden stick too, which is used to spear them through 
one end. Moreover, a number of sweet dishes are based on cornmeal, some 
of them being the majarete (Venezuelan pudding made with cornmeal, milk 
extracted from coconut pulp, and sugar, then sprinkled with cinnamon) 
and the mazcimorra morada (Peruvian pudding made with wine-purple corn 
kernels that when soaked produce a purple liquid that is thickened with 
cornstarch and sprinkled with cinnamon before serving). 

In South America, beans are not only used to prepare soups, but also 
stews. They are first soaked for at least 24 hours and then cooked in 
some stock made with pieces of fresh pork or ham seasoned in very dif- 
ferent ways, always using either small or large quantities of hot pepper 
and sometimes adding some sugarloaf. An example would be the well- 
known feijoada, typical of the Brazilian cuisine. Bean-based stews usually 
contain diced potatoes, as well as carrots, while some coconut milk from 
pulp is sometimes added to the broth, especially in the coastal areas. 

Feijoada a la Brasilera (Brazil) 

• 2 pounds fresh lean beef 

• 1 pound jerky 

• 1/2 pound smoked bacon 

• 1/4 pound salty pork fat 

Typical Meals 121 

1 pork sausage 

1 medium clean beef tongue 
6 cups water 
10 slices orange 

2 pounds black beans 

10 teaspoons cassava flour or tapioca (natural or toasted) 
2 pounds rice 

1 tablespoon Tabasco sauce 

2 tablespoons olive oil 
1 large onion, finely chopped 
1 clove garlic, finely chopped 
1 bay leaf 
1 tablespoon salt 

Leave pork fat, jerky, and bacon to soak in water overnight. Drain the water the 
next morning. Saute the onions, garlic, and bay leaf in the oil for about 15 to 20 
minutes. Set aside. Place the beans in 6 cups of water. Add the salt and set to boil. 
As soon as the beans come to a boil, add the pork fat, sausage, jerky, fresh beef, 
tongue, and bacon. Then add the sofrito of onions, garlic, and bay leaf. Wait until 
it boils again and turn heat to low. Let cook for 6 hours. Then add the Tabasco 
sauce. Remove from heat when the meat is almost completely cooked. Cook the 
rice in water, adding additional salt to taste. To serve, place all the meat on a serv- 
ing dish and the beans and rice in two other different dishes. Garnish the meat 
with the orange slices and tapioca. (10 servings) 

Beans are also used to prepare purees, which are consumed as accompa- 
niments to beef, poultry, and fish. Cod or any other salty fish is commonly 
eaten with beans, an example being the dish typical of the Venezuelan 
Caribbean coast known as machucado. Sometimes beans go with rice, as 
in the classic dish arroz confrijoles negros (rice with black beans), which is 
consumed throughout South America. 

There are many rice-based dishes in the continent, ranging from the 
universal arroz bianco criollo (typical plain boiled rice), which is practi- 
cally eaten every day in almost all South American households, to rice- 
based dishes prepared with coconut milk extracted from pulp, which are 
very popular in the Colombian coasts, particularly in the city of Carta- 
gena. These are mainly savory dishes, although they many times contain 
raisins and some grated sugarloaf. There is also another dish found almost 
in the whole region, namely arroz con polio (rice with chicken, probably of 

122 Food Culture in South America 

Iberian origin), as well as arroz con mariscos (rice with shellfish, also of Ibe- 
rian origin). Rice also plays a key role in desserts. The arroz con coco (rice 
with coconut), clearly a sweet dish, is known in the whole region, with 
the most distinguished version belonging to the Bahian cuisine of Afri- 
can influence. Another rice-based dessert that has to be mentioned is the 
arroz con leche (rice with milk), which is also the result of the Hispanic- 
Portuguese influence on South American cuisine. This dessert is loved by 
children and is prepared by convent nuns as well as housewives. 

The tender young shoots (palmettos) of some palm trees of the New World 
have been playing a key role in South American cuisine, often replacing 
asparagus, which grows well in South American vegetable gardens but is 
still considered a foreign vegetable. Both the ensalada de palmito (palmetto 
salad) and the palmito algraten (palmetto au gratin) are commonly prepared 
at home and in restaurants. Even though these vegetables were first only 
found in the Amazonian region, they are now found almost everywhere, as 
the food industry has included them in its range of canned foods. Palmettos 
from Venezuela, Brazil, Ecuador, and Peru are particularly preferred. 


Desserts are another essential category within the dinner menu, ranging 
from the great number of frutas en almibar (fruits in syrup) to pastry and 
other egg-based desserts. Patties — usually a savory dish — are prepared for 
dessert in Chile, an example being the so-called empanadas de crema. 

Empanadas de Crema (Chile) 


• 2 cups wheat flour, sifted 

• 2 egg yolks 

• 2 tablespoons sugar 

• 3/4 cup milk 


• 1 cup wheat flour, sifted 

• 2 cups milk 

• 1 cup sugar (less the two tablespoons used for the dough) 

• 1/4 pound butter (at room temperature) 

• 5 egg yolks 

• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 

Typical Meals 123 

• 1/8 teaspoon salt 

• enough fat for deep-frying 

Stuffing. Scald the milk in a pot and add the sugar and then the vanilla. Beat 
the egg yolks in a howl. Add the flour little by little, mixing well, until a smooth 
mixture is obtained. Gradually add the mixture to the milk, always stirring. Pour 
everything in a pot and cook over low heat for about 5 to 6 minutes until a smooth 
and thick mixture has formed, always stirring. Add the butter and mix well. Re- 
move from heat and let cool, covering the pot. Meanwhile, prepare the dough. 

Dough. Place the sifted flour in a bowl. Add the egg yolks, sugar, and milk. Mix 
until a smooth dough is obtained. On a floured surface, roll out the dough with 
a rolling pin to a thickness of 1/8 inch. Cut the dough into rounds of about 4 
inches in diameter by means of a dough or cookie cutter. Pour 1 tablespoonful 
stuffing onto each round. Fold over and carefully press with a fork to seal the 
edges together. 

Final directions. Heat fat to 360°F Carefully place the small patties, one by one, 
into the hot fat with a skimmer. Fry them for some 6 to 7 minutes until brown. 
Drain well and place them on a serving dish. Sprinkle them on both sides with 
sugar. Serve warm or cold. 

As mentioned in chapter 2, cane sugar was introduced in South Amer- 
ica by the Spanish and Portuguese, so it can be said that desserts appeared 
in the region as a result of their arrival. It was during the lengthy colonial 
times, and also during republican times, that the typical South American 
desserts came to life. They are featured today by domestic and restaurant 
menus along with other desserts from French, Italian, and U.S. cuisines, 
and even from other places like China. 

Many fruits are prepared in syrup, as jelly, or in a glazed form, making 
up an extensive repertoire of typical desserts. Some are native, and oth- 
ers were brought by the Europeans. Such fruit-based desserts are typical 
all over South America. They differ from the ones prepared in Europe, 
as they are made with green (i.e., unripe) fruits and feature thick syrup, 
while the ones prepared in the Old World are made with ripe fruits 
and feature thin syrup. Some well-known examples are papaya, guava, 
cashew, pumpkin, figs, and mango in syrups. They are very sweet and 
not very much appreciated by foreigners. The ways to prepare them are 
considerably rooted in the Arab traditions that influenced the Iberian 
cuisine during the Middle Ages. When the fruit pulp is cooked for a 
long time, solid jellies result. Some fruits are also crystallized and served 
whole or in pieces. An example of these jellies are the ones made with 

124 Food Culture in South America 

guava called bocadillos de guayaba. The ones prepared in Colombia are 
very famous (particularly those from the city of Velez), consisting of 
some 5 cm long by 2.5 cm wide (2 inch long by 1 inch wide) rectangular 
pieces of guava jelly that come wrapped in dry leaves from bijao (Heli- 
conia bihai L.). This plant is found in the humid tropical forests of the 
New World. In the Guianas and Brazil, the fruit from the cashew tree 
(usually known for the nuts it produces) is crystallized to make a dessert. 
The Brazilian version is particularly famous. Nowadays, many of these 
syrups, jellies, and crystallized fruits can be found in the supermarket. 
However, according to traditionalists, these industrially processed sweet 
dishes have lost their original flavor, probably because of the use of pre- 
servative substances. 

Egg-based desserts play a significant role in South America. Even 
though they have a Hispanic-Portuguese origin, some varieties taste dif- 
ferent from the ones prepared in the Iberian Peninsula, as they are made 
with different ingredients. This is the case of creme caramels. They are 
prepared the Iberian way, but pineapple juice, pumpkin pulp, or coconut 
milk extracted from pulp is added, resulting in typical South American 
varieties. There is a dessert called huevos chimbos, which is prepared by 
beating egg yolks, cooking them in a double boiler (in either small or large 
containers), and then covering them with syrup made of rum or brandy 
to be soaked up. A similar dessert is prepared in Paraguay, which is called 
huevos mollos: 

Huevos Mollos (Paraguay) 

6 egg yolks 

1 stick cinnamon 

1 cup sugar 

1 cup water 

6 tablespoons hazelnuts and almonds, chopped 

Beat the egg yolks until creamy and white. Pour them into a refractory glass dish 
of medium depth to a thickness of about 4 cm (1.5 inches). Steam for about 20 
minutes. Let cool. Dice the mixture into 1-inch pieces. Over medium heat, make 
a syrup of water, sugar, and cinnamon. When it reaches a honey-like consistency, 
add the egg pieces and let boil until these absorb the liquid. Let cool and place on 
a serving dish. Sprinkle with chopped almonds and hazelnuts. 

Another egg-based dessert is the so-called bienmesabe, typical in Ven- 
ezuela, which is also based in the use of egg yolks, to which coconut milk 

Typical Meals 125 

extracted from pulp is added to make a cream. This cream is poured on 
top of pieces of sponge cake soaked in muscatel wine, which are finally 
sprinkled with ground cinnamon. There are also the merengones, which 
result from the beating of sweetened egg whites and their baking on a usu- 
ally round tin that is then placed on a tray. Layers of the meringue are in- 
termingled with layers of fruit such as soursop, cherimoya, loquat, mango, 
or strawberry and finally covered with whipped cream. 

Another dessert subclass is cakes, of which there is also a wide range. 
Sponge cake layered with marmalade — made from guava or soursop, 
among other fruits — and creme patissiere, with the whole cake covered 
by a kind of Italian meringue, plays a significant role. There are also the 
so-called golfeados, from Venezuela, which are made with sugarloaf syrup 
flavored with anise, very similar in shape to Danish pastries. 

The South American confectionary field also features small sweets made 
of corn or wheat flour, as well as caramel, coconut, and other ingredients 
from the region. These sweets, mainly loved by children, are usually sold 
in stores known as dulcerias and are nowadays also industrially manufac- 
tured. Some of these are candied coconut, soursop, or milk; the alfajores 
(made in the whole Andean zone), which are floury cookies filled with a 
sweet milk preparation (dulce de leche). 

Alfajores (Argentina) 

1 1/2 cups cornstarch 

1/2 cup wheat flour 

1 teaspoon baking powder 

1/3 pound butter (at room temperature) 

1 cup sugar 

1 ^gg 

2 egg yolks 

1 teaspoon vanilla 

2 teaspoons lime rind, grated 

Lightly cream the butter. Then, add sugar little by little while continuously beat- 
ing until well mixed. Add the egg and egg yolks and continue beating until a 
smooth and foamy cream has formed. Add vanilla and grated lime rind. Sift to- 
gether cornstarch, baking powder, and wheat flour; add to the butter cream; and 
mix well. Knead until the dough is smooth. Let it rest for 10 minutes. Preheat the 
oven at 325° F. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough with a rolling pin 
to a thickness of 1/3 inch. Cut the dough into rounds with a round cookie cut- 

126 Food Culture in South America 

ter or any other similar instrument (trying to obtain an even number) and place 
them on a buttered baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes or until slightly brown. 
Remove from oven and let cool. Sandwich the cookies together with dulce de 
leche (sweet milk dessert), (makes 15 to 20 sandwich cookies) 

Dulce de Leche (Argentina) 

• 2 cans condensed milk 

• enough water to cover the two cans placed in a pot 

Set the water to boil over high heat in the pot, where the cans have been placed. 
Let simmer for 1 1/2 hours. Add hot water as needed to make sure that the cans 
are always covered by the liquid. Let them cool. If you want to accelerate cooling, 
carefully place the cans under running water. When the cans are completely cool, 
open them and fill the alfajores with the obtained dulce de leche using a spatula or 
a spoon. (8 to 10 servings) 

Dulce de leche is a common dessert in all South American countries and 
can be prepared in different ways. There is the dulce de leche cortado (of 
lumpy consistency, seasoned with orange leaves), the spread used to fill 
the alfajores, as well as the solid variety. 


Eating Out 

Eating out is not a new habit in South America, as there have been food 
stands in the streets and markets since colonial times. Restaurants and 
cafes first appeared in the nineteenth century and took on special signifi- 
cance in the twentieth century. Fast food in the continent comprises not 
only hamburgers, hot dogs, and other similar foods, but also native dishes 
that can be considered to be fast foods. Industries and businesses usually 
have cafeterias, but it is also common for employees to bring food from 
home to the workplace in special containers, which can be considered a 
manifestation of an old habit of eating at home. 

Most people who live in South American — mainly urban — populations 
are forced to eat out at least once a day, especially in big cities and at 
lunch time. This habit has been principally determined by urban sprawl, 
which has translated into an increase in the distances between the home 
and the workplace; the congestion of road traffic, signifying a consider- 
able time investment in commuting; and the working hours imposed by 
public offices and private firms, which do not leave employees much time 
for lunch. There are certainly some places with lower population density 
where the traditional habit of going home to have lunch is still main- 
tained, but this is the exception to the general rule owing to an accelera- 
tion of the everyday-life pace in the region. Sometimes people even have 
to eat breakfast out. This is often reduced to a cup of coffee and some 
kind of snack, usually a sandwich, as people must eat very quickly so as 
not to be late for work. Under these circumstances, the only meal that is 


Food Culture in South America 

actually consumed at home is dinner. People have breakfast and lunch in 
traditional or modern restaurants and usually look for a place that sells a 
meal for prices they can afford, as salaries are not very high. 


Street-Food Stands 

Street food dates back to colonial times. There are different types of street- 
food options, ranging from peddlers who walk along the streets carrying 
containers of food that has already been prepared to small or medium-size 
stands, where certain dishes are prepared on demand. The urban landscape 
of most South American cities is characterized by the presence of these 
small-scale vendors offering their edible merchandise to the passersby, who 
are often in a hurry and only have a couple of minutes to stop and have an 
empanada, arepa, or a piece of grilled meat, which can be seasoned with a 
wide range of mild or hot sauces either directly provided by the vendor or 
added to the food by the client from the plastic sauce containers available. 
As a drink, they can quickly have coffee, soda, orange juice, or juice made 
from any other fruit. Hot dogs and hamburgers are very frequently sold in 
these types of food stands. Street-food vendors are provided with a street 

Indians selling grilled potatoes and meat on the 
street, Juli, Peru. © TRIP/W. Jacobs. 

Eating Out 1 29 

stall {ventorriUo) , a street stand (kiosko), a pushcart (carrito), or simply some 
movable tables that are arranged for the day. Even though in the differ* 
ent countries health inspectors are required to make sure that safe food is 
being served at these stands, the truth is that the stands have become real 
headaches from a legal point of view, as the vendors are too numerous, they 
can move from one place to another, and there is not enough personnel to 
carry out the sanitary inspections. Inadequate sanitary conditions are there* 
fore sometimes tolerated, which of course threatens consumers' health. 
But people often have no other alternative but to eat at these food stands, 
which have thus proliferated to such an extent that the old rule stating 
that it is bad manners to eat on the street is now only observed by very few 
people. The type of food served varies depending on the zone. For example, 
in Peru, one will find anticuchos (i.e., skewered grilled chunks of beef heart 
seasoned with garlic, hot pepper, and some other flavoring agent) or fresh 
corncobs that are boiled, drained, and then spread with some condiment. 
In Venezuela, it is common to find arepas filled with fresh cheese or ground 
or shredded meat, or cachapas, which are a kind of round pancake 10 to 13 
cm (about 5 inches) in diameter made with fresh com and also eaten with 
fresh cheese. In Chile, one will find empanadas with a wide range of fillings. 
So the foods sold in the street stands will vary throughout the continent, 
featuring the typical national touch. 

Within this street-food category, another example are the carts that 
are pushed to sell ice cream by the heladeros or sorbeteiroSt who usually 
announce their merchandise by sounding bells or by playing a chime- 
like music through a loudspeaker, which quickly attracts the attention of 
youth and children. There are also the pushcarts that sell drinks — for ex- 
ample, those found in Venezuela, which sell rice chicha, sugar-cane juice, 
cocadas (sweet coconut drinks), or coconut milk. Nowadays, the people 
who drive these pushcarts usually wear a uniform consisting of a white hat 
and jacket. They are modern substitutes for the peddlers of the past who 
used to announce their tasty food through cries, sometimes in verse. 

Market Stands 

South American markets have traditionally been places where people 
can purchase not only the food ingredients they need for cooking, but 
also prepared foods. The prepared food are almost exclusively typical 
dishes, contrary to what is the case in street-food stands, which not only 
sell typical foods, but also snacks of foreign origin, such as hot dogs and 
hamburgers. The people who buy these prepared foods in the markets are 

1 30 Food Culture in South America 

Street vendor selling corn on the 
cob, Bogota, Colombia. © TRIP/ 
Dave Saunders, 

generally those who are there for the daily shopping, and thus constitute 
a captive audience. Markets are picturesque places, where a great variety 
of food is offered to the visitors. One can find, for example, the special 
fruits of the region, many of them only available in such markets, as they 
are only grown in small quantities and are not commonly found in super- 
markets or other food stores. Other key products that can be found are 
game meat, which would never be available elsewhere; certain traditional 
preparations; cornmeal dough to make the typical dishes; and farmhouse 
cheeses and sausages, as well as many other foods that are native to the 
region. Foreigners seeking everyday food will find samples of the native 
food culture. In the Andean zone there are great rural markets, where the 
natives sell their farm produce and culinary work. These places feature the 
widest range of products that are not available in the chain stores. They 
have, for example, many tuber varieties that are impossible to find in the 
city markets. Visitors can also buy handicrafts, such as containers, plates, 
trays, cups, and other such items made of clay, wood, or straw. 

Restaurants and Cafes 

Restaurants and cafes, a concept from Europe, began in South America 
during the nineteenth century but are currently found throughout the 

Eating Out 131 

continent, where they have become part of the South American heritage. 
Historians of the various countries of the region have stated a number of 
dates for the emergence of the first restaurants in the capital cities. They 
all agree that they were introduced in South America by the middle of the 
nineteenth century. In the beginning, most of these places were run by 
foreigners, and the dishes served were mainly typical of European cuisine. 
The important role of foreigners in the establishment of restaurants and 
cafes in South America is demonstrated by the fact that many of them 
continue to have foreign owners. Many entrepreneurs in this field are 
European, mainly Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese, and to a lesser extent 
French and German. A very important role is also played by Asians, the 
largest proportion perhaps being Chinese, followed by Japanese, whose 
restaurants have increased in number in the last decades, for example in 
countries like Venezuela, where they did not exist before. Worth men- 
tioning are also the Arab restaurants — especially Syrian and Lebanese. 
Those from India, which play a significant role in the Guianas, are still 
relatively scarce and are considered exotic in the other South American 

However, most restaurants are now run by South Americans, many 
serving the typical dishes of the continental areas. Some very popular 
restaurants are the Colombian sancocherias , the Peruvian picanterias, the 
Brazilian churrascarias , and the Argentinean parrilladas. The most pres- 
tigious restaurants may be the French ones, even though those offering 
international cuisine play the main role among the finest restaurants in 
quantitative terms. Those specializing in French food still enjoy great 
popularity. Many of these restaurants are considered to be elite, which 
means that their clients are solely from the upper classes. Nevertheless, 
there are a great number of modest restaurants that more people can af- 

Cafes were introduced in South America before restaurants, as they had 
already been established by the early nineteenth century in the capitals 
of viceroyalties and captaincies general, in some cases serving as a meet- 
ing point for many pro-independent revolutionaries. The number of cafes 
started to increase with time, and nowadays they have been established in 
practically all South American cities and locations. In the 1990s cyberca- 
fes emerged as a result of the globalization process. In such cafes, people 
surf the Internet while drinking a cafecito and snacking on a bocadillo. 
There are still traditional cafes in some of the South American countries, 
many of which were founded in the late nineteenth century. They have 
become a kind of national monument, as is the case of Cafe Tortoni in 
Buenos Aires, but their main role is to serve as tourist attractions and no 

1 32 Food Culture in South America 

longer as the meeting point for literary and political circles or penas, as 
they once did. It seems that French -style cafes have mostly taken root in 
Argentina and Chile, and the largest number of them are located here. 
In these places, there is always a coffee machine imported from Italy that 
produces beverages of high quality, due to the fact that a number of South 
American countries produce some of the best coffee varieties, as is the case 
of Brazil, Colombia, and Venezuela. One of the most picturesque features 
of these establishments is the nomenclature used for the different kinds of 
coffees that are served. In Venezuela, for example, one can order a negro 
(strong infusion), a guayoyo (milder infusion), a manor* (with a touch of 
milk), and a con leche (more milk than coffee). In Colombia, there is the 
tinto (equivalent to the Venezuelan negro), the aguatinto (equivalent to 
the Venezuelan guayoyo) y the pintado (which corresponds to the Venezue- 
lan marron), plus a great number of names found in the different countries 
of the region. There is in fact a varied and complex coffee culture among 
South Americans. 


In South America, there is a type of food and drink store, whose name 
derives from the English word lunch, that can be categorized as halfway 
between cafes and restaurants. In these places people can have breakfast 
or a light lunch. They serve coffee, fruit juices, sodas, and other alcohol- 
free beverages, and even ice CCeaia, milk .shakes, and some desserts. These 
lunchertas (lunching spots) have relatively low prices and are therefore 
very much frequented by the masses. They usually include a bakery and 
confectionery section as well as delicatessen. These places are very infor- 
mal; even though there are waiters and a menu, you cannot expect the 
same treatment and variety of dishes offered in restaurants. In Venezuela, 
they are sometimes also called panaderias (bakeries), as in this country 
there are practically no stores solely devoted to the expenditure of bread, 
while in Brazil they are known as lanchonetes. 

Fast-Food Stands 

Fast -food stands were established in South America in the second half 
of the twentieth century. At the end of the twentieth century, many of the 
transnational fast-food chains were almost everywhere in the continent. 
The proliferation of restaurants serving hamburgers, hot dogs, charcoal- 
grilled chicken, sandwiches, and other similar dishes took place in the cit- 

Eating Out 133 

ies, along with the expansion of franchise food stores. This trend has been 
one of the consequences of the rapid and intense urban-development pro- 
cess and the acceleration of everyday life. Mass production of this type 
of food has enabled the enterprises involved to offer tempting low prices 
that have attracted a large public, especially young people. Even though 
South Americans have not abandoned their connection to the traditional 
foods of their own countries, the time factor has driven them more and 
more toward the consumption of fast food. However, this movement has 
also featured native rivals, who have entered the market and competed 
with the foreign fast-food restaurants by offering typical dishes that fit 
into the pattern of this type of food. As an example, in Venezuela, the 
ancient corn bread called arepa — which can be mass-produced, filled with 
a wide range of preparations, and served as if it were a hamburger — has 
given rise to the so-called areperas. These restaurants emerged in the late 
twentieth century and have proliferated throughout the country. Stuffed 
arepas {arepas rellenas) can be consumed while standing. They are served 
on small cardboard plates and semiwrapped in paper napkins, so no cutlery 
is needed to eat them. They have the advantage over other fast foods of 
being a traditional dish and of allowing for a great variety of fillings, rang- 
ing from vegetables to beef, including cheese, scrambled eggs, chicken, 
fish, and countless stews. In these fast-food restaurants, the clients can 
choose from a number of different sauces to flavor the arepa according 
to their liking — not only mayonnaise, mustard, and ketchup, but also a 
wide variety of chili-based sauces, or milder ones made with coriander, 
avocado, or other ingredients. Arepas rellenas are offered at very competi- 
tive prices compared with those of foreign fast foods, which has resulted in 
their great success and will help them keep their place in the future. 

At the Workplace 

The increase in the number of companies and industries has in many 
cases led to the establishment of cafeterias on site for workers. These caf- 
eterias usually offer balanced menus of fairly simple dishes, which can be 
consumed in a relatively short time and which the personnel can afford. 
These cafeterias are often under the supervision of nutritionists and strict 
health inspectors. But the food eaten in the workplaces where there are 
no cafeterias or dining halls can be considered an extension of domestic 
food, as workers bring homemade food to the workplace in lunch contain- 
ers known as vianderas and loncheras, which are carefully prepared and 
filled at home. In these workplaces there is usually a special room with a 

134 Food Culture in South America 

couple of tables and chairs where people can sit and eat what they brought 
from home; or, in some cases, they simply eat the food inside their own 
offices. This option is obviously the less expensive one, and since the food 
containers are insulated to keep the food warm or cold, there is no need to 
reheat or cool. The lunch containers usually include a plate or bowl and 
even cutlery that can be washed or thrown out. The range of homemade 
preparations that are usually brought to work is fairly limited. It rather 
reflects the monotony that characterizes everyday domestic cuisine. The 
repertoire is usually limited to rice, chicken, plantains (fried or prepared 
in any other traditional way), pasta with tomato sauce and sometimes 
some ground beef, and other dishes of this kind. This simple lunch is gen- 
erally accompanied with a soda or some store-bought fruit juice. 


If the various places where South Americans can go to eat are reduced 
to only two categories, namely "restaurants" and "other dining places," 
the latter would be the most frequented, simply because most people lack 
the money to be able to eat in restaurants. No matter how modest these 
restaurants are, they are outside the budget of most of the population, 
which incidentally confronts serious hunger problems. Nevertheless, 
when a celebration is in order, South Americans usually make an effort to 
celebrate by eating out at a restaurant — even if they have to depend on 
the contribution of those invited to the meal — as eating in a restaurant is 
considered synonymous with prestige. This is especially done for Mother's 
Day, Secretary's Day, birthdays, wedding anniversaries, and other special 
family events. 

In general, restaurants are only frequented by people who are economi- 
cally comfortable, and the ones that are top-rated have a further-reduced 
clientele. Although the restaurant industry has undergone significant 
development as a whole, South Americans have not abandoned their 
habit of eating at home. Deep down inside they — especially Chileans — 
probably prefer homemade food. However, in all South American coun- 
tries a dining culture still enjoys certain validity despite the economic 
difficulties faced by the population. In almost every part of South Ameri- 
can, but especially in the countries' capitals, there are gastronomic clubs 
or associations playing a considerable role in the food culture, as the few 
members belonging to them have significant purchasing power. Among 
the middle and upper classes there is a certain cult of gastronomy, which 
becomes evident in the publications devoted to this issue, as well as in 

Eating Out 135 

the TV and radio programs and the festivals that often take place in 
restaurants and hotels of the different locations. These phenomena en- 
courage people to eat out, as attractive, sometimes exotic offerings are 
made. From the 1980s on, a number of gastronomy academies have been 
established throughout the continent. There is the Argentinean Acad- 
emy of Gastronomy, with headquarters in Buenos Aires; the Colombian 
Academy of Gastronomy, with headquarters in Bogota; the Peruvian 
Academy of Gastronomy, with headquarters in Lima; and the Venezu- 
elan Academy of Gastronomy, with headquarters in Caracas. These gas- 
tronomy associations have become centers that foster the development 
of the dining scene in the South American countries where they have 
been founded, especially in their capital cities, as their members usually 
organize dinners and other events to take place in the restaurants, and 
they have created awards that are given to both the establishments and 
the chefs. 

There are also gastronomic guides that provide information on the main 
characteristics of the restaurants, sometimes classifying them according to 
certain criteria. These criteria are not homogeneous for the whole region 
yet, except for those used by the guide America del Sur, made with the 
support of the International Academy of Gastronomy and published in 
Barcelona, Spain, since the late 1990s. Most gastronomic guides do not 
give dining information for entire countries, but rather for their main 
cities, mostly the capitals. For example, in Venezuela, there is the Guia 
Gastronomica de Caracas by Miro Popic, first published in 1998; for the cit- 
ies of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, there are restaurant guides by a group 
of authors published by Viana and Mosley and Via Global, last published 
in 2004, as well as the Guia Danusia Barbara dos Restaurantes do Rio, also 
with an updated version for 2004; for Buenos Aires, there are the Guia de 
bares, cafes y restaurantes populares (2003) by Gabriela Kogan and Gabriel 
Sanchez Sarondo, Restaurantes de Buenos Aires 2003-2004 by Gabriel 
Fernandez, which has been published for a couple of years, and Restauran- 
tes de Buenos Aires — Los Recomendados, by Alicia Delgado and Maria E. 
Perez. Apart from the printed guides, others can be accessed through the 
Internet, which are clear signs of the accelerated development that has 
taken place in the field of information on restaurants. At the same time, 
such publications are evidence of the diffusion and evolution of eating out 
in the continent. 

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Special Occasions 

South Americans celebrate a great variety of special occasions in which 
food plays a main role. In some of them, people prepare special dishes that 
are only eaten on such occasions. These festivities take place through- 
out the whole year, the most important corresponding to the calendar of 
the Catholic religion — the one that has prevailed in the region for more 
than five centuries. By celebrating such old religious festivities every year, 
South Americans sort of revive the past. Many cultural elements of either 
Iberian or colonial origin are still alive — the latter being the traditions 
that came to life during the emergence of the South American sociedad 
criolla. Within this framework, the two most important celebrations are 
probably Easter and Christmas, but there are also other events of narrower 
scope such as the patronal festivals. Of special significance also are the 
celebrations based on the farming calendar, as agriculture has played a key 
role in South American societies until very recently. Even though most of 
the population now lives in cities, in the rural parts, people still celebrate 
certain dates that have been traditionally special within the sowing and 
harvesting context Apart from the aforementioned festivals and religious 
festivities, a number of celebrations correspond to the different life stages, 
from childhood to old age — births, birthdays, weddings, and wakes. 

It can be said that these celebrations break the monotony of everyday 
life, not only because special religious ceremonies are carried out, but also 
because of the parties and gastronomical preparations they are accompa- 
nied by. On the one hand, they constitute an occasion for experienced 

138 Food Culture in South America 

female cooks to prepare the traditional dishes or their latest specialties to 
impress the neighbors or the family. On the other hand, they make pos- 
sible the reunion of friends and acquaintances, as well as the striking up of 
new friendships. So these celebrations promote and reinforce group mem- 
bership within the community, religious, or familiar framework. On these 
occasions, people enjoy the food, dance, listen to the music, and perform 
generally traditional rituals, except at wakes. At wakes, people gather to 
comfort the deceased's family in their grief, although sometimes popular 
folk songs and music are performed. 

South Americans have always celebrated a very large number of festivi- 
ties throughout the year, some of which will be described below. These 
celebrations have resulted in a wealth of national public holidays that 
have suffered the consequences of modernization, as the governments of 
the region have decreed that many of these days would no longer have 
holiday status in the working sense, which of course has not been well 
received by the people. 


Most South Americans profess Catholicism. Even though people's reli- 
giousness is not homogeneous throughout the region, most South Ameri- 
cans show respect for the formal aspects and thus continue to celebrate 
holidays such as Easter and Christmas. As for the importance of food dur- 
ing these periods, fasting practices are still carried out, while certain spe- 
cial dishes are also prepared. There are also some festivities in which the 
Indian and African traditions are mixed with the Catholic ones. Some are 
considered heathen by the Catholics, such as the candombles celebrated in 
Brazilian Bahia. A number of ferias are rooted in the Catholic traditions, 
such as the Velorio de la Cruz de Mayo, and celebrations taking place in 
many towns during patron-saint days. 


The Holy Week (Semana Santa or Semana Mayor) — constitutes one 
of the so-called movable feasts, like Ascension Day and Pentecost, as it 
can fall earlier or later within the Church calendar. During this week, the 
holy mysteries of Jesus' Passion are commemorated, and no partying is 
allowed. According to the precepts of the Catholic Church, the faithful 
must refrain from eating meat during this week; they can consume veg- 
etables and fish, except on Good Friday, when the fast has to be observed 

Special Occasions 139 

and thus no food is allowed at all. Because of the existence of such rules, 
special diets have been created for this period of the year. It is remarkable 
that in South America certain amphibious animals like the chiguire (capy- 
bara), carpincho, baba (a kind of small alligator), and terrapin have been 
included in the fish category since colonial times. Therefore, abstinence 
is not as strict in the region as it is, for example, in Europe. Special dishes 
are prepared for this specific occasion using not only sea and freshwater 
fish, but also the meat of the aforementioned animals. 

In Venezuela, for instance, chiguire or carpincho meat is used in the Lla- 
nos to prepare a dish known as pisillo, while that of terrapins is used in 
the Orinoco-Amazon region to make a stew that is covered with beaten 
eggs, commonly known as cuajado semanasantero — its name derived from 
Semana Santa. In the coastal area, escabeche de carite is prepared for this 
week. This dish of Iberian origin is made with carite or mackerel (Scomb- 
eromorus spp.), a fish that abounds in the Caribbean Sea. In the Ven- 
ezuelan Andean zone, there is a traditional meal known as Siete potajes, 
which is served as supper on Holy Thursday, generally including a soup of 
lentils, white beans, or chickpeas; sardines; a salad made of tuna, cod, or 
dried freshwater fish; rice with vegetables; cornmeal-bread rolls; plantain 
cake; and another dish that should not contain meat, all accompanied by 
chicha or carato de arroz- 

In Colombia, there are a number of typical dishes prepared during 
Lent, such as frijoles rojos con maduro (beans cooked and ground with 
plantains, to which milk, pepper, cloves, and some brown sugarloaf are 
added); locro and sopa de pandebono, which are special dishes prepared for 
the days of abstinence (locro using potatoes, stock made with milk and 
water, beaten eggs, parsley, salt, and pepper, and sopa de pandebono using 
the same ingredients except the milk, and with stale bread and some 
coriander); and toque, an appetizer prepared with gourd, beets, carrots, 
cauliflower, and unripe peaches (cooked separately and then added) and 
seasoned with vinegar, oil, garlic, onions, chili, and parsley, making a 
mixture that is left to settle for eight days, after which the foam that has 
formed is removed from the mix. These dishes are mainly consumed in 
the Andean zone. 

In Ecuador, the typical dish for Holy Thursday is juanesca or fanesca, a 
mixture based on the use of grains, legumes, milk, and cheese, to which 
dried fish is added. It also contains gourd or zapallo, beans, lentils, peas, 
choclo (fresh corn), rice, and, in some cases, slices of hard-boiled eggs. An- 
other typical dish of Ecuador that is consumed on Palm Sunday is chiguil, 
which is a kind of tamale made with cornmeal, eggs, and cheese, wrapped 

140 Food Culture in South America 

in the corn husks and boiled in water. These preparations are also mainly 
eaten in the Andean zone. 

In Peru, the dishes that are typically prepared for Lent are sopa de olluco, 
mazomorras (sweetened with brown sugarloaf or chancaca and scented 
with cinnamon), and a number of breads, among which aniseed bread 
and rosquitas are the most famous. In this period, Peruvians also eat dried 
fish stews made with cod (an imported product), cahalla del norte, or pa- 
iche, obtained from the rivers of the forest. In Lima, some dishes that used 
to be prepared in the convents also became very famous, such as ensalada 
cocida de Jueves Santo or ensalada antigua de Viernes Santo. In southern 
Peru, people also prepare chupe de zapallo (gourd chowder) during Holy 
Week, which contains the cuchuro (algae of the Andean lagoons). In the 
Amazonian region, the typical dishes are rumu-juane and paiche loretano 
a kt vizcaina. The former consists of dough prepared with cassava and fish 
and seasoned with onions, garlic, coriander, oregano, cumin, and pepper, 
which is then shaped into rolls that are wrapped in corn husks, tied with a 
string, and boiled in water. The latter is a stew made with the fish known 
as paiche, accompanied by white rice, fried or roasted plantains, and chicha 
or guarapo . 

In Bolivia, specifically in the Andean region, people make a fish broth 
for Lent, which in the Aymaran language is called challwa-voallakhes. It 
is prepared with fish from Lake Titicaca or the nearby rivers. On Holy 
Thursday, in the capital city La Paz, Bolivians usually prepare a cod stew, 
and the desserts are arroz con leche (rice with milk) and fruit compotes. 
On Good Friday, they eat cod once again, but this time prepared a la 
vizcaina; ajide khochayuyu (marine algae imported from Peru); and, as des- 
sert, arroz con leche or a sweet dish they prepare in the form of patties. It 
is particularly curious that cod-based dishes are prepared during Easter on 
the Andean highlands when there are other types offish available in the 
lagoons and rivers of the zone; in any case, this is more evidence of the 
strong influence Spanish cuisine had on the region, which has lasted for 

In Paraguay, people prepare a kind of soup for Lent known as hero de 
Cuaresma (Lent stew), which is based on the use of corn and seasoned 
with plenty of onions and tomatoes; whole eggs and fresh shredded cheese 
are also added to it. Milk can be also added, in which case the soup re- 
ceives the name locro bianco (white stew). There is an ancient recipe used 
in Paraguay for this time period, namely empanadas de Vigilia (abstinence 
patties), with dough made with wheat flour, egg yolks, and some beef fat. 
The dough is kneaded a couple of times to obtain a sort of puff pastry, 

Special Occasions 141 

which is then filled with a fish stew containing chopped hard-boiled eggs, 
olives, and raisins, in addition to sofrito. 

In Brazil, cod is consumed in all households of Sao Paulo and Rio de 
Janeiro during this time period. There is also the ensalada de mayonesa — 
similar to the Russian salad — which is also prepared on this occasion. 
People eat chocolate Easter eggs and also buy them in stores and give 
them as gifts to other people. The latter gift giving is a consequence of 
the Central European immigration. In Espfrito Santo, on the Atlantic 
coast of Brazil, between Bahia and Rio de Janeiro, the torta capixaba is very 
famous, as it is the classic dish prepared for the abstinence period. It con- 
sists of a cake made with fish, shellfish, coconut milk from pulp, palmetto, 
olives, cloves, cinnamon, vinegar, and beaten eggs, the eggs serving as the 
cake's topping. 

In Argentina, the classic dish for Lent is chupe de leche, which is a 
soup prepared without meat. For Easter Saturday and Sunday, Argen- 
tineans prepare pastel de polio — a pie with dough made with cornmeal 
mixed with wheat flour plus eggs, salt, and milk, the filling consisting of 
chicken stewed with salt, bay leaves, onions, and oregano. In northern 
Argentina, people eat yopard misionero, which is a kind of stew made 
with corn, beans, onions, carrots, and gourd and seasoned with oregano 
and salt. 

In Chile, people basically consume fish during Easter, especially cusk- 
eel, salmon, drumfish, and reineta (Brama australis) — the latter being 
somewhat similar to sole. The cooking method ranges from oven roast- 
ing to grilling, but they can also be used to make soups. Shellfish is also 
very much consumed in Argentina, especially clams (machas). Besides, 
a wide variety of pies are prepared with vegetables, such as Swiss chard, 
artichokes, or spinach. 


If Easter is characterized by fasting and the commemoration of Jesus' 
Passion, Christmas is a time for joy, as people commemorate Jesus' birth. 
The parties at Christmas are typically celebrated with the family, usually 
in the head of the family's house. Of course, it is also a time when special 
dishes are consumed. For example, in Venezuela, people prepare the typi- 
cal national tamale, the so-called hallaca, generally accompanied by jamon 
planchado — cooked ham glazed with sugarloaf and often garnished with 
pineapple slices and cloves. Another typical Venezuelan Christmas dish 
is stuffed and roasted turkey, garnished with glace cherries. 


Food Culture in South America 

In Ecuador, the typical dishes prepared for Christmastime are bufiue- 
los — fritters made with cornmeal, lard, salt, and eggs, and then covered 
with chancaca (sugarloaf) syrup — and pristinos, which are pieces of wheat- 
flour dough cut into stars, spread with beaten eggs, fried, and covered with 
sugarloaf syrup before serving. The typical Christmas beverage is chicha de 
jora — a sour corn-based drink. 

There are certain similarities between the Christmas customs in South 
America and those of the Iberian culture. For example, in both, people 
put up a Nativity scene (in Spanish, pesebre or nacimiento) — a represen- 
tation of Jesus' birth. Another typical custom of this time of the year 
are the villancicos (Christmas carols), also called aguinaldos in Venezuela 
and Colombia. These are songs about Jesus' birth, which are sung by the 
neighbors, who often play the typical instruments of the region as accom- 
paniment to the songs. In Venezuela and Colombia, for instance, people 
play cuatro, maracas, harp, and furruco. The lyrics of these carols some- 
times include the names of the typical foods the singers or aguinalderos 
request as they sing walking along the street during the festivities. For 
example, in Venezuela it is common to see such groups, many times spon- 
taneously gathered on the street, improvising the verses to Christmas folk 
carols, like the following: 


Here are we all, 
The very early risers, 
Singing Christmas carols 
Like nightingales. 
Open the door, please, 
We'd like to come in; 
Let us take a seat 
And rest a little bit. 
We've sung the entire journey 
Since we left Yaracuy; 
We've been eating hallacas 
And drinking cocuy. 


Aqui estamos todos, 
Los madrugadores, 
Cantando aguinaldos 
Como ruisefiores. 
Abrannos la puerta, 
Queremos entrar; 
Brfndennos asiento 
Para descansar. 
Venimos cantando 
Desde el Yaracuy 
Hallacas comiendo 
Bebiendo cocuy. 


Here are we travelers, 
We don't ask for much; 
Give us very little 
By the grace of God. 
Give me a Christmas treat, 


Somos caminantes, 
Pedimos poquito; 
Dennos por la Gracia 
De Jesiis chiquito. 
Deme mi aguinaldo, 

Special Occasions 143 

It could be some coffee; Aunque sea cafe; 

If it's still unripe Si lo tiene verde 

I would myself roast it. Yo lo tostare. 

If you give us pastries, Si nos dan pasteles, 

Make them nice and warm; Denoslos calientes; 

'Cause people can die Que pasteles frfos 

From eating them cold. Matan a la gente. 

We don't ask for wine, No queremos vino, 

And neither for rum; Ni tampoco ron; 

As your hospitality Bastanos senores 

Is good enough for us. La buena intencion. 

In the other South American countries, people recite similar folk songs 
in the days before December 24, when a special dinner is usually served 
after midnight. This meal features dishes of varied degrees of elabora- 
tion, and some of them are only prepared during this time of year. On 
Christmas Eve, South Americans also attend the midnight mass known as 
Misa de Gallo before getting together to have the meal. In Colombia and 
Venezuela, the typical dishes prepared for Christmas Eve are hallacas or 
tamales. Colombians also prepare a pie with rice that is first soaked in vin- 
egar and to which bacon, spareribs, and chicken are then added; another 
typical Christmas dish in Colombia is either pernil al homo (oven-roasted 
pork leg) or lechon asado (barbecued suckling pig), the typical Christmas 
desserts being natillas and bunuelos, the latter mostly prepared with ar- 
racacha . 

In Peru, people make the popular South American turkey, which is 
accompanied by roasted or mashed potatoes as well as by string beans 
and carrots lightly fried in butter (in Lima) or green corn tamales (in 
Chachapoyas, Amazon region). In the coastal city of Lambayeque, there 
is a famous dish known as empanadas de viento. These are patties filled with 
meat that puff up when fried, then are drained and sprinkled with sugar. 
In the city of Puno, grilled meat is served with bread rolls called quispifios, 
which are made with cornmeal, wheat, or quinoa flour. Ram and chicken 
can also be prepared for Christmas Eve in Peru. 

In Bolivia, the Christmas dinner is characterized by a dish known as 
picana de Navidad, which is a pot or stew made with lamb, beef, hen, car- 
rots, turnips, onions, tomatoes, raisins, prunes, potatoes, fresh corncobs, 
and other ingredients; it is seasoned with black pepper, cloves, bay leaves, 
cumin, and oregano, plus some red wine. Bunuelos de Navidad are also 
typical of this country at Christmas. They are made with wheat flour, ani- 
seeds, salt, sugar, and yeast, and sometimes also chocolate. 

144 Food Culture in South America 

In Brazil, the typical Christmas dish is cuscuz a Paulista, which is based 
on corn and cassava flours, palmetto, shrimp, sardines, hard-boiled eggs, 
tomatoes, and several spices as condiments; another one is feijoada do 
peru, which is simply stewed beans with turkey bones — peru being the 
Brazilian name for this bird. As roast turkey is prepared for the dinner of 
Christmas Eve, the bones are kept — what Brazilians call enterro dos ossos 
(the burying of the bones) — and then used on New Year's Eve to prepare 
the feijoada. In almost all South American countries, the preparation of 
turkey has become a habit. It is usually oven roasted and stuffed in differ- 
ent ways according to the customs of each place. This is also the case of 
ham, which is cooked for Christmas by boiling it, glazing it, and finally 
garnishing it with round pineapple slices and glace cherries. 

In Paraguay, people prepare sopa paraguaya and chipd guasu during 
Christmastime, the latter being a kind of oven-roasted pie made with 
cheese and grated fresh corn. In Uruguay, a great variety of cold meat, 
cheeses, and roasted lamb or pork are consumed in December. In Chile, 
stuffed turkey or chicken is the typical mainstay of Christmas meals. In 
Argentina, people prepare chicken or turkey, grilled meat, and ice creams, 
and also enjoy nougats and panettones, the latter inherited from the Italian 
migrations. In these southern countries December, and therefore Christ- 
mastime, falls at the height of summer, so dinners are usually lighter, with 
cold meat playing a key role. 

The dominant features of the South American dinner of Christmas Eve 
(Noche Buena) are the happy musical environment and the sumptuous 
meal served, as well as the exchange of gifts. By dinnertime — midnight — 
the children of the family should be sleeping, as this is the moment when 
their parents put their Christmas gifts in their bedrooms, as if they had 
been brought by baby Jesus. 

Other Religious Celebrations 

There are other days in the Catholic calendar when parties and special 
commemorations are also carried out. Examples of this are All Souls' Day 
and All Saints' Day, which fall on the first two days of November and 
when more parishioners than usual go to church and to cemeteries. These 
are occasions to present flower and food offerings. Bread and sweet dishes, 
shaped like humans or animals, play a key role. In Peru, for instance, 
people prepare the so-called wawas y which are bread rolls and biscuits in 
the shape of children for the festivities of November 1 (All Saints' Day). 
These sweet figures depict faces with all their features, made with caramel 

Special Occasions 145 

or wheat-flour dough and sometimes fondant. The rolls are dressed with 
clothes made of fabric or crepe paper. On All Souls' Day, Peruvian farmers 
visit the deceased in the cemeteries and bring them not only flowers and 
candles, but also chicha, spirits, fruits, and some food that they particularly 
liked when they were alive. 

In Andean Bolivia, there is the tradition of preparing a special dish 
for the first two days of November to celebrate All Saints' Day and All 
Souls' Day: uchu de Todos los Santos (i.e., All Saints' chili). This dish is 
made with beef tongue, hen, red chili pepper, and guinea pig (one for two 
people) and seasoned with onions, garlic, cumin, and parsley; potatoes 
and hard-boiled eggs are also added, and the mixture is thickened with 
potato flour (chimo). This dish is accompanied by corn chicha. In the 
region of La Paz, during those same days farmers usually eat the so-called 
humitas, covered with wiru honey that is extracted from the canes of 
the corn plant. In Chile, both in Arica and in Antofagasta, there is an 
Aymaran tradition of widows going to the cemeteries on November 1 to 
celebrate All Souls' Day with a meal at the tombs of their dead husbands. 
They bring quinoa tortillas, choclos, patties filled with llama meat, and 
varied sweet dishes. 

Other religion festivities correspond to the patron saints oi churches, 
cities, or entire provinces. On these occasions, people perform religious 
rituals. Of particular significance are processions, in which the statues of 
the saints being honored are taken out of the church and paraded through 
the streets while people pray and sing along. But people also celebrate 
these days with music and food, the latter generally consisting of typical 
local dishes, which can be bought from peddlers on the street and also 
prepared at home. On the celebration of the day of Saint Anne (July 26) 
in Chuquisaca, Bolivia, ground corn tamales containing pork, chopped 
hard-boiled eggs, olives, and chili are prepared and served. On the day of 
Saint Clare of Assist (August 12), patties filled with hen meat or cheese 
are sold on the street of this same locality, usually around the convent of 
the order of St. Clare. On Saint Anthonys Day (June 13) in Brazil, and 
especially in Rio de Janeiro, people usually buy a bag of blessed bread buns 
to take home when they exit the Saint Anthony's convent, as this is be* 
lieved to bring an abundance of food to households. This day signals the 
beginning of the so-called Festas Juninas (June Feasts), as other saint days 
are also celebrated in June, namely Saint John's Day (June 24) and Saint 
Peter's Day (June 28). In the latter, people typically eat pamonhas, unripe 
corn soup, sweet rice, sweet potato cake, and two pies or bolus called bolo 
Jl SaoJoSo and halo de Santo Amuniu, among other dishes. 

146 Food Culture in South America 

South Americans also celebrate other religious festivities, resulting from 
the incorporation of beliefs and ceremonies of the pre-Hispanic peoples 
and of the Africans who were taken to the New World as slaves. Certain 
days that are apparently part of the Catholic calendar are actually remi- 
niscent of ancient cults instead. Even though there are examples of these 
types of ceremonies in the Andean zone, where the proportion of indig- 
enous people continues to be larger than that of other ethnic groups — as 
is the case of Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, and Chile — the 
most renowned ceremonies worldwide are those particularly influenced 
by the African traditions, considerably present in Brazil. An example is 
candomble, which can be considered an African-Brazilian religion rooted 
in the religious practices of the African Bantu and Yoruba ethnic groups, 
which contributed large numbers of slaves to Brazil, especially to the re- 
gion of Bahia. The presence of rites from this religion seems to have taken 
on special significance since the eighteenth century. Despite the efforts 
of the Catholic Church to extirpate such rites by constantly persecut- 
ing their manifestations, the rituals managed to survive until the present 
and are nowadays openly practiced. To this end, societies or brotherhoods 
were created, as well as their own male and female deities, initiation rites, 
and a number of other ceremonies to be celebrated throughout the year. 
These practices are carried out on special sites, namely the terreiros de can- 
domble, and are accompanied by food, which is considered a ritual symbol 
of force. Food creates communication ties among humans, gods, ances- 
tors, and nature, as it is what activates the axe — the life energy or force. 
A number of ingredients and combinations are associated with certain 
meanings and are known as carddpios votivos (votive food). They are basi- 
cally animals like cocks and hens, and also beans, corn, onions, shrimp, 
deride oil, honey, cane and cachaza molasses, and cane spirits. Among the 
ceremonies in which foods are served and consumed, some of the most 
important are the osse (celebrated every week), in which women offer vo- 
tive foods to the orixds (as they call their saints); the obori (giving food to 
the head), which is an initiation ceremony in pursuit of health; and the 
ajeum, which is a party where people drink and eat the food of the gods 
in public. The most important ceremonies are those in which foods are 
offered to the orixds. These foods are called ebd, which means "present" 
or "gift." The orixds are known to each have particular food preferences. 
For example, Xango prefers caruru leaves (the name given to a number 
of plants from the Amarantaceae family), corn and cassava flours, and 
mashed potatoes, while Exu, Ogun, and Oxossi prefer cachaza (a type of 
rum) — often replaced by gin — and so on. 

Special Occasions 147 

Another good example of the manifestations of Afro-Brazilian cults is 
the festival of Sao Cosme e Sao Damiao, which is celebrated in Bahia on 
September 27 — the so-called Dfa de Ibeji — in honor of these two saints, 
whose names are those of some twin saints, members of the candomble cal- 
endar of saints' feast days. This day is commemorated by both Catholics 
and non-Catholics. The two saints are deemed to be protectors against 
illness as well as matchmakers. They are also said to bring good luck and 
to help find lost objects and realize unfulfilled ambitions. The main course 
served on this occasion is caruru. This time the word refers to a stew 
prepared with fresh dried shrimp; okra — in Brazil called quiabo (Hibiscus 
esculentus); lime; deride oil; and peanuts. Other dishes that are typical of 
this day are frigideiras (fried snacks) and efo — a stew made of roasted pea- 
nuts and cashew nuts, leaves of lingua de vaca (Portulaca racemosa), milk 
extracted from coconut, deride oil, salt, and malagueta pepper. Once the 
saints are offered their food, the banquet continues until midnight. First 
of all, food is served to seven children; after they have gorged themselves, 
the adults start eating. As children also take part in these banquets, those 
from underprivileged households usually go door to door in the days be- 
fore the celebration begging for money permitting them to have their own 
caruru. Some families welcome the passing-by children into their houses, 
inviting them to share this special stew. 


South Americans also have a number of festivities that are not of a reli- 
gious nature — for example, when the neighbors help with a house raising 
for which they receive no money. Such activities are generally related to 
the construction of houses or key dates within the agricultural cycle. They 
date back in some cases to pre-Hispanic times, but are still carried out 
today. This feast, in which the typical dishes and beverages of the region 
and locality are served, is called different names depending on the coun- 
try. In Venezuela, it is called cayapa; in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, 
Chile, and Argentina, it is known as minga (derived from the Quechua 
word minkai, which means "help at work"). 

As for the nonreligious festivities related to the agricultural cycle, some 
examples are the celebrations carried out on the occasion of the sowing 
or harvesting of the most important South American products, such as 
corn and potatoes. Within this framework, farmworkers usually gather in 
the same field during the work breaks to have a meal made of dishes they 
themselves bring. To give an example, in the Chilean localities of Arica 

148 Food Culture in South America 

and Antofagasta, people celebrate the feast of the potato — called Pachal- 
lampi by Aymaran farmers — at the end of October. People pair up to sow 
the tuber: the men open the holes, and the women throw the seeds in 
and cover them with the same earth. While performing these tasks, the 
people sing, and then, at noon, they have lunch of tamales filled with 
llama meat or pork, cooked choclos, and quinoa-based poleadas (a type of 
porridge) — everything very often seasoned with lots of hot pepper. Some- 
times, a single dish called guatia is prepared, which would be something 
similar to the Peruvian pachamanca. This meal is accompanied by a kind 
of spirit containing a high proof of alcohol, which is known as patisunka. 

Particularly important are the festivities celebrated on the occasion of 
grape harvesting, which are typical of Argentina and Chile, as these are 
the most important South American wine-producing countries. This cel- 
ebration is deeply rooted, and its origins are obviously related to similar 
customs from the Iberian Peninsula. Yet in recent times grape harvests 
have become highly institutionalized and have been the subject of gov- 
ernmental decrees. In Argentina, the most famous grape-harvest feasts 
are the ones celebrated in February in the Mendoza Province. This event 
has become particularly well known with time, as it takes place in a great 
number of localities, and also because of the fireworks, the costumes of 
the participants, the dances, the music, the contests to choose the grape- 
harvest queen, and more. There is also a religious element represented in 
the blessing of the fruit and the worship of Virgin Mary, among others. In 
these festivities the main role is obviously played by wine, the activity of 
choice being wine tasting. To this end, a great exhibition of wines is orga- 
nized every March, in which the main wine producers take part; courses 
are offered to teach people how to taste wines, along with conferences on 
enology topics. 

Chile also plays a very important role in wine production — an even 
more important role than Argentina, according to some. The Chilean 
grape harvesting is celebrated in March, sometimes also in the first days of 
April. These feasts are known worldwide, featuring a high level of orga- 
nization and efficiency. Particularly special are those in Santa Cruz (Col- 
chagua Valley), Curico (Maule region) and Maipo (southern part of the 
Metropolitan region). In these feasts, people not only taste wines, but also 
culinary specialties from the region where they take place and from inter- 
national cuisine. Other South American countries also produce wine, but 
on a much smaller scale than Argentina and Chile, and even though they 
also organize such grape-harvest feasts, these cannot be compared to the 
Argentinean and Chilean ones. 

Special Occasions 149 

As for the feasts organized around livestock work, especially that of 
herding the cattle together in order to brand them with different symbols 
corresponding to the different owners, Venezuelan cattle herders (llane- 
ros) and those from Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina (gauchos) usually take 
one animal and roast it at the end of the day when they have finished this 
hard labor. 


Apart from the family parties celebrated during Christmastime, a num- 
ber of important celebrations correspond to the different life stages. Births, 
children's birthdays, weddings, and wakes mark the transitions among the 
most important life stages. On these occasions, food plays a key role. They 
are featured by a clear predominance of the Iberian cultural influence, as 
well as by manifestations of the Catholic religion. 

The christening of a newborn is deemed to symbolize the entering of 
the new person into the religious community, which is mainly Catholic 
in South America. The parents and relatives go to the church, where the 
priest gives the baby a name by means of certain prescribed rites, welcom- 
ing the child to the parish community. The fact that this person enters 
the Christian life is a cause for joy and, therefore, for a family party, in 
which people eat, but also drink a lot, as they toast the prosperity of the 
newborn. Even though there is no doubt that, formally, the most impor- 
tant person in the celebration is the baby who has been baptized, in real- 
ity, those who enjoy the party are the other children, and especially the 
adults. These parties are usually in the morning, with a special breakfast 
that includes cakes, cocoa, and coffee, as well as wines and other alcoholic 
drinks. They can also be held at noon, in which case a sumptuous lunch 
is served. There is a custom of distributing to all the guests a small printed 
or handwritten card with the name of the baby and the date on which the 
christening took place. Sometimes this card is accompanied by a small 
gift consisting of a couple of candies, such as almonds glazed with sugar 
in different (usually light) colors, generally blue if it is a boy and pink if 
it is a girl. 

A birthday is also a reason to be happy and celebrate, especially in 
the case of children and teenagers, though adults also organize parties 
to celebrate their birthdays sometimes. In children's birthday parties, an 
afternoon snack (merienda) is usually served to all the children that have 
been invited. In some countries, such as Venezuela and Colombia, these 
parties also include a pinata, which is a large papier-mache container 

1 50 Food Culture in South America 

filled with candies and small toys that is hung by a string from a hook in 
the ceiling or a tree by means of a pulley system, so that it can be raised 
and lowered by the adults. The children take turns being blindfolded and 
hitting the pifiata with a stick they are given. After many missed hits, 
they eventually break the pinata, and the contents fall to the ground. 
This is the moment when all the children frantically scramble to collect 
as many goodies as possible. After the pinata ritual, a table is set with a 
birthday cake in the middle featuring the number of candles that cor- 
respond to the age of the birthday boy or girl. The candles are lit and 
everybody starts singing the typical birthday songs to the child, who must 
blow hard to blow out the candles. Next to the cake different desserts are 
placed, such as dishes in syrup, creme caramels, or merengones. 

A wedding is another important milestone and is therefore celebrated 
with a big party, which would be more or less sumptuous depending on 
the economic status of the bride's and bridegroom's parents. Even though 
sometimes people celebrate their wedding in the morning hours, this cer- 
emony is usually set for the early evening hours. After the religious cer- 
emony, the guests accompany the bride and bridegroom to a place where 
a banquet is offered along with plenty of wine and other alcoholic drinks. 
The most important dish is the wedding cake, in which the confectioner 
has placed a ring or other small gift tied to a ribbon that emerges from in- 
side the cake, along with other ribbons. According to the custom, all the 
bridesmaids take one ribbon each and pull them out at the same time; 
the one who gets the surprise will be applauded, as she is considered to be 
the next one who will get married. Music and dancing are also featured 
in these types of events. In the city, they usually take place in clubs or 

In the rural areas, though, celebrations are more modest. Although 
there is also dancing, music, and food, the parties are less sophisticated. 
There are also other types of weddings, such as the ones celebrated by the 
indigenous peoples. An example is that of the Quechua and Aymaran 
farmers. In Chuquisaca, Bolivia, the Quechua prepare a ceremonial meal 
on special occasions, such as weddings. This meal includes what is known 
as el bianco (a peanut soup based on a stock made with chicken or with 
the back of the lamb), picante de polio con papas, pelachi uchu (a Quechua 
expression meaning "peeled corn stewed with hot pepper"), aji Colorado, 
charqui, and papita menuda. This meal is served to the most important 
people, as those who had not been directly invited to the party are simply 
given mote de maiz pelado (peeled boiled corn) or cantu uchu (a dish based 
in the use of hot pepper) in a calabash vessel. These dishes are followed by 

Special Occasions 151 

pastries: ring-shaped pastries, patties, biscuits, and cakes. As for the Ay- 
maran peoples, those living in the city of La Paz, Bolivia, and its surround- 
ings, usually offer up a special dish, the wawa, to the newlyweds when the 
religious ceremony in the chapel has come to an end and the newlyweds 
are already on the way home. This is a quinoa-based dish that is accom- 
panied by fritters. At home, the newlyweds attend a ceremony consisting 
of the slaughter of two sheep, one male and one female, which are placed 
on the floor of the house before they are killed, one in front of the other, 
symbolizing the marriage. The guests are offered fritters, k'ispina — small 
steam-cooked bread rolls made with peeled corn, cinnamon, aniseed, and 
lard — and chicha or alcohol to drink. All the guests must enter the party 
in pairs, each person carrying a gift, which usually consists of an ahogado 
(lamb-based soup with onions, charqui, and poached eggs) in the case of 
women, and fritters and k'ispina or any fruit or beans in the case of men. 
The guests offering up this meal give it to the maid of honor and the best 
man, who pour the food into pots, from which it will be then served to the 
newlyweds and the other guests. 

South Americans get together to pray and celebrate other religious cer- 
emonies, as well as to offer condolences to the family of the deceased in 
the case of a death. As there is the custom of holding a wake, and since 
many people usually attend this event, snacks are served along with cof- 
fee, cocoa, or sodas to keep people awake throughout the night and the 
next morning before going to the cemetery for the burial. Although today 
wakes can be held at funeral parlors, some families prefer that the wakes 
be held at home. By tradition, when the deceased is a child, these funereal 
ceremonies are particularly special in a number of places of the continent. 
The ceremony is called velorio de angelito (little angel's wake), and it is a 
very old tradition that has been maintained for centuries. In these wakes, 
the small corpse is boiled before being placed inside the coffin, in order 
to preserve it for a longer period. There is music, folk songs regarding the 
deceased or the childhood that was interrupted by death, and dances, and 
of course food and drinks. 

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Diet and Health 

Diet and health play significant roles in the South American food cul- 
ture. Hippocratic-Galenic traditions are still preserved, along with the 
botanical-medicinal heritage of Indians and Africans, especially in rural 
areas. The ever-intensifying urbanization and the consequent increase in 
the number of professionals in the field of nutritional sciences, together 
with the quantitative and qualitative development of communication 
networks, have brought about partial changes in the traditional knowl- 
edge. A key issue of concern has been people's caloric requirements in 
the tropical lands and the nutritional values of staple foods. In modern 
times, a considerable number of citizens are facing nutritional deficiencies 
because of the poor economic situation, which has caused certain forced 
changes in their diets. 

Hippocratic-Galenic Traditions 

The first to systematize knowledge on the art of healing people of their 
illnesses were the ancient Greeks, the most efficient and best-spread 
ideas being those of Hippocrates and, a long time afterward, Galen. Diet 
played a very important role in the treatises produced by these ancient 
physicians, containing precepts that have remained valid throughout the 
centuries. By the time of the European contact in South America, these 
precepts were still part of the cultural knowledge of physicians at that 

154 Food Culture in South America 

time. Some of these precepts are worth highlighting — for example, the 
differentiation between cold and hot foods, the need to prescribe spe- 
cial diets to sick people, and the advisability of detoxiflcations to cleanse 
harmful substances from the body, as well as other specifications on nutri- 
tion. They also wrote medicinal-plant repertoires, which were known as 
"medicinal material." The most famous book on this issue was the one 
written by Andres Laguna and published in Antwerp in 1555 under the 
title Pedacio Dioscorides Anazarbeo, acerca de la materia medicinal y de los 
venenos mortiferos, which is a translation into Spanish with comments 
and notes on the book Medicinal Material written by the Greek physician 
Dioscorides, who lived in the first century B.C. This work — published sev- 
eral times during the sixteenth century — was brought to South America 
in colonial times. 

The conquerors and then the colonists traveling from the Iberian Pen- 
insula to the Americas brought with them this knowledge, and also many 
of the plants that were deemed to have healing qualities. Yet they also 
undertook the task of trying to classify the plants they found in the New 
World based on the patterns they had already learned in Europe. By the 
time the Europeans arrived in South America, the ancient Greek con- 
cepts were no longer limited to the physicians' circles, but had already 
fallen into the public domain and become part of the common knowl- 
edge. The field of medicine experienced hardly any gains in the New 
World during the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries. From 
then on, progress within this field in Europe started flowing to South 
America, where such new acquisitions were restricted to a small num- 
ber of professionals, whose practices were almost always limited to the 
main cities. In the countryside there continued to be a lack of physicians, 
while the ancient precepts on nutritional health still survived. This sort 
of scientific backwardness carried on during the republican period and 
even until the early twentieth century, even though modernization had 
already started to take place as a result of the urban-development boom 
of the first half of that century. The lack of physicians left the field clear 
for folk healers or curious people who continued to empirically put the 
ancient knowledge into practice, unaware of the breakthroughs of con- 
temporary medicine. 

There are written and oral records of the curative and preventive meth- 
ods applied by such folk healers or, in some cases, physicians, dating back 
to colonial times, as well as some printed material of republican times and 
of the present. An example would be the works written by Leo Manfred 
under the titles 300 plantas medicinales argentinas and 600 plantas medici- 

Diet and Health 155 

nales argentinas y sudamericanas , ! which came out by the middle of the 
twentieth century. 

Among the ancient traditions there is a kind of disease etiology that 
refers to diet disorders as a main cause for illness. An example of such dis- 
orders would be the nonobservance of the ancient principles that classi- 
fied foods and beverages into cold and hot. According to this lore, health 
is not only maintained by avoiding consuming too many of either one of 
the two types and by combining them in the appropriate way; it is also 
deemed important to take into consideration the body's condition when 
food is to be consumed, avoiding, for example, taking cold foods right 
after hard work or exercise. Another extremely important issue, accord- 
ing to tradition, is the consideration of the time of the day when foods 
are consumed. There are some that should be eaten in the morning, for 
example, as they can be of less benefit if consumed at noon and even 
harmful if eaten at night. This would be the case of fruits, which accord- 
ing to the old saying are considered "Gold in the morning, silver at noon, 
and at night, boom!" 2 The body's functions are also of key significance, 
which is the reason why certain foods are not consumed during menstrua- 
tion, pregnancy, the postbirth period, and recovery conditions. If a person 
has a fever, for example, he or she is told not to consume any foods hot 
in temperature or foods that can irritate the stomach, so as not to worsen 
the condition. Other beliefs hold that the combination of certain foods 
can be harmful, like that of acidic fruits and milk, which may supposedly 
lead to serious digestion disorders. The fact that the ancient precepts of 
Greco-Roman times on food classification have survived until the present 
in Latin America is one of the points made by George M. Foster in his 
study Culture and Conquest, a work about the European legacy transferred 
by the conquerors to Latin America. 3 

Indian and African Botanical-Medicinal Heritage 

Many people associate South American Indians nowadays with the 
pictures of tribes from Amazonia. Such an image of human beings often 
looking weak and gaunt would suggest that the natives' diet had always 
been a poor one from a nutritional point of view. However, this was not 
always the case. If the contemporary documents on the conquest, and 
especially the records of the first contacts between Europeans and South 
Americans, are taken into consideration, such an opinion would immedi- 
ately be deemed false. The relationships that resulted from the Columbian 
encounter of civilizations and the chronicles from the sixteenth century 

156 Food Culture in South America 

often depicted the Indians as healthy people with robust constitutions 
who were, most of the time, particularly beautiful. Their fresh skin, shiny 
hair, good teeth, longevity, and the ease with which native women gave 
birth are all factors that suggest, on the basis of current research on nu- 
trition, that their diet was balanced and aimed to meet their particular 
needs. This original panorama changed very soon with the domination 
of the Europeans and the consequent extermination of large numbers 
of natives by means of simple elimination, the transmission of diseases 
that did not previously exist in the continent, the changes made to the 
land-farming system, and the diet itself. Of course, and just like any other 
human civilization, South American natives did not enjoy perfect health 
conditions during pre-Columbian times. They suffered from a number of 
illnesses and therefore invented formulas to treat them. 

As the Europeans started to become familiar with the culture of South 
American Indians, they found that the natives possessed a botanical and 
medical knowledge that was completely different from theirs. At first, 
such knowledge was only in the hands of the priests and witch doctors 
or piaches, so Europeans considered it the devil's doing and fought against 
it, as well as against the other religious practices of the Indians. How- 
ever, some curious chroniclers and certain missionaries, who also wrote 
some stories, showed an interest in these healing practices, which they de- 
scribed in their writings, but not before referring to them as heathen mat- 
ters. They also started to register the names of many of the plants native 
to the New World, indicating the therapeutic properties they featured ac- 
cording to the Indian lore. The interest in this new "medicinal material" 
grew with time, as many of these medicines made with plants proved to be 
effective. During the lengthy cultural-mixing process, the European and 
Indian medical lore merged, giving rise to a type of knowledge that can 
be called criollo, as it came to life in the South American continent. As a 
result of the lack of physicians, many of these plant medicines, known as 
"medicinal material" and dating back to pre-Columbian times, were used, 
and many of the witch doctors who practiced medicine not only during 
colonial, but also during republican times, have been of Indian origin. 
Even though most of the knowledge they possessed was transmitted orally, 
it was also possible for it to survive, thanks to the publication of several 
books in the early nineteenth century, which turned out to be very popu- 
lar. One of the most prominent examples of these publications is perhaps 
the book written by Venezuelan Geronimo Pompa (1810-80) under the 
title Coleccion de medicamentos indigenas, whose first edition was printed in 
Puerto Cabello, Venezuela, in 1868; since then other editions of the book 

Diet and Health 157 

have been published, not only in Caracas, but also in other cities of the 
world, at least until 1988. 

Throughout South America there are stands selling medicinal plants, 
both in public markets of cities and towns and in specialty stores. Such 
stores are commonly known as yerbaterias and are very much frequented 
by the people, as the tradition of using medicinal plants still plays a very 
important role in the continent. In contemporary times, especially since 
the 1980s, scientists have shown an ever-growing interest in the medici- 
nal plants the Indians have used for time immemorial. The scientists have 
obtained many of them and analyzed them in their laboratories, recog- 
nized the effectiveness of such plants to treat sick people, and enhanced 
the modern pharmaceutical repertoire by including such medicinal plants. 
Today, the so-called naturist products are sold throughout the region in 
special stores or drugstores. The products offered to the public have un- 
dergone careful harvesting and treatment to allow for the preservation of 
their healing properties. 

Among this repertoire of medicinal plants, a number are used to heal 
or treat certain digestion disorders, especially in rural areas. For example, 
severe stomach pains are treated with great mullein (jacquinia barbasco), 
coffee senna (Cassia occidentalis) , otoba (Dialy anther a otoba), suelda con 
suelda (Commelina nudiflora), and tusilla or contrayerva (Dorstenia contra- 
jerva); when people have worms, they use papaya (Carica papaya) or worm 
bush (Spigelia anthelmia); for intestinal obstructions, there is the copaiba 
(Copaifera officinalis) and the cusparia bark (Cusparia trifoliata); as a pur- 
gative, there is the sand-box tree (Hura crepitans), the maya (Bromelia 
chrysantha), the physic nut (Jatropha curcas), and the bellyache bush (J at- 
ropha gossypifolia); and as an invigorating agent, people use coca leaves 
(Erythroxylum coca). 

The African people that were taken to the New World as slaves also 
possessed medical knowledge. They were aware of the healing properties 
of many plants, some of which they managed to bring with them to the 
Americas; others were transplanted by the very slave traders, thinking it 
would be advisable to have within reach anything that would be good for 
their "merchandise." Regarding the diet of these slaves, there are some ex- 
perts who say that what they used to eat in the plantations or in any other 
establishments of the American continent was a much better diet than 
the one they enjoyed in their land of origin, where there was no guarantee 
that they would eat every day or even consistently, and where the meals 
are said to have been protein-deficient. The slave masters were the first 
to be interested in keeping them in good shape in this new environment, 

158 Food Culture in South America 

so they made sure that the slaves received meals that were appropriate, 
to enable them to carry out the hard labor forced upon them every day. 
Compared with the situation in the Caribbean Antilles, in the South 
American mainland the slaves were much freer, to a certain extent, and 
mainly used their free time to carry out subsistence farming in small land 
lots the owners of the haciendas would let them have. 

In the mainland, slaves took care of their own sustenance, facing the 
problem of not having certain foods available as a result of the geographi- 
cal location they were now placed in. They could not find any sorghum 
or millet, but they had corn and cassava, with which they were prob- 
ably already familiar. They could easily get yams, rice, and plantains, as 
well as meat (beef, goat, pork, and poultry). The type of agriculture they 
practiced in their sown fields reinforced the one carried out by the South 
American natives in their small production units or conucos. These small- 
holding practices even exist today. 

As part of their cultural memories, the Africans arriving in South Amer- 
ica were bearers of certain knowledge on medicinal plants, which served 
to reinforce the medicinal material that would then make up the lore of 
the sociedad criolla, to which they were part of by means of the mixing 
process. One of the most significant examples of the African contribution 
in terms of medicinal plants was probably the use of quimbombo (Hibiscus 
esculentus L). This member of the Malvaceae family, native to the African 
continent, has also received the names gumbo and okra. Special soups are 
prepared with the flower buds and the unripe fruits of this plant, as they 
are said to be very good for digestion, while its mucilaginous leaves are 
used to make emollient poultices. 

The Arrival of Nutritional Sciences 

People's concern for nutrition is relatively long-standing in South 
America. It was recorded in the late 1820s by hygiene manuals made for 
family use (private hygiene) or community use (public hygiene). These 
treatises or manuals written for the general public classified the foods into 
different categories, described the digestive process, and then pointed out 
certain rules that had to be followed in order to maintain good health, 
specifying the diets that would best suit people depending on their age or 
the type of work they performed. An early example of this kind of book is 
the one known as Elementos de Hijiene, written by Jose Felix Melizalde and 
published in Bogota in 1828. He was a university professor in Bogota who 
had specialized in that issue. The work is very singular and difficult to find 

Diet and Health 159 

in libraries. It dwells on the foods that make up the diet of that specific 
region, pointing out their characteristics and their influence on people's 
health. In that same century, other works were also published on the issue 
of hygiene, like the one by Adolfo Brunei under the title Consideration 
nes sobre higiene y observaciones relativas ala de Montevideo, published in 
Uruguay's capital city in 1862, or the one written by Emilio Coni, namely 
Godigo de Higiene y Medicina Legal de la Repilblica Argentina, published in 
Buenos Aires in 1891. There were also books focusing on the diet issue, 
such as Tratado de la Alimentation, by Manuel A, Diez, published in Ca- 
racas in 1896, which gives a detailed account of the nutritional values of 
food. All of these works captured nutritional practices and concepts that 
are still maintained in many rural communities today. 

Yet it was not until the twentieth century that more modern hand- 
books started to come out and that the national governments showed an 
interest in peoples' nutrition. By midcentury, the health departments of 
many South American governments started to create offices devoted to 
the study of the diet issue and to achieve improvements on nutritional 
matters at the national level, while independent institutes also emerged 
to serve this same purpose. The first of these bodies to come to life was 
the Instituto de Nutricion de Argentina, which was founded in 1928 by 
nutritionist Pedro Escudero. To a great extent, such an inrush of nutrition 
into the institutions of the South American governments was a conse- 
quence of the work carried out by the Food and Agriculture Organiza- 
tion (FAO), founded in 1945. This international body created projects 
for Latin America, which began to be implemented in 1949, when the 
first meetings of Rio de Janeiro and Lima took place, and then through 
the ones held in Santiago de Chile (1950) and Buenos Aires (1952). 4 
The FAO initiatives paved the way for the creation of a number of inde- 
pendent institutes in the continent devoted to nutritional matters. These 
would be some of the most important facts related to the establishment of 
food science in South America. 

The institutions that have survived until the present have been facing 
ever- intensifying problems within their areas of responsibility. They are 
challenged not only by the need to combat the traditional lore on the 
nutritional values or harmful nature of the different foods, but also by 
people's diet disorders. The accelerated increase of the population and the 
periodic economic crises suffered by the South American countries have 
brought about an increment in the number of people with very few means 
of support and the subsequent high malnutrition levels, which consti- 
tutes one of the headaches of government leaders in the continent. In an 

160 Food Culture in South America 

attempt to fight the hunger problem looming over the regional public- 
health scene, many programs aimed at improving the standard of living 
of most South Americans have been implemented, some of them more 
successful than others. 

The Discussion on the Caloric Requirements 

In the twentieth century, the issue of people's caloric requirements was 
addressed by a large number of scientific publications. Particularly worth 
mentioning is the contribution of some South American specialists, among 
which the works of the Brazilian professor Josue de Castro on this topic 
have played a key role, one of the most important being his Geografia do 
jame, which has been translated into several languages and which drew 
the attention of the international community to the nutritional problems 
of the tropical countries. 5 In another one of his works, Castro points out 
that even though the food needs of human beings are basically equal with 
regard to "the energy requirements needed to maintain the innate heat 
and to be able to perform the different physiological tasks, as well as the 
need to be provided with the different nutrients: proteins, carbohydrates, 
fat, mineral salts and vitamins," they are not equal in quantitative terms, 
as the climate is determinant of humans' lifestyle — making a difference in 
the quantity of nutrients demanded by the body — as well as of their en- 
ergy outputs. 6 According to the author, the geological and climatic condi- 
tions of a specific zone not only determine the protein levels needed by 
the human body, but also affect the chemical composition of the soil and, 
therefore, the food. 

Castro based his studies on the already accepted premise that the num- 
bers calculated for temperate zones cannot be applied as universal pat- 
terns. His experiments — aimed at creating a diet that would help provide 
an energy balance to the human organism — focused on the calculation of 
two basic values: first, the energy output of living organisms in the tropical 
lands, and second, the energy potential of foods. 

The human body is not a simple thermometer that registers the changes 
in temperature. It actually shows physiological reactions when such varia- 
tions occur. Thus, the intensity of the work carried out by the people 
in the tropics and their energy requirements can vary. One of the main 
conclusions stated by the author once he has described his experiments 
in detail is that the working capacity in the tropical lands is lower than in 
the temperate zones: 

Diet and Health 161 

In equatorial, tropical and subtropical zones — -with hot climate and relative hu- 
midity levels — the intensity of work is lower than in areas with mild or cold cli- 
mates. Besides, we had already found out, empirically, that the work done in the 
tropical colonies is less productive than the one done in the European countries, 
and that in the former workers are not able to do eight kilogram-meters medium 
work per second, as is the case in the latter. As the amount of energy consumed 
during work is in direct proportion to the number of kilogram-meters done, the 
amount of energy has to be also lower in the tropical zones.' 

Food is what, in the end, wholly offsets the energy loss of humans, 
with the organic foods (proteins, fat, and carbohydrates) making up their 
"energy potential.' 1 In this sense, as the caloric requirements are mainly 
provided by the organic foods, the author formulated a number of conclu- 
sions on the portions human beings in the tropical areas should consume 
from each food category. 

As Castro concluded, "in the tropical regions, we must be moderate, 
avoid consuming too many proteins, while being careful to not have less 
than the minimum needed to attain a nutritional balance. The average 
proportion of one gram per kilo (weight), i.e. 70 grams daily, is reason- 
able, provided that around 50 per cent is made up by whole proteins." 8 
He states that, in tropical climates, a high level of protein consumption 
can lead to an increment in combustion and, thus, in metabolism, which 
would make it even more difficult for human beings to acclimatize to the 
tropical lands. Conversely, a low consumption rate of proteins may result 
in developmental problems that are shown in the short stature of many 
groups of people. Another effect of low protein consumption is the gen- 
eration of edemas in the tissues and the consequent increase in weight. 
The edemas appear due to the lack of globulin and serine in the blood, 
making people look healthier because of their high body weight, whereas 
other people with no protein deficit feature a lower body weight. 

As for carbohydrates, Castro explains that they make up 50 to 70 per- 
cent of the total energy of normal diets, although the diet of mainly poor 
people from the tropical regions contains up to 80 to 90 percent of car- 
bohydrates, which damages their health. In this sense, Castro gives the 
people from the tropical regions two basic pieces of advice: first, avoid 
consuming carbohydrates and do not let these types of food (often the 
cheapest ones) be higher than two-thirds of the whole calorie consump- 
tion, and second, offset the calorie requirements with fats and proteins. 
In case it is not possible to consume foods from these other two groups, 
the author recommends reducing the calorie consumption instead of con- 
suming carbohydrates in excess. Another important piece of advice to 

162 Food Culture in South America 

be followed in the tropical countries with regard to the consumption of 
carbohydrates is, according to Castro, that some of them to be consumed 
include fruits, unwashed rice, oats, and wheat grain, and not only starchy 
flours or tubers. He also recommends being careful with the types of meth- 
ods used to cook starchy foods, avoiding the European methods and in- 
stead applying those from certain "primitive" peoples. 

The third group of foods that provides the human body with calories is 
fat. The author recommends a daily fat consumption of around 30 grams 
in the form of milk, butter, certain vegetable oils, and fish. This advice 
is based on the fact that "the hot climate diminishes the intensity of the 
digestive processes and hinders the proper functioning of the liver, which 
suggests that a diet very rich in fats could irritate the digestive system or 
increase the possibilities of liver failure." 9 Castro explains that his state- 
ments are not intended to change the diets of those peoples who are far 
from fulfilling such recommendations, as is the case of Bahian cuisine 
from northeastern Brazil, which is characterized by an excessive intake of 
deride (palm oil). 

Castro's calculations are based on the general climatic conditions of the 
tropical zones, but these obviously vary from one country to another within 
this region, which calls for the need to adjust the figures obtained. 

Recently published data in table 7.1 give an account of the average 
daily calorie intake per inhabitant in the region. 

It is very probable that the nutritional panorama depicted by these data 
has varied, worsening the situation in South American countries. This in 
turn means the gap between the numbers presented for the United States 
and those of the South America may have widened. 

What the Data Suggest: Is the Staple Diet Balanced and Rich in Nutrients? 

It is particularly difficult to draw any conclusion about the real nutri- 
tional condition of the South American peoples. Despite the efforts made 
by nutritionists and governments in the region, statistics are not produced 
on a regular basis in every country, and the criteria used differ throughout 
the region. Dietary surveys have been carried out only in very recent times, 
and no document has been produced so far presenting a rigorous summary 
of their results. Therefore, the analyses have to be based on official statis- 
tics, which are not reliable enough, as the data they offer are often different 
from those obtained through surveys conducted by private firms. 

The general characteristics of the typical South American diet will now 
be presented, based on a summary analysis of the nutritional values of the 
traditional South American foods. 

Diet and Health 


Table 7.1 

Dietary Outlook in South America 



Mortality rate 

Percentage of diabetics 



Daily average 

Percentage of 

from coronary 


calorie input per 

rachitic children 

diseases per 100,000 

inhabitant (1997) 


(latest available data) 



men women 


127.66 35.13 









415.42 205.80 





173.03 100.02 





122.60 49.71 





38.86 19.82 





203.65 108.20 





259.30 128.02 





38.21 18.09 





250.47 125.78 





181.20 65.65 





227.05 111.53 





2,037.45 967.75 





192.49 77.23 



Source: Erik Millstone and Tim Lang, Atlas de V alimentation dans le monde (Paris: FAO, 2003), pp. 
112-19, 128. 

High Consumption of Carbohydrates 

The high carbohydrate intake is not only due to the very important 
role played by sugar in the daily diet, but also to the high proportion of 
carbohydrates in some foods such as potatoes, onions, rice, or peas, among 
others, which are usually used to prepare the typical dishes in the conti- 
nent. Another important factor that contributes to the high carbohydrate 
intake is the significant consumption of refreshing beverages — most of 
them sweetened — such as sodas or fruit juices. The special love of beer 
accounts for the big abdomens of many South Americans, often believed 
to be a sign of good nutrition, which is not always the case. In Venezuela, 
this abdomen protuberance is called barriguita cervecera (beer belly). 

Significant Proportion of Proteins 

South Americans have traditionally considered meat (especially beef) 
to be an essential ingredient of their diet. This trend is particularly seen in 
the meat-producing countries Venezuela, Colombia, Brazil, Uruguay, and 
especially Argentina. Despite the high prices of this product, the South 

164 Food Culture in South America 

American governments have always tried to adopt measures aimed at re- 
ducing the cost, while the people make every effort to be able to buy it. 

Importance of Fats 

The consumption of animal fats, such as beef fat or lard, is nowadays 
relatively lower than in the past, as vegetable fats — like peanut, corn, and 
soy oils, among others — have been used to replace them. Nevertheless, 
the typical South American diet still features a high intake of lipids. Fat 
is used for the preparation of almost all the typical dishes from the various 
gastronomical zones of the region, starting with the sofrito, which is the 
basic sauce of a great number of dishes in South America. 

Significant Intake of Vitamins C and A 

There is a significant proportion of vitamins C and A in two of the basic 
ingredients of the continental diet, namely chilies and plantains. Chili 
peppers are widely known for their high levels of vitamin C, which is also 
found in some fruits like guava or citruses — commonly consumed fresh in 
the form of juices or batidos (shakes). Plantains are rich in vitamin A, the 
content of which remarkably increases when the fruit is cooked. 


1. These two works were updated by their author and combined to create a 
single work: Leo Manfred, Siete mil recetas botdnicas a base de mil trescientas plantas 
medicinales (Buenos Aires: Editorial Kier, 1947). 

2. "Por la manana oro, al mediodia plata y por la noche matan." 

3. George McClelland Foster, Culture and Conquest: Americas Spanish Heritage 
(Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1960), pp. 14ff. The study of this matter was pre- 
sented by this same author in a monograph under the title "Hippocrates' Latin 
American Legacy: Hot and Cold in Contemporary Folk Medicine," in Colloquia 
in Anthropology vol. 2, ed. R. K. Wetherington (Dallas: Southern Methodist Uni- 
versity and Fort Burgwin Research Center, 1978), pp. 3-19. 

4. Gove Hambidge, The Story of FAQ (New York: D. Van Nostrand, 1955), p. 

5. This work was translated and published in English as Josue de Castro, The 
Geography of Hunger (Boston: Little, Brown, 1952). 

6. Josue de Castro, La alimentacion en los tropicos (Mexico City: Fondo de Cub 
tura Economica, 1946), p. 10. 

7. Ibid., pp. 56-57. 

8. Ibid., p. 75. 

9. Ibid., p. 86. 


ajicero Hot sauce (usually homemade), prepared with hot peppers, vin- 
egar, and spices. It is also the name given to the container of such 

arepa A native bread of Venezuela and Colombia. 

arroz Rice. 

asado Roast. 

atol, atole Beverage that is generally prepared with cooked corn, water, 
and other ingredients. In South America, this word is also used to mean 
"beverage" in general. 

barbacoa Barbecue. 

buchada The entrails of edible animals. 

cachiri Fermented casabe beverage prepared by Indians. 

cafecito Cup of coffee. 

carato Refreshing beverage prepared with water, sugar, and the pulp of 
a certain fruit. 

catibia Grated, pressed, and squeezed cassava pulp. 

cena Dinner. 

charqui Salted and dried meat. 

chicha Native beverage with corn base. 

ehoclo Fresh corn. 

166 Glossary 

chupe Soup similar to chowders. 

cocuy Name used in Venezuela to designate the plant known in other 
parts of the continent as agave (Agave Americana L.), which is used in 
Mexico to prepare pulque. The term is also used to designate the liquor 
extracted from this plant. 

criollo, criolla Those born in the New World who are descendants of 
Europeans or Africans. By extension, the term is also used to refer to 
the societies that result from a mixing process, as well as to the plants 
and animals that are native to Latin America or that have acclimatized 
in the region. 

dende Palm oil. 

desayuno Breakfast. 

dulce Unrefined sugar. 

empanada Wheat pastry with different fillings. 

ensalada Salad. 

feria Celebration. 

frijoles or frisoles Beans. 

gaucho Cattle herder of the Argentine Pampas. 

hacienda Plantation. 

llanero Cattle herder of the Colombian and Venezuelan Llanos. 

manioc Tuber whose scientific name is Manihot esculenta Crantz, equiv- 
alent to mandioca (tapioca) and yuca (cassava). It is widely used in 
South America and especially in the Amazonian zone. 

mate Bitter and greenish infusion or tea made from the leaves of a tree 
native to South America. 

orixa A saint from the Afro-Brazilian tradition. 

pisillo Dish prepared with meat, which is salted and then desalted, 
shredded, and fried or roasted with different seasonings. 

sofrito Basic sauce for a number of dishes. 

sopa Soup. 

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Gran libro de la cocina ecuatoriana. Quito: Cfrculo de Lectores, n.d. 

French Guiana 

Horth, Regine. ha Guyane gastronomique et traditionnelle . Paris: Editions CarL 
beennes, 1988. 


Seeraj, Sandra. Made in Guyana. N.p.: Ministry of Information, 1980. 


Livieres de Artecona, Raquel. La cocinera paraguaya. Asuncion: La Colmena, 

Velilla de Aquino, Josefina. Tembi'u paraguai: Comida paraguaya. Asuncion: RP 

Ediciones, 1987. 


Hinostroza de Molina, Gloria, et al. Cocinas regionales peruanas. Lima: Univer- 
sidad San Martin de Porres, Escuela Profesional de Turismo y Hotelerfa, 

Sanbury Aguirre, Jorge. La Gran Cocina Peruana. Lima: Peru Reporting, 1995. 

Resource Guide 171 

Sison Porras de De La Guerra, Josie. El Peru y sus manjares: Vn crisol de culturas. 
Lima: Edicion de Josie Sison Porras de De la Guerra, 1994. 


John, Yvonne. Guyanese Seed of Vegetables, Seafood, and Desserts. Holly Hill: 
K&M, 1985. 


Dumont, M. El gorro bianco. Montevideo: Casa A. Barreiro y Ramos, 1946. 


Scannone, Armando. Mi cocina. Caracas: Armando Scannone, 1982. 
. Mi cocina II. Caracas: Armando Scannone, 1994. 


Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. "Latin American Food & Cooking." http://www. 

English Spanish Link.com. "Spanish Recipe. Spanish Food... Food Products 

Spain/Recetas de Cocina en Ingles y Espanol..." http://www.english 

GlobalCilk S. L. "Coleccion de Recetas de Cocina Sudamericana." http://www. 

Gupo IDA S. L. "El Portal de Recetas del Mundo." http://www.arecetas.com/america. 
Hamre, Bonnie. "South America for Visitors." http://gosouthamerica.about.com. 


Cicarelli, Jose. "Argentina Recipes." http://orbita.starmedia.com/~recipes_to_ 

GARDEL server. "Todo sobre la Cocina Argentina." http://argentina.informatik. 



Bolivia Web. "Recipes Gallery-Traditional Bolivian Cooking." http://www. 

172 Resource Guide 


Duro, Elton. "CookBrazil: Brazilian Food Recipes." http://www.cookbrazil.com/. 
Polasky, Rod. "Brazilian Cooking: Anthropology of Food." http://www.archaeo 

Thomson, Sheila. "Maria's Cookbook." http://www.maria-brazil.org/fdind.htm. 


Canfield, Eric. "Chilean Food." http://www.geocities.com/TheTropics/Cabana/ 

CFFA. "The World of Chilean Fresh Fruit." http://www.cffausa.org/m_recipes. 



Comidacolombiana.com. http://www.comidacolombiana.com/guia.htm. 
Universidad de Los Andes. "Comidas T (picas de Colombia." http://www.uniandcs. 


Moses, Wayne. "Guyana Outpost: Wayne's Guyana Page." http://guyana.gweb 


Weinstock, Steven D. "Paraguayan Recipes." http://www.pyadopt.org/recipe. 


ServerPro. "Peru Recipes at Food Down Under Recipe Database." http://food 

downunder.com/cgi-bin/search.cgi ?q=peru. 
Yanuq Inc. "Yanuq Cooking in Peru." http://www.cocinaperuana.com/english/. 


TROPILAB INC. "Recipes from the Surinam Kitchen." http://www.tropilab. 

Resource Guide 1 73 


Domenech, Enrique. "Recetas de Uruguay-Receta Cocina Uruguaya." hrtp: 
Gupo IDA S. L, "A Recetas de Uruguay." http://www.arecetas.com/uruguay/. 


Cantv. "Cantv Paginas Amarillas: Gufa Gastronomica." http://www.paginas 

amarillascantv.com. ve/gastronomia/default. asp. 
Centro de Estudios Gastronomicos de Venezuela. "CEGA." http://cega.org.ve. 
Scannone, Armando. "El Placer de Comer." http://www.elplacerdecomer.com/. 

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Acosta, Joseph de. Historia natural y moral de his Indias. 1590. Reprint, Madrid: 
Ramon Angles, 1894. 

Alfaro, Alfonso. "Los espacios de la sazon." In Congreso sobre Patrimonio Gas- 
tronomico y Turismo Cultural en America Latina y el Caribe, vol. 1:1, 55-68. 
Mexico City: CONACULTA, 2002. 

Brack Egg, Antonio. Frutas del Peru. Lima: Universidad San Martin de Porres, 

Briz Garizurleta, Marcela. "Los restaurantes ante la modernidad." In Cuarto Con- 
greso sobre Patrimonio Gastronomico y Turismo Cultural en America Latina y 
el Caribe, 197-200. Mexico City: CONACULTA, 2003. 

Camara Cascudo, Luis da. Dicciondrio dofolclore brasileiro. Rio de Janeiro: Istituto 
Nacional do Livro, 1954. 

Carvalho-Neto, Paulo de. Diccionario del folklore ecuatoriano. Quito: Editorial 
Casa de la Cultura Ecuatoriana, 1964. 

. Historia del folklore iberoamericano . Santiago de Chile: Editorial Univer- 

sitaria, 1969. 

Castillo de Lucas, Antonio. Refranerillo de la alimentacion. Madrid: Graficas Re- 
unidas, S.A., 1940. 

Castro, Josue de. The Geography of Hunger. Boston: Little, Brown, 1952. 

. La alimentacion en los tropicos . Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Economica, 


Cervantes, Abdiel. "Los jovenes en las cocinas." In Cuarto Congreso sobre Patri- 
monio Gastronomico y Turismo Cultural en America Latina y el Caribe. (Me- 
morias), 27-30. Mexico City: CONACULTA, 2003. 

176 Bibliography 

Coluccio, Felix. Diccionario folklorico argentine. Buenos Aires: Libreria El Ateneo 
Editorial, 1950. 

Deleito y Pinuela, Jose. La mujer, la casa y la moda. Madrid: Espasa Calpe, 1946. 

Domingo, Xavier. De la alia al mole. Madrid: Ediciones Cultura Hispanica, 1984. 

Foster, George McClelland. Culture and Conquest: Americas Spanish Heritage. 
Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1960. 

. "Hippocrates' Latin American Legacy — Hot and Cold in Contemporary 

Folk Medicine." In Colloquia in Anthropology vol. 2, ed. R.K. Wethering- 
ton, 3-19. Dallas: Southern Methodist University and Fort Burgwin Re- 
search Center, 1978. 

Furlong, Guillermo. Historia social y cultural del Rio de la Plata. Buenos Aires: 
Tipografica Editora Argentina, 1969. 

Hambidge, Gove. The Story ofFAO. New York: D. Van Nostrand, 1955. 

Lovera, Jose Rafael. Historia de la alimentation en Venezuela. Caracas: Centro de 
Estudios Gastronomicos, 1998. 

. Manuel Guevara Vasconcelos o la politica del convite. Caracas: Academia 

Nacional de la Historia, 1998. 

Manfed, Leo. Siete mil recetas botdnicas a base de mil trescientas plantas medicinales. 
Buenos Aires: Editorial Kier, 1947. 

Millstone, Erik, and Tim Lang. Atlas de V alimentation dans le monde. Paris: FAO, 

Moreno, Victor A. "Los jovenes y la cocina en Venezuela." In Cuarto Congreso 
sobre Patrimonio Gastronomico y Turismo Cultural en America Latina y el 
Caribe. (Memorias), 19-26. Mexico City: CONACULTA, 2003. 

Mosbach, Ernesto Wilhelm de. Botdnica indigena de Chile. Santiago de Chile: 
Museo Chileno de Arte Precolomhino, Fundacion Andes, Editorial An- 
dresBello, 1992. 

Nuix y Perpina, Jose. Reflexiones imparciales sobre la humanidad de los espanoles en 
las Indias. 1780. Reprint, Madrid: Ediciones Atlas, 1944. 

O'Leary, Simon B., ed. Memorias del General O'Leary publicadas por su hijo. Vol. 
24. Caracas: lmprenta de El Monitor, 1884. 

Patino, Victor Manuel. Plantas cultivadas y animales domesticos en America Equin- 
octial. 6 vols. Cali, Colombia: lmprenta Departamental, 1963-74. 

Sanchez Botero, Esther. "Potencial y riesgo de la Gastronomfa en America La- 
tina." In Congreso sobre Patrimonio Gastronomico y Turismo Cultural en 
America Latina y el Caribe, vol. 1:2, 77-95. Mexico City: CONACULTA, 

Silva, Silvestre P. Frutas-Brasil. Sao Paulo: Empresa das Artes, 1991. 

Strauss K., Rafael. Diccionario de cultura popular. Caracas: Fundacion Bigott, 

Tauro, Alberto. Diccionario enciclopedico del Peru. 3 vols. Buenos Aires: Editorial 
Americalee, 1966. 

The Visual Encyclopedia of Food. New York: Macmillan, 1996. 


Acosta, Jospeh de, 18 

African slaves: cacao production, 56; 
as cooks, 79; food customs of, 36, 
42, 94, 95, 99; medicle knowledge 
of, 157; nutritional concerns, 
157-58; population of, 8; religious 
customs, 33, 146; sugar plantation 
work, 49; trade, 11-12,13,32,1.57 

Agriculture, 2-3, 15, 20-25, 34 

Agro- industry, 20, 24-25 

Aioli, 45 

Ajiaco Bogotano (Columbia), 52, 

Ajicero, 41 

Alexander VI, Pope, 7 

Alfajores (Argentina), 125-26 

Algae, 139 

All Saints/All Souls day, 144-45 

Almuerzo, 93, 101 

Alpaca, 26 

Amazon River, 4, 21 

Amphibians, 35 

Andalusians, 8, 9, 23 

Andean region, 4-5, 21, 22-23, 96 

Andenes, 21, 23 

Andes, 3,4, 23 

Anghiera, Peter Martyr d\ 40, 68 

Animals, domesticated, 4, 21, 25, 

Animism, 33-34 
Aniseed, 73-74 
Annatto, 19, 51-52 
Annona, 54-55 
Antelope, 12 

Arabs, 10, 12, 16,23,51,58 
Arawak, 21, 45 

Arepas, 5-6,20,42,95-96, 133 
Argentina, 1, 4, 14-16, 81 
Argentinean Pampas, 29 
Argo-industry, 20, 24-25 
Armadillos, 69 
Asado, 64, 106 
Atlas (Mercator), 7 
Atol, 43 

Avocados, 53-54, 100 
Azores, 7,49 

Bagres, 52 
Bdquiro, 22 
Barbacoa, 5 




Barley, 9 

Basque Country, 8, 9 

Batido, 20 

Beans, 12,39-40,43, 120-21 

Beasts of burden, 25, 26 

Beef, 10, 63-66 

Beer, 19,47-48, 163 

Beverages: alcoholic, 148, 149, 150, 
151; beer, 19, 47-48, 163; carbon- 
ated, 47; cocoa, 46, 100; coffee, 
16, 21, 23, 37, 46-47, 100; of corn, 
43; foreign, 46-48; guarana-based 
sodas, 47; native, 45-46; tea, 
45-46; wine, 9-10, 34, 48 

Birds, 22, 27-28,32,67, 78, 111 

Birth festivities, 149 

Black beans, 40 

Bogota, 8 

Bolivar, Simon, 13, 80 

Bolivia, 1, 3 

Bombilla, 46 

Bom-Bocado de Coco (Coconut De- 
light Dessert) (Bahia, Brazil), 

Bonaparte, Napoleon, 13, 80 

Books: cookbooks, 85-89; culinary, 
89-90; on diet and health, 154-55, 
158-59; on food culture, 86 

Botelle, Juan Bautista, 79 

Botet, Pierre, 79 

Bovines, 12,29-30 

Braganza monarchy, 13, 14 

Brazil, 1,4, 8, 11, 13-16, 24 

Brazilian Planicies, 29 

Breads, 9, 61,95-98 

Bull of the Holy Crusade, 35 

Cacao, 21, 23, 56 
Cafecito, 37, 46 
Cafes, 131-32 
Cafeterias, 83, 127, 133 
Caloric requirements, 160-62 
Camelidae, 6, 25-27 

Canary Islands, 31, 49 

Canned foods, 24, 84-85 

Cape of Good Hope, 11 

Capers, 10 

Cape Verde, 11,31 

Capsicum, 40-41, 48 

Capybaras, 69 

Caracas, 8, 31 

Carbohydrates, 161-62, 163 

Carica papaya, 54 

Cassava, 22, 34, 41-42, 118-19 

Castro, Josue de, 160 

Catholicism, 33, 138, 146, 147, 149 

Cattle, 12, 29-30 

Cebiche de Pescado (Ecuador), 114 

Cebiche (Peru), 115 

Cena, 93, 107 

Central America, 2, 54, 74, 96, 97 

Chacras, 21, 24 

Charqui, 25, 111 

Cheese, 49-51, 66, 130 

Chefs, 81,91,135 

Cherimoya, 54 

Chibcha, 3, 23 

Chicha, 2,6,34,43,44, 100 

Chicken, 67 

Chickpeas, 12 

Chile, 1,3,4, 12, 14 

China, 10, 15 

Chinchivi, 62 

Chinese, 15, 16 

Chives, 71 

Choclo, 6, 96, 114, 138 

Chocolate, 46, 56, 100, 143 

Christening festivities, 149 

Christianity, 9, 33, 34-35 

Christmas, 67, 138, 141-44 

Chupe, 104, 140 

Chupe de Camarones (Peru), 103-4 

Cinnamon, 10, 72-73 

Citrons, 59 

Cloves, 10, 73 

Cocks, 31, 32 




Cocoa, 46, 100 
Coconut palm, 56-57 
Coconuts, 57 

Coffee, 16, 21, 23, 37, 46-47, 100 
Colombia, 1, 3, 7, 12 
Colombian-Venezuelan Llanos, 29 
Colonial times, 14, 17-19, 79-80 
Columbus, Christopher, 6, 49 
Combe, Francois, 79 
Communal festivities, 147-49 
Condiments, 48-50 
Conucos, 21, 22, 23, 24 
Cookbooks, 10, 13,42,85-89 
Cooking: men and, 78-82; prizes for, 

81; schools/studies, 80-82, 89-90; 

styles of, 82-85; women and, 

77-80. See also Food 
Coolies, 16 
Copper, 10 
Coriander, 62-63 

Corn, 2, 5-6, 35, 42-43, 94-97, 119-20 
Corncobs, 119, 129, 143 
Corn kernels, 32, 114, 120 
Corominas, 57 
Cortes, Hernan, 56 
Cosmographiae lntroductio (Waldsee- 

muller), 6-7 
Cowpeas, 12 
Criollo, 19,39,68, 155 
Crusade of the Middle Ages, 35 
Crustaceans, 53, 113 
Culture and Conquest (Foster), 155 
Cumin, 73 

Dairy products, 35, 50-51 

Deceased, ceremonies for, 151 

Derde',76, 112, 115 

Desayuno, 93, 94 

Desserts, 122-26 

Diccionario Critico Etimologico (Cor- 

ominas), 56-57 
Diet, and health, 153; books on, 

154-55, 156; caloric requirements, 

160-62; Hippocratic-Galenic 
traditions, 153-55; Indian/Afri- 
can botanical-medicinal heritage, 
155-58; institutions for, 159-60; 
medicinal plants, 54-55, 62, 157; 
modern knowledge, 85, 160-64; 
nutritional sciences, arrival of, 
158-60; publications on, 158-59; 
staples, balance of, 162-64 

Dining out. See Eating out 

Dioscorides, 154 

Disease, 6, 155 

Domesticated animals, 4, 21, 25, 

Ducks, 67; muscovy, 27-28, 112 

Dulce de Leche (Argentina), 126 

Dure, Joseph, 79 

Dyes, 19,51-52 

Easter, 138-41 

Eating out, 127-28; fast-food stands, 
132-33; luncherias, 132; market 
stands, 129-30; restaurants/cafes, 
130-32, 134-35; street-food 
stands, 128-29; workplace, 133-34 

Ecuador, 1, 2 

Eggs, 32, 67, 99, 121-25 

Elephants, 12 

Empanada, 110, 118, 129 

Empanadas de Crema (Chile), 122 

Enciso, Martin Fernandez de, 53 

Ensalada,99, 111, 140, 141 

Ethnic groups, 4, 21-22, 34, 45, 146 

Europeans, 3, 4, 6-11, 17-18 

Exports, 23,26,47-48, 70 

Extremadura, 30 

Farming, 6, 14, 23, 56 
Farmworkers, 3, 22, 24, 147 
Fast food, 20, 132-33 
Fasting, 34, 138,141 
Fats: butter, 9; calories and, 162; im- 
portance of, 164; lard, 9, 30; mar- 




garine, 12-13; swine and, 30. See 
also Oils 

Feijoada a la Brasilera (Brazil), 120-2 1 

Fertilizers, 22, 23 

Figs, 54, 123 

Fish: breeding, 116; freshwater, 10, 
52-53,63, 116, 139; fried, 115; 
meals and, 1 13-17; religion arid, 
35; salted, 49 

Fishing, 12, 21-22, 52, 77 

Food: preparation, 10, 81, 8 \ 90-91; 
preservation, 5, 51, 64, 78, 123; 
prices, 20, 36, 37, 106, 132, 133, 
163; processing, 24, 84; research- 
ers, 90; storage, 5, 13, 23; taboos, 

Food and Agriculture Organization 
(FAO), 159 

Food culture: books on, 85; history, 
studies on, 90; market stands and, 
1 30; mixing of, 17-19; study of, 

Fortresses, 3-4 

Foster, George M., 155 

Fremont, Francois, 80 

French fries, 44 

Freyre, Gilberto, 79 

Frijoks, 39-40, 121,1 39 

Frozen foods, 56, 84 

Fruits, 12,19,21,23,24,53-59, 

Gama, Vasco da, 57 

Game, 10, 68-70, 77, 101, 112, 130 

Garlic, 71 

Gastronomic information, 86, 88, 135 

Gastronomy academies, 135 

Gatherers, 21-22 

Gaucho, 35, 77 

Gazelle, 12 

Geografia do fame (Castro), 160 

Geography (Ptolemy), 6 

Ginger, 12 

Giraffes, 12 

Glass, 10 

Goats (caprines), 10, 12, 31, 66, 

Gourds, 45, 139, 141 
Grains, 9, 12, 61-62 
Grape harvest festivities, 148 
Grapes, 9-10, 148 
Grinding stones, 13, 82, 85 
Guanaco, 27 
Guano, 23 
Guarana, 47, 101 
Guasca, 63 
Guava, 19, 55-56 
Guinea, 1,11 
Guinea fowl, 32 
Guinea pig (cuy), 27 
Guirior, Manuel de, 79 

Hacienda, 23-24, 158 
Hamburgers, 20, 128, 129, 132 
Hare, 12 

Heating sources, 5-6, 10, 82-84 
Hens, 31, 112-13 
Herbs, 4, 62-63 
Hernandez, Francisco, 74 
Hippocratic-Galenic traditions, 

Hippopotamuses, 12 
His tor ia natural y moral de las Indias 

(Acosta), 18 
Holy War, 35 
Honey, 10, 12 
Hospitality, 37 
Hot dogs, 20, 128, 129, 132 
Hot pepper, 4, 71 
Huacatay, 4, 63 
Huascar, 4 

Huevos Mollos (Paraguay), 123-24 
Htttnttas (Bolivia), 97 
Hunters, 34 
Hunting, 12, 21-22; laws, protection, 

68,69, 112; poaching, 112-13 




Iberian Peninsula, 8-10, 13-14, 31 

Ice cream, 129 

Immigrants, 2, 14-16, 19, 76, 141 

Imports, 14, 19,47,51,76 

IncaCola, 47, 101 

Inca Empire, 3, 4, 23 

India, 15, 16, 19 

Indians, 2, 12, 17-19 

Indigenous peoples, 2-6; diet of, 4-5; 
domesticated animals and, 29; 
European extermination of, 6; fast 
foods of, 20; food habits of, 18, 
36; food preparation, 4-5; popula- 
tion of, in New World, 8, 11, 14, 
36; poultry breeding, 32; religious 
beliefs of, 32-34; wedding festivi- 
ties, 150-51 

Infusions, 45-46 

Instituto de Nutricion de Argentina, 

Inter caetera, 7 

Internet, 89 

Irrigation, 21-22, 23 

Jambu, 63 
Japanese, 15, 16 
Jews, 16, 35 
JoaoVI, King, 13,80 
Jolofo tribe, 12 

Kid meat. See Goats 
Kiwis, 19 

Laguna, Andres, 154 

Lake Titicaca, 43 

Lamb, 66-67, 111 

Lard, 9, 30 

Lasala, Monsieur, 79 

Laws, protection: hunting, 68-69, 
1 12; indigenous peoples, 11; sani- 
tary, for dairy products, 50; wild 
animals, 1 12-13 

Lecher o, 50 

Legumes, 10, 12 

Lemons, 59 

Lemoyiven, Louis, 80 

Lent, 34, 69, 139, 140, 141 

Lentils, 12 

Libro de agricultura (Zacarfa), 10 

Liniers, Santiago de, 79 

Linnaeus, 40, 54, 55, 56, 73, 74 

Lipoids, 9 

Llama, 66-67, 112 

Llanero, 16,30, 149 

Llapingachos (Ecuador), 44 

Losada, Diego de, 31 

Lowland tapir, 68 

Luncherias, 132 

Majao (Bolivia), 64-65 

Maku group, 22 

Manana, 22 

Mandarins, 59-60 

Mandingo tribe, 12 

Manfred, Leo, 154 

Mangoes, 19, 58-59 

Manioc, 2-3, 41-42, 94, 97-98 

Manjar, 60 

Market stands, 129-30 

Mate, 45-46 

Meals, 93-94; breakfast, 59, 94-101; 
desserts, 122-26; family tradi- 
tion of, 37; lunch, 101-6; supper, 
106-21. See also Eating out 

Meats: in African diets, 12; cold, 31; 
meals and, 107-13; meat-based 
diet, 9, 36-37; proteins and, 16.3— 
64; quality of, 30; religious food 
rules and, 35; salted, 49. See also 
individual listings 

Medicinal Material (Dioscorides), 154 

Mediterranean diets, 9 

Men, 77-80 

Merienda, 93-94 

Microwave ovens, 85 

Military, 3,7-9 




Millet, 12 

Missionaries, 22, 24, 33 

Mollusks, 53 

Monardes, Nicolas, 41 

Monkey, 22 

Mortars, 10, 13, 82 

Mulattoes, 8 

Muqueca Bahiana (Bahian Boiled Fish) 

(Brazil), 115-16 
Muslims, 35 
Mute dog, 25, 27 

Nahuatl, 40 

Nandu, 70 

Nazca culture, 3 

Neruda, Pablo, 71 

New World, 6-8 

Nikei cuisine, 91 

North America, 7, 14, 19, 32, 66 

Nukak peoples, 22 

Nutmeg, 10 

Nuts, 70-71 

Oats, 9 

Oficinas, 24 

Oils, 9, 12, 13,30, 75-76 

Olive oil, 9, 30, 76 

Olives, 34 

Olive trees, 30 

Onions, 70-71 

Oranges, 59 

Orinoco River, 4, 6, 21, 41 

Qrixds, 146 

Ostrich, 70 

Otomi Indians, 45 

Oviedo, Gonzalo Fernandez de, 45 

Oxen, 23 

Pabellon (Venezuela), 105-6 
Paca, 68 

Pachallampi, 148 
Packaged foods, 24, 84 
Palaces, 3-4 

PaUtto, 52 

Palm oil, 12,76 

Papain, 54-55 

Papas Chorreadas (Columbia), 118 

Papaya, 54-55 

Paracas culture, 3 

Paraguay, 1, 4 

Parsley, 62 

Parties, private, 149-51 

Partridges, 10 

Passion fruit, 55 

Pasta, 22 

Pastel de Choclo (Chile), 119-20 

Payette, Pierre, 79 

Peanuts, 70 

Peccary, 68 

Pellagra, 43 

Pepper, 10, 12,72 

Peppers, 40-41 

Perfumes, 55 

Perpina, Jose Nuix y, 18 

Peru, 1, 2, 7, 12, 14; cooking schools 
in, 81 

Pigs. See Swine (porcines) 

Pinata, 149-50 

Pisca, 62 

Pmllo, 68, 69 

Pizarro, Francisco, 30 

Plantains, 98-99, 100, 107 

Plantations, 23, 49 

Plants: aromatic, 10, 62, 72, 73, 74, 
114; domestication of, 21; me- 
dicinal, 54-55, 62, 157; Nukak 
peoples' knowledge of, 22; religion, 
fertility and, 34 

Pleistocene Era, 2 

Plows, 22, 23 

Pomelos, 59-60 

Pompa, Geronimo, 156 

Pork, 10, 65-66, 110-11. See also 
Swine (porcines) 

Portuguese, 7-9, 12, 13 

Potatoes, 2, 43-44, 118 



Pots. See Soups 

Pottery, 5, 83 

Poultry, 10,31-32,67 

Prickly pears, 55-56 

Proteins, 27, 40, 54, 163-64 

Ptolemy, 6 

Publications: on caloric requirements, 
160; cookbooks, 85-89; culinary, 
88-89; gastronomic, 135; on nutri- 
tion, 1 58-59; on plant medicines, 

Puchero (Argentina), 102—3 

Pyrenees, 9 

Quechua, 1 , 40 
Quince, 19 
Quinoa, 61 
Quito, 3, 8 

Rain forest, 2, 7, 2 1 

Ramon, Monsieur, 79 

Rams, 3 1 

Raspberries, 19 

Refrigeration, 47, 64, 84 

Religion: Afro-Brazilian cults, 146-47; 
blending of, 35-36; festivities, 33, 
138-47; food attitudes and, 32-33; 
food rules and, 34-35; indigenous 
peoples, 32-34; male involvement 
in, 77; transubstantiation, 9, 10; 
wine, 10, 34, 35 

Restaurants, 16, 91, 130-35 

Rice, 10,12,22,51-52,61,121-22 

Rio de Janeiro, 8 

Road system, 3 

Rocos, 21, 24 

Rock salt, 4 

Rodents, 27, 69, 70 

Romans, 10 

Rye, 9 

Saffron, 10, 19, 51-52 
Salt, 4, 10, 12,48-49,51 

Salt mines, 49 

Santo Domingo, 49 

Sao Paulo State, 1 6 

Sao Tome, 49 

Sausages, 30, 31, 1 11 

Sea salt, 4 

Sesame oil, 13, 76 

Sheep (ovines), 10, 12, 31, 111-12 

Shellfish, 10,35,113 

Silver, 10 

Slaslvand-burn farming method, 22 

Sofrito, 65, 76, 106,108,110,120 

Sopa, 40, 105, 139, 140, 144 

Sorghum, 12, 19 

Soups, 101-6 

Soursop, 54 

South America, 1-2; discovery of, 6-7; 
fast food, introduction to, 20; lan- 
guage, 1, 32, 33, 34; migration to, 
13-14, 19; name origin, 6—7; politi- 
cal organization, 3, 13-14; republi- 
can times, 19—20; Spanish Empire 
and, 8, 11-12; trade relationship, 
14; Wars of Independence and, 
13-14; writing system, 3 

Soy, 19 

Spanish, 6-9 

Spanish Civil War, 1 5 

Spanish Empire, 11—12, 13, 14 

Special occasions, 137-38; communal, 
147-49; private parties, 149-51; 
religious festivities, 138-47 

Spices, 10, 12,71-74,72,74 

Stock breeding, 20-21, 25, 27-32 

Stoves, 10, 82, 83-84 

Street-food stands, 128-29 

Sugar: cane, 10, 12, 23, 123; noncen- 
trifugal form of, 50; refined, 22, 49; 
refining factories, 49; unrefined, 49 

Sugar apple, 55 

Suma de Geografia (Enciso), 53 

Suriname, 1 

Sw T eeteners, 10, 12 




Swine (porcines), 30-31, 35 
Swineherds, 30 

Tamales, 94, 96, 98 

Tamanaco Indians, 54 

Tawuantinsuyo, 23 

Tayassuidae , 68 

Tayrona culture, 3-4 

Temples, 3 

Terrace cultivation, 21, 23 

Terrapin, 22 

Theobroma, 46, 56 

Tiahuanaco culture, 3 

TimotoCuica culture, 3, 23 

Tiwanacu culture, 3 

Tomatoes, 74-75 

Tools, 22 

Tostones (Venezuela), 58 

Treaty of Tordesillas, 7 

Trees, 19, 46 

Tribes: Central American pre-His- 
panic, 56; chicha, 45; hunter-gath- 
erer, 12, 27; indigenous, 8, 27; 
nomadic, 4, 21—22; rebel, 8 

Trinidad, 6 

Tsetse fly, 12 

Tubers, 10, 117 

Tupi-Guarani, 21 

Turcos, 15—16 

Turkeys, 19,32,67 

TV programs, culinary, 89 

Urban development, 4, 37, 82, 90-91, 

Uruguay, 1,4, 14 
Utensils, 5, 10, 13,22,82,85 

Valencia, 9 

Vanilla, 71,74 

Vasconcelos, Manuel de Guevara, 

Vegetables, 10, 12, 117-20 
Vegetarian diet, 9 
Venezuela, 1, 3, 4, 6, 12, 13, 14 
Venison, 10,69-70 
Vespucci, Amerigo, 6 
Vicuna, 26 
Vinegar, 50 
Viscacha, 69 
Vitamin A, 164 
Vitamin C, 59, 164 

Waldseemuller, Martin, 6-7 
Wars of Independence, 13-14 
Wedding festivities, 150-51 
Wheat, 9, 34, 60-61, 61, 98-99 
Wild boar, 10, 68 
Wine, 9-10, 34, 48 
Women, 6, 9, 77-80 
Wool, 25,26, 27,31,66 
World War II, 15, 84 

Zacarfa, Abu, 10 

About the Author 

JOSE RAFAEL LOVERA is Associate Professor, School of History, Uni- 
versidad Central de Venezuela, Caracas, and the Director of Centro de 
Estudios Gastronomicos (CEGA), Caracas, which trains young chefs and 
promotes Latin American gastronomy. 

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