There’s nothing like street food to define a country and its people. Rooted in the quick, affordable, and hearty food that rural workers who moved to the big bustling cities needed for sustenance, they’ve now become a popular culinary expression championed by food trucks in the West and even Michelin star establishments around the world.
When you bring together street food and Latin America, you’re opening up a great combination of flavors and textures that will leave your tastebuds in an ecstatic food coma! In the spirit of Hispanic Heritage Month, we’re serving up a list of some of the must-try street foods you’ll find in local marketplaces, on street corners, and all along the roadsides of Latin America. Enjoy!
Choripán – Argentina
Affectionately nicknamed “chori”, these hotdogs from Argentina are a local favorite. Argentinians love their meats, and so bringing together a large pork and beef sausage (chorizo) on a crispy, baguette-like bread (marraqueta) just makes total sense. The sausages are always split lengthwise, right down the middle (referred to as the mariposa, or butterfly style of cut) and is topped with a yummy chimichurri sauce that most vendors will lay on generously.
Arepas – Venezuela
It’s not hard to see the popularity of these snacks anywhere you go in Venezuela, with people milling around food carts to get their fix. Arepas can be filled with any number of fillings – scrambled eggs, grilled meat, ham and cheese, fish, or just vegetables. The dough used to make arepas is ground from maize and patted into a flat loaf which is then baked and lightly grilled. It’s then torn open and stuffed with filling much like a pita bread kebab in Europe. For just around US$3.50, you can feast on these beauties at any street vendor.
Bananas are a staple of many Latin American kitchens, so what’s so special about platanos fritos (fried bananas) from El Salvador, you may ask? Throughout much of Central and South America, bananas are flash fried and crispy and served alongside rice and beans. In El Salvador they take this tasty dish to another level; bananas are slowly fried (preventing them from crisping up) and are topped with sweetened condensed milk as soon as it’s scooped up from the sizzling pots ( drooling yet?). The soft melt-in-your-mouth dish is a favorite at any time of the day.
Tamales – Ecuador
Tamales are another favorite food to grab-and-go throughout most Latin American countries, but what makes them unique in Ecuador is that instead of the usual corn leaf, they are wrapped up in banana leaves. This infuses a unique sweet flavor into the filing. When you’re traveling through the country, make sure to try the delicious banana-leaf-wrapped treat filled with cornmeal, spinach, and spiced meat, which will set you back about US$1.50 at most.
The people of Guatemala love these round, fried dough balls (pretty much like donut holes) and it’s a favorite street dessert that’s found in abundance during Christmas time. But it’s not just restricted to the holidays — you can dig into these hot, syrup-doused sweet treats at any time of year, if you’re willing to look around or ask some of the locals.
Baleada is one of the most common street foods you’ll find in Honduras. These thick, white-flour tortillas stuffed with mashed refried beans and cheese are quite filling and can make up a very satisfying meal…all for just about $0.35 a pop! Another interesting fact is that it varies from region to region. In the region of Olancho and Ocotepeque, baleada are stuffed with a special regional carne asada or grilled beef. In the coastal region by La Ceiba, vendors add pickled onions and creole cheese to the beans, making it extra rich with a pungent kick!
Light, fluffy, crunchy on the outside with a chewy and cheesy center — it’s hard to find a reason not to stuff your face full of some pão de queijo when in Brazil! This classic dish originated from the southeast state of Minas Gerais, where African slaves would scrape up the leftover residue of powdery tapioca from soaked cassava roots and make bread rolls from it. Over time, there were more ingredients available to the Afro-Brazilian community, so they started to fill these rolls with milk and cheese, making it into the popular breakfast treat it is today.
Do you have a Latin American street food favorite to add to the list? Let us know in the comments below!