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A Southern Fixation

Friday, June 05, 2015

Think of South America — we’re sure that you’re picturing beautiful people, exotic locales… But, the most notable feature of this region has to be its food! The 48hrs Team tells you what you need to know about this delectable cuisine

If the focus last year was on Japanese cuisine, this year, it’s South American cuisine that is taking centerstage. However, since most of us are strangers to this cuisine, there’s a lot we can learn about it. For example, did you know that deep-fried queen ants are considered to be a delicacy in parts of South America? Here we give you a little background on the cuisine and insight into some popular dishes, tell you where to go to enjoy this cuisine in Mumbai, bring you some of the strangest dishes and tell you where you can get the key ingredients when you’re cooking at home. We also spoke to Trimaan Chandok, owner of Asado, for a few tips to getting the cuisine right.

Want to whip a few delicious Latin American dishes in your kitchen? You’re going to need these ingredients in stock! These are some common ingredients that are part of the cuisines from Central and South America. We’ve only featured those that you can get your hands on at neighbourhood store or at speciality supermarkets such as Godrej Nature’s Basket or HyperCITY. Some, such as the Andean fruit lucuma, are much harder to get your hands on.

This is the most well-known Latin American ingredient, and plays a major role in the cuisines of most South American countries, partly because it is believed to have been cultivated here for the past 5,000 years. Corn is used to prepare a number of staple items such as tortillas, arepas, tamales and pasteles.

One of the reasons most Indians appreciate Mexican food is that Latin American preparations can be quite spicy. However, unlike Indian dishes, this is not because of the use of spices, but because of peppers, or ajis as they are known there. It’s an ingredient used to season most South American! These peppers are usually sweet and spicy. Chipotle chili peppers and aji panca are some of the most common.

Potatoes, specifically Andean potatoes, are as important to South American cuisine as corn is. They are used in a variety of ways, ranging from being the star of the dish to being used as a side dish. You’ll find them being mashed, fried, baked as well as mixed with several sauces.

You were waiting for this weren’t you? Economical and healthy, beans feature in almost every South American country. Each cuisine has its own way of using beans along with a traditional recipe to accompany it. However, most of these preparations involve long hours of simmering and delicate spicing in order to bring out the flavours perfectly.

You will find tropical fruits in several Latin American desserts as well as savoury preparations. These fruits include those that you can source easily, such as coconut, mango, avocado, guava and passion fruit, as well as those that aren’t as common, such as lucuma and cherimoya.

South Americans are daredevils! They’ve shocked the world with their unprecedented success on the football field, but we’re more amazed by their questionable cuisine. Every reptile, spice and existing method of cooking has a delegated position at a Latin dinner table. Trying traditional South American fare is a risk that will make even adventure enthusiasts shudder with disgust. If you are easily unnerved by unappetising food and have a short gag reflex, Latin food is not going to be your cup of tea. But, if you want to try something unpredictable, read on to find out more about some strange Latin American preparations and add see if you’re bold enough to sample any.

  • Fried guinea pigs in Peru The only fate worse than being used as a lab rat is being fried whole! Guinea pigs are a species of rodents that are domesticated. But, these adorable animals aren’t anyone’s pets. For thousands of years, indigenous people have been raising guinea pigs specifically for the purpose of eating them. Since the ’60s, this dish, called Cuy Chactao, has become very popular in Ecuador and Bolivia.
  • Llama brain and tongue in Bolivia Here’s your chance to French kiss a llama! You would think that the Bolivian people would be kinder to their national animal, but llamas are used to make clothing, for rituals and even for labour. Cooking llamas creates a slippery dish; the brain has a slimy texture, but the tongue is firmer and easier to eat. A helpful tip to actually consuming this dish would be not to watch while it is being prepared, unless you want to throw up just before a meal.
  • Cow udders in Chile Hotdogs and hamburgers are run-off-the-mill, but if you want to take your barbeque party to the next level, try cow udders! The popular concoction Ubre Asada is made by soaking a cow’s udder to remove any remaining milk and grilling it on an open fire. The meat itself has a spongy texture and the open grill gives it a charred, smoky flavour.
  • Baby goat stomach in Brazil Get ready for an unsavoury dinner and guilt-ridden sleep. Buchada is the traditional dish of the north-eastern state of Ceara in Brazil, but it’s made by chopping the internal organs of a baby goat and mixing them with seasonings and the animal’s own blood. This mixture is then stuffed into the animal’s stomach and cooked before being directly put on your plate. Yummy!     
  • Bull penis and testicles soup in Bolivia Bolivia certainly wins the award for having the most unpalatable cuisine ever. Caldo de Cardon has the penis and testicles of a bull, flavoured with a host of herbs and spices stewing in a thick broth. The meat is chewy and the dish is known to cure everything, from anemia to hangovers. This deplorable soup is also considered an aphrodisiac!

Although there are only a few, these restaurants in Mumbai whip up some delicious South American dishes.

Café Aylanto
Apart from serving some delicious dishes from Bulgaria, Denmark, Greece and Austria, Café Aylanto also serves South American dishes synonymous to countries such as Peru, Brazil and Venezuela. A quaint, picturesque café, it’s gaining recognition for the array of cuisines that they serve.

Recommended dishes Try their Venezuelan cheese sticks, called Tequeno (`200) or pick their delicious Peruvian preparation of potatoes and hard-boiled eggs called Papas a la Huancaina (Rs 270).
Cost for two Rs 1,200 Contact 65115999
Where 18, Aaram Nagar, Near J.P Road, Versova, Andheri (w)

Asado launched this year and after reviewing  it, we can tell you that this place serves delicious Latin American fare. With quirky interiors and an array of delicious drinks and dishes, Asado is a must-visit.

Recommended dishes Try their Chicken & Dates Antichuco (Rs425) and their Cheese Dates & Nuts Empanda (Rs 325) for a very different experience.
Where Manorama Chambers, Near Gaity Galaxy Junction, SV Road, Bandra Talao, Bandra (w)
Contact 65686666 
Cost for two Rs 2,000


  • South American cuisine isn’t as palatable for vegetarians as the diet includes a lot of meat. In the coastal areas, fish and lobsters are a staple. Moving inwards, cow meat, chicken and pork are very common dishes.
  • Can you believe that consuming ants in South America is a fairly common practice? Yes, many South Americans consider it a delicacy. Although, don’t be so surprised because ants are a great source of protein. They harvest ants and mostly use the queen ants without their limbs. These ants are fried in vegetable oil. However, due to the growing popularity of this delicacy worldwide, these ants are harvested to the point of extinction.
  • You’ll find a variety of fruits in South America. They are staple add-on with meals and there are as many as five different types of mangos and six different types of bananas. There are a number of tropical fruits that one can lavishly enjoy such as the curuba, lulo and momoncilo.
  • Peppers are the most important seasoning ingredient. They come in both hot and sweet variety. There is an explosion of flavours in your mouth with every South American meal.

There is some semantic confusion surrounding this cuisine because of the use of the terms South American and Latin American. South America is a continent, while the Latin American countries are those that were conquered and colonised by the Spanish and Portuguese. Trimaan Chandok tells us that the food habits of people from Latin American nations are influenced by their rulers. But, what if you want to prepare this cuisine at home? How do you make sure it tastes authentic? Trimaan says, “There is a lot of diversity among South American countries, from their cooking habits to their recipes. The Amazonia region of South America produces fresh fish and lot of tropical fruits. Quinoa is the main produce, which has influenced their food. Countries of the coastal Pacific eat a lot of sea food. Fresh produce and lot of herbs, tomatoes, parsley and different types of chilies are some key ingredients when preparing South/Latin American recipes.” But, if you fancy sampling this cuisine at a restaurant, how do you choose? It’s not always easy to know what you will like, especially when you’re trying new cuisine. Trimaan tells us that seafood preparations, grilled fish and lamb dishes should match an Indian palate.

South American cuisine may be synonymous today with meat, pulses and vegetables, but a while before its discovery, people only came to Central and South America to hunt and gather food. Wild potatoes and teosinte — an ancestor of the modern corn — wild beans, tomatoes and avocadoes were picked, while animals such as rabbits, llamas and turkeys were hunted for the purpose of consumption. It was only around 10,000BC, that people in South America began to farm their own crops. The native population cultivated various types of crops such as corn, maize, lima beans, sweet potatoes, peppers, avocadoes, peanuts and chocolate. They curated elaborate irrigation systems and terraced the steep Andean mountain slopes to accommodate farming. While many of the South American countries had developed their own cuisines, some of them developed a more European style of cooking, post colonisation. Europeans prepared Italian, Spanish and Portuguese dishes with local ingredients, and so the native ways of cooking were tweaked to adapt to their ways. Europeans were also responsible for bringing cows, goat, chickens, citrus trees, wheat and almonds to South America.

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