Latin Food Primer

Latin Food Primer
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From eateries to salsa clubs, cocktails to clothing, it’s hard to miss Cuba’s influence on Miami culture. But the countries contributing to Miami’s global palate extend not only from the Caribbean, but also from Mexico to the arctic tip of Chile. While no vacation is long enough to try everything, you must begin somewhere. Though only scratching the surface, the foods to follow are a good place to start sampling the Central and South American flavors that spice up this Latin American melting pot.


Rivaling South Florida’s shellfish and fillet acclaim, the west coast of South America is home to some of the freshest seafood in the world. So any fans of surf and turf can feel right at home in one of Miami’s Peruvian restaurants. Peru’s prime location on the Pacific produces light coastal bites, infused with an unexpected Asian flare. Kick off your summer (or anytime for that matter) with a serving of the Peruvian favorite ceviche. Fresh squeezed lime or lemon juice cooks the fish naturally, while chopped onions and chilies add zing to create a refreshing citrusy dish. A lighter variation of ceviche, tiradito consists of citrus-soaked slices of fish rather than chunks.

But seafood is not all Peru has to offer. A popular Peruvian snack is anticucho (marinated and grilled meat served on a skewer). Be warned, however, Anticucho is commonly prepared with animal hearts; so consult your server if you’re feeling less than brave. Having originated in Peru, potatoes are found in many dishes like Papas a la Huancaína (boiled potatoes, covered in milk, cheese and Peruvian peppers). Papas Rellenas kick stuffed potatoes up a notch with the addition of exquisite Peruvian spices and savory ground beef. Peru’s main courses, like Aji de Gallina and Lomo Salteado, are so popular that restaurants like Miami’s Ceviche 105 find it hard to keep up with the demand. Aji de Gallina consists of shredded chicken breast, smothered in milk, cream, peppers, chilies and cheese. Lomo Salteado draws from Chinese influence, as tender pieces of steak are sautéed with soy sauce, onion, peppers and tomatoes in a wok. And for dessert, a Peruvian classic is the Crema Volteada (Peruvian Flan). Peru is home to rare exotic fruits like the lucuma and maracuya; so the nutty and tart flavors of each, respectively, manifest in a variety of mousses and ice creams. But a rundown of original Peruvian cuisine would not be complete without a mention of the world famous Pisco Sour. A cocktail of lime juice, sugar, egg whites and Peru’s own Pisco (brandy, distilled from several grape varieties), the Pisco Sour brings just the right amount of bite.


Leave any qualms of being underfed behind upon entering any of Miami’s Argentinian establishments. In fact, a pre-meal stretch wouldn’t be a bad idea. American Bar-B-Que takes its cues from the Argentine tradition of Parillada Mixta—an endless parade of asado (grilled meats and poultry). Authentic Argentinian eatery The Knife offers an array of churrasco (juicy skirt steaks), flank steaks, sausages, T-bone steaks and short rib steaks until patrons simply run out of room. Less familiar delicacies—liver, kidney, sweetbread, blood sausage, udder and intestine—decorate a traditional menu like that of Las Vacas Gordas on Miami Beach. Whether you stick to the classics or venture outside your comfort zone, a smooth glass of Malbec never disappoints when paired with these hearty entrees. Sea bass and grilled seafood are always an Argentinian staple along with Milanesa (breaded and fried veal, chicken or beef). Lighter picks include grilled veggies and Ensalada Rusa (potatoes, carrots, peas and mayonnaise). Familiar Latin American dishes like ceviche and empanadas define the Buenos Aires nostalgia of Brickell’s Novecento and many other Argentinian restaurants. To wash it all down, a pint of Argentina’s own Quilmes Cerveza is a welcome thirst-quencher.


Brazilian steakhouses (or churrascaria’s) like Fogo de Chao and Texas de Brazil boast an impressive, all-you-can-eat presentation. Servers traverse the room, offering the finest grass-fed meat on large skewers to each table. But both Argentinean and Brazilian grilled cuisine share one essential finishing touch – chimichurri sauce. A tangy topping prepared with onions, vinegar, oil, oregano, parsley and cilantro, chimichurri makes for a deliciously savory finish. However, Brazilian provisions don’t stop at the grill. A Brazilian national dish and international crowd pleaser, Feijoada mixes black bean stew with beef, pork, sausage, ribs and collard greens. Like several Latin American countries, Brazilians often serve rice, beans and ripe plantains to accompany entrées such as Feijoada. Brazilian menus also contain fusion foods like Beef and Chicken Stroganoff made with Brazilian Creme de Leite. Beware of the ever-addicting Pao de Quiejo (cheese bread) and the national drink of Brazil – the Caipirinha. Made with crushed limes, sugar and Brazil’s own rum Cachaca, the Caipirinha bursts through geographical boundaries, making it one of the most sought after cocktails in the world.

Age Old Recipes: Empanadas, Croquettas and More

Latin American dishes frequently overlap as different regions re-invent age-old recipes. Primarily, the empanada – a totally customizable turnover, adored by Miami locals and travellers alike. This palm-sized pastry, stuffed with meat, cheese, chicken or seafood, has roots in Cuba, Puerto Rico, Spain, Bolivia, Argentina, Chile and several other regions in Central and South America. Sweet corn patties sandwich cheese, meat and veggies to form the arepa—a handful of cheesy-carby-goodness with origins in Venezuela and Colombia. Another dish found in every Colombian restaurant is the Bandeja Paisa (a medley of rice, beans, plaintains, arepas, eggs, chicken, deep-fried pork and sausage). Renditions of croquettes (deep fried nuggets of ham, cheese, beef, potatoes, chicken or fish) have spread across South America, Miami and the world. And we can thank the natives of El Salvador and Honduras for pupusas (thick corn tortillas filled with meats, cheeses and vegetables). Walk up to any Latin American counter, bakery, kiosk or restaurant and find the aforementioned mouthfuls as a perfect to-go snack.

Mexican and Spanish

Mexican food may be a minority in Miami’s Latin food pool; but like Spanish fare, it reigns supreme for tapas and fun-sized bites. Midtown’s Mercadito remixes Mexican classics, offering mango-infused guacamole and pork tacos topped with pineapple. Salsa Fiesta provides quick and easy “south of the border” meals, while Mi Rinconcito Mexicano exudes an air of authenticity. For the freshest seafood, simmered in fine Spanish wine, head to Casa Juancho or Xixon. And look no further than Delicias de España for impossibly delicious Spanish tarts, cakes and mousses.

To truly enjoy a locals experience in Miami, you’ve got to try it all—the freshness of South America’s west coast, the heartiness of South America’s east, the sweetness of Central America, the spiciness of Mexico and the richness of Spain. It may take more than one trip to Miami to fit it all in; but with dishes like these, you’ll want to come back for seconds.

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