Unarguably, one of the best parts of visiting a new country is sampling the local fare. You are bound to discover some foods and flavors you have not previously encountered. The question remains: How daring do you want to be?
Let me start with my favorites. arepas con queso (arepas with cheese) in Colombia is such a treat. My favorite guy on the street in Cartagena served it straight off the grill. Pan de yuca (yuca bread) in Ecuador is my favorite snack with a cafe tinto (coffee). There were so many choices for the almuerzo del dia (“lunch of the day”)and finding the best in each town was part of the adventure.
As someone who doesn’t eat chicken or meat, food selection can be challenging in places where carne (meat) is king. But, as a pescatarian, I could live on the many types of ceviche in Colombia, Peru, and Ecuador.
Even though the fish is fresh in most places, I quickly realized the need to be careful, as evidenced by our unfortunate food poisoning incidents (yes, plural) in Ecuador.
This brings up important things to watch for that we overlooked, like avoiding the last portion of anything prepared earlier in the day.
I like it when we go to high-traffic restaurants to be sure everything is fresh. It’s also good to follow the locals who know the best quality and who to trust.
It’s only fair to mention there’s a lot of culinary delicacies we’ve chosen not to pursue. Did you know that Mexico has more than 300 edible insects, more than any country in the world? They range from gusanos de maguey (meaty grubs) fried with a little salt and lime to ahuatle (water bug eggs) dubbed “Mexican caviar.”
Um, no gracias! And as we well remember, cuy is a popular dish in Ecuador and Peru, typically shared on special occasions. Deep-fried and openly sold on the street, it was particularly shocking since our children had beloved guinea pigs as pets.
Of course, we can’t talk about the food of these countries without mentioning the drinks.
There is Mexican horchata (a creamy mix of almonds, cinnamon, and rice) and the fruit smoothies are popular everywhere, using fresh fruits like bananas and mangoes, made on the spot!
It was fun to incorporate lesser-known local fruits like guanabana and tamarillo.
I agree, the smoothies were a real treat, but the coffee has the strongest draw for me. Colombia, Ecuador, and Vietnam all stand out for their strong coffee culture. I love countries that take their coffee seriously! It’s nice to see high-quality beans, normally used for export, now being served locally.
While we don’t imbibe a lot, we had to try the famous pisco sours in Peru. Doing wine tastings in the bountiful vineyards of the Colchagua Valley in Chile was a peak experience, although admittedly, the generous pours made the memories a little fuzzy!
And don’t forget, when all else fails, there’s good old-fashioned water to wash all that great food down.
But I would choose the bottled water option, not tap, and skip the ice cubes unless you are looking for more of an adventure than you bargained for.
We want to hear all about your culinary explorations, especially when they involved foods we were too wimpy to try. Let us know what has tickled your palate.
by: Mike &Eileen Brill Wagner