The National Dishes of Latin America
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Latin American cuisine is known for its diverse variety of dishes incorporating spices as well as cultural influences from lands both near and far away.
Many dishes of the Latin American culture first originated in that native country specifically and from other places or cultures of origin such as Africa, Europe, Native American, and Asia.
Here is a list of 20 Latin American countries and their respective national dish:
- Argentina: Asados
- Bolivia: Salteñas
- Brazil: Feijoada
- Chile: Pastel de Choclo
- Colombia: Bandeja paisa
- Costa Rica: Gallo Pinto
- Cuba: Ropa Vieja
- Dominican Republic: La Bandera
- Ecuador: Ceviche
- El Salvador: Pupusa
- Guatemala: Pepián
- Honduras: Plato Típico
- Mexico: Mole
- Nicaragua: Gallo Pinto
- Panama: Sancocho de Gallina Panameño
- Paraguay: Sopa Paraguaya
- Peru: Ceviche
- Puerto Rico: Arroz con Gandules
- Uruguay: Chivito
- Venezuela: Pabellón Criollo
Much of the cuisine in many of the countries that make up Latin America was brought over from the original homelands of their inhabitants. Likewise, as these cultures and ideas began to merge with those of the native population the vast quantity of cultural cuisines began to expand and evolve into what they are formally known as today.
1. Argentina: Asados
Although asado is a popular affair in several Latin American countries, it’s considered the national dish of Argentina. Asado is more than just a dish however, it’s more or less a technique for grilling meats as well as social event or gathering in the form of a barbeque. It’s also a popular traditional event in other countries besides Argentina.
In general terms, asado is simply a grill or barbeque meal consisting of meats and specifically morcilla in Argentinian asados. While many in the United States would be quick to compare an asado to a traditional American barbeque, many Argentinians on the other hand would be even quicker to make it clear there is no comparison at all, such could even be considered offensive!
An asado is almost considered a sacred tradition in Argentina and much different from the typical charcoal or gas-fueled grill hosting a plethora of beef patties in hot dogs known in the United States.
In fact, it’s much more than that and one thing you must have handy for an asado is none other than a great open flame, not the kind on a grill, but one on a bed of logs of course! Some parts of Argentina have adopted other ways of cooking asado apart from a traditional outdoor fire.
For instance, in the countryside of Argentina an adobe horno, an adobe outdoor oven, may be used to cook what in this case would be referred to as asado al horn de barro. The person assigned to cook is referred to as an asador.
In an asado, typically the meats that are cooked are chicken, beef, pork, morcilla, a type of blood sausage, and chorizo, a type of pork sausage. To bring the meal together, a salad such as Salad Olivier and red wine is served alongside the grilled meats. A traditional asado typically starts off with fire consisting of charcoal or firewood of native trees.
An asador or parrilla, a cast-iron grill that can be adjusted, is where the cooking takes place. The first round of meats served consists of chorizos, morcillas, and other organs as well as provoleta, an Argentinan cheese similar to provolone. Lastly, the ribs and steak meats would be served followed by bread, a salad mixture, and fresh fruit and alfajores as dessert.
2. Bolivia: Salteñas
If you’re familiar with the traditional empanada, a Bolivian salteña is very much similar to that. A salteña is the Bolivian form of an empanada and is quite popular regionally, well because it’s the country’s national dish! Salteñas are savory pastries often filled with chicken, beef, pork, and even vegetables.
“In Bolivia, the regional empanadas are known as salteñas, a generally forgotten reference to Salta-born Argentine Juana Manuela Gorriti. Gorriti, a feminist and journalist, is credited with originating the recipe while exiled in Tarija, Bolivia (though some question the veracity of this folk history).”
What sets the salteña apart from the traditional empanada is its soupy stew-like filling. This filling consists of beef, chicken, or pork as well as chopped vegetables mixed into a stew and combined with gelatin. Adding gelatin allows for the ingredients to harden and marinate so that they can soften and melt in the oven without making the dough exterior soggy.
Serve it alongside Bolivia’s spicy sauce Llajwa also called Llajua and you’re all set.
3. Brazil: Feijoada
In addition to being Brazil’s national dish, feijoada is also a very popular cuisine outside of Brazil. It’s nearly impossible to come by in the Brazilian steak houses we have here in the states, however, like any form of home cooking, you’re more likely to come by the popular dish in local mom and pop eatery in Brazil.
Feijoada can, of course, be enjoyed in local eateries from casual diners to fine dining restaurants. The dish is commonly enjoyed as both a meal and a family and friends event. Many of the cuisines in Latin America are meant to be enjoyed with others, in fact, eating is considered more of an event to share in with friends and family members.
The dish is such a staple in Brazilian culture that Saturday is declared o dia da feijoada or the day of feijoada. The origins of feijoada are believed to be from Africa, created by slaves brought over from Africa to Brazil to live on sugar cane plantations. Given the scraps of meat, pig feet, ears, tails, and intestines, from their masters, they would cook these along with black beans.
It’s still disputed today whether or not the slaves began making the dish for themselves or for their masters.
Feijoada in Brazilian culture typically consists of black beans, beef or pork trimmings, and sausage. These components are often cooked in a thin dark brown broth, which in some cases is a combination of beef or chicken broth and even a little chicken blood for the adventurous.
4. Chile: Pastel De Choclo
Pastel de choclo, a pie made of sweetcorn or choclo, is the national dish of Chile. As well as a type of pie, this dish is also often referred to as a casserole depending on the form the dish takes. The filling often consists of sweetcorn, meats, and vegetables, creating a deliciously sweet and savory/salty flavor!
Pastel de choclo is prepared by first sautéing freshly chopped vegetables such as onions or black olives and ground beef or chicken in either a cast-iron skillet or pot. Next, the sweetcorn or choclo is freshly ground into a paste and then seasoned with a blend of spices and then mixed with milk and butter or lard.
After the corn mixture has been blended nicely, it is slowly simmered for a few minutes and freshly chopped basil is added to it. Once this is finished, the meat and vegetable mixture are placed either in a cast-iron skillet, clay pot, or similar casserole dish. As an option, you can sprinkle raisins and hardboiled eggs on top and then add more meat.
Lastly, the corn mixture is added as the top layer and the dish is left to bake for a half-hour. Afterward, the dish is ready to be served and enjoyed as a quick breakfast bite or meal for lunch and dinner.
5. Colombia: Bandeja Paisa
Bandeja paisa is formerly known as the national dish of Colombia as well as one of the most popular dishes in the country. The traditional dish originated in the Antioquia region of the country and is named after the inhabitants of the region, Paisas.
Farmers in this region of the country would often consume the dish before work as a source of protein for breakfast.
“It’s one of the most traditional Colombian foods and it can be summed up as ‘a festival of meat on a Frisbee-sized plate.’”
Source: Uncover Colombia
Bandeja paisa was originally considered a peasant dish as a result, however it is no longer viewed that way by locals and is enjoyed by both natives and tourists alike.
The dish comes in the form of a platter and consists of red beans and pork, ground beef or chicken, a fried egg, arepa, plantain, morcilla, white rice, chicharrón, and avocado. With all those ingredients, it comes as no surprise that the dish can be enjoyed by an individual or a larger group of people.
Without a doubt, eating it by yourself will have you ready for a day’s full of work!
6. Costa Rica: Gallo Pinto
If you’re familiar with Latin American cuisine or have been to a similar style restaurant, chances are you’ve skimmed by Gallo pinto on the menu. While considered the national dish of Costa Rica, Gallo pinto is actually quite popular in many cuisines stemming from Central America and even Nicaragua.
A little-known fun fact, Gallo pinto is actually believed to have first originated from Nicaragua.
Gallo pinto is a base dish consisting of rice and beans. It is also simply referred to as Costa Rican rice and beans or by itself, rice and beans. If you ever want to sound fancy or politely impress your friends with your knowledge of Latin American cuisine terminology, you can call it Gallo pinto.
Don’t forget the Spanish accent though, its pronounced gayo pinto!
In Spanish, Gallo pinto means “spotted rooster.” The traditional dish got its name from the appearance of the black beans next to the light color of the rice. And be sure to ask for the Salsa Lizano.
7. Cuba: Ropa Vieja
Cuba actually has more than one national dish, but the most recognized dish is none other than the ropa vieja. Translating as “old clothes” in Spanish, the dish is made with stewed beef, often shredded or pulled, black beans, white rice, fried yuca, and plantains. It some variations, the dish is also made with garbanzo beans.
Although ropa vieja is a dish known to many other Latin American countries, the Cuban version is unique for having a subtle sweet undertone to the taste, often acquired by adding sugar to the dish.
8. Dominican Republic: La Bandera
The Dominican Republic’s cuisine is influenced by a number of cultures including African, Spanish, and Taino Indian, considering together along with Haiti it was formerly known as Hispaniola. A staple dish known to this country is la Bandera, after the Dominican flag, and the dish even resembles the colors of the flag, hence the name!
Like many of the base dishes in Latin American cuisine, la Bandera starts out with red beans and rice cooked in an herb-infused tomato sauce. Next, the meat, usually chicken or beef, goat, and pork is stewed along with onions and tomatoes to create a stew base for the meat.
Next, the meat is cooked in the stew mixture and served alongside rice.
La Bandera can be eaten with a side salad or fried dishes such as fried plantains and corn fritters. And finish off your meal with the Dominican’s most popular coffee, Café Santo Domingo.
9. Ecuador: Ceviche
Believed to have originated in Peru, ceviche can be enjoyed as a main dish or appetizer and also happens to be the national dish of Ecuador and Peru. There are many variations of ceviche depending on cultural variations as well as personal preference, but all ceviches contain seafood as the base ingredient.
Because ceviche contains seafood that is often raw, not cooked, it should be served cold and fresh and consumed immediately. Ceviche is enjoyed by many internationally and can be eaten by itself, on a tostada or tortilla chips, or with a complementing side dish such as sweet potatoes, corn, and avocado.
Typically, Ecuadorian ceviche consists of mostly shrimp, tomato sauce, and lemon and cilantro for both taste and decoration (maybe nix the cilantro if you’re one of the many who claim cilantro tastes like soap!).
10. El Salvador: Pupusa
Behold the pupusa or if you’re really feeling the Salvadoran spirit, pupusawa! Pupusas are the national dish of El Salvador and until recently, I never realized how much I was missing out on by never having tried this popular dish made of corn masa, cheese, refried beans, and more!
The pupusa is believed to have originated from El Salvador although this is still disputed amongst those who claim it originally had its roots in Honduras. The name pupusa comes from the verb pupusawa which means to puff up, literally. Despite the controversy, pupusas are still considered the national dish of El Salvador.
Pupusas are so loved in El Salvador that every second Sunday in the month of November is declared National Pupusas Day and is celebrated by a big fair in the country’s capital.
In fact, the dish is celebrated so much, the fair holds the Guinness World Record for the biggest pupusa ever made, now that’s what I call Salvadoran spirit!
The dish starts out with a thick tortilla made from corn masa flour that is stuffed with a blend of cheese, cooked ground meat typically chicken or beef, refried beans, and onions. Pupusas can be topped off and enjoyed with salsa and coleslaw made with a spicy blend of cabbage and other vegetables.
11. Guatemala: Pepián
Pepián is the national dish of Guatemala and a stew known for its spicy savory flavor. It is typically served in restaurants, from street food carts, and in the kitchens of those who enjoy it best.
This dish is considered one of the oldest dishes of Guatemala and its origins can be traced back to the early Mayan culture of the 16th century when it was consumed as a traditional ceremonial dish. For this reason, it is also commonly referred to by Guatemalans as recados or Mayan curry.
Pepián is a thick stew made with a blend of a variety of spices, meat such as chicken, beef, or pork, vegetables such as onions, carrots, and potatoes, and fruits as well. It is typically served alongside rice or tortillas.
12. Honduras: Plato Típico
Plato Típico is the national dish of Honduras and often consumed on the country’s day of independence, September 15. While Honduran dishes are typically a happy medium between very spicy and not spicy at all, Plato típicois a combination of ingredients that can satisfy all taste buds.
“The dish consists of marinated and grilled beef, pork sausages and cracklings, fried plantain (a starchy, banana-like vegetable), stewed or refried beans, and rice.”
Source: Plato Típico
The dish contains a variety of ingredients that are each prepared separately and then combined to complete a full dish of the ingredients mentioned above as well as chismol. Plato típico is best served with sour cream, avocado, tortillas, lime juice, and white cheese.
13. Mexico: Mole
If you’ve ever seen mole before, it’s typically served over something such as an enchilada, tamale, or meat. Mole is Mexico’s national dish and is a staple in Mexican cuisine. Mole is a traditional Mexican marinade made of a blend of spices such as chili pepper, cumin, cinnamon, fruit, and nuts.
Although it’s the national dish of Mexico, mole can be prepared in more ways than one can count. Traditionally, many families have their own unique mole recipe, which is then passed down from generation to generation, and for this reason, the recipes can vary.
Mole can also be used as a word to refer to more than one type of sauce in contemporary Mexican cuisine. Mole sauce can range in color from dark red to black, and yellow to green. It is made by roasting chili pepper garlic, dried fruits, nuts, sesame seeds, and herbs to name a few.
On average, mole can contain as much as 25 different ingredients.
Considering this is Mexico we’re talking about, also known as the origin place of chocolate, it would be plain silly to dismiss chocolate as an ingredient in a dish like mole since it has over 25! Chocolate can be added as ingredient number 26 to add a hint of sweetness to mole if preferred.
Once the ingredients have fully roasted, they are ground into a fine powder mixture or paste. The powder or paste is then combined with water and broth and simmered overheat until the mixture achieves the thick texture known as mole. Making mole is a very laborious process so be sure to appreciate it the next time you eat it!
14. Nicaragua: Gallo Pinto
Gallo pinto is not only the national dish of Costa Rica, but it is also the national dish of Nicaragua as well. The main ingredients of rice and beans still remain the same in the Nicaraguan version of this dish, however, a few ingredients differ.
In the Nicaraguan version of Gallo pinto, the black beans are swapped for red beans, and coconut milk is also added for a subtle hint of sweetness.
For an easy to follow recipe, try Goya’s version of Gallo pinto. You can find the recipe here.
15. Panama: Sancocho De Gallina Panameño
The famous sancocho de gallina panameño is Panama’s national dish and soup. Sancocho de gallina panameño is the dish’s full name, however, it is more commonly referred to simply as sancocho. There are actually a few variations of sancocho throughout Latin America, but the most popular variation comes from Panama.
Sancocho is stew or soup that can be enjoyed all mealtimes of the day, breakfast, lunch, dinner, or whenever preferred basically.
“This delicious stew is a staple for all meals – breakfast, lunch, dinner, midnight snack, comfort food, hangover cure – whenever you need it, it’s there for you. Sancocho is regarded almost as an elixir of life in Panama.”
This delicious soup traditionally consists of chicken, yuca, corn on the cob or mazorca, onions, a large chunk of meat, and thickening as well as other optional ingredients. White rice is typically served alongside the soup and according to the traditional way of eating it, should be eaten with each spoonful of soup.
16. Paraguay: Sopa Paraguaya
Sopa Paraguaya, which translates as Paraguayan soup in Spanish, is the national dish of Paraguay, don’t let the name fool you, however, this dish is anything but soup. Sopa Paraguaya is actually similar to what is known as cornbread in the United States except it is cheese-based rather than consisting of mostly corn matter.
Sopa Paraguaya is instead made with a mix of cheese, cornmeal or corn flour, milk, eggs, sugar, and corn kernels as an optional ingredient. The recipe for this dish can vary, but these are the most common ingredients. Some variations even include onions, lard or pork fat as opposed to butter or margarine, and curd.
The amount of each ingredient can also vary, making the dish either greasier, less greasy, thicker, fluffier, etc.
Sopa Paraguaya can be eaten like cornbread with soup, chili, or a Paraguayan soup.
17. Peru: Ceviche
As mentioned before, ceviche is also the national dish of Peru. Ceviche plays a big part in Peruvian culture and even has a holiday in its honor. This dish is enjoyed in many Latin American cultures and varies in the ingredients and spices used to make it, as well as the seafood.
Peruvian ceviche consists of seafood such as fish and shrimp, freshly squeezed lime juice, thinly sliced onions, and even sweet potatoes. The fish traditionally used in Peruvian ceviche is sea bass and is marinated with spices before being chopped and served as the main ingredient in the dish.
Make yourself a Pisco Sour to go along with your ceviche dish and now we’re talking!
For ideas on how to make the traditional Peruvian version of this dish, visit here for a recipe on classic Peruvian ceviche.
18. Puerto Rico: Arroz Con Gandules
Arroz con gandules is a Puerto Rican staple food and also happens to be the country’s national dish. It typically consists of yellow rice, pigeon peas, sofrito, and pork.
One ingredient, pigeon peas, may sound unfamiliar to many who reside outside of the Caribbean or are less familiar with its cuisine culture. Pigeon peas or gandules are a type of oval bean with a distinct nutty flavor. They almost resemble that of a traditional green pea and also share the same bright green color.
Arroz con gandules is typically prepared by first making a sofrito, a base of herbs such cubanelle peppers, cilantro, and onion. Next, the pigeon peas, as well as the pork or ham, is heated in a pot. The sofrito is then added to a pot of oil to help it to release its flavors.
Once this has been done, all the ingredients can be combined into the sofrito, and water can be added to help the mixture simmer down.
19. Uruguay: Chivito
Chivito is a type of Uruguayan sandwich and is the national dish of Uruguay as well. Translated chivito means “little goat”. It was reportedly created in 1946 in Punta del Este, Uruguay, at a restaurant called “El Mejillón Bar”.
A chivito typically consists of a sandwich made of churrasco beef, tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs, ham or bacon, and mayonnaise.
Additional ingredients such as red peppers and cucumbers can also be added.
20. Venezuela: Pabellón Criollo
Pabellón criollo is the national dish of Venezuela and is quite popular. This traditional dish is made up of a base, rice and beans, shredded beef, and fried plantains. This popular combination is a variant of a dish seen in the many Caribbean and Latin American cuisines.
You can find Goya’s recipe for Pabellón criollo here.
Well, there you have it!
Twenty national dishes from all over Latin America. But don’t let that stop you from taking a deeper dive into Latin cuisine. These vibrant countries have so much more to offer.
We’ll even help get you started.
And if you’re ready to bring home some of these Latin delicacies, shop with us at Amigofoods.