There’s just something magical about the sinking your teeth into a local dish, knowing that what you’re eating is probably something unique to your state, your town and maybe even to your street! Whether you’re on the run, having some late-night cravings, or you’re just a food truck fanatic, when it comes to street food, there’s a myriad of reasons why we keep going back to our neighborhood favorites. Beyond the smiles it solicits with each filled-belly customer, street food also serves as a rare opportunity to step into another culture and learn about its people in a sincere but authentic way (especially when you’re traveling).
You don’t need to be a foodie to know about the vast diversity in cuisines throughout Latin America. From each country to each region, and all the way down the individual vendors themselves, there are many layers to these local classics, each adding a set of new flavors and twists to the dishes while telling the story of their social fabric. 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. Buen provecho!
Choripán – Argentina
Affectionately nicknamed “chori”, choripan is definitely the bae of street foods in Argentina. The name choripan comes from a combination of chorizo, a popular type of Spanish sausage, and pan which means bread. Put ‘em together and you have yourself a mouthwatering sandwich. The chorizo in choripan is usually made of both beef and pork and split lengthwise, right down the middle (referred to as the mariposa, or butterfly style of cut) and served on top of a crispy, baguette-like bread called marraqueta. The Argentine spin on this favorite snack is the chimichurri sauce that most vendors here add on top. Much like the baseball stadium staple hotdog (along with a rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”) chori is commonly sold at sports venues and games– namely futbol (a.k.a. soccer).
On a budget? $2 is all you need for this warm, fresh and meaty fare! With an indigenous population that makes up over 45% of the nation’s demographic, it comes as no surprise that one of the most popular street foods in Peru is a regional Andean delicacy. As the sun sets and days draw to a close, women dressed in traditional garb dot the streets of the Peruvian Andes, making anticucho (Quechua for stewed meat) on a traditional Peruvian griddle called a plancha. The mixed meat is stacked up onto skewers and served up with a hearty layer of freshly baked or fried patatas. This simple and filling dish will definitely leave you wanting more… and with it being so cheap, there’s no way you can say no to seconds!
Platanos, or bananas, are a staple of many Latin American kitchens and this street food is one you’ll find on many a street in South and Central America. So what makes the platanos fritos (fried bananas) of El Salvador particularly special? In many countries, bananas are flash fried and crispy (yum), in others they’re served with a side of 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 texture creates a totally different eatery experience and although it’s known to be a breakfast favorite, street vendors sell platanos fritos all day long so that locals and visitors alike can indulge in this heavenly sweet dish whenever they want (and we don’t blame them)!
Carimañolas – Panama & Colombia
When you take a bite of one of these torpedo-shaped meat pies, your taste buds are sure to experience some serious explosions of flavor. Carimañolas are popular snacks (or breakfast food depending on where you are) that you’re sure to find just about everywhere in Panama and Colombia. These boiled cassava fritters are usually stuffed with ground beef and/or cheese and deep-fried to give them a rich, crispy finish and they’re usually served with a dipping sauce such as suero, a popular Colombian condiment made of fermented milk, similar in taste and consistency to sour cream or yogurt. Carimoñolas are so popular in these regions that not only are they available from just about every street vendor and fast-food kiosk, but most people cook them in their homes as well.
Love donuts? Guatemalans are known for their sweet tooths, that’s for sure. These round, fried balls are dough (much like donut holes) are definitely a testament to that. A favorite street dessert among Guatemalans, Buñuelos are most commonly found on the streets during the Christmas time. As crowds get into the holiday spirit, street vendors set up shop to serve hot, syrup-doused sweet treats to the masses (but if you look hard enough you’ll find them at any time of year).
Indigenous to Honduras and one of the most common street foods you’ll find here, baleada is way more than a snack, it’s a full-on meal… that’ll cost you about $0.35 each! This thick, white-flour tortilla stuffed with mashed refried beans and cheese, is a staple in Honduras and each region has their own specialty of fillings. 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 while adding a pungent kick to it! Bottom line — wherever you are and whatever you fancy, when in Honduras make sure you don’t miss out on this popular, delectable dish!
Light, fluffy, crunchy on the outside with a chewy and cheesy center — it’s hard to find a reason to not love pão de queijo. Like many other Brazilian foods, this classic dish originated from the southeast state of Minas Gerais where African slaves (desperate to boost their derisory diets) would scrape up the leftover residue of powdery tapioca from soaked cassava roots and make bread rolls from it. As the years progressed and more ingredients became available to the Afro-Brazilian community, people started to fill these rolls with milk and cheese, turning them into the common, cheesy snack they’re known as today. Although it’s available anywhere and anytime, we recommend grabbing one of these golden cheese balls for breakfast and washing it down with a piping hot cup of Brazilian coffee.
Do you have a Latin American street food favorite to add to the list? Let us know in the comments below!