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Don’t leave South America until you’ve tried these dishes

You wouldn’t go to Italy without trying spaghetti bolognaise, and there’s no way you’d be able to avoid curry on a trip to India. The same can be said about France and cheese; Japan and sushi; Morocco and couscous; Germany and beer… The truth is, every country in the world has at least one dish you absolutely have to try. Here are four South American dishes worth traveling for.

Ceviche - heaven in a bowl

When I first tasted ceviche (in Bolivia, not Peru, in fact) I suspected my life would never be the same again. When, a few months later, I was able to sample it freshly prepared on the beaches of Peru, all doubt was removed.

A typical Peruvian ceviche (Picture: Jorge Gobbi)

Ceviche – a ‘salad’ of raw fish, sliced onions and fresh chillis marinated in lime juice – is refreshing, healthy and surprisingly filling. In its most classic form a firm, white-fleshed marine fish such as sea bass is used, but it can also be made with squid, mussels, freshwater fish or even duck (in this last case orange juice is substituted for lime juice). The bottom line is that ceviche is insanely addictive. Once the bug has bitten, there’s no turning back, so don’t try it on your Peruvian adventure unless you’re prepared to commit to a lifetime of seeking it out back home!

Asado - the best BBQ in the world 

Forget Maradona, Evita and the tango, Argentina’s one and only true love affair is with the cow. Meat (carne) is by default beef and its rightful place is above a sparse bed of wood coals. Argentines aren’t squeamish, and the grisly bits of the cow are usually served as a prelude to the enormous slabs of meat and short-cut ribs which are the piece de resistance of any asado.

Not much on offer for vegetarians. (Picture: Juan Tiagues)

The meat is heavily salted (but no other seasoning is added) and is usually accompanied by crispy bread rolls, a simple salad and a bottle of red wine. If you’re lucky enough to be invited to a local asado , jump at the opportunity. But if no such invitation is forthcoming a parillada mixta (mixed grill) in a local steakhouse won’t disappoint.

Completo - the hotdog to end all hotdogs 

If it seems ridiculous to include the humble hotdog on a list like this, then you clearly haven’t seen – let alone eaten – a completo. The first and most obvious difference is that a completo is twice the size of an American hotdog, but what really sets the completo apart is its abundance of sauces and garnishes.

Saucy. (Picture: JB)

While the most basic version comes with gallons of mayonnaise, freshly chopped tomatoes and a liberal dose of sauerkraut, my favorite is the completo Italiano which substitutes the sauerkraut for mashed avocado – delicious, and a meal in itself! Interestingly, a completo can also be a Brazilian hotdog which has as a bare minimum mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup, peas, corn, tomatoes, onions, Parmesan cheese and fries – personally I prefer the ‘minimalist’ Chilean version!

Lomo a lo pobre - a pile of greasy goodness 

The meal that is literally translated as ‘poor man’s steak’ is served throughout South America but it achieves perfection in Chile and Peru. Consisting of French fries piled with onion rings and a steak and rounded off by a fried egg on the top, it’s not exactly a ‘health option’ but it sure does taste good. I’m particularly fond of a Chilean interpretation which smothers the whole lot with mashed avocado.

Where's the avocado? (Picture: Kirsta)

Although it is now popular at any time of day, this was traditionally eaten as breakfast by farm laborers and miners who would rely on its stomach churning goodness to fuel them through a 12-hour shift without any food breaks – hence the name.

We know that apart from ceviche these dishes are all pretty high in cholesterol and carbs. But they taste great and hey, what are vacations for anyhoo?

Have we whet your appetite? Eat your fill of mouthwatering South American advetures here.


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