Partly because I don’t have the money and partly because my mother wouldn’t let me go, for the reason of being convinced that if I do go, I will almost certainly be kidnapped by the Columbian drug cartel (which doesn’t exist any more).
To be honest it didn’t really bother me up until a few weeks ago but it was when I was watching the late Anthony Bourdain eating his way across San Paulo, Lima, and Buenos Aires that I decided enough was enough.
Basically, I’m obsessed now, and while I am saving up for a plane ticket, I’ve had my nose in a book researching all the food I could be stuffing down my gullet in roughly a years’ time. Here is what I have found thus far, and where we can eat it here in Manchester.
To say Brazil has it all is an understatement of epic proportions. With rocky mountains, miles of coastline, countryside and busy, bustling cities with fantastic restaurant and bar life- Brazilian food will leave you with a sense of euphoria you just can’t shake.
A lot of food eaten in Brazil is casual at its core. More often than not, food is eaten in conjunction with drinking, and the most famous cocktail to hail from this part of the world is the Caipirinha – a delectable mix of cachaça, sugar and lime juice. I am told they do a cracking one at Lunya.
Brazilians will knock a couple of these cocktails back with various fried snacks at one of the many bars you’ll find in any city, town or village. These include pastéis (deep-fried parcels of crisp cheese-filled pastry), crunchy bolinhos (‘little balls’) or Coxinha (‘little thighs’) made with shredded chicken and mashed potato and shaped like a voluptuous thigh.
One thing we know Brazil for is its barbeque. I reckon South America’s food presence in the UK is dominated by these theatrical BBQ joints like Bem Brazil and Fazenda to name but a few.
Expect prime cuts of beef cooked pink over hot coals, as well as more interesting things like sausages, chicken hearts, kidneys, queijo coalho (squeaky cheese on a stick), lamb and even wild boar making an appearance on the grill.
I think the thing that is most famous about Brazilian barbeque is the sheer quantity of it. The meat is eaten leisurely in waves over a whole afternoon and all you have to remember is to bring your stretchy pants.
One dish which is eaten across Brazil is Feijoada. This is a lowly stew made with black beans sausage and whatever cuts of pork you can get your hands on. Typically, it is made with cheaper cuts like trotters, ears, belly etc. which results in a sumptuously rich stew.
Feijoada is a home-cooked, comforting dish and it is safe to say it is a labour of love to make- taking up to 24 hours of cooking. Naturally, it is eaten on special occasions.
I’m not going to sit here and tell you that anywhere in Manchester is going to serve a Feijoada that comes even close to that you would find on the streets of Rio de Janeiro- but I found a pretty satisfying one at Cabana Brazil which will tide us over until we can try the real thing.
Venezuela + Columbia
In the North of the continent is Columbia and Venezuela – two countries which are quite close in culture and food with considerable influences from Spain, Africa and of course, the indigenous people that came before them.
Empanadas are a food that is now considered to be a flagship for South American cuisine – and are eaten all over the continent, although most people think they were originally brought over from Spain. In short, these are basically half-moon shaped pasties, filled with spiced meat or cheese.
Typically, they are eaten as a street snack. The dough is made from wheat flour and animal fat and filled with stewed meat (usually chicken or beef) with lots of spices. You can get them over at Gaucho filled with your choice of beef, humita (corn) or sundried tomato and mozzarella cheese.
Venezuelans and Columbians are into their bread-based foods clearly because another famous dish is the Arepas. This is basically South America’s answer to a sandwich – made with a maize-based dough which is cooked and split into two.
They are typically stuffed with slow-cooked meat, cheese and avocado and are usually eaten daily- kinda like how we are so reliant on the humble butty over here.
I have been looking, longingly for some time now for someone who does Arepas in Manchester to no avail. However, I managed to find Gringo’s Grill – a tiny Latin takeaway who is serving up all the classics on a daily basis in Ashton. I made a pilgrimage and the Arepas were as good as I imagined they would be. I strongly recommend a visit.
Argentina is known for a few things across the world. One is Tango (the dance not the pop). Another is the wild and landscape. Another is football. But the thing I know Argentina for is the food and the wine.
I’m too excited to not talk about the beef first, so I am going to dive right in. Argentinian beef is known as some of the best in the world. Restaurants fly the stuff over to the UK because it is really that good, and there are a couple of reasons why.
Unlike Wagyu cattle, it has nothing to do with the breed of the cows themselves. There are lots of different breeds farmed in Argentina, all brought over from Europe in the Spanish invasion in the 16th Century.
So, all that goodness comes down to diet and habitat. Argentinian cows are allowed to roam the countryside, eating a naturally foraged diet of the native grasses. The cows are looked after by Gauchos – South America’s answer to cowboys – who allow the cows to roam free and eat naturally in the lifetime which allows fat to develop slowly and organically.
Another point about Argentinian meat is that it is not well hung. Over here in the UK, we are used to eating beef which can be hung for up to 24 days. The reason for this is to tenderise the meat which in turn produces a pretty strong, almost game-like texture.
This beef, on the other hand, is best eaten almost immediately which is a testament to the quality of the meat as it does not require hanging to soften it. In turn, this creates a buttery texture and a milder, delicate flavour to the meat.
Here in Manchester, the appropriately named Gaucho is the place to go for authentic Argentinian steak. They have an impressive selection of cuts from Cuadril (rump) to Lomo (fillet) to Tira de Ancho (Spiral cut rib-eye.).
A steak at Gaucho and indeed any steak is incomplete without a healthy dose of another Argentinean classic – chimichurri. This is an oil based sauce and the go-to condiment in Argentina.
It is a green salsa made from finely chopped parsley, oregano, onion, garlic, chilli pepper flakes, olive oil and a touch of acid, like lemon or vinegar.
Tangy, garlicky and slightly spiced – no Argentinian steak is complete without it.
In recent years, Peruvian food as made a name for itself as some of the best and most diverse in the whole of South America. Blessed with fertile jungles, mountains and coastlines, the food from this region is plentiful, diverse and descended from a rich cultural history.
Food from Peru certainly has an archaic fee with the prevalence of ancient grains like quinoa and maize. One of the most staple snacks in this part of the world Is Cancha– deep-fried giant corn kernels tossed in salt. These have a unique texture with a crisp outer layer and a satisfying powdery middle. They do great ones over at Flok in the NQ.
These Cancha make the perfect bar snack to go alongside a chilly beer or a Pisco Sour – the national drink of Peru. Pisco is a colourless brandy made from grapes from Peru and Chile. Developed in the 16th century by Spanish settlers, Pisco has a potent smell (not surprising at 48 % proof) with a light mouthfeel.
The aftertaste is pleasant and sweet and so it makes a nice spirit for sipping over ice. Nevertheless, the Peruvian’s like their Pisco cocktail- more specifically a Pisco Sour made with lime, sugar syrup and egg white for that classic fluffy texture. If you like your short, tart drinks- the Pisco sour if the drink for you.
Pisco Sours are a bit of a cocktail connoisseurs drink, but you do see them around here in Manchester from time to time. One of my favourites is from Tariff & Dale, but I think that has something to do with its proximity to my office on a Friday evening.
I think the most famous dish to come out of Peru that we might recognise over here would be Ceviche. This is considered to be the national dish, and it consists of raw, diced fish (one of 2000 species native to the seas in the area) which is marinated in lime juice and spices.
The word ceviche comes from the indigenous Quechua language word ‘siwichi’, meaning fresh fish. The acid in the lime juice theoretically ‘cooks’ the fish and kills harmful bacteria, but keeps its delicate texture intact.
Ceviche De Lubina is probably the most classic version of the dish – and right now, you can get it at the fantastic Mama Pacha pop-up at Sandinista. The food is fantastic there on the whole by the way – and you are read our review here.
For once, I am stumbling in the dark a bit with these food guides – basing them on my research rather than first-hand gobbling like normal. I do assure you though, I want to get there ASAP, but in the meantime, there is plenty of Latin flavour in Manchester for us to be getting along with.