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Top 10 Must-Try Latin American Street Foods

Posted on September 22nd, 2023

When it comes to exploring the vibrant and diverse world of Latin American cuisine, you simply can't ignore the incredible street foods that beckon from bustling markets, corner stalls, and food carts. These mouthwatering treats offer a quick and delicious way to experience the rich flavors and culinary traditions of Latin America. Join us on a virtual journey as we unveil the top 10 must-try Latin American street foods that are sure to tantalize your taste buds.

1. Tacos Al Pastor

Let's kick off our flavorful adventure with a classic favorite: Tacos Al Pastor. Originating in Mexico but beloved across Latin America, these tacos feature thinly sliced marinated pork cooked on a vertical rotisserie. Served in warm corn tortillas and garnished with fresh pineapple, cilantro, and onions, they strike a perfect balance between savory and sweet.

Tacos al Pastor is a testament to the rich fusion of Mexican and Middle Eastern flavors. The method of cooking the meat on a vertical spit was brought to Mexico by Lebanese immigrants, and it has since evolved into this iconic street food. The tender, marinated pork, often with hints of smoky adobo sauce, is thinly sliced and served with a tantalizing mix of sweet and savory toppings. The pineapple adds a burst of juiciness that cuts through the richness of the meat, creating a symphony of flavors that dance on your palate. These mouthwatering tacos are a must-try, whether you're strolling through the streets of Mexico City or enjoying them at your local Latin American eatery.

2. Arepas

Heading south to Venezuela and Colombia, we encounter Arepas, versatile cornmeal patties that can be stuffed or topped with an array of ingredients. From cheese and avocado to shredded beef or chicken, these golden pockets of goodness are a street food staple.

Arepas are much more than just a snack; they are a beloved part of daily life in Venezuela and Colombia. These cornmeal patties have ancient indigenous roots but have evolved over centuries into a versatile and delicious treat. The preparation of arepas varies by region and family tradition. They can be grilled, baked, or fried, resulting in different textures and flavors. The beauty of arepas lies in their versatility. They can be served as a simple, satisfying breakfast with cheese and coffee or as a hearty lunch or dinner, stuffed with an array of fillings. The crispy exterior and soft, doughy interior create a delightful contrast, making every bite a delightful experience. Whether you're a fan of savory or sweet, there's an arepa variation to suit your taste.

3. Empanadas

No Latin American street food list would be complete without empanadas. These savory turnovers can be found in various countries, each with its own unique twist. Whether baked or fried, the flaky pastry envelopes fillings like seasoned ground beef, cheese, or spiced vegetables.

Empanadas are a true culinary treasure, and their popularity extends across the entire Latin American continent. Each country has its own spin on this classic, resulting in a delightful variety of flavors and textures. In Argentina, you'll savor the traditional beef empanada, a pastry filled with seasoned ground beef, onions, olives, and hard-boiled eggs. In Chile, they're known for their empanadas de pino, filled with a rich mixture of beef, onions, raisins, and black olives. Meanwhile, Colombia's empanadas often feature potatoes and aji sauce, adding a unique dimension to the dish. The pastry itself is a marvel—golden, flaky, and tender, making it the perfect vessel for a burst of savory goodness. Whether you're enjoying them by the seaside in Ecuador or at a local festival in Puerto Rico, empanadas are a beloved and versatile street food that's always worth savoring.

4. Ceviche

Heading west to the coastal regions, we arrive in Peru, where ceviche reigns supreme. Fresh seafood, typically white fish or shrimp, is marinated in zesty lime juice, creating a dish bursting with bright, tangy flavors. Served with onions, cilantro, and a kick of chili, it's the epitome of refreshing street food.

Ceviche is a culinary marvel that showcases the incredible bounty of the sea, and Peru is often hailed as the birthplace of this beloved dish. The preparation of ceviche is a delicate art; fresh, high-quality seafood is marinated in lime or lemon juice, which "cooks" the fish through a process called denaturation. This results in a wonderfully tender texture and a burst of bright, zesty flavors. The addition of finely chopped onions, fresh cilantro, and a touch of chili heat adds complexity to each bite. Ceviche is not only delicious but also a testament to the culinary skill of the chefs, who master the perfect balance of acidity and freshness. Whether you're enjoying it by the Pacific Ocean in Lima or at a local food truck in Miami, ceviche is a must-try street food that captures the essence of Latin American coastal cuisine.

5. Pupusas

As we continue our culinary journey to El Salvador, we encounter pupusas. These thick, handmade corn tortillas are stuffed with fillings like cheese, beans, or chicharrón (fried pork). Griddled to perfection, they're often served with curtido (a tangy cabbage slaw) and salsa.

Pupusas are the heart and soul of Salvadoran cuisine, and they're a testament to the art of handcrafted street food. These thick, fluffy corn tortillas are lovingly made by pressing masa (corn dough) into a round disc and filling it with a variety of delicious ingredients. The most common fillings include cheese, beans, and chicharrón, but the options are endless. Once stuffed, the pupusa is griddled until it's golden brown and crispy on the outside, while the inside becomes wonderfully gooey and flavorful. The accompaniments are equally important: curtido, a zesty cabbage slaw, adds a delightful crunch and tang, while a flavorful salsa brings a touch of heat. Pupusas are more than just a snack; they're a cherished tradition and a flavorful reflection of El Salvador's rich culinary heritage.

6. Churros

Indulgence awaits in Spain and throughout Latin America with churros, fried dough pastries dusted with cinnamon and sugar. Whether straight and slender or in a delightful loop, these sweet treats are a popular street snack, especially when paired with rich, velvety chocolate for dipping.

Churros are a delightful example of the enduring influence of Spanish cuisine in Latin America. These fried dough pastries are a beloved street food found throughout the region. The magic of churros lies in their simplicity: a dough made from flour, water, and salt is piped into hot oil until it's golden brown and wonderfully crisp. The finishing touch is a generous dusting of cinnamon and sugar, creating a sweet and fragrant coating. Churros are often served in long, slender shapes, perfect for dipping into a cup of thick, luscious hot chocolate. Whether enjoyed at a local fair, a food market, or a traditional churrería, these sweet delights are a comforting and indulgent treat that's impossible to resist.

7. Tostones

Our journey takes us to the Caribbean, where the Tostones reign supreme. Green plantains are sliced, fried, and then smashed flat before being fried once more. The result? Crispy, golden coins of delight that make for an addictive snack or side dish

Tostones, also known as patacones in some regions, are a beloved snack that showcases the ingenuity of Latin American cuisine. These crispy delights start with green, unripe plantains that are sliced into rounds and deep-fried until they're lightly golden. The magic happens when the plantain rounds are removed from the oil and then smashed flat, creating a disc-like shape. They're then fried once more until they're beautifully golden brown and irresistibly crunchy. The finishing touch is a sprinkle of salt, which brings out the natural sweetness of the plantains. Tostones are the perfect canvas for a variety of toppings and dips, from simple garlic sauce to tangy guacamole. Whether you're enjoying them by the beach in Puerto Rico or at a local food stand, these crispy coins of delight are a must-try snack that captures the essence of the Caribbean.

8. Aguas Frescas

To quench your thirst on a hot Latin American day, look no further than Aguas Frescas. These refreshing fruit-based drinks come in an array of flavors like tamarind, hibiscus, and horchata. They're the perfect accompaniment to your street food feast.

Aguas frescas are a delightful way to beat the heat and refresh your palate during your street food adventure. These cooling beverages are a staple in Latin American street markets and food stalls. The concept is simple yet brilliant: fresh fruits, flowers, or grains are blended or steeped to extract their vibrant flavors, creating a base for these thirst-quenching drinks. Whether it's the sweet and tangy tamarind, the vibrant and floral hibiscus, or the creamy and cinnamon-infused horchata, Aguas Frescas offer a delightful respite from the heat. They're typically sweetened just right to let the natural flavors shine, making them the ideal pairing for the bold and savory street foods you'll be savoring. Whether you're sipping them from a plastic cup on the streets of Mexico City or enjoying them at your local Latin American eatery, Aguas Frescas are a must-try for a true street food experience.

9. Cachapas

Returning to Venezuela, we discover cachapas, a delightful blend of sweet and savory. These thick, griddled corn pancakes are made from fresh corn and are typically filled with cheese, creating a harmonious contrast of flavors and textures.

Cachapas are a heartwarming and comforting street food that holds a special place in the hearts of Venezuelans. These thick, griddled corn pancakes are made from freshly ground corn, creating a batter that's both sweet and savory. The result is a pancake that's wonderfully moist and dense, with a subtle sweetness that comes from the corn itself. While cachapas can be enjoyed plain, the most popular way to savor them is filled with queso de mano, a soft and creamy cheese. The combination of the slightly sweet cachapa and the salty, gooey cheese creates a harmonious contrast that's simply divine. Cachapas are often served with a dollop of butter and a sprinkle of crumbled cheese on top, making each bite a symphony of flavors and textures. Whether you're enjoying them by the street-side stands in Caracas or savoring them at a Venezuelan eatery, cachapas are a must-try for those seeking the perfect blend of sweet and savory.

10. Anticuchos

Our final stop takes us to Peru, where we encounter anticuchos—marinated and skewered beef hearts, grilled to perfection. These savory meat skewers are often served with potatoes and aji sauce, delivering a flavorful punch that will leave you craving more.

Anticuchos are a testament to the bold and diverse flavors of Peruvian street food. These savory skewers are a beloved part of Peru's culinary heritage and can be found in food markets and on street corners throughout the country. The star ingredient is beef heart, which is marinated in a fragrant mixture of spices, vinegar, and aji chili peppers. The result is tender, succulent, and bursting with bold flavors. The skewers are then grilled to perfection, imparting a smoky char that enhances the overall experience. While anticuchos are often served on their own, they are typically accompanied by boiled potatoes and aji sauce, a spicy and tangy condiment that adds an extra layer of flavor.
Each bite of anticucho is a harmonious blend of smoky, savory, and slightly spicy notes, making it an unforgettable street food that captures the essence of Peruvian cuisine. Whether you're enjoying them at a food festival in Lima or at a Peruvian restaurant, anticuchos are a must-try for those seeking a flavorful adventure.

In conclusion, Latin American street food is a true culinary adventure that offers a taste of tradition, innovation, and the vibrant cultures that make up this diverse region. From Mexico to Peru, each street food dish has a unique story to tell, and each bite is a flavorful journey waiting to be explored.

At Cañas Restaurant and Bar, we're passionate about bringing the flavors of Latin America to you. Whether you're seeking these street food classics or a more extensive dining experience, we invite you to get in touch with us at (929) 244-7267 or via email at [email protected]. Come join us and embark on a culinary journey that celebrates the essence of Latin American cuisine.

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