Nearshore Americas

The Unusual Flavors of Latin America and the Caribbean

Are you tired of eating the same things day after day? Say goodbye to hotdogs and hamburgers and try some of the more unusual and sometimes downright bizarre delicacies from Latin America and the Caribbean instead.

Beyond the usual beef, chicken or pork, there is a world of culinary options available to the more adventurous food tourists willing to give it a try. According to Culture Trip, Brazil boasts a dish called the ‘Buchada’, which is similar to the Scottish haggis. Buchada is made by stuffing a goat’s stomach (but could also be made with any kind of animal stomach) with any innards available, sewing it up and cooking it. The dish’s name comes from the Portuguese word ‘bucho’ meaning animal stomach.

A basket of Chapulines (Roasted Cricket) in a market in Tepoztlan, Mexico. Photo by Meutia Chaerani and Indradi Soemardjan.
A basket of Chapulines (Roasted Cricket) in a market in Tepoztlan, Mexico. Photo by Meutia Chaerani and Indradi Soemardjan.

Mexico has something that is equally intriguing – Chapulines. This is a dish of grasshoppers fried in chilli, garlic and lime. It is apparently packed full of flavor and may be eaten on its own or in tacos. Chapulines are very high in protein and low in fat – ideal for your diet if you like crunchy foods. Mexicans eat them like chips. This dish is a speciality of Oaxaca, west of Mexico City. According to the Guardian, insects could be the next big trend in protein; already over two million people worldwide eat insects as part of their basic diets.

Don’t fancy grasshoppers? Try ants instead, the large leaf-cutter ones. In the Santander region of Colombia, they eat a dish called ‘hormigas culonas’. The word ‘culonas’ means big-bottomed. The ants’ legs and wings are cut off, the bodies are soaked in salted water and then roasted in ceramic pans or fried. These ants are seasonal and the snacks are only available during April and May.

Another unusual dish is to be found in Nicaragua where some of the natives (but not all of them) eat cheese worms or maggots. Food explorer and adventurer, Andrew Zimmern says that the Nicaraguans use aged Chontales cheese and allow it to ripen in the heat of the day until maggots hatch. They then either take the maggots out and eat them or eat the cheese infested with them. Similar cheeses are found in Italy, France and Germany.

Buchada is similar to Scottish Haggis.
Buchada is similar to Scottish Haggis.

Alternatively you could try the stewed, roasted or curried iguana in Trinidad, although you may have to wait until October 2015 as there is currently a ban on hunting them until then. Or travel to the Bahamas and taste conch fritters if you fancy escargots. The conches are cut up into small pieces, then onions, peppers and celery are added. The whole is rolled into a doughy ball and deep fried.

Another Caribbean specialty, according to Matt Smith, is Jamaica’s ‘pepper pleasure’. It sounds innocuous. However, curried goat has fiery Jamaican peppers added to it. These peppers measure 325,000 heat units on the Scoville scale whereas jalapeños measure just 5,000 – even coconut milk can’t help you. If you enjoy hot food, however, have a taste of the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion which is known to be one of the hottest peppers in the world, measuring over 2 million heat units!

Now you’ve sampled some very unusual offerings, what about something to drink? The Caribbean has some very special cocktails to offer. In Jamaica, they serve a Bamboo Duppy cocktail which is made from seven kinds of alcohol (tequila, vodka, spiced rum, dark rum, white rum, cane and wine). That’s enough alcohol to make you want to gobble down some of the stranger menu options on offer. Iguana, anyone?

The Rum Swizzle cocktail is now Bermuda’s national drink. It is a drink made of rum, fruit juices and herbs. Or how about trying the Tortuga Gorda cocktail, which packs quite a punch with its four types of alcohol?

If you try Mezcal, will you swallow the worm?
If you try Mezcal, will you swallow the worm?

Latin America has its own set of unusual drinks. According to Pedro Moreno, if you ever travel to Latin America, you need to taste one of the oldest traditional drinks around, the Chicha. It was apparently drunk by the Incas. All Latin American countries drink it, but each has its own special spin to it, its own ingredient: Chileans use apples, Peruvians use corn, Colombians use Yuca, Venezuelans use rice, etc.

In San Salvador, you can drink some Marañon juice. The Marañon resembles a red pepper in shape and size and has a sweet yet acidic taste. According to Salvadorean traditional belief, the juice is the ‘juice of memory’ as it helps speed up your brain activity.

Mexico’s claim to fame for unusual drinks is the Mezcal, a variation on tequila. Most brands of Mezcal include a worm. This came about as a result of a clever ploy by Jacobo Lozano who decided to advertise it as adding flavor to the drink. It is well-loved by locals and tourists alike!

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Embrace the craziness of a Coco Loco.
Embrace the craziness of a Coco Loco in Colombia.

What about tasting some ‘Coco loco’ (mad coconut) from Colombia? This is a delicious drink made of rum, vodka, tequila, lime juice, coconut cream, coconut water and ice cubes. Another option is the Cuban drink, la Canchánchara, was invented by the common soldiers fighting the war of independence against the Spanish Crown. This drink helped them keep warm in the freezing night temperatures and is mostly served in the city of Trinidad, Cuba. It is made of brandy, honey, ice and lime juice.

If you prefer non-alcoholic drinks, try the Belizean seaweed shake, made of seaweed, evaporated and condensed milk, vanilla, nutmeg and ice. It usually makes you feel healthier and refreshed. It is available from street vendors. Another popular South American drink is the Horchata, which includes milk, vanilla, sugar and cinnamon but the ingredients vary depending on the country.

This is just the tip of the culinary iceberg, though. The exciting culinary world of Latin America and the Caribbean is awaiting you. Take the risk and try one of the less well-known options. What’s the worst that could happen?

Guilherme Campos

Guilherme Campos is an Industry Analyst at Frost & Sullivan with a special focus on IT trends in Latin America. He has professional experience in IT consulting, research and planning obtained in big companies such as IDC, EDS/HP, Nestlé, Sonda IT, General Motors and Itautec.

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