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May 16, 2010

Taste differences found between Central and South American food

The regions of Central and South America exhibit a dazzling array of diverse food. To understand the sources of the cuisine, we must acknowledge the influence of the indigenous peoples, Spain, Portugal, Africa and other European and Asian cultures.

It is well known that the indigenous peoples of the Americas have provided the world with many food products, such as, potatoes, tomatoes, many different varieties of chilies and other exotic fruits and vegetables. Traditional ways of cooking, which survive to this day, are cooking in clay pots, pit roasting, and steaming in plantain leaves. With the exception of Mexican traditional cooking, where the use of peppers was common, most indigenous food preparations were seldom seasoned and based on the natural flavors of the products used.

The Spanish conquest of Central and parts of South America introduced food products such as Pork, beef, rice, wines and brandies and a variety of herbs native to Europe. They introduced the cooking techniques of smoking and marinating to preserve food for long journeys. They also brought the tradition of sealing mixtures of meat and vegetables in pastry, also to preserve food for travel, as baked pastry will make an airtight seal. These were the ancestors of saltanias and empanadas. It could be said that the Spanish and Portuguese brought the European habit of greater consumption of meat as a staple.

The importation of African slaves to the New World brought its own culinary influence. Africans brought the tradition of pounding starch root vegetables like cassava as a thickening agent or side dish. They were familiar with the use of peanuts, okra and a variety of seasonings introduced from Arab traders. One of the most tasty and interesting African-based cuisines is in the region of Bahia in Brazil. Thick seafood stews with palm oil, coconut milk and seafood’s, fritters of dried shrimp and stews with okra. Brazil’s most famous dish, “feshuada”, a black bean stew with what the masters considered the undesirable remnants of butchered hogs and cattle, was the staple food of the African slaves. Today it is enjoyed across Brazil as a traditional family weekend lunch, served with rice, a chiffonade of collard greens with garlic and bacon, and diced orange segments as a palate cleanser.

The late 19th century/early 20th century saw great waves of immigration to South America. Especially in Southern Brazil and Argentina, the Italians, Germans, Portuguese and Eastern

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