by Karen Nagy
Argentine’s are known for their meat and for throwing a good BBQ. And when they’re slaughtering all those pigs and cows for tasty steaks, they don’t let much of the animal go to waste. In fact, the congealed blood is used as the primary ingredient in morcilla: a dark sausage flavored with garlic and onion, and a bit of meat from the head of the animal.
Found throughout lowlands and rainforests, this rodent is one of the biggest in Latin America, weighing up to 13 pounds. While they are easily tamed and make for affectionate pets, the agouti is still hunted by lots of indigenous communities for its meat, which is apparently quite tasty, kind of like a gourmet pork. However, it should be noted that three species of agouti appear on the endangered species list.
Potato preparation is nearly endless: hash browns, french fries, baked potatoes… 2-year old freeze-dried papas? In the high plateaus of Bolivia, dehydrated potatoes are a staple in the diets of Quechua and Aymara communities. For five days, the purplish-black variety are exposed to the freezing nighttime temperatures of the high Andes, then left out in direct sunlight, and finally stomped on to remove any excess water. This process creates a wrinkly, mealy (and apparently still edible) food source that can then be easily stored and transported. The chuño is often used in soups, or turned into flour, which can be purchased in most grocery stores and markets in Bolivia.
This traditional recipe was born in colonial Rio de Janeiro by slaves who used discarded pig parts to create this now popular stew. Feijão has become the national dish of Brazil, eaten today by all social classes. It is made by slow-cooking black beans with a variety of salted pig parts: snouts, tails, feet and ears. Some recipes also include smoked pork ribs, bits of bacon, beef tongue and loin, and it’s usually served with rice, greens, and orange.
Colombia: Hormiga culona
For centuries, big-butt queen ants have been collected every spring upon emerging from underground nests, toasted in salt, and eaten as a traditional snack in the Santander region of Colombia, typically as a Semana Santa treat. But recently this delicacy has been gaining popularity outside the borders of Latin America, as well. Apparently the crispy, nutty taste of the hormiga culona lends well to gourmet recipes: Belgian-chocolate-dipped ants and lamb in ant sauce are two of the hottest new ways to enjoy this 6-legged snack.
In certain regions of Chile, the udder of a cow is just as likely to show up on your plate as it is to be found being pumped in a dairy. To prepare this giant gland, it’s soaked in water for a couple hours to remove any last bits of remaining milk in the teats, then tossed on a charcoal grill. The texture is spongy and the taste is smoky. Buen provecho!
Ecuador: Lemon ants
You have to wonder who first discovered that these tiny ants have a citrus flavor, but they’re eaten live and are truly lemony, and are now on the menu for most intrepid travelers visiting the Ecuadorian jungles. Read more here.
Mexico: Tacos sesos
Tacos are a staple in Mexican cuisine. Tacos sesos aren’t that much different from the usual chicken or beef version, but instead of the typical bean and meat combo, these tacos use cow brains as the main filling. Brain tacos are typical street food in Mexico—and make a nice mid-day snack for hungry zombies.
Nicaragua: Huevos de tortugas
For five out of the seven types of sea turtles in the world, the Pacific and the Caribbean beaches of Nicaragua are some of their preferred spawning sites. While many international tourists come to Nicaragua to see the arrival of the turtles during these periods, others come for the eggs. Though this has now been recognized as an environmental no-no, it is part of the Caribbean culinary traditions in Nicaragua to eat sea turtle eggs. Usually raw. The eggs look like steamed ping pong balls with a soft shell, and typically a hole is poked in the top, a couple drops of hot sauce or lemon juice are squeezed in to “cook” it with a bit of salt, and the raw concoction is followed by a shot of rum. While it sounds exotic, leave the eggs to make turtles, not people-food.
This typical Peruvian meal is called cuy because that’s the noise this animal supposedly makes. Commonly known as a guinea pig and a pet in North America, the cuy is a main Peruvian food source: bred in captivity, skinned, put on a skewer, and cooked on grills throughout the country. The meat contains zero cholesterol, and is often served with peanut or hot pepper sauce. This animal has played an important role in Peru for centuries: cuy bones were apparently found in the tombs of the most important Pre-Incan authorities, and today Peru has dedicated one day every September to celebrate their favorite furry critter.