“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world”, wrote JRR Tolkien. Food it’s such an intrinsic part of a culture that no language learning is complete without understanding the gastronomy of the culture. I often tell my students that a great way to master the foundations of language is to start reading recipe books! You get to know the ingredients that the culture loves, learn a lot of verbs and also start using adjectives to tell people how great and delicious and tempting and luxurious and sinful and generous the dish they love is 🙂
So without further ado here’s the top 5 dishes that define Hispano-American culture.
1. The Bocadillo
The humble Spanish sandwich- a lengthwise slice of Spanish bread filled with anything from eggs to sausages has now become the iconic dish of Spain. Served in cafes and tapas bars, the most popular Bocadillos are the Jamon (ham), quesa (cheese), tortilla (Spanish omelette), and the chorizo (sausage). It’s just great fun to choose your fillings for a bocadillo with a wide variety of sauces to play with. Just think of them as Subways and way much more fun!
If you love sashimis- then you should really try the Ceviche. A Peruvian favorite, the Ceviche is typically from cured fresh fish and spiced with garlic, chili peppers, onions, coriander etc. Sometimes the Ceviche is served with sweet potato or avocado to complement its flavors. This traditional dish has supposedly been consumed in Peru for over 2000 years and is now considered the country’s national dish.
Mexico’s favorite street food is a small corn tortilla filled with everything from vegetables to beef, folded and eaten standing outside a taqueria- Spanish for a taco stand. These taquerias are now iconic of Mexico and serve up variations such as Tacos al pastor (pork steaks), Tacos de asador (with grilled fillings) and even Tacos de Lengua (figure that out). Their hard shell variation- made famous by Taco Bell- is of course an American invention.
A type of bread made from ground maize dough, the Arepa is a typical dish of Colombia and Venezuela. It is often served with accompaniments such as cheese, cuajada (fresh cheese), various meats, chicken, avocado etc. Some believe that the recipe for the Arepa was invented almost 3000 years ago in the South American continent. In religious ceremonies arepas are strung into necklaces and placed around the necks of honored dignitaries as a sign of praise!
These baked or fried dishes are representative of many Spanish speaking countries- Chile, Argentina and even the Philippines. They are made by folding dough over a filling which could be meat, cheese, corn, etc and then cooking the resulting turnover, either by baking or frying. In Argentina, fish-filled empanadas are popular during festivals while in Chile the empanada de pino is popular. Filipino empanadas usually contain ground beef, pork or chicken, potatoes, chopped onions, and raisins.