The area of Southern South America is unique for several reasons. The region is known more commonly as the southern cone and comprises of Argentina, Chile and Uruguay; it is known for its high standard of living and its contribution to the global economy. In a continent famous for its tropical climate and rainforests, geographically speaking, the southern cone delivers a stark contrast, creating among other things, a unique and highly revered cuisine, including some of the best beef and wine on the planet. The countries in the southern cone sit below the Tropic of Capricorn and have a more temperate climate compared to countries closer to the equator. This factor alone blesses the region with perfect vineyard conditions and a perfect climate for grazing cattle. Couple this with a gigantic coastline, half of the Andean mountain range and the 8th largest country in the world and it’s easy to see why so many foodies head here every year. So without further ado, here are our top five reasons to go!
On top of the aforementioned climate, the sheer size of Argentina leads to vast amounts of unpopulated, open grasslands, perfect for grazing the country’s cattle. Argentinian beef is sort after the world over, famous for its taste and texture, a direct product of the environment the cattle is reared in. What gives the meat this distinct taste and texture is a combination of the food they eat and a stress-free environment. Unlike a lot of the beef that is mass-produced in other countries and reared on corn or other cheap cattle feed, Argentine beef is grass-fed, a process that’s hard to replicate when you don’t have massive swaths of land. In addition, the massive grazing area allows the cattle to move about freely, reducing stress and creating some of the most succulent beef in the world. Although you can most likely order Argentinian beef in your home country, tasting a freshly cooked cut of Argentine steak in one of the country’s many restaurants is an experience like no other, especially with a glass of South American wine…
South American Wine
Wine production around the world seems to be dictated largely by latitude, with areas 20-50 degrees north and south of the equator producing the best wine. Viticulture in South America has never been stronger and this area is known as one of the best wine regions in the world. Wine production in South America is most famous in Chile and Argentina, although there are some excellent regions in Brazil and Uruguay as well. Both Argentina and Chile place in the top 10 countries in terms of production, placing 6th and 8th respectively and producing well over 2 million tones between then annually. Argentina is most famous for its Malbec, originally a French wine which now thrives in the vineyards of South America. Similarly, one of the most famous grapes from Chile is Carménère, also brought over by the French. If you’re a wine fanatic we can’t recommend a vacation to this region enough, take a couple of weeks and spend endless days exploring the vineyards of the region and sampling as many wines as you can muster.
With over 4000 kilometres of coastline, it’s not surprising that seafood plays a role in Chilean cuisine. In addition, Chile averages a width of around 180km, meaning fresh seafood can be found readily throughout the region. Unfortunately for the Chilean population, a massive 85-90% of the seafood caught in the area is exported to other countries, driving the price up and decreasing the local consumption. Nevertheless, if you’re willing to pay a little more, you can still savour some of the most delicious crab, lobster, tuna, squid and sea urchin the ocean has to offer. A popular dish with the locals is freshly caught sea urchin, served with lemon, coriander and onion. Caldillo de congrio is also popular, a delicious stew of conger eel and vegetables, which can be found readily throughout the region. Be sure to wash your meal down with a glass of Chilean Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc.
Although the cuisine of Uruguay doesn’t have the international acclaim of its western neighbours, it is no less delicious. The most famous aspect of Uruguayan cuisine is the asado, which loosely refers to the use of a barbecue for cooking although the term encompasses all of the techniques used and the social aspect that surrounds it, similar to a braai in South African cuisine. Asados are taken very seriously in Uruguay and the technique behind them is down to a science! Usually charcoal, made from local wood is used to light the fire, but in Uruguay hot coals are used instead. All kinds of different meats are used on the BBQ, from beef, and lamb to lighter meats such as pork and chicken. This is served with vegetables, breads and salads and is of course washed down with local beers, wines and other beverages. If you’re travelling in Uruguay, attending an asado is one of the best ways to meet the locals and get a real taste for Uruguayan cuisine.
Southern South American Desserts
You simply can’t write an article on local cuisine without mentioning deserts! This portion of South American cuisine has a large European influence, and baking is very popular in this region. One ingredient you’ll see frequently is Dulce de Leche, which is consumed for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Dulce de Leche translates to “Candy of milk” and is made by simmering sweetened milk, producing a think caramel mixture. This is either used as an ingredient in certain dishes or is simply served as a side to your favourite dessert… or breakfast item! Brought over by Italian immigrants, gelato is also very popular here and you’ll find many gelato and coffee bars dotted around the major cities. Finally, don’t leave without trying Grappamiel, a popular honey flavoured alcoholic beverage made in Uruguay, the perfect end to a perfect trip.