The first flavours to reach my tastebuds when I think of South American/Mexican/Latino food are the hot, fresh, zesty flavours of lime and chilli, and tropical fruits and chocolate for dessert. My thoughts never stop there though as they rapidly remember that chocolate is also used in savoury dishes, and that corn and cheese feature extensively on such menus too. In fact, South American cuisines are a complex, but beautifully balanced, fusion of a medley of indigenous and once imported foods. I say once imported because, as we all get taught at school, Christopher Columbus’s discovery of the New World (the Americas) had a profound effect on both new and old world cuisines. The first flavour to spring to my mind when I think of South America may well be lime, but citrus fruits didn’t exist in South America until good old Columbus sailed them out there; and thanks to Old El Paso I expect Fajitas are the most widely-known of South American dishes, but if it wasn’t for Columbus then there would be no wheat in South America from which to make the soft flour tortillas with which to wrap them.
The surprises work both ways though, some of the foods indigenous to South America, for example potatoes and tomatoes, have been essential ingredients in European kitchens for so long that one struggles to think of what was eaten before Columbus introduced them. How did the Italians cook before tomatoes, or the Irish before potatoes? It’s not all surprises though; foods indigenous to South America include, as expected and amongst other things, chocolate, avocados and peppers of both the sweet and spicy varieties, as well as tropical fruits such as pineapples and papayas, and brazil nuts (I’m glad they really do come from Brazil!).
This continent certainly has an extraordinary food history (despite my briefer than brief summary of it here; I’d quite like to delve a little deeper and expand on this, but that’ll have to be for another day). Whatever the history may be though, I’m glad this continent’s cuisines are such a veritable melting pot full of surprises; one often gets told that traditional recipes shouldn’t be experimented upon, but this continent’s food history is the epitome of experimentation thanks to Columbus’s inclination to export his favourite old world staples to the new world. It must be this that makes my open tacos work so well; I definitely think I will dig deeper into South America’s food history and experiment some more.