Eat your words

Creativity is part of everyday life in South America, especially when it comes to naming the tasty dishes that make up our cuisine. Here’s a guide to what we mean when we offer you an “earthquake” or a “stuffed boy.”

TEXT: Jorge Sánchez de N. | ILLUSTRATIONS: Hugo Horita



Ají de gallina. How spicy is this chicken dish? Depends on how you order it (or how it’s served). A Peruvian favorite made with a sauce of yellow chili pepper and walnuts, aji de gallina is often served with white rice, hardboiled eggs and olives.

Arroz zambito. This rice pudding gets its characteristic dark color from chancaca (unrefined cane sugar). It’s a good choice if you’ve already tried the classic caramel and meringue of the suspiro limeño.

Carapulcra. From the Aimara “carapulca,” one of the oldest dishes on the continent is a stew prepared with hot rocks. To Spanish-speakers, the name sounds like a spa treatment.

Causa. Ideals may be inspiring, but they’re not very nourishing. A causa is no cause, but a delicious cold appetizer of seasoned potato puree layered with chicken, crab or tuna salad and an array of garnishes.

Sudado. With a name that literally means “sweaty,” you might imagine the animal running a race before heading to the butcher, but the term means that the ingredients (beef, chicken, shrimp or fish) were steamed.

Lenguado a lo Macho

Lenguado a lo macho

You don’t need a hyper-masculine chef – just smother a nice piece of sole
in a sauce of white wine and a super-abundance of seafood.



Canelazo. The perfect antidote to the chill of the highlands is made by boiling water with cinnamon and panela (unrefined cane sugar) and then adding aguardiente. Your canelazo can also be flavored with naranjilla (bitter orange), lemon or clove.

Bandera. Not a piece of fabric smothered in patriotic emblems, but a selection of national treats like cebiche, rice and guatita (tripe).

Maduro. An “older gentleman” or fried plantain accompanies a variety of Ecuadorian dishes.

Oritos. Despite the allusion to gold (oro), don’t expect to receive a plate of shiny nuggets. In Ecuador, oritos are tiny bananas.

Empanadas de viento

Empanadas de viento

“Wind empanadas” look like they could fly away, so the name really fits.
These puffy pastries contain a tiny portion of cheese and are 100% recommended.



Coxinha. A classic Brazilian chicken croquette shaped like a chicken thigh.

Pastel. In Brazil, the Spanish word for “cake” describes a popular snack: a savory turnover, filled with meat, cheese, palm hearts, chicken, shrimp or other ingredients.

Feijoada. This enduringly popular, traditional staple takes its name from the Portuguese word for beans (feijão). Typically, black beans are combined with several types of meat to make a hearty stew served with rice, collard greens and oranges.

Brigadeiros. Made of chocolate and sweetened condensed milk, one of Brazil’s most popular sweets takes its name from Brigadier Eduardo Gomes, a Brazilian politician and military figure.



In Portuguese, this word means “little kisses” or “coconut candies.”
If you’re lucky, you may end up being offered both!



Bandeja paisa. So big it’s served on a bandeja (tray), this traditional dish includes beans, fried pork, eggs, arepa (a traditional Colombian flatbread) and a host of other ingredients. It’s a favorite in Medellín, the capital of Antioquia, where locals are known as paisas.

Lulada. Nothing to do with the former president of Brazil, Lula da Silva, 
this Colombian beverage contains lulo, a tart fruit from the Valle 
de Cauca (Cali).

Muchacho relleno. In Colombian homes and eateries, a “stuffed boy” refers to a cut of veal or beef, filled with other meats and vegetables.

Tinto. The Spanish word for “red wine” means a small, strong cup of coffee in the continent’s coffee capital.

Viudo de pescado. The “widower-style fish” isn’t lonely at all but served with yucca, bananas, onions and other “companions.



Some Latin Americans might associate it with a saint, but it’s actually one of the most popular broths in Colombia, prepared with different kinds of meats and vegetables depending on the region.



Agüita perra. Despite its rather aggressive name, “bitch water” is a harmless herbal tea, perfect for enjoying after a meal.

Calzones rotos. A type of doughnut whose name literally means “torn underwear,” this popular, winter snack will sure warm you up!

Copete. In Chilean vernacular, the word for “cowlick” has come to mean any mixed drink, liquor, aperitif, cocktail or digestif.

Italiano. Al Capone al la Bolognese or Monica Belluci Parmesan? Wrong! An italiano is a Chilean style of hot dog, served with diced tomato, mashed avocado and mayonnaise: all the colors of the Italian flag.

Locos. You’d have to be crazy to turn down a plate of Chilean abalone. The meaty shellfish is often complemented by mayonnaise or salsa verde (made with fresh parsley and onion).



In a famously seismic country, an “earthquake” is essential to a bartender’s repertoire, made with sweet wine, pineapple sherbert and a touch of fernet, rum or cognac. The scaled-down version is known as a replica (aftershock).



Alfajor. Not an alpha male or an Arab sheik, though the etymology and culinary history can be traced to the Hispano-Arabic al-hasú (stuffed). Alfajores are two cookies with dulce de leche or some other sweet filling, often coated in chocolate.

Bife de chorizo. A cut of meat for which Argentina is famous, this sirloin strip steak is absolutely delectable.

Choripán. A straightforward but unbeatable combination of chorizo (sausage) and pan (bread).

Matambre. The mouthwatering Argentinean cold cut called matambre arrollado takes its name from a portmanteau meaning “hunger killer.” Quite appropriate.

Milanesa. According to the dictionary, milanesa can mean “a native of Milan” or “breaded steak.” For obvious reasons, we’ll stick to the second definition.
Asado de Tira

Asado de tira

An allusion to tug of war (tira y afloja) or to comic strips (tira cómica)? Not at all. Tiras are beef ribs, an essential part of cookouts throughout Argentina.

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