List Of Popular Hispanic Food
In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from September 15th to October 15th, 2021, here’s a list of the most popular Hispanic dishes by the region they call home. From the Caribbean to North and South America, Central America, and Mexico, the cuisine of Hispanic culture is both unique to the region and highly delicious.
While the language may be a common denominator between these regions, the dialect differences are as unique as the dishes from the areas. In much of Hispanic culture, food is a bond shared between people, families, and communities to bridge gaps and encourage better understanding. Food is the social adhesive that shares culture, history, tradition, and ways of life.
And just as the dialects and foods differ, so do the flavor profiles and spices differ from region to region. In the United States, most people think of Hispanic food as a Mexican variety when it is so much more. One of the more common elements in Hispanic cuisine is the sauces, from Mole to guacamole, compotes, and salsas, yet each is as varied as the culture itself.
Now let’s take a look at some of the more popular dishes, region by region.
Popular Dishes By Region
Tortillas: Corn tortillas are among the most prevalent items in Hispanic cuisine, from tacos, burritos, enchiladas, and more. Cornmeal and corn tortillas are some of the most common ingredients for most recipes.
Chiles: Another one of the most prevalent items that span most of the recipes in Hispanic cuisine is the use of chiles. Chiles can be mild, medium, or spicy, and each region utilizes chili peppers in various ways.
Whether to serve as a comfort, nourishment, or social adhesive, sharing food is a way to pass along tradition and understand the region’s history.
To honor the power that food does play in Hispanic culture, we’ve created a list of the most popular dishes from each region for you to observe and enjoy.
When people think of Hispanic food, Mexican cuisine is the most dominant in Mexican dishes, and the Tex-Mex version of Mexican cuisine is extremely popular and well represented. But just as the United States is not homogenous and represents a wide swath of influences and stylistic differences, so too does Mexican food have a wide variety of plates to choose from.
Tacos are the most popular dish in Hispanic food culture and are the epitome of Mexican cuisine. Tacos are the ubiquitous dish for most breakfast, lunch, and dinner meals, whether as a snack or main course. The versatility of the taco makes it the ideal vehicle for Hispanic cuisine and Mexican dishes.
The typical taco is made of a tortilla, typically made from masa, a dough-like substance made from corn and stuffed with meat, chicken, seafood, cheese, avocado or guacamole, and a salsa.
Much like the taco, burritos have a versatility that makes them omnipresent and popular dishes. Burritos are made from a large flour tortilla stuffed with meat, chicken, or seafood. In addition, burritos may include cheese, vegetables, guacamole, salsa, and in some cases, potatoes, french fries, or rice and beans.
Some burrito variations include the tortilla being pressed onto the grill creating a crunchy bite or slathered with red or green salsa, called a “wet” burrito. A wet burrito requires a knife and fork to eat, while a traditional burrito can be eaten with one hand.
Enchiladas are a delicious main dish, made from tortillas dipped in a chili sauce, typically a red salsa, stuffed with your choice of meat and cheese, and baked in the oven. These are main course items to be eaten with a fork and are occasionally topped with cotija cheese, sour cream, guacamole, and herbs.
A cousin to the taco is the fajita. The main difference between a taco and a fajita is that the ingredients are typically grilled with fajitas, including the vegetables. In addition, the tortillas are stuffed per order, making each fajita unique. With a taco, the proteins are cooked, and the vegetables are typically raw, and the taco is stuffed before it’s served.
And we couldn’t end our discussion of Mexican cuisine without discussing the various types of guacamole, sauces, and salsas that give Mexican food its distinctive colors and flavor profiles.
Guacamole: Made from avocados, variations of guacamole include adding onions, tomatoes, cilantro, lime juice, salt, pepper, and jalapenos or serranos. Sometimes guacamole is smashed or blended, and sometimes may add cream or yogurt.
Salsa: There are numerous salsas in Mexican cuisine, from chili, tomato, and tomatillo varieties, each giving distinctive flavor and color.
Mole: (pronounced Mole-Ay) There are a massive variety of moles in Mexican cuisine, but there are a handful of key types of moles in general.
Poblano: The poblano pepper’s primary ingredient, giving a slightly smoky and spicy aroma to stewed meats and pork.
Negro: The most prevalent type of mole in North America, the primary ingredient is unsweetened chocolate to give a silky, slightly bitter flavor and is paired with cinnamon, cumin, and other spices.
Colorado: The Colorado is blended red chillis that give a slightly red-brown hue and is typically thickened with smashed plantains.
Amarillo: This mole is made from dried fruits that are often spicy and sweet and typically found in empanadas.
- Verde: This green-colored mole is typically made with cilantro and pumpkin seeds, jalapenos, and tomatillos that give the mole its rich, vibrant color and served over pork and chicken predominantly.
Central American - El Salvador, Ecuador, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica
The neighboring states to Mexico and buttressing the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Caribbean to the east lies the tropical Central American countries of El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. Each area has distinct cultural and historical differences that belie the interrelated cuisine of the region.
Made from stuffed tortillas is the famous dish Pupusas of El Salvador. Made from corn or rice flour, the tortilla for Pupusas is light and flakier than a typical tortilla. The traditional version of this dish is made with pork, cheese, fried beans, and loroco, which is a Central American edible flower. Variations of the Pupusas include chicken or seafood. They are typically served with salsa and curtido, a type of fermented cabbage, carrot, cucumber, and other vegetables.
The most famous of Honduran dishes is the Baleada. This stuffed wheat-based tortilla is filled with mashed fritas beans and occasionally with cheese, eggs, avocado, hot sauce, and a style of sour cream known as Mantiquilla.
Pepian hails from the central portion of Guatemala and is a stew made from a combination of chile peppers, chicken, potatoes, and veggies served over rice with beans. This dish is always served with a side of tortillas to dip and scoop the Pepian into tasty bite-sized treats.
The Caribbean - Cuba, Puerto Rico, and The Dominican Republic
1. Ropa Vieja
The most popular dish in Cuba is known as Ropa Vieja, which translates to “old clothes.” It derives its name from the presentation of shredded beef and vegetables that look tossed about like a pair of old clothes. Also prevalent in many of the adjoining island-states of the Caribbean, Ropa Vieja is a staple of regional cuisine.
Rectangular meat pies made with various meats and vegetables and then wrapped in masa (cornmeal) before being cooked while wrapped in a banana skin are extremely popular in Puerto Rico. The pasteles are akin to meatloaf in North American cuisine, served with a sauce, tabasco, or even ketchup.
One of the most famous dishes in the Dominican Republic is Sancocho, a stew made from seven different types of meats. Typical Sanconcho will be made with chicken, pork, and goat and loaded up with tuber vegetables, corn, and herbs that are prevalent on the island nation.
South America - North and South Parts
The South American continent is one divided by undeveloped jungle, high-desert, and vast mountain ranges. It is a diverse area of multiple languages, some Hispanic in nature and others tribal. The food in the north is as different to the south as New England Clam Chowder in the Northeast is to Gumbo in Louisiana of the United States.
North - Columbia, Venezuela, Peru, Belize, and Ecuador
The region on the northernmost portion of South America shares much more in common than the southern part of the continent, heavily influenced by colonization and immigration from European people.
This dish is equivalent to potato patties, and is popular in Ecuador, and is one of the most popular dishes. Made of potatoes and cheese, then griddled until hot, this dish is the most common side dish, typically served with pork and chicken. Also, try Cuy - a dish made of fried Guinea Pig, a delicacy for special occasions.
A popular dish in Belize on the eastern side of the continent is Chimole or the “black dinner.” As a fusion of Mayan and Mexican cultures, this dish is made with chicken and local herbs that create the dark-colored mole sauce, giving it a distinctive color and unique flavor profile.
3. Bandeja Paisa
Undisputably the king of Colombian cuisine is the Bandeja Paisa, a dish made to be a feast for large groups, not just one person. The plate includes steak, ground meats, chicharrones, rice, beans, eggs, cheese, avocados, arepa, and plantains. Again, this is designed as a dish for one person but is typically shared by more than one.
4. Lomo Saltado
With over 500 various national dishes, Peru is foodie heaven, but no dish is as prevalent in Peruvian cuisine as the Lomo Saltado. Peruvian food is heavily influenced by local styles and Chinese cuisine that was introduced in the mid-1800s. A flambeed-style beef dish made with tomatoes, chillis, and red onions gives a smoky richness paired with a sauce that combines local and Chinese herbs and spices for a unique, delicious experience.
South - Chile, Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay
The southernmost part of the South American continent comprises countries that have their cuisine heavily influenced by European settlers. For example, plates of pasta are standard and often mixed with more traditional Hispanic-style cuisine to make dishes wholly unique to the area.
1. Pastel de Choclo
Not known for its delicacies or culinary arts, the food of Chile is more comfort and substance than bold flavor profiles. The most popular Chilean dishes are Pastel de Choclo, a sweet corn native to Chile named Choclo. The slow-baked corn puree is mixed with basil, coriander, ground beef, chicken, onions, hard-boiled eggs quartered, a sprinkling of olives.
Paraguayan cuisine is one based on social events, barbeques, and similar events. Bori-Bori makes our list one of the most popular dishes and is a soup made from a meat or chicken base with small, fluffy dumplings consisting of cornmeal and cheese. The soup is lightly seasoned with bay leaves, cloves, and parsley with saffron for some flavor and color.
Asado is a form of barbeque that is quite popular throughout the South American continent and Hispanic cuisine as a whole. In Uruguay, Asado is the premier dish, often made on huge grills with a dedicated Asado chef grilling different types of marinated meats, vegetables, sausages, and cheeses all at the same time over embers to create a rich, smoky, savory flavor profile.
Argentina is renowned for excellent foods and wines, from Asado with chimichurri, World-class Cabernets, and the varietal known as the Malbec. But what it is most famous for is the empanada. A stuffed pastry often loaded with meat, olives, onions, and seasoning, these small delicacies are among the most eaten foods in all of Argentina.
Hispanic culture, like its language and food, is varied and diverse. Every area has specifics to the region, and the interrelated nature of trade, history, and culture has created a world of delicacies in each region. So celebrate Hispanic Heritage month by trying to make one of these regional favorites or discover one of your own! Cheers.