Latin American Cuisine: Traditional Flavors With A Twist Earn International Recognition

01/04/2012 10:05 am ET | Updated Jan 04, 2012

A typical afternoon snack-- an arepa, a Colombian flatbread, and a slice of cheese. Add a slice of seitan, organic Italian chorizo, and the sesame seed-based arepa has become a gourmet fusion of international flavors. End your meal with an oblea and sweet arequipe-- two wafer cookies with Colombian dulce de leche. This is a standard menu option at "Palenque", the popular Colombian food truck which has brought classic Colombian cuisine, along with a slew of foodies and hungry customers, to New York.

There are many others like Palenque in New York City: the Mexican food truck "Tacos El Idolo", hip, eco-friendly Cuban restaurant "Cafe Habana", Japanese-Brazilian inspired restaurant "Sushi Samba", and the list goes on. Latin American flavors have earned their place on New Yorkers' palates.

But what is now so exciting to diners around the world is the use of traditional flavors in intricate ways to create a more elaborate, epicurean Latin American cuisine.

"Our mission is to make people eat healthy with our Colombian original flavors," said Viviana Lewis, co-owner of Palenque food truck according to The Local East Village. The results? A line of people cueing to eat quinoa-based arepas with beef and arugula.

Despite the innovations, they key seems to be in the foundations of traditional ingredients.

"We were always taught that all these beautiful ingredients and dishes in Peru are second or third rate category," said world-renowned Peruvian chef Gaston Acurio in an interview with Total Travel. Acurio opened La Mar Cebicheria Peruana in New York City in 2011,the latest in a string of restaurants in nine different countries. "We were looking to places like Paris for inspiration but then we woke up to consuming what we have in plentiful supply here. You don't have to look all over the world to feel better, you should look at your own country and embrace your own traditions."

The back-to-basics approach seems to be working. Peruvian cuisine is enjoying a period of soaring popularity. The Food Channel featured Peruvian cuisine in it's top ten food trends for 2012. The list, which came out on December 2011, predicts food tendencies for the coming year. Number eight was titled "Groovin' On Peruvian" and it anticipates that Peruvian cuisine may be the next Big Thing on the ethnic culinary scene.

But the focus is on gastronomy from all over Latin America. In this year's Gourmand World Cookbook Awards, which rewards and honors the best cookbooks, of the 283 finalists from 71 different countries, Latin American cookbooks topped the list with 37 finalists in that group. Latin America outperformed the U.S. and France, which have traditionally been the international leaders in cookbooks, according to The Malaysian Insider.

The finalists from Latin America include Peruvian chef Rafael Osterling's "Rafael" and the Mexican cookbook "México, una herencia de sabores" ("Mexico: A Heritage of Taste") by Susanna Palazuelos. The winners of the Gourmand World Cookbook Award will be announced on March 6 at the Folies Bergère in Paris.

But it's not only about exporting flavors. Latin America is luring foodies from all over the world as it becomes a "veritable hotbed of culinary attractions for travelers," according to Fox News Latino. The diversity of the region-- soaring mountains leading to beautiful coastlines and the densest vegetation of the Amazonian jungle-- allow for an array of products and ingredients to be produced, "providing a wealth of culinary adventures to visitors."



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