The best foods in South America (and where to eat them)

CNN  — 

South American drinking and dining is as diverse as you’d expect for a continent made up of almost 450 languages, a multitude of ecosystems and 12 countries (not including French Guiana, a Euro-using, French-speaking region, and the British Falklands).

Here is the briefest of introductions to 12 of the best, and perhaps unexpected, food and drink destinations in South America.

Patagonia, Argentina

European influence marks much Argentine cuisine, from the pizza to the pasta, but nothing says Argentina like an asado in Patagonia.

While many associate the asado with beef, beef and more beef (not inaccurate), a typical Patagonian asado will often feature lamb as the headline act, accompanied by many an offal accoutrement.

While the gauchos who popularized asado in Argentina would often wash it down with a cup of mate, no one will judge you for choosing a Malbec instead. Just don’t call it a BBQ.

Cochabamba, Bolivia

Like other Andean countries, Bolivian cuisine is rooted in staples such as quinoa, corn, rice and potatoes.

In Cochabamba, Bolivia’s fourth largest city, you can try all those staples and more, combined into dishes like silpancho (which brings together rice and potatoes with meats, a fried egg and salsa).

Chicharrones — a.k.a. crispy pork ribs — are also a must-eat when you pass through their Bolivian birthplace.

Salvador, Brazil

São Paulo is replete with Michelin-starred restaurants, while Minas Gerais is regularly hyped as the place to be for food in Brazil. In both spots, the rich, pork and bean-filled stew (and national dish), feijoada, is practically ubiquitous.

But don’t overlook Salvador — capital city of Bahía state — where you can enjoy a taste of West Africa through some of the country’s best Afro-Brazilian food, overflowing with shrimp, dendê oil, and malagueta chile.

Valle de Colchagua, Chile

Carménère wine is one of Chile's specialties.

Instead of heading to the capital, Santiago, for the saccharine sweetness of a terremoto cocktail, go south to fine wine country.

Carménère wine was almost extinct in France back in the 1800s. Meanwhile, it was secretly taking an under-the-radar hold in Chilean vineyards. Literally.

In fact, winemakers thought it was Merlot until as recently as the ’90s. Nowadays though, Carménère is the grape of Chile, and the place widely considered home to the country’s best red? The Valle de Colchagua.

Eje Cafetero, Colombia

Some say Colombian cuisine comes into its own on the Caribbean coastline, where plantains are flattened and fried, served up as patacones, while fresh fish and seafood make their way into just about everything. Others think Medellin’s enormous bandeja paisa is unbeatable.

However, one food and drink region that trumps even those is the Eje Cafetero, the lush green heartland of Colombia’s coffee bean production. Alternate between enjoying the best coffee in the country all day, every day and exploring the spectacular surroundings.

Mindo, Ecuador

Sweet tooths should head to Ecuador.

Ecuadorian chocolate, much like Colombian coffee, is a source of national pride; not only does this startlingly biodiverse country grow some of the world’s finest cacao beans, it’s also home to an outrageously expensive chocolate bar (one of To’ak’s Art Series bars will set you back almost $700, and you have to eat it with wooden tongs).

If you’re on a bit more of a chocolate-budget, then stop by the cloud-forest village of Mindo in northern Ecuador to tour a couple of the country’s small-scale chocolatiers.

Berbice, Guyana

Guyana is arguably the most culturally distinct country in South America, sharing many characteristics with the English-speaking Caribbean.

Not only is this apparent through the popularity of cricket, it’s also clear in the cuisine, which combines flavors from British, Creole, African and Chinese cooking, amongst others.

While most Chinese and curry dishes can be found in the bigger towns, head to the coastal chunk of Berbice to taste some of the freshest seafood concoctions, such as crab soup.

Asunción, Paraguay

Landlocked, practically-bilingual Paraguay (English and Guaraní are both the national languages) is one of South America’s most underexplored countries, in part because it lacks the Instagram-worthy attractions of places like Peru.

However the cuisine, loved by Bourdain, sets it apart, even in the capital, Asunción.

Take sopa paraguaya — which is confusingly not a soup, but a type of dense cornbread — or mbejú, a starchy, fried patty. For an actual soup, opt fish-filled pira caldo.

Arequipa, Peru

Lima is the obvious choice for fine dining and fantastic ceviche in Peru, which is why you should go to underrated Arequipa instead.

virgilio martinez peruvian cuisine
A lesson in traditional Peruvian cooking
02:38 - Source: CNN

The so-called ‘white city’ is known for its range of picanterías which serve up hefty portions of Peruvian staples like pastel de papa (potato cake), rocoto relleno (stuffed chili peppers) and the seasonal chupe de camarones (crawfish soup).

Accompany it all with a glass (or jug) of chicha morada, a refreshing juice made from boiled purple corn.

Paramaribo, Suriname

Enjoy fried cassava in Suriname.

Hugely ethnically diverse, with influence from several Asian, African and European cultures, Surinamese cuisine is arguably some of the most overlooked on the continent.

As with Guyana, it is also considered a culturally Caribbean country though. However, on a trip to Suriname, a visit to the capital of Paramaribo for Javanese (Indonesian) cuisine like teloh (fried cassava) and bami met kip (chicken and noodles) can’t be missed.

Carmelo, Uruguay

Try Uruguay's take on the charcuterie plate.

Uruguay shares many