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QUICK UPDATE: 10/4/2011

posted Nov 8, 2011, 11:33 AM by Matthew Gorzlancyk

Street Meat: The way to do it in Latin America!

           From the time I entered Latin America via Tijuana, Mexico in October of last year, I have fallen in love with a few things… One of these things is not bathing every day, another is wearing whatever I want (yep, living without underwear most of the time), but my number one love down here is street food, the time looking for it, and the culture that surrounds it.

           

            Of all places, Mexico is perfect for getting yourself acquainted with the street food carts and those operating them (though you can dive in anywhere). Mexico arguably has some of the best and most diverse wonders that are cooked on the street corner. From tacos and tortas to cow brains and grasshoppers, you can find anything you could possibly want (especially if you are a little adventurous) being sold from a small cart. Really though, there are so many great items at great prices of which you can scarf down in Mexico.

            What is really nice is that Mexico is not the only country in Latin America that has a strong street food culture. You can virtually enter any city in any country and find some kind of a cart with a well-practiced cook waiting to prepare you something special. There are carts attached to motorcycles, bicycles, push-carts, mobile ovens, food trucks, and even ladies who do the cooking at home and carry their food to the street ready to go. These gals will often have their food in a wicker basket covered in blankets to keep their little delicacies warm. There is really a marvelous world of food on the go down here!

            When it comes to street food, the sky is the limit. Matt and I have found sandwiches, tacos, pupusas (El Salvador), tons of delicious fried items in Colombia (papas rellenas, patacones, tortas de chocolo, empanadas), pizza and bread that are actually cooked curbside out of mobile ovens, burgers, salchipapas (hotdogs sliced with fries), tons of bread, potatoes, chicharron (fried pig skin served in a variety of ways), intestines filled with rice and a variety of other things, arepas, guys selling home-made ice cream (choco-conos), fresh fruit juices,  and many other great things. You really can’t go wrong taking a little stroll around any Latin American city (and honestly, if you use your head, walking around cities at night in a pair is safe in most places). There are always so many options! There has to be something out there for everyone!

            Munching down on the street is not all about the food. As a tourist, it is about so many other things. I used to think that through eating on the street I could actually save money by avoiding restaurants. I have definitely not saved much money eating this way, but that does not even matter. What you can receive from eating on the road is of so much more value than any differences in price you may find.

A wonderful angle to street food eating is that you will have a ton of great authentic experiences. The environment makes the street such a great option. Some stands you visit have chairs where you can sit with friends, others you just stand around the cart and hang around. Some places have super-animated cooks yelling things out such as “Que Rico!” and others might have a sweet old lady who has had her burger stand for 25 years and she is still rocking and as nice as ever. Sometimes you will be amazed by how dense the cook may be and other times you will be able to enjoy the great Andean music videos the host will have playing for your listening and viewing pleasure while you eat.

Honestly, every experience you have eating on the street is different, and they are all great (or at least special!). If you want to get to know a town or city, this is one hell of a way to accomplish that task. There is always somebody to talk to at the stands. If you pick a good one it will be surrounded by people, children and adults, of varying socio-economic backgrounds, all who would probably love to meet a traveler with a different perspective, but with the same enjoyment for their food and culture.

            I really don’t know if there is a better way to explore a city than to walk around it and munch as you go. Back home I could only imagine what a couple of cinnamon rolls, a soda, four hamburgers, a slice of pizza, three chocolate bars, two coffees, and three ice cream cones would cost… Down here in Bolivia, probably about three or four dollars… And yes, this sometimes is my order for an evening stroll. It may sound a little disgusting, but I am a cyclist, and I do burn about half of it off when I actually am riding and not eating. I just cut down the sodas when my man-boobs start to sag a little…

            Street meat rocks. I know many people are a little afraid to try some of the sketchier carts, but sometimes those are the best. I really think that restaurants generally have about the same sanitary standards down here as the street vendors. In restaurants people just don’t have to watch their food being prepared, so they feel better about it. With street food you know what you are getting, or at least you can guess what you are getting while you watch the preparation (I am always curious in smaller cities where there are less stray dogs running around)… And if it helps receiving a recommendation for the right spots, just ask a taxi driver, a police officer, firemen, or follow the crowd.

I hope this helps encourage people to get out and get over their fears of what just might be waiting for them at that street cart. I can almost guarantee that what is waiting is a nice smile, a good conversation, and a delicious snack!

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