Beyond the Burrito: Three Non-Mexican Latin Foods

June 14, 2012 11:50 AM EDT | By Staff Writer
This delicious, cheese-filled arepa from Venezuela will all but ensure you never eat a burrito again! (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

There are times when I want very filling meals chock full of meat flavored with cilantro, cumin, oregano, and sweet paprika. However, given what cuisine became very popular in America, I often feel like I'll explode if I have to eat another burrito. Don't settle for folding your food between yet another tortilla. Save that staple for another day-- tonight, you're going on adventure. Here are some Latin foods our taco-oriented American-approach-to-Latin-cuisine overlooks.

1. The Arepa

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Imagine a cross between an english muffin and a pita, but replace the usual doughiness of wheat flour with the textured complexity of cornmeal. That's what you get when you bite into an arepa, a Venezuelan sandwich filled with savory meats, sweets, and cheeses. Though they're typically served with little more than cotija cheese or queso fresco-- two white cheeses known for their crumbly saltiness-- I like mine with a bit more. To a base of cotija cheese, I add sweet plantains, avocado, and ham.

To make these at home, simply pick up a package of GOYA Masarepa mix. If you're in New York City, head to Caracas restaurant in Williamsburg for the city's best. Have a rum cocktail on the side either way.

2. The Pupusa

When this is done perfectly, it's more delicate than it is heavy. That's why pupusa-making is an art best left to the professionals-- the Salvadoreans who brought it over to certain corners of our country where their population is well represented.

Pupusas are like an unflipped omelet, or a pancake, and they're loaded with crackling pork, black beans, and cheeses-- called revueltas-- or loroco, a flower with a taste as delicately lilting as its name. Both come served on the side with curtido, or pickled vegetables.

The best I've ever had has been in Red Hook, Brooklyn, at a food cart situated every day by the stadium. But since Red Hook is all but impossible to get to-- inconvenient even for New Yorkers due to its lack of proximity to mass transit-- you're going to end up going to Bahia in Brooklyn. The pupusas there are dirt cheap and run a little heavy, but their flavor is outstanding-- especially when you reheat them at work the next day.

3. Callos a la Madrilena

Okay, we're cheating a bit because Spanish food isn't technically Latin. But since Spain played a huge influence on their eating, we figured we'd open the panel up to our favorite, non-paella, non-tapas Spanish food: Callos a la Madrilena.

It's prepared tripe added during the last few minutes of cooking to a slow-cooked tomato-based stew flavored with chorizo, blood sausage, paprika, garlic, carrots, bay leaves, and three different colors of sweet bell peppers. You make it in a giant vat, simmering all ingredients together until tender, then adding cooked honeycomb tripe in the last five minutes of cooking. The vegetables and the sausages all come together to lend a rich and beautiful taste to the stew, recalling a romp in a convertible across the Spanish countryside.

The longer it keeps in your fridge, the better it tastes. Serve it up immediately with bread for dipping, or the next day over rice.



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