A Guide to Latin Cuisines in Florida
By Julie Landry Laviolette
When you come to the international gateway to the best Latin American cooking on the planet, it’s time to grab your seat at the table. The question is, which table?
In Florida, your taste buds can travel to South America and Central America without leaving the comfort of the Sunshine State. Love spicy food? Looking for a meat mecca? Pining for seafood?
No problema. Here are some tips about signature dishes you will find in four popular cuisines:
Grilled meats -- and lots of it -- are the main attraction at Argentinian eateries. An asado platter with blood sausages, pork sausages (called chorizo), sweetbreads, pinwheel sausages (the tall, thin brother of chorizo), chicken, short ribs, steak, intestines or kidneys will likely arrive on its own grill pan at your table. You might even be treated to a slice of grilled provolone cheese – crisp on the outside, with an oozy center. A salad will help cut the carnivore richness, as will chimichurri, a sauce of herbs, garlic and vinegar. Russian salad, a potato salad with green olives, also is popular.
Walk into a Brazilian steakhouse, called a churrascaria, and don’t worry about a menu. There isn’t one. The food is served rodizio style, a lavish all-you-can-eat feast where servers come to your table with skewers of fired meats, and slice it onto your plate. Savor filet mignon, churrasco (flank steak), sausage and chicken wrapped in bacon. (You turn over a little card at your table to signal servers when you want more.) Help yourself to an expansive salad bar, with traditional sides like rice and beans, Brazilian rice, a yellow rice seasoned with meat, or classic Brazilian sweets like papaya mousse or cream.
To taste Latin cuisine’s lighter side, head to a Peruvian restaurant. Try ceviche, bits of seafood such as mussels, shrimp, fish or octopus cured in a marinade of peppers, onions and lemon or lime juice. If raw is your thing, tiradito is a thinly-sliced raw fish carpaccio served with a spicy sauce. Looking for comfort food? You’ll find grilled, sautéed, stewed or fried fish, beef and chicken served with flavorful sauces and potatoes or tostones, twice-fried plantains. Signature sides include causa, a potato salad-like dish layered with chicken, tuna or other seafood, and chaufa, a Chinese-style fried rice with meat or seafood.
You don’t even have to find a Cuban restaurant for a taste of Cuba. Stop at a Cuban bakery for strong, sweet Cuban coffee and pastelitos, flaky pastries filled with guava and cream cheese. It’s where you can also find party snack staples like bocaditos, little sandwiches filled with ham spread, and croquetas, fried breaded appetizer sticks stuffed with a creamy ham or chicken spread. At a Cuban eatery, sit down to hearty portions of beef (ropa vieja), pork (lechon mojo) or chicken (pollo a la parrilla) cooked until tender. Typical sides are black beans and rice, yuca, a starchy root vegetable, and plantain, which is similar to a banana, but not as sweet.