Running out for a cafecito, pulling up to a roadside a fritura shack, popping into your neighborhood bodega for a small bite? If yes, you'll leave with a delicious snack wrapped tight in a brown paper bag. Though associated with school lunches in the U.S., these brown paper bags have a completely different meaning in Latin American countries, where they carry freshly made dishes intended for eating on the go. Here, in honor of National Brown-Bag-It Day, are a few of our favorite Latin "sack lunches."
Most Latin American countries have a version of the empanada. The crust is a perfect mix of crispy, flaky and chewy, and the filling is juicy enough to cause anyone wearing white serious concern. From the workhorse beef empanada to the exotic empanada tucumana and everything in-between, they are the common denominator of workplace get-togethers and family gatherings.
Crunchy, salty, and crispy snacks like potato chips, pop-corn or carb-free chicharones (pork rinds) are ubiquitous in Latin American countries. Stop at any roadside stand or fritura shack and you'll be able to load up on these small bites, thrown into a funneled brown bag and often topped with a few driops of vinegar-based hot sauce to turn up the volume on the spice level and set your lips on fire.
Sandwich de Milanesa
The idea of breading a slice of meat is not unique, but in Argentina, they have made it their own. Great local beef sliced as thin as a steady hand and a razor sharp knife allow is soaked in an egg-wash with parsley and then breaded and fried until crisp and golden. Placed between two chubby halves of a mini-baguette, accompanied by some lettuce, cheese and tomato, this is the soul of Argentine cuisine, from street vendors in Buenos Aires to remote truck stops in Patagonia.
Bolinho de Bacalhau
In Brazil, one of the handiest foods on the go are fritters, fried snacks that go by the general term pastéis. Bolinho de Bacalhau is one of the most common, and is served by street vendors and botecos. This codfish fritter has a golden, crunchy crust with a fluffy center and is usually served with a wedge of lime.
Medialunas de Manteca
Medialunas are Argentina’s take on the croissant, designed to soothe the same sweet tooth that grew up with dulce de leche and alfajores. Heavy on butter and basted with a sugary glaze, they are chewy, with just the right amount of sweetness to make the perfect mate for morning coffee. Winter or summer, this combination is the defining feature of the porteño breakfast.
For any true sandwich lover, weeping will be the likely reaction to the chivito. The tears, however, will be tears of reverence and joy. This mighty sandwich, a shrine to carnivorous decadence and the scourge of arteries and vegetarians, is consumed daily in massive quantities throughout the country of Uruguay, but particularly in the capital, Montevideo, and nearby Punte del Este, where it originated. It's a combination of a quality steak filet, a few slices of tomato, lettuce, smoked pancetta, and mozzarella on a fresh, white bread roll. It's some serious sandwich magic.
Deep fried, crunchy, and generously dusted with powdered sugar (and sometime slathered with chocolate or dulce de leche), the churro is the ultimate brown bag snack. Popular in Latin American countries, these sweet bites are often served with afternoon cafe, though few can wait all day to take a bite.