African. Italian. Jewish. All these cultures (and so, so many more) have left a lasting impact on the Latin world. From the animals we raise to the vegetables we grow to the music we create to the way we dance, the Latin culture is a fusion, a true melting pot. And that's never more evident than in the food.
To taste a Latin dish is really to get a taste of the whole world. Whether it's Asian or African influences, Italian, Japanese, or Peruvian, two cultures coming together only makes food better. In celebration, we're pooling together some of our favorite fusion dishes. While we're sure you'll recognize most of the dishes in this slideshow, their origins will be sure to surprise you.
The history of Judaism in Latin America dates back to the discovery of the New World itself: it's believed that newly converted Christians of Jewish ancestry fleeing Europe during the Inquisition settled in colonies in the Caribbean and South America. Today, there are up to half a million Jewish Latinos living in Latin America and Argentina is home to the sixth largest Jewish community in the world; more than 50,000 people practicing Judaism call Mexico home; and more than 100,000 people make up the Jewish community in Brazil.
This dish is representative of the delicious fusion. Latkes are traditionally served during Hannukkah. Here, they're made with Latin ingredients: the latkes, a combination of potato and yucca, are fried until crispy and golden and then topped with a sweet and tropical mango jam and a bright and smooth lime crema.
Stroll the streets of Buenos Aires and you're likely to find plenty of pizza next to the parillas. Italian immigration to Argentina began in the 19th century, around the time Argentina won independence from Spain and during a time of great economic and political upheaval for Italy. The country was fighting poverty, overpopulation, and staggering levels of unemployment and Italians saw Argentina as a land of opportunity. Now, Argentina is home to the second largest Italian population in the world outside of Italy; two third's of the population in Uruguay has some Italian background; and 15 percent of Brazil's population is made up of people of Italian descent.
So it's not surprising that you'll see plenty of Italian touches in the food, like the classic Argentine dish, the milanesa. Originally named after the city of Milano, this dish of a thinly fried and breaded cutlet is now served in restaurants all over Argentina. While a squeeze of lemon is sometimes enough to accompany a milanesa, this recipe takes it one step further. A thin coating of tomato sauce over the crispy crust, melty cheese, and a sprinkling of oregano pumps up the Italian flavor.
In the Caribbean (the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rica, Cuba, and more), you'll find African influence in most parts of the culture: the music, the dancing, and especially the food. The African influence dates back 400 years, to the beginning of the slave trade; by 1600 nearly 50% of Cuba’s population was African. Among the many ingredients Africans brought with them are root vegetables and okra, both of which are present in most Caribbean dishes.
This Cuban-Afro fusion dish, quimbombó, uses both. Cuban quimbombó is a bit like gumbo: the fundamental elements are always the same, but everyone has his or her own recipe. This version is made with onion, tomato, bacon, and of course, okra.
Yes, that is a slight Asian touch you're detecting in Peruvian cuisine. Japanese Peruvians are the second largest ethnic Japanese population in Latin America after Brazil and they make up 1 percent of Peru's population. The country was the first in Latin America to establish diplomatic relations with Japan and immigrants, who first arrived to work in the fields, quickly settled into major cities. Since then, they've left their mark on Peruvian food (it's though that Japanese chefs in Lima first taught Peruvians how to cut fish for ceviche and tiraditos) and now Nikkei cuisine (Peruvian-Japanese fusion) is widely recognized.
This Yellowtail Ceviche Taco recipe is a great example of it: it's a new spin on the classic fish tacos. Made with bright ceviche and then stuffed into crispy fried taco-shaped wontons, this Asian fusion dish will have you reaching for more.
No list of Latin fusion cuisine is complete without mention of Tex-Mex, regional American cooking that blends U.S. ingredients with Mexican cooking techniques. Though there was likely always a crossover in the border states, the word dates back to 1875 with the creation of the Texas Mexican Railway, abbreviated in newspapers as Tex. Mex. Though the history is debated, it's likely that the bulk of the cuisine was developed by Tejanos, Texans of Mexican heritage, and took hold after the U.S. Civil War.
The food is characterized by its heavy use of cheese and meat, cooked in Mexican style and served with traditional Mexican ingredients, like tortillas. This fajita recipe is common on Tex Mex menus. It uses skirt steak, a star ingredient in the ranching culture of the border, marinated in tequila, citrus, and garlic, then cooked until sizzling. Serve with salsa, guacamole, and a mound of shredded cheese for the true Tex-Mex experience.