Turns Out Pupusas And Hundreds Of Other Latin American Dishes Are Strongly Rooted In Colonization
Amigos, this is not the article to read if you’re feeling hungry. Or, maybe it is – if you’re up for a challenge! Just don’t blame your rumbling stomach on us. We’ve put together a quick primer on how our favorite foods from Latin America came about.
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When you’re eating a taco, you’re partaking in not just any old history – you’re experiencing a piece of ancient history. Why? Because the humble taco predates the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in Mexico! Apparently, anthropologists have found evidence that the indigenous people living in the lake region of the Valley of Mexico traditionally ate tacos with a filling made of small fish. In fact, Hernán Cortés enjoyed tacos so much that he arranged them for his captains to try in Coyoacán.
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Okay, so we may not know the story behind how the modern burrito came about. But, there’s plenty that points to the Mesoamerican people being the inventors of the original burrito. They were in the habit of wrapping corn tortillas around fillings made of chili peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms, squash, and avocados way back in 10,000 B.C. And yet, somehow the burrito, in all its delicious goodness, made its way through time to first appear on an American restaurant menu during the 1930s.
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If there’s anything we can say about churros, it’s that they’ve been around for hundreds of years. Where they got their start from, though, is shrouded in mystery. One theory suggests that they made their way to Europe thanks to the Portuguese messing with a Chinese recipe for youtiao – the Chinese version of a churro. Another theory says that Spanish shepherds used to make them while they were in the mountains since they are so easy to make and fry in an open fire.
4. Cuban Sandwiches
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Back in the late 1800s and early 1900s, travel between Cuba and Florida was a lot easier than what it is now – especially from Key West and Tampa. It was pretty common for Cubans to sail back and forth for work, family visits, and even holidays. It is said that the Cuban sandwich was invented around this time since it was a pretty common lunch food for the workers in Cuban cigar factories and sugar mills.
5. Ropa vieja
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The recipe for ropa vieja is at least 500 years old, which has given us plenty of time to perfect it. It originated with the Jewish population living on the Iberian peninsula in Spain. As the Sabbath was a time for prayer and reflection, not cooking, the Jewish people would slow-cook a delectable stew the night before. Clearly, the dish was so good that the Spanish brought the recipe with them when they migrated to Latin America, where it has been a staple ever since.
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It is thought that mangú originated in the Congo region in Africa, where it was common to eat boiled mashed plantains. From there, it is likely that the recipe made its way across the seas to Latin America during the times of slave trading. Apparently, the name comes from something along the lines of “mangusi”, referring to pretty much any root vegetable that was boiled and mashed.
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The recipe for tostones is so old that most have forgotten its origins. But, most believe that it’s from the Dominican Republic since it’s the only place that has kept the original dish’s name. Plus, there are some pretty similar recipes in the area: think along the lines of mofongo, arañitas, alcapurria and tostones de pana.
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The earliest evidence of pupusas have been found in the ruins of Joya de Cerén in El Salvador – for those of you that need to brush up on your history, that’s basically El Salvador’s Pompeii. Believe it or not, cooking tools for papusas were preserved among the ashes of the centuries-old ruins! It’s estimated that papusas were eaten around 2000 years ago by the Pipil tribes of the region.
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Brigadeiro was invented in 1945, just after the end of World War II. Brazil had entered the campaign season for its presidential elections, and one candidate, the gorgeous Brigadier Eduardo Gomes, was enormously popular among women. His most devoted followers decided to take his election campaign into their own hands and made candy to be sold in his name. Considering how scarce foodstuffs were after the war, they got creative, mixing condensed milk with butter and chocolate to create the recipe we know and love today. It turns out brigadeiro survived a lot longer than the Brigadier’s political career – in the end, he didn’t even get elected.
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It is thought that empanadas were originally created in Galicia, which is to the northwest of Spain. Apparently, the recipe was recorded in the Libre del Coch by Robert de Nola in 1520 – the first cookbook that was printed in the Catalan language. Chances are it was eaten by the King of Naples, Ferdinand I since Robert de Nola served as his cook. The original recipe mentions empanadas filled with seafood.
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Even though churrasco is known for being a Brazilian cuisine, apparently it got its popularity in the region after Portuguese settlers imported it in the 1700s. Brazilian cowboys, or gaúchos, were known for chowing down on churrasco after a hard day herding cattle on the ranches. The traditional method of preparing churrasco would see gaúchos start by digging large fire pits. They would then wait around the fire for the wood to turn to embers before skewering the meat.
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Chipá has been around since human settlements developed in the Guarani region, over a thousand years ago, meaning that it’s been a staple in Paraguay, Northeastern Argentina, Southeastern Bolivia, and Southwestern Brazil for a long, long time. Back in the day, the original recipe for chipá saw it prepared with simply cassava starch and water. Colonization and the arrival Jesuit missionaries saw the introduction of cattle, chickens and other livestock to the area, which then resulted in more ingredients being added to the original recipe. Over time, this transformed chipá into the dish we eat today.
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Mole has a bit of a contentious history. Why? Because there are two states in Mexico that claim to be the proud inventory of mole: Puebla and Oaxaca. And, sure, the best-known mole comes from both of those areas, so it’s hard to say which state has the better claim to the title. While the true origins of mole may never be known, what we do know is that the first recipes for mole appeared after the Mexican War of Independence in 1810.
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It’s been thought that ceviche originated in a few different places around the world – from Peru to the Philippines, to Ecuador, and even the Polynesian islands in the South Pacific, since so many civilizations seemed to enjoy some variation of the recipe. That being said, most historians agree that the beginnings of ceviche as we know it today was brought to Peru by the Spanish during colonial times.
So which Latin American dish is your favorite from our list? Tell us about it on Twitter – you can find it by clicking on the logo at the top of the page.