Living in South America for the last two years has allowed me to discover lots and lots of yummy sweet treats. Thankfully this continent is filled with my fellow dessert-aholics. Out of all the treats I’ve come across, here are my top 5 choices. If you are heading to South America, you just have to try these!
Dulce de Leche/Arequipe
This delicious, yummy goodness is found from Mexico all the way to the bottom of Argentina. It goes by different names in the different countries – dulce de leche in Argentina, manjar blanco in Peru, arequipe in Colombia – and every country, of course, claims to have the best version. The recipes do change slightly but basically it is sweetened and caramelized milk, sometimes with a pinch of vanilla. Look for it in any supermarket and expect it to be served at both breakfast, with jam and bread, and at dessert time on cookies or in cakes.
I know not everyone is into the super sweet, sugary desserts but if you are in the Northern areas of South America, have no fear. Fruit, from mangos to pineapples to strawberries, are all grown in the southern hemisphere. If you are near the Caribbean, look for street vendors serving up freshly cut fruit and mixed fruit salads. The other great thing about this dessert is how cheap it is. You can often get a whole pineapple for just a few cents in most South American countries.
Tres Leches Cake
I have to rant for a moment. Cake in South America is way too dense. I’m always missing the light, fluffy cakes from the US but I’ve finally, after months of searching, found an amazing South American cake. Imagine a yummy sponge cake soaked in a combination of cream, condensed milk, and evaporated milk, topped with whipped cream, and served with fresh fruit. You have to taste it to believe it. The best part about this cake is that it is so popular in Latin America and comes in dozens of different flavors – chocolate, coconut, and even rum!
Ok, remember how awesome dulce de leche was? Now imagine in sandwiched between two cookies and then all of it covered in a layer of chocolate! Alfajores can be found in every Argentinian market and plenty of markets in Chile too. While dulce de leche is the typical filling, these cooking sandwiches also come with fillings of jam, chocolate, vanilla, cream, etc. The most famous alfajores are made by the company Havanna but I suggest making it a competition to see how many different varieties you can try.
Yep, South Americans love combining cheese with their sweets. In Colombia they dunk whole chunks of cheese in their hot chocolate and in many countries hard cheese is served with jams, jellies, fruit, and other sweets. This is a tradition brought over by the Spanish, where dessert cheeses are more common, but it definitely throws off many travelers from North America. My favorite cheesy dessert would be guava jelly served with slices of traditional Colombian cheese (the cheese is chewier than normal cheese).
Couple Travel Tips
- Always order two desserts! You can share and you’ll get to try twice as many.
- Tres leches cake has a lot of ingredients that can easily spoil so you’re better off only ordering it at a cafe or restaurant that looks clean and if the cake looks a little too soggy, just pass.
- There are hundreds of “regional” specialities when it comes to desserts. Make friends with a local and you might get lucky and end up with “Grandma’s extra special, secret recipe.”