One of the main challenge when travelling in South America for a while, is the food. You can be easy with food as much as I am, it still won’t take too long before you get over the local food. There is only so many almuerzos to handle before you get sick of them. The issue resides on the fact there are way too much carbs, oily dishes, lack of taste and almost certain the food will eventually upset your stomach.
So what’s an almuerzo in the first place? Well it’s actually a typical lunch here, your local ‘menu of the day’ if you prefer. The type of meals here are: desayunos (breakfast), almuerzos (lunch) and cena (dinner). I am focusing on almuerzo because from one country to another, it doesn’t change much, while breakfast and dinner can vary a fair bit.
The almuerzo is attractive because it is dirt cheap, between $1.5 to $4 depending on the country. Your typical almuerzo is made of this amazing combo: soup for entree (best part of the meal as it’s normally vegetables and a piece of meat to add flavour) followed by the “Segundo” (main) made of white rice, french fries – often not cooked – a fried egg, some sort of meat (mostly pollo = chicken, but beef or porc can also be found), a fried banana (platano as they call it here) and few veggies on the side. And also plenty of sauce to make the all thing flavoursome because, without it, might not taste great. Oh, and they also come with either a nice fresh juice (Colombia, Bolivia) or some soda so full of sugar, it will make you diabetic in one sip (Ecuador, Peru).
At first we all enjoy it, so much food for so cheap. But again, the lack of flavour, the fact that your stomach will get upset quickly and the oily smell passing by those places, will soon make you switch to something lighter such as Hamburgers and Sandwiches; also always serves with uncooked french fries…
Some countries are better than others and surprisingly the cheapest of all, Bolivia, turned out to be one of the best. Since I arrived here, I was lucky to meet a traveller who showed me where to find good food in La Paz (thanks Anna!). And we all had a blast in the Bolivian capital, eating delicious Thai, Japanese and even great European food (I would never have thought of having an amazing tartiflette in a Swiss restaurant in Bolivia). However other countries such as Peru, Ecuador or even Colombia really lack of options to choose from, especially Ecuador, which is a real shame because there are some great local products, you just wonder what they do with them.
An alternative is to cook your own meals. I have met few travellers who preferred to buy some products at the local market and make some simple but tasty dish. That’s definitely an option if you like or know how to cook. The other option is to eat vegetarian dishes, which does offer a better alternative as you are mainly eating great vegetables and soups.
I have to admit, I have caught myself ending up at some american fast food places (Burger King not to name it) few times, not because it felt like home, as I actually don’t eat fast food at home, but because it’s an affordable alternative. Luckily I am out of Ecuador and Peru, currently in Bolivia and soon heading to countries that know how to make great meals: Chile, Argentina, Brasil and then Mexico.
I got to say, I cannot wait to eat their local dish and awesome meat feast. And I now do have a lot of respect to all those expats that I have met leaving for a year in Peru or Ecuador. I dedicate this blog post to my friend Lucas who, I know, is struggling in Ecuador right now.
Hang in there guys, hang in there. Christmas is around the corner.