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Spicy Latin Food

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I realized something last night that I want to confirm here. My conclusion is that in all of Latin America (excluding the Caribbean), Mexico is the only country that has spicy food. And even the Latin countries in the Caribbean don't have a lot of spicy food though Jamaica/Trinidad definitely do.

Now, I realize you can find hot dishes everywhere. But, as a general principle of their cuisine, I don't think any other country embraces spice (in the heat sense). I was thinking about this from our pupusa thread when some posters mentioned spicy curtido/salsa. I was just in El Salvador a week ago and they definitely do not like spicy food, with very few exceptions. If it's spicy here, that would be an American/Mexican influence.

So, am I wrong? Is there a South American country that loves spicy food? I guess this revelation (for me) is particularly interesting from a historical perspective since all chili peppers originated from Central/South America.

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  1. I had some homemade Peruvian lomo saltado (way better than the restaurants around here) and the peppers were keeping my mouth quite lively with the heat. Just the perfect amount of heat for me which I like more than most.

    1. What distinguishes Mexican cooking isn't the use of a lot of hot chiles, but more the use of mild to medium hot ones. Mole sauces are perhaps the best examples - complex without being particularly hot. Often the heat in the meal comes from 'salsas' served with the meal, rather than heat in the soup or stews themselves.

      I'd rank Peru as second in the use of chiles. Again, not everything is hot. But there are some dishes known for being hot. Some sauces are hot, though others as mild as mayonnaise.

      Ecuador doesn't many dishes that traditionally hot, but a condiment of freshly made 'aji' is always present at the restaurant table.

      1. First of all what is your definition of Latin America? Central America only?

        Need some clarity on that before I make a comment

        3 Replies
        1. re: LewisvilleHounder

          Mexico plus Central and South America.

          Not really looking for a dish that is spicy but more a defining characteristic of the cuisine. Thai food is spicy. Indian food is spicy. **please don't tell me there are non-spicy Thai and Indian dishes, I know**. I don't think you could label any Latin food as spicy, outside of Mexican.

          Just thought about this yesterday and find it interesting since chile peppers have been part of the South American diet for thousands of years but didn't make it to Asia/Europe/Africa until about 500 years ago.

          1. re: demigodh

            There is a rough correlation between pre-Hispanic use of chiles, persistence of those languages and cultures, and current use of chiles.

            Central and South Mexico still have Indigenous groups with a long use of chiles. Same for the Andes. Costa Rica is mostly immigrants, as are Chile and Argentina.

            Growing conditions are also a factor. Chiles do best in the tropics and subtropics, with some varieties adapted to tropical highlands. With a possible exception of the Pueblos, Indians in the USA did not use chiles. Even in Texas, 'chili' has its roots more in immigrants from the Canary Islands than the aboriginal Tejanos.

            So think less in terms of countries, and more in terms of cultural roots and immigration patterns.

            1. re: paulj

              Very interesting. Thanks!

        2. Jean Andrews and Dave DeWitt have well researched books looking at the use of chiles around the world.