Cheesey Street Foods Of Latin America

With the possible exception of Argentina, most people don’t associate Central or South America with cheese. Like all of Latin America, these countries are a mix of indigenous cultures, colonizing forces, immigrant influences, and varied terroir, climatic extremes, and levels of industrialization. They possess some of the most biologically and geographically diverse habitats on earth. As a result, the cuisine and agricultural practices of each country have developed accordingly.

The use of dairy may not be particularly diverse in this part of the world, especially when it comes to styles of cheese, but it’s an important source of nutrition and income in rural areas, and a part of nearly every meal.

While writing a book on cheese during the course of this past year, I tapped into my rather obsessive love of both street food and South America for inspiration. As I learned during my research, the sheer variety of cheesey street snacks from Mexico to Tierra del Fuego are as varied as the ethnic influences responsible for their creation. Read on for a tasty tribute to queso.

Arepas: These flat little corn or flour cakes from Colombia, Venezuela and Panama may be grilled, baked, boiled, or fried. They’re usually stuffed or topped with a melting cheese, but may also feature meat, chicken, seafood, egg, or vegetables.

Anafres: Essentially Honduran nachos, composed of giant tortilla chips, refried beans and melted cheese. Named for an anafre, the coal-fired clay pot the dish is served in.

Pupusas: This Salvadorean staple is similar to an arepa: a thick, griddled corn cake stuffed with meat, cheese–usually a mild melting variety known as quesillo–chicarrones (pork cracklings), or queso con loroco (cheese with the buds or flowers of a vine native to Central America).Choclo con queso: Boiled corn with slices or a chunk of mild, milky, fresh white cheese may not sound like much, but this roadside and market staple of Peru and Ecuador is irresistible. The secret is the corn, which is an indigenous Andean variety with large, white, nutty, starchy kernels. It’s satisfying as a snack all by itself, but it’s even better between bites of slightly salty queso.

Empanadas (empadinhas in Brazil): Perhaps the most ubiquitous Latin American street food, riffs on these baked or fried, stuffed pastries can be found from Argentina (where they’re practically a religion) and Chile to Costa Rica and El Salvador. The dough, which is usually lard-based, may be made from wheat, corn or plantain, with fillings ranging from melted, mild white cheese to meat, seafood, corn, or vegetables. In Ecuador, empanadas de viento (“wind”) are everywhere; they’re fried until airy,filled with sweetened queso fresco and dusted with powdered sugar.

Quesadillas: Nearly everyone loves these crisp little tortilla and cheese “sandwiches.” Traditionally cooked on a comal (a flat, cast-iron pan used as a griddle), they’re a popular street food and equally beloved Stateside.

Provoleta: This Argentinean and Uruguayan favorite is made from a domestic provolone cheese. It’s often seasoned with oregano or crushed chile, and grilled or placed on hot stones until caramelized and crispy on the exterior, and melted on the inside. It’s often served at asados (barbecues) as an appetizer, and accompanied by chimmichuri (an oil, herb, and spice sauce).

Queijo coaljo: A firm, white, salty, squeaky cheese from Brazil; it’s most commonly sold on the beach on a stick, after being cooked over coals or in handheld charcoal ovens; also known as queijo assado.

Croquettes de Queijo: Cheese croquettes, a favorite appetizer or street food in Brazil.

Coxinhas: A type of Brazilian salgado (snack), these are popular late-night fare. Typically, coxinhas are shredded chicken coated in wheat or manioc flour that have been shaped into a drumstick, and fried. A variation is stuffed with catupiry, a gooey white melting cheese reminiscent of Laughing Cow. Like crack. Crack.

Queijadinhas: These irresistable little cheese custards are a popular snack in Brazil. Like Pringles, stopping at just one is nearly impossible.

Pão de queijo: Made with tapioca or wheat flour, these light, cheesy rolls are among the most popular breads in Brazil.

[Photo credit: Empanada, Flickr user ci_polla; food vendor, Provoleta, Laurel Miller]

A local point of view of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

“Então, você é do Rio de Janeiro?” asked the tan, freckled girl next to me on my flight from Miami, Florida, to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

I stared at her, unsure of what she’d said. “Inglés?”

“You speak English?” she asked, her eyes widening with excitement. “My mother is an English teacher. You have to meet her! What do you have planned for your time in Rio?”

I confided in her that I didn’t have much of anything planned. And this is how I got to experience Rio de Janeiro from a local point of view with my new best friend Clarissa leading the way.

What is so unique about the city of Rio de Janeiro is its beautiful beaches, cosmopolitan architecture, lush forests and unique mountains that can all be seen from any one vantage point. It’s also home to very friendly people, as Clarissa explained to me that the locals excitedly showing strangers around the city for no reason is “so Rio.”

I noticed the locals I met were very proud of Rio’s beauty, culture and heritage, and with good reason. While the other big Brazilian city of São Paulo is well known for its over-the-top work ethic and fast-paced style, Rio de Janeiro is more relaxed with a natural attractiveness.


Just because Rio is a beach town doesn’t mean there aren’t historical and educational sites.
For those coming to the city looking to learn about history, there are many options that even the residents consider worthwhile. Rio de Janeiro itself is historical, as it used to be the capital of Brazil until the government realized it wasn´t a good idea to have a capital that was so “exposed.” This is why they moved the capital to Brasília, an area located in the center of the country.My favorite historical site to visit was the Forte de Copacabana (pictured above), a military base located in the southern part of Rio de Janeiro. During the twentieth century, it was built to protect the coast and harbor from attack. Unfortunately, in 1922 rebel officers aimed the fort’s cannons at Rio de Janeiro during a revolt for social change. While the fort is no longer used for coastal defense, visitors can still go and check out the old cannons, architecture and a museum. There is also a charming outdoor restaurant called Confeitaria Colombo (pictured right) that serves a massive brunch with tea, coffee, chocolate, breads, cakes, cereals, yogurt and jams for 39 Reais (roughly US$21) for two people. Confeitaria Colombo has been around since 1894 and you can sit with a peaceful tree-lined avenue and the fort on your one side, and Copacabana Beach and the city skyline on your other. Surfers, kayakers and stand up paddle boarders provide entertainment during the meal.

Clarissa also told me about all of the old churches located in the city, the oldest one being Candelaria. It was the first church in Rio de Janeiro with its construction spanning from 1775 to the late nineteen century. The architecture is a baroque design and the structure itself is massive. While the building was home to many important historical events, such as massive protests and the devastating Candelaria Massacre on July 23, 1993, it is also a very sacred space. Whether you’re into history or not, I would recommend visiting the site and touring both the inside and outside, as it is a beautiful church that locals are very proud of. While telling me about the site, Clarissa also added that if you want to get married in Candelaria you should expect to pay an exorbitant amount of money.

I also enjoyed a visit led by my spontaneous local guide to the Teatro Municipal. It’s a theater located in the city center that was built in the early twentieth century. The building’s design was based on the Paris Opera, and the venue is a big part of the city’s art and cultural past in terms of foreign operas and symphonic orchestras. Today, the program of this grand theater has expanded and ballet and classical pieces are popular. If you don’t want to see a show, simply visit the theater to see the luxurious interior and grand design, or visit at night when it is all lit up.


While many tourists head straight to Ipanema near Vinicius de Morais – a street named after the composer of the 1950’s hit song “Girl From Ipanema” – there are many other beautiful beaches with unique personalities. Start at Copacabana Beach (pictured right), which features impressive city-like architecture, the historical Copacabana Fort, impressive works of colorful sand art and an array of water and land activities. This beach is low-key and attracts a diverse crowd.

If you’re in the mood for a more VIP experience, make your way to Ipanema or Leblon Beach. Both are in upscale, expensive neighborhoods and attract only the most beautiful people, with these trendy, sexy beaches being no different. There are also very classy restaurants and lounges in the area, but only go if you have money to spend. On Sundays in Ipanema there is an excellent market from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. in General Osório Square.

Barra Beach, although a bit hard to get to due to its traffic-heavy location, is in a more commercial setting. What’s great about this beach is it’s in completely open sea and away from the favelas. It’s also known for having very clean water and big waves that attract international surfers. If you’re looking for peace and quiet, head a little farther to Reserve Beach, which is in a completely protected area and has a very relaxed, calm setting. This is one of the beaches most loved by locals.

Once you get into the more mountainous, forest-covered areas, you will feel like you’re in a different city. The rare stretch of beauty starts with Macumba Beach, which is not only secluded within nature, but also a popular camping area. Next is the beach known by many locals as “the most beautiful beach in Rio,” Prainha Beach. Prainha is excellent for surfing and has a very small-town feel. Nearby, you will find an enormous flat rock in the water where locals sunbathe and try to catch fish. Pass a large mountain on your right and you will come to another amazing spot, Grumari Beach. This area is so hidden and off-the-beaten path that Argentine football (soccer) player Lionel Messi goes there to hide out. And if you’re feeling a little frisky, the nude beach is only seconds away behind the nearby rocks.


As Rio de Janeiro is located in a very mountainous area, it’s no surprise that hiking is such a big part of local culture. While almost everyone has heard of Sugarloaf Mountain (pictured right), there is an array of worthwhile trails to discover. Pico Da Tijuca, located in an urban forest, is beautiful and easily accessible. It’s in a protected area and local fauna can be found like monkeys, snakes, frogs, birds and butterflies. Corcovado is another rare treat, as a trek to the top will bring you face-to-face with Jesus Christ himself – well, an enormous statue of him, anyway. The views from the top allow you to see the entire city at once.

The above-mentioned Sugarloaf is another great hike, and tourists and locals alike love the experience. Made of granite and quartz, the sugarloaf-resembling mass rises 1,299 feet above the Guanabara Bay with sweeping views of land, sea, forest and hills. Another unique formation is Pedra da Gavea, which resembles a sleeping giant. Here, trekkers can hike up a massive “nose” while wondering how such an odd shape could have been created by nature. There are also cryptic carvings and ancient inscriptions that make the site even more mysterious.
For an interesting mountain view, check out Two Brothers. While you can’t climb this unique natural formation, the two Siamese mountain twins make for a great photo, especially when viewed during a sunset from Ipanema Beach.


While you can find great food all over Rio de Janeiro, if you’re looking to dine where the locals do and eat typical Brazilian specialties, there are a few worthwhile places Clarissa introduced me to. For those wanting to sample famous Brazilian churrascaria, get dressed up and visit Churrascaria Porcao. Located near the airport in Flamengo, the traditional BBQ venue attracts high-class clientele and business people. Moreover, like most churrascarias you should expect to pay 80 Reais (roughly US$44) or more. While pricey, the meat, salad and seafood buffet is worth every penny, especially since there is a wall made of glass offering gorgeous views of the water. For something a little less traditional but just as classy and delicious, try Rio Brasa. Located in both Leblon and Barra, this trendy BBQ restaurant offers some of the best tasting meat in the country.

Another local dining trend in Rio de Janeiro is to go to a restaurant where you can enjoy imported beers, handcrafted brews and caipirinhas, and creative appetizers with an international and local fusion. One place to try this is Academia de Cachaça, which features outdoor seating and an array of specialty caipirinhas. I tried a peanut-infused one as well as one flavored with passion fruit and realized that, while I have sipped on cocktails in the United States that went by the same name, you’ve never really had a caipirinha until you’ve visited Brazil. They are extremely strong and flavorful, and just one will knock you right off your chair. For an appetizer, Carissa and I shared manioc balls baked with cheese and served on a bed of sweet chili sauce (pictured above). They reminded me of very delicious sweet and spicy tater tots. Devassa is another chain eatery with a similar concept, although a bit quirkier. The name literally means “horny,” and when ordering beers, patrons are asked questions like “would you like a horny blonde?” or “are you in the mood for a horny brunette?”


There are generally two areas that locals go to for nightlife: Lapa and Ipanema/Leblon. Both attract two different crowds. Lapa is where you should go if you’re looking for a casual but lively atmosphere where anything goes and everyone is accepted. All styles of music are played and it is truly a cultural experience. If you’re looking for something trendier with a more upscale crowd and sexy people, Ipanem and Leblon are where you’ll want to go. The venues are fancy, but you’ll be immersing yourself in a very classy and luxurious atmosphere. Before choosing your main spot for the night, pre-game at the ultra sexy Veloso in Leblon, which is where the most beautiful and hip people go. For something a bit more touristy but still enjoyed by locals, you can also head over to the Feira de Sao Cristovão. Here they bring the foods, music and dance from the northeast region of Brazil to Rio de Janeiro. While the party goes on every night from 8:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m., the weekends are where you’ll experience the most music and dance. Just be sure to take a taxi home and be careful, as the area surrounding the fair can sometimes be dangerous.

World’s largest cruise ship to feature Samba Grill

The Allure of the Seas will debut a new specialty restaurant for Royal Caribbean International, the Samba Grill, a South America-style churrascaria.

The grill is one of the few unique features that will distinguish the 5,400-passenger Allure from its sister ship, the Oasis of the Seas, when she debuts in November The Solarium Bistro, situated in the ship’s adults-only Solarium, will be transformed into Samba Grill by night, with waiters will wear gaucho costumes and serve grilled meat from skewers. By day it will serve healthy fare for breakfast and lunch.

On the Oasis, the Solarium Bistro serves healthy fare for all three meals, adding a dinner and dancing under the stars ambience at night for a $20 surcharge. Samba Grill will carry a $25 cover charge for the entire menu. It will also offer a $15 vegetarian option offering an extensive salad bar.

Norwegian Cruise Line also introduced a churrascaria on its newest ship earlier this summer; the Norwegian Epic debuted the Moderno Churrascaria.

Riodizio Churrascaria

If my memory serves me correctly, it had been three years since I last pleasured my taste-buds with non-stop meat sliced off the skewer from a Brazilian steakhouse. So to have had the opportunity to samba with well seasoned lamb, prime rib, sirloin, chicken, and all the meat imaginable, I was extremely overjoyed! The only problem was I didn’t have a huge appetite and when you walk into the doors of Riodizio Churrascaria you’re going to want to be very hungry. Having had a large lunch earlier and no plans to swing by Riodizio, I was a little unprepared, but that didn’t stop me from gormandizing for the night.

Green means go and red means halt, but for the most part my coaster was green all night and even when it was red, with a smile I would be offered a warm succulent piece of meat from the skewer. How could I refuse? Yes! With big eyes I said, “yes, yes,” to almost every piece of meat that came around and this was only after I had tackled the salad bar. I knew I was probably way in over my head, but there is something about Brazilian cuisine that has that effect on me. I’ll spare you every greedy detail of my personal feast, but I offer you the same advice as earlier if you plan on going.

Be hungry. The dinner is a flat rate of $40 excluding wine and other beverages to wash it all down.

Riodizio Churrascaria is located at 388 Willis Avenue, Roslyn Heights, NY 11577. Ph. 516.621.4646