Latin food flavors have multiple connections

Photo by Arturo Robles/ Arizona Sonora News Service.
Photo by Arturo Robles/ Arizona Sonora News Service.

 

South American and Latin American flavors are finding their way into Mexican cuisine.

An Agricultural Marketing Resource Center study shows Mexicans are now the largest minority group living in the U.S., and within the restaurant industry Mexican food consumption is increasing faster than any other segment.

Chicken and cheese enchiladas. Fajitas. Bean and cheese burritos. Little taquitos with salsa. They are all ideal Mexican meals in the United States.

But Peruvian, Venezuelan, Brazilian and other Latin American cuisines are leavening influence on Mexican flavors.

Inca’s Peruvian Cuisine, 6878 E. Sunrise Drive in Tucson, contributes to the emerging Latin taste..

Photo by Arturo Robles/ Arizona Sonora News Service.
Photo by Arturo Robles/ Arizona Sonora News Service.

Restaurant Owner Luis Campos sees that trend.

“Mexicans and Americans love food that they are familiar with and is similar to their own,” Campos said. “An example would be Ceviche (a seafood dish). Ceviche is from Mexico, yet as a Peruvian restaurant, we serve it, too, and it’s a hit. I have people from Mexico and all around Tucson coming in to taste our ceviche.

“The difference with ours compared to that of Mexican ceviche are the chiles we put in. It’s all in our own spices.”

An example, Campos said, is the Mexican dish chile colorado. It consists of rice, beans and beef with a unique blend of red salsa sauce on top of the beef.

Incorporating and using the red chile sauce is what one would use with chile colorado and also used with the Peruvian dish lomo saltado, which consists of beef, onions, potatoes, rice and finally the red chile sauce on top of the beef.

Traditionally, lomo saltado is served without sauce on top of the beef, but some restaurants are merging the styles.

“There is Mexican influences in the Peruvian cuisine and all Latin American cuisines and vise versa,” Campos said. “It’s the spiciness that makes our food similar. We all love it. That’s probably a reason why our restaurant has attracted so many people, because most of our dishes have a spicy flavor that almost mimics Mexican food.”

Photo by Arturo Robles/ Arizona Sonora News Service.
Photo by Arturo Robles/ Arizona Sonora News Service.

Arizona cuisine is dominated by Mexican culture, so it seems prudent for restaurant entrepreneurs to adapt Mexican flavor.

William Zambrano is part owner of family restaurant Ricuras De Venezuela cuisine, a Venezuelan food truck.  Zambrano and his family’s method of operating their business is staying authentic.

Zambrano and his family at one point found their restaurant in trouble of shutting down because of slow business.

“Living so close to the border, we tried to stay away from the Mexican style and keep our authenticity,” Zambrano said. “Since we opened the food truck, at one point our popularity was low. We noticed there had been a lot of requests of salsa and spiciness in our food. Our food traditionally doesn’t have any spicy taste, so it was weird to us.

“We had to change something because business was bad and we were on the verge of shutting down, so we made a spicy sauce with ingredients from Mexico and since then business has boomed.”

Not all Latin American food that is not Mexican should have flavors from Mexico to stay in business. Latin American food in its entirety is a mixture of multiple Spanish flavors.

Those flavors stem from the roots of the Hispanic culture, said Lydia Welch, chef and founder of the Latino Culinary Institute. Welch believes that not one Hispanic cuisine owns one specific flavor, but that Latin American food in its entirety is one entity.

“It’s all on the flavor profile of the region. You can’t come in with a new concept and expect it to be a success,” Welch said. “When you do or do not fit the flavor profile of the region, you please the consumers even if that does mean incorporating ingredients from different countries.”

Arturo Robles a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact him at arobles94@email.arizona.edu

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