Iconic Street Foods You Can Only Find In South America

South America is an incredibly diverse continent with no shortage of mouthwatering local delicacies that you can sample as you stroll around. From Quito to Ushuaia, the city streets and small towns are bursting with brilliant options that span savory and sweet, hitting on all the notes in between. So whether you're in the mood for a decadent and filling plate of crisp french fries topped with sliced sausages and sauce or you want to go the sweeter route with a thick and dreamy dollop of dulce de leche, South America has you covered.

These epic street foods are tasty, budget-friendly, authentic options with rich culinary histories that speak volumes about their country of origin. Also, while some of the foods on our list might be imitated in other places worldwide, you'll have to hop on a flight and head south of the equator if you want to enjoy them in their true glory.

Anticucho - Peru

Anticucho is Peru's triumphant street food answer to meat and potatoes: tender, grilled beef heart with fragrant cumin, chili, and garlic aromas served alongside grilled potatoes (via Peru Travel). According to BBC, many cherished foods were born out of either ingenuity, necessity, or both, and anticucho certainly fits the bill. As Peru Travel explains, after the Spanish invasion local people had to make do with organ meats and other undesirable cuts. Thus, anticucho came to be and it remains popular centuries later.

Although you'll find the best anticucho on the streets of Lima, Arequipa, or Cuzco, this humble Peruvian favorite has come indoors too, gracing some of Peru's top-rated restaurants (via The Guardian). Still, if you want the real deal, find yourself a streetside vendor serving up perfectly portioned and spiced skewers of anticucho, and don't forget a heaping side of potatoes and Andean corn to round it all off.

Pastel - Brazil

Although plenty of different countries have their own take on a fried dough pocket, Brazil's classic street food rendition is in a tasty league of its own. Brazilian pastéis (singular: pastel) are similar to savory Puerto Rican pasteles (via Tenochtitlan), but with slightly different dough and fillings. They are convenient and portable snacks that act as a quick bite between meals or even as mini-meals themselves. You can usually find these deep-fried delicacies at busy weekend markets, per Culture Trip, or on the streets of any major Brazilian city. For an authentic combination, pair them with a glass of fresh sugarcane juice.

You'll definitely be spoiled for choice; there are pastéis of all shapes and sizes throughout Brazil, from rectangular dough packets to petite moon-shaped gems bursting with savory fillings and spices. If you're craving something sweet, you'll need to go outside the winding streets of Rio for Portuguese pastel de nata, a delicate and decadent egg tart full of velvety custard.

Arepa - Venezuela & Colombia

Arepas are one of the staple foods of both Venezuela and Colombia, and you can find these tasty corn flour-based sandwiches just about anywhere from Caracas to Bogotá. While variations and fillings differ, the primary construction of the arepa is generally the same. Expect a crunchy, satisfying crust and a creamy filling. While Colombians usually pack their arepas with cheese, Venezuelans go a step or three further and top theirs with assorted meats, beans, or layers of cheese (via National Geographic). Colombian arepas tend to be thinner, whereas you'll find thicker, meatier styles in Venezuela.

In addition to the differences in thickness and toppings, Colombians and Venezuelans also argue over who came up with the arepa in the first place (via Latin American Post). This humble street food gem is such a beloved favorite that Venezuelan immigrants even take their precious arepa recipes when they move, spreading the dish to Mexico and other parts of the Americas (via NBC News).

Choripán - Argentina

According to Saveur, choripán is the ultimate summertime dish. It's a brilliant combination of chorizo and chimichurri, sometimes served with a crisp salad or other fixings. Choripán is possibly the most perfect street food to come out of Argentina or anywhere in the Americas. It starts with perfectly cooked chorizo paired with hearty bread, then kicks things up several notches with bright chimichurri sauce. This vinegary, peppery, delicious cilantro-packed condiment makes the sausage sing.

This ideal balance means that choripán is definitely not your standard sausage sammie. Instead, it's got some peppery bite, richness, and flavor from the grilled chorizo, and a soft chewy texture from the bread. Although these sandwiches were born on the streets of Buenos Aires, it's not surprising that they've since been spotted in Chile, Brazil, and Uruguay. So if you head to South America, there's a good chance that you can sink your teeth into a smoky and savory choripán sandwich, and frankly, you'd be a fool not to.

Dulce de Leche - Argentina

Although many countries have their own riffs on dulce de leche, it originated right in the heart of Buenos Aires, Argentina, as the product of a happy accident (via Taste Atlas). As the story goes, the politician Juan Manuel de Rosa distracted his maid as she was making lechada, and the sweet milky beverage reduced into creamy caramel-textured dulce de leche (via Bodega Garzon). Today, you can pick up decadent dulce de leche-inspired treats all over the country and in neighboring Uruguay, where they claim fame for inventing it.

In fact, a not-so-sweet controversy bubbled up between Argentina and Uruguay about the sweet, prompting the latter to unsuccessfully request UNESCO to classify the sticky treat as part of its gastronomic heritage. Regardless of what side of the debate you come down on, you should make a point to sample traditional Argentinian or Uruguayan dulce de leche if you ever find yourself in these parts of South America.

Buñuelos - Colombia

Buñuelos might originally be Spanish, but Colombians elevated the dish by adding a cheese-based dough and selling them everywhere from Cartegena to Leticia. Although you can pick up the addictive, doughy, sweet-and-savory balls of joy any time of the year, they're especially prevalent during the holiday months (via The New York Times). Whether you're naughty, nice, or anything in-between, you're welcome to swing by the charming streets of Bogotá's La Candeleria district and pick up a few hot fresh buñuelos to snack on.

Buñuelos are the ultimate one-bite street food. Although they resemble donut holes in both shape and size, they're doughier and more savory than anything you'll find at Dunkin'. Instead, Colombian buñuelos taste like a combination of crisp fried dough with a creamy cheese-accented center. According to WLRN, you can up the sweetness of your buñuelo by eating it with natilla (a sweet Colombian custard) or washing it down with a cup of hot cocoa.

Salchipapa - Peru

This ultimate Peruvian comfort food is catching on in places like Bolivia and Colombia, but it originated right in the birthplace of the ancient Incas. Salchipapa is a glorious and decadent feast of piping hot french fries, chopped sausages, and various sauces. You can choose conventional toppings like ketchup, mustard, or mayonnaise, or kick it up with hot chili (via Peru Delights). It's undoubtedly a satisfying meal, and you can scarf it down in a snap. Although it's slightly messier than some of the other street foods on our list, it's well worth the extra napkins.

Salchipapa is also an ideal late-night snack for when you're getting a hankering for carbs and meat drenched in sauce at 2 a.m., although you can find it virtually anywhere at any time of day. Plenty of smaller shops and fast food stores sell salchipapas, but this french fry and hot dog symphony tastes best in its truest form — right off the street.

Choclo - Peru

Peruvian choclo is a tasty street food side often served alongside citrusy ceviche, although it can certainly stand on its own. According to Peru Delights, corn is a staple food in the Andean country and it continues to flourish in Peru's Sacred Valley just as it did in the days of the Incas (via The New York Times). Although corn on the cob isn't new, choclo is a little different and has an earthier flavor. According to Eat Peru, it has larger, richly-flavored kernels that taste nuttier than your traditional sweet corn.

The texture is also slightly different than what you might be used to. Instead of being juicy, choclo tends to be crunchier and somewhat soft, making it the ideal street food to grab if you want a quick, neat bite to eat. Plus, these char-grilled ears of goodness are incredibly healthy for you, so don't be afraid to grab two or three from your friendly Cusco vendor.

Coxinha - Brazil

Although coxinhas have a colorful legend relating to a Brazilian princess and her picky son (via Taste Atlas), the reality is that these pear-shaped breaded chicken and cheese croquettes were probably developed out of necessity rather than the whims of finicky royalty. Coxinhas are a combination of dark chicken meat, cream cheese, and a savory coating. Deep-fry the little guy and you have a satisfying appetizer bursting with bready goodness, tender chicken, and gooey cream cheese. Nowadays, you'll find countless fillings since coxinhas are the perfect vehicle for all sorts of tasty combinations.

Coxinhas are a ubiquitous and widely praised treat, and it's easy to understand why. They're snack-sized and have an excellent texture ratio with a crunchy exterior and a rich hearty interior. They're also relatively inexpensive, and you can dunk them in a spicy or garlicky sauce for even more flavor. Although you're most likely to find coxinhas from Brazil's Amazonas to Santa Catarina states, you can also stumble across them in unlikely places, like Universal's Mardi Gras food festival.

Queso Helado - Peru

Peru's picturesque historic volcano-ringed city of Arequipa is home to some of the best queso helado in the southern hemisphere. Although the name means frozen cheese in Spanish, Arequipa's riff on cheese ice cream is a far cry from The Philippines' classic sweet and savory cheddar cheese ice cream. Instead, Peru's version is a solely sweet treat, packed with sumptuous ingredients like fresh egg yolks, coconut, sugar, and two types of milk. Throw in some warm spices like heady cloves and fragrant cinnamon and you have a balanced and delicious dessert (via Eat Peru).

According to Taste Atlas, it's possible that the inventive nuns of the sprawling Santa Catalina Monastery created the dreamy concoction, although its origins remain slightly obscured. Regardless of where queso helado came from, there's no doubt that it would be a cardinal sin to visit Arequipa and not sample this creamy cinnamon-scented triumph of desserts.

Tapioca Pancake - Brazil

While Brazil's tapioca crepes have recently caught on in faraway Sydney (via SBS) and cosmopolitan New York (via Vogue), they remain a solidly Brazilian street food, best eaten hot and fresh on the streets of São Paulo. According to SBS, tapioca crepes come from traditional Brazilian indigenous ingredients like cassava root. They are a deceptively simple and delicious pairing of tapioca starch shells plus a heaping spoonful or two of savory or sweet fillings. 

Tapioca crepes tick off all the boxes for a few key reasons. Primarily, they're tasty and have a satisfying texture thanks to the glorious medley of traditional fillings like cheese, meat, or chopped eggs. They're also easy to eat and a portable snack that will fill in that hangry time between lunch and dinner without leaving you too stuffed to enjoy your evening meal. This once-obscure dish (via SBS) is now happily mainstream and a must-eat if you ever find yourself in Brazil.