Latin American food and food culture in Seattle is unmatched. Seattle is filled with Latinx cooks serving traditional dishes as well as more modern ones — there’s truly something for everyone. Let’s take a closer look at some of the many mouthwatering dishes that make Latin American cuisine worth trying.
Pupusas are savory tortillas made from masa de maiz, a corn flour dough used all across Latin American cuisine. They’re thicker than Mexican tortillas and packed with special ingredients like quesillo (cheese), frijoles refritos (refried beans), chicharron (fried pork meat), or other meats. The term pupusa comes from pupusawa, which translates to “puff up” or “inflate.” Though it’s unclear exactly who invented the pupusa, it’s linked to the Pipil tribes that inhabited El Salvador in the 11th century. The National Museum of Anthropology has also stated that the pupusa was a crucial part of the pre-Columbian settlements’ diet in El Salvador during the early 19th century.
Making pupusas is simple. First, you’ll make a dough out of maize flour and warm water. (Doing this by hand will give you full control over its consistency). When it’s evenly mixed, you’ll shape the dough into small balls and add your chosen fillings. Flatten the now-filled pupusas into thick discs, then grill in a hot griddle or skillet for two to four minutes per side. Serve with curtido (pickled cabbage coleslaw) or salsa roja! It’s an absolute must-try in Latin American cuisine.
Aji de Gallina
Aji de gallina is a comforting dish enjoyed by Peruvians during cold, rainy days — aka the type of weather you’ll likely experience in Seattle. The spicy, creamy chicken dish is filled with Latin American aromatics and spices like aji amarillo chilis, nuts, cheese, oregano, turmeric, and more. The sauce is also made with smaller pieces of milk-soaked bread, providing a wonderful creamy consistency like nothing you’ve tried before.
Aji de gallina is believed to have originated from manjar blanco, which comes from Catalonia, Spain. Upon its arrival to Peru in the 16th century, locals adapted the dish using Peruvian ingredients and spices like aji chilis. Instead of the sweet flavors manjar blanco was known for, Peruvians created a savory dish that many adored and declared their favorite comfort food. Aji de gallina became widely popularized in the 1800s, and to this day Seattleites enjoy it the Peruvian way, served over rice with boiled potatoes and black olives.
To make aji de gallina, you’ll start by cooking chicken breasts and then gently shredding the meat. Take some fresh slices of bread and soak them in cold milk for a few minutes, and in the meantime fry onions, garlic, and aji chilis. Once cooked, blend the aromatics with the soaked bread until it reaches a dough-like consistency. Transfer to a pot and add the shredded chicken. Serve with hot rice, hardboiled eggs, potatoes, and even a bit of cheese for a balanced flavor.
Arroz con Pollo
Arroz con pollo is one of the most popular dishes in Latin American cuisine. At its core, it’s a simple chicken and rice dish, but the details vary from country to country. In Mexico, the chicken and rice dish is usually seasoned with fresh spices and chili, while in Colombia, chefs add sofrito. Peruvian-style arroz con pollo contains pureed cilantro and sometimes dark beer for a unique depth of flavor. Many Seattle restaurants and households also have their own recipe and unique take.
Making arroz con pollo from scratch is easy, and only requires one pot. You’ll first cook your chicken in a seasoned flour mixture until browned. Set this aside while you brown uncooked rice with olive oil. Add aromatics, allow the mixture to cool, then add the chicken and an aromatic blend of tomatoes, chicken stock, and various spices (a pinch of saffron is a popular ingredient). Allow your arroz con pollo to simmer for less than half an hour, and it’s ready to serve!
It won’t be hard finding a mouthwatering plate of arroz con pollo in Seattle. Many Latin American shefs offer this popular dish, including Shef Carolina, who grew up eating it in Colombia. Her version features sautéed onions and garlic are the base, and is packed with rice, veggies, and shredded chicken.
Learn more: A Taste of Latin American Cuisine in Seattle