Latin America’s Hidden Culinary Secret: Bread
For all the bad press the nutrition and gluten-free world has heaped upon the carbohydrate industry over the past decade, one fact remains clear:
Bread is here to stay, folks.
Nothing will ever rival the unadulterated pleasure that comes with sinking your teeth into a freshly baked slice of your favorite loaf. That crunchy crust. That ooey-gooey center. It has long held its place as the world’s number one comfort food, and there are few foodie pleasures that even come close.
Lucky for you (and the world), all the finger wagging and health-shaming confined within the invisible walls of the internet aren’t enough to take down the global empire that is bread. It’s as old and culturally ingrained (pardon the pun) as cave drawings and ritualistic burials, and the proof is in how homogeneously the sacred food group has spread throughout the globe.
Including a part of the world, you likely don’t currently associate with the finest of flour and water concoctions: Latin America. Well, as you’ll soon learn, the region is as fluent in mixing, rolling, and baking as they are in salsa dancing and siestas.
If there’s anything better than bread, it’s probably bread loaded with gobs of delicious cheese. Pandebono is the traditional Colombian cheese bread prepared as a roll and – to make matters even more devilish – typically served hot out of the oven with a side of melted chocolate. Have I got your attention yet?
Pandebono translates in Spanish to “bread from El Bono,” which alludes to where this delectable little corn flour treat claimed its origin. As the story goes, the specifics of the now country famous recipe were conceived at Hacienda Del Bono, a small house off the road between Dagua and Cali. It is as humble an underdog story you’ll find on this list, and its perseverance is a testament to just how delicious, and ultimately poplar, pandebono has become.
It is also said that an Italian baker who lived in Cali baked bread rolls and every afternoon went out to sell them, yelling “pane del buono” (“good bread” in Italian). We like to believe that this is true because it’s really good.
For all of the tasty exploits Mexico has notched into its culinary bedpost over the years, bread hasn’t typically been at the top of the list of favorites. Tortillas? Sure. Carne asada? Why not. Cold, refreshing lager on a warm summer’s day? Most definitely. But bread? Not so much.
However, Mexico has put the bread world on notice with the bolillo – a national point of pride that has close ties to its better known cousin, the baguette. The rolls themselves are much shorter and squatter than France’s number one device for ingesting butter and resolving domestic disputes, and are typically cooked in stone ovens. Bolillos were first brought to Mexico in the 1860’s by a now famous Maximillian troupe of cooks, and has been a mainstay on market shelves ever since.
Chipá While the deep origins of this mysterious little roll are shrouded in secrecy, there’s no denying its place among South America’s most celebrated (and consumed) variety of bread. It is the food of the common people, dating back as far as the indigenous inhabitants of the region in the early 1800s (and perhaps even further). The small rolls are flavored with cheese and can be purchased in any Paraguayan market at a price anyone can afford.
Chipá has also been known to be prepared with ground beef in the center or – in a bit of Renaissance festival knack for culinary flair – baked around a small stick for convenient consumption. Although, that’s hardly the preferred way to enjoy chipá as it all but eliminates the signature chewy center that has made the bite so renowned.
Pão de Queijo
So, by now you’re probably getting the impression that most, if not all, South American bread products are made with cheese, right? Well, that impression is only going to get deeper. As the name might indicate to anyone who speaks Portuguese, these little round rolls are loaded with the stuff. I’m not complaining, and neither should you! The stuff is delicious, and points to how many South American dishes were traditionally flavored with cheese because it was readily available and tastes incredible.
Most Brazilians eat Pão de Queijo for breakfast, a treat they enjoy next to a spread of fresh fruit and coconut water. Brazil’s traditional take on the recipe hails from Minas Gerais, a state in the southern region of the country. It is said to have been around since the early eighteenth century, but became widely popular in the 1950s. Pão de queijo is a small cheese bread like chipá, but it is also different. It goes really well with cold cuts, and it may not be super low in calories, but it’s great when it comes to self-indulging and also when we want to recharge the batteries, as it does have carbohydrates; but when it’s as good as it is, who cares about keeping calories in check, right? Just this once, please!