12 Street Food Latin America—Comfort Food

1. Introduction

The documentary series Street Food Latin America travels through different Latin American countries to discover varieties of street food. Street food is cheap and ready-to-go food, usually bought from portable food stalls or food markets. Examples of street food in the series are: empanadasfeijodas, memelas, ajiaco or anticuchos.

The series includes interviews with street food vendors. They explain the circumstances that led them to this job, describe their work routine, as well as the dishes they prepare, and they comment on their successes and difficulties. Along with food vendors, chefs and culinary journalists participate to explain the history of local dishes, and the influence that street food has on gastronomy today.

Street Food Latin America is the second season of the series and focuses on the following countries: Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Peru, Colombia and Bolivia. The first season of the series was dedicated to Asian food (Street Food Asia) and followed the same structure and the same approach as the one dedicated to Latin America. Both are available on Netflix.

2. About the people   

David Gelb and Brian McGinn created the documentary series Street Food. Listen to the interview, read the article  and answer the questions to know more about them and the series.

2.1. Why did they decide to do the Street Food series?

2.2. How did they prepare to shoot the episodes?

2.3. What message do David and Brian want to convey to viewers with the Street Food series?

2.4. What did they learn about the street food vendors who star in the series?

2.5. Besides Street Food, what other TV series have they created? How are they similar? How are they different?

3. About language

Here it is a list of local dishes featured in the series. Knowing them will help you to know more about what they talk about in each episode.

Tortilla de papas Eggs and potatoes baked in a pan
Empanada Pastry filled with meat, vegetables or other ingredients
Choripán Grilled chorizo between slices of bread
Ajiaco Potato and chicken soup
Mote de queso Yam and cheese soup
Tamales Masa steamed in plantain leaves
Relleno de papa Croquettes made of potatoes, meat, cheese and other ingredients
Arepas Maize dough
Sandwich de chola Pork leg sandwich
Ranga ranga Spicy beef stomach stew
Acarajé Black eyed bean fritter
 Feijoada Bean and meat stew
Moqueca Fish, coconut milk and dendê (palm) oil.
Memela Tortillas, salsa, and cheese
Piedrazos Toasted bread soaked in vinegar
Tlayuda Toasted tortillas with cheese, beans and grilled meat
Picarones Fried donuts
Anticuchos Grilled beef hearts
Ceviche Fish marinated in lemon or lime juice
4. Analysis

4.1. Locations: cities

The series travels through different cities in Latin America in search of local street food. Your teacher will divide the class into groups and assign a city to each. As a group, complete the table below. Then, share your ideas with the rest of the class. Click the links on the map, and watch the episodes of the series to complete the assignment.

In which country is the city located?
What geographical elements characterize it? (For example, it is near the sea, or the mountains)
When was the city founded? By whom?
Is there ethnic or regional diversity?
Has the city received immigrants?
Describe the streets and buildings that can be seen in the videos.
What is characteristic of the people of the city?
Is there something that distinguishes the urban life of this place?
How do the geography, history and urban life of the place influence the local food?


Oaxaca        Bogotá       Lima        La Paz        São Salvador da Bahia       Buenos Aires

Mapa de Latinoamérica de Douglas Fernandes[1]

4.2. Characters

Each episode highlights a particular life story. These protagonist people are: Pato Rodríguez (Buenos Aires), dona Suzana (Salvador), doña Vale (Oaxaca), Tomás Matsufuji (Lima), Mamá Luz (Bogotá) y doña Emiliana (La Paz). Your teacher will create groups in class and will assign one of the names above to each group. As a group, complete the table and present your conclusions to the rest of the class.

What is her family history? How is the relation with her family? Does she have a romantic partner? And children?
What is her training? Where and what did she study? What is her work experience? What jobs did she have before preparing and selling food?
What does she look like? Describe her appearance, clothing, and personality.
Why did this person make the decision to cook and sell street food?
How did she feel when she started her business? How does she feel today (at the time the series were recorded)?
Other information useful for the analysis: sex/gender, race/ethnic group, social class, sexual orientation, etc.

After the group presentations, discuss the protagonist pattern in the series. Look at the common elements between the protagonists to identity that pattern.

Along with these main “characters,” the series features food experts and more street chefs. What do these people bring into the series? Do they have something in common with the protagonists? How are they different?

4.3. Narrators

More than acting, people who participate in Food Street Latin America tell stories to the viewer. Although there is not a single and central narrative voice for the series, we can point to two groups of narrators. Fill out the table below according to what they tell the viewer:

NARRATIVE VOICES   What do they tell? What do they talk about to the viewer? How do they tell it? What kind of vocabulary do they use: concrete, abstract, familiar, elaborated…? What kind of sentences do they use?
Food street vendors
The “experts” (journalists, historians…)   

4.4. Worldview

a) What idea or view of the world is featured in this series? In other words, what values, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors does this series emphasize? Which ones does it reject or ignore? Pay attention to the street vendors in the series and how all of them have been successful in their endeavors: what actions did they take to succeed? What values and principles guide their actions? On many occasions, they refer to these principles and values with a slogan or aphorism. Do you remember any of those slogans?

b) According to the series logic, all of the street food vendors have been successful. How is success defined in this series? That is, what does it mean to be successful according to the series? One of the protagonists, Toshi from the episode in Lima, compares himself to his father (owner of several upscale restaurants that made a lot of money) and defines himself as a “loser.” Is earning a lot of money a characteristic that defines the winners in this series? What about waking up at sunrise and going to bed late at night? Or the hours of physically consuming labor? Are there any other measures of success evident in the series?

c) Is luck a factor recognized in the series? According to the Diccionario de la Real Academia (Dictionary of the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language), luck is defined as “circumstance of an event being, by mere chance, favorable or adverse to someone or something” (italics are mine). That is, human action does not affect luck. The idea of luck does not seem to fit well with the argument in favor of human ability to control their future and make decisions in their lives that each episode features. How do you think luck was represented in the series?

d) Certain personal circumstances that are given to us have a great influence on our future life, such as genes, parent’s education level, physical appearance, etc. Are there personal circumstances recognized in the series? Are they considered when telling the lives of the protagonists? If so, from what perspective?

e) The people participating in the series affirm that their work gives them a lot of personal satisfaction. What specific aspects of their work make them happy? What are the negative aspects of their jobs, that is, those that make them miserable or sick?

5. Final assignment

In the series we see perfect examples of jobs that satisfy a social need such as feeding and make the workers happy. Despite this, they are jobs that demand a lot of mental and physical effort and do not receive a high salary or recognition. On the other hand, the anthropologist David Graeber argues, that today there are numerous jobs that are not only unnecessary, but also make those who perform them unhappy because they do not see the purpose of their work. Graeber calls them bullshit jobs. Watch the animated video where Graeber explains what those bullshit jobs consist of and how we should incentivize other types of jobs, which are those that relate to what he calls, care jobs. These are in, for example, education, child rearing, healthcare and eldercare. Write a short essay responding to Graeber´s critique of the job market, as well as his idea to promote jobs that help and support people´s lives, rather than jobs that sustain the production of things.

Title Street Food: Latin America
Developed by David Gelb and Brian McGinn
Release July, 26, 2020.
Country United States
Production Boardwalk Pictures, Supper Club
Distributor Netflix
More information 2 seasons, 8 episodes per season. Season 1 – Street Food Asia (2019). Available on Netflix.


Asociación de Academias de la Lengua Española. Diccionario de la lengua española americanismos. dle.rae.es.

“Bogotá.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 13 May 2021. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bogotá. 14 May 2021.

“Buenos Aires.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 9 May 2021. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buenos_Aires. 14 May 2021.

“‘Chef´s Table’ creator talks ‘Street Food’ and getting to the ‘emotional origin’ of dishes.” Youtube, uploaded by CBS This Morning, 9 May 2019, youtube.com/watch?v=ad9nHm7VUaY. 14 May 2021.

“David Graeber on the Value of Work.” Youtube, uploaded by RSA, 11 Oct. 2016, www.youtube.com/watch?v=tpoJIkqEXYo. 11 May 2021.

Halligan, B. “The Creators of ‘Street Food’ on Why Stakes Are Higher Than ‘Chef´s Table’.” Food&Wine, 25 April 2019, www.foodandwine.com/news/netflix-street-food-creators-interview. 14 May 2021.

“La Paz.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 1 May 2021. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Paz. 14 May 2021.

“Lima.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 9 May 2021. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lima 14 May 2021.

“Oaxaca.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 19 April 2021. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oaxaca. 14 May 2021.

“Salvador, Bahía.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 13 May 2021. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salvador,_Bahia. 14 May 2021.

Street Food: Latin America. Created by David Gelb and Brian McGinn, Boardwalk Pictures and Supper Club, 2020.

  1. Map of Latin America by Douglas Fernandes in Flickr: www.flickr.com/photos/thejourney1972/3473694773

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