Do you know your ceviche from your churrasco, your caju from your cassava cheesebread? You may soon wish to find out. South American cuisine is leaving foodies salivating. Experts including Ferran Adria, one of the world's leading chefs, are tipping these dishes as the next gastronomic in-thing.
Some predict the potential of Latin American-inspired menus could see restaurants and food shops quickly springing up nationwide. Next month, pioneering restaurateurs David Ponte and Jamie Barber are set to launch Cabana, a Brazilian barbecue, in London's West End and at Stratford's Westfield shopping centre.
Two more restaurants, Ceviche in Soho and Lima in Shoreditch, both in central London, are also due to open next year. The South American-inspired restaurant chain Las Iguanas is opening in Newcastle and Sheffield this month, while Rodizio Rico, which has four Brazilian restaurants in London, will expand to Birmingham, and the Argentine grill De la Panza ("All about the belly") opened in Islington, in north London, this month.
Mr Adria, who is making a documentary about the world of food in Peru – known as the land of a thousand flavours – said: "Latin America is living through a very important cultural euphoria through its cuisine. In particular, Peru is experiencing socio-cultural phenomena through gastronomy. There is no other country that I know of where this is happening as it is in Peru."
Virgilio Martinez, the chef behind the London Lima restaurant, said more than 8,000 people in Lima who are training as chefs would fuel the renaissance. "Peruvian cuisine is not well known in London, a city that offers a lot gastronomically. The lives of Peruvians revolve around food, cooking, eating and new ingredients."
Mr Ponte said: "It's undiscovered, yet Latin America is at the top of everyone's thoughts: Rio is now the most visited city in the southern hemisphere." He believes political troubles on the continent have indirectly slowed the journey of Latin American food, which, compared with Asian cuisine, is relatively unknown.
The reputation of Argentinian and Brazilian cuts of meat, offered at steakhouses such as Gaucho, has led to an increase in popularity, with the well-known Ginger Pig butcher chain introducing Brazilian picanha beef cuts over the past six months. Gabriel Gaya, head of Gaya Ecotrade, a Brazilian food importer, finds acai berries and cassava cheesebread are now some of his best-selling imports. Other sought-after treats include Colombian chocolate. Mauricio Rodriguez, the Colombian ambassador to the UK, said: "This is going to be the decade of Latin America. People are discovering exotic flavours and wonderful fruits: they're looking for something new." With visitors to Colombia rising by 35 per cent last year, exposure to food from chefs such as Leonor Espinosa whets their tastebuds, he said.
Brazil's hosting the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games is also expected to boost interest in the continent. High street supermarkets are, meanwhile, eyeing up opportunities. Romilly Edelmann, Sainsbury's product developer, said: "The success of our new Mexican range means we are looking at other cuisines from South and Central America. We think next year will be an exciting time for new tastes."
New foods on the block
David Ponte, the owner of Cabana, picks his top 10 Latin American dishes, which will soon be as familiar to us as hummus...
Ceviche Fish cured with lemon or lime, spiced with chilli, onion and coriander.
Arepas Venezuelan corn-dough sandwich.
Humitas Native American dish from pre-Hispanic times, this traditional food from Argentina, Bolivia, Chile and Peru is made from masa harina (dough) and corn, slowly cooked in oil.
Black beans Also known as turtle beans in Brazil: comfort food when served in a cup of soup with bacon on top.
Faina Chickpea flatbread served in pizzerias across Uruguay.
Papas Rellenas Peruvian stuffed potatoes.
Churrasco Grilled beef from Brazil or Argentina. The picanha, or rump cap, has a layer of fat, while the cupim is the slow-cooked hump of the zebu cow.
Avocado mousse Dessert of avocado, sugar and lime juice.
Garapa Juice squeezed straight out of a sugar cane – an effective hangover cure.
Caju Fruit from the cashew nut. Delicious and refreshing.
Pao de Queijo The ubiquitous Brazilian cheesy cassava doughball.
Beirute Toasted flatbread sandwich invented in the Fifties by Syrian brothers in Sao Paulo when they ran out of normal bread.