It is world known that Argentina has the best meat in the world, and it does, but there’s a lot more than that to their food. You’ll be amazed by the variety and quality and if you travel to this country you should forget all about diets. But don’t worry, you’ll find that a lot of what you’ll eat is in general very healthy. But still, you shouldn’t miss out on trying some of these delicious meals.
There are two things you should know about Argentinian’s eating customs: 1) There are four meals a day: breakfast, lunch, a mid afternoon snack that is very similar to breakfast and a late dinner (most people eat between 9pm and 10pm). 2) It’s very traditional to share food. Take a look at these recommendations of food to try and you’ll understand why.
1. Mate - Not a tea, not a weed, then what is this drink?
So this isn’t exactly a food but it’s on this list for a (very good) reason. The Mate is the most traditional beverage in Argentina. You’ll see people drinking it everywhere. There’s no picnic without a Mate. People drink Mate all day long while they work. The technical description would be an infusion beverage prepared by steeping dried leaves of Yerba Mate in hot water, served with a metal straw (called a bombilla), from a shared hollow calabash gourd (the mate cup). Some people don’t really understand if this is a drink or a drug, but it’s far from it unless you consider caffeine a drug. You can have it at any time of the day, but it’s very common to have it for breakfast or mid afternoon with (lard-based) savoury biscuits (bizcochitos de grasa), Churros or fried cakes. The first Mate you’ll try will probably be shared with you by some local (it’s a big excitement for Argentinians to give someone their first Mate). Some restaurants offer a Mate set on their menus, but the real thing is to buy your own Mate kit (the cup, the straw, the thermos and some Yerba Mate that you can get in the supermarket). It will take you a while to learn how to prepare it properly (the temperature of the water, the amount of Yerba, how to place the straw correctly) but you’ll get there!
2. Empanadas - How would you like it?
It might look like an appetizer, but in Argentina, it’s mostly a main course. Empanadas are like a closed wrap; folded dough filled with a lot of ingredients. Could be meat, chicken, tuna, corn, vegetables, cheese, or others. The preparation and spices are different in each province and region. Most restaurants offer empanadas, but there are many houses that specialize in this meal and even deliver them to your home. The average order is a dozen empanadas for four people. You will also find them in markets, carnivals and ambulant sellers in the parks. You won’t miss a chance to eat empanadas in Argentina. It’s one of the first things you should try because you are going to want more.
3. Dulce de Leche - The sweetest sweet
The technical translation would be “a candy made of milk,” and it actually is! Slowly heated sweet milk until the color turns brown, when the sticky consistency and the flavor changes. But if you try to make it yourself, you’ll probably fail. There are many recipes to make Dulce de Leche and none are the same. There’s a big debate on where this sweet started, but Argentina is world known for their own. In general, the sweets in Argentina are really good, but the Dulce de Leche makes them special. A treat you must give yourself is an Alfajor (most recommended are Maizena or chocolate, always filled with Dulce de Leche). The most famous are the alfajores Havanna, a brand that started in the beach city of Mar del Plata and became a big chain, also known for their unique recipe of Dulce de Leche. When you go to the markets or pastry shops you’ll find plenty of sweets that include this mouth watering ingredient, so you won’t miss a chance to become addicted. And if you dare, you can do what many locals do: fulfill your need for sweets with a spoonful of DDL.
4. Picada - The heart to an Argentinian Sunday table
Sundays are a very enjoyable day in Argentina and what can make them perfect is a football game on TV and a picada on the table. It’s a version of the tapas from Spain, but simpler. Instead of small, complicated dishes, you’ll get a big plate with cheese, ham, different salamis, bread, maybe small empanadas, berenjenas al escabeche, olives and other ingredients. Careful, because it’s hard to stop eating.
5. Milanesas - The children's favorite
You will be so happy the day you try your first milanesa. It was probably all Argentinian kids’ favorite dish through their childhood. Take a look at any restaurant and you’ll see this meal on many tables. It’s a symbol of the Italian tradition in Argentinian food. It’s usually breaded cow meat, but you can also have chicken or fish. It goes great with sides like French fries, salad and especially with mashed potatoes, known as pure (there’s even a song: eh-oh-eh, milanesas con pure).
6. Pizza and faina - A new experience
Some travelers agree that the pizza in Argentina is one of the best in the world. One thing that makes it really special is to top it with a thin slice of faina, a garbanzo flatbread. It’s a meal to share. When you order a whole pizza, you should know that it always comes in family size (eight slices). If you want it all to yourself, no one is going to judge you.
7. Locro - Careful! It's hot!
During winter, stews are a common meal on Argentinian tables and a very popular one along the Andes Mountain range is the Locro. It’s a national dish of Argentina, Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador. The Locro is a classic corn, beans, and potato or pumpkin soup, with some chorizo to make it even more special. Perfect for cold weather to warm up your soul.
8. Pastel de Papas - The best ingredients in one meal
This potato pie is a layered dish and a very traditional recipe for every Argentinian family. It’s made with one layer of meat and vegetables (could be with eggs and raisins) and on the top a layer of mashed potatoes with some cheese. You put it in the oven and it’s done. Amazing and filling.
9. Choripan - An Argentinian symbol
The chorizo sandwich, commonly known as choripan, is part of the traditional asado, but for its popularity it’s mandatory to treat it separately. You can have a choripan in the parks, on the famous shore to the Río de la Plata, at football games and concerts. It’s also a political symbol for Argentinians. In any manifestation (that in this country are usually very big), there are ambulant sellers of choripan. To have it the real way, spice it with chimichurri sauce (chopped parsley, minced garlic, vegetable oil, oregano, and white vinegar). And of course, it’s the starter for any traditional asado!
10. Asado - Made with the best meat in the world
This is the real deal. A good enough reason to travel to this country. The Argentinian asado; famous for the quantity and the great quality of the meat. You can enjoy it in a restaurant with the modality of “all you can eat buffet,” or order the cut of meat of your preference. But, if you are lucky, you will get invited to a home cooked asado, the real thing. Try to eat a little of everything because it’s all delicious. Eating meat will never be the same.
Definitely not a country for diets, take on the challenge to try it all!
When you visit Argentina keep in mind these recommendations. You’ll find the food culture very different to everywhere else in the world. The heritage of Latin-American food, mixed with a lot of Italian traditions, make the Argentinian food one of a kind. As you can see, trying meat is a must. But if you are vegetarian, don’t worry. It’s becoming a trend in Argentina and more places are adapting to accommodate this diet. Even in an asado you’ll find that people don’t have an issue with throwing a few vegetables on the grill to make you a part of the ritual. Sharing food can also be a very rewarding experience and trying a Mate a good starter of conversation. Have a food tour in this country, where you will surely find something you like and, probably, want to take back home.
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