The cuisine of Argentina draws upon its pervasive Spanish and Italian heritage, and blends it with flavors of other South American and European food cultures. The country’s renowned grass-fed beef — with its tougher texture, lower fat content and stronger flavor– plays a starring role in the typical Argentinian meal, while pastas, pizzas, stews and pastry-baked meals supply at least some of the carbohydrates.
Argentinians eat four meals a day. Fortunately, between tango classes and walking, you will burn off most of the calories.
Breakfast, or desayuno, is the most underplayed meal of the day in Argentina. It usually consists of a medialuna, Spanish for croissant, served with jam or dulce de leche, a caramel-like substance comprised of cream that has been thickened, sweetened and boiled. If you are ordering breakfast at a restaurant, cafe cortado is espresso with a bit of milk, while cafe con leche is generally half coffee and half milk. Cafe chico is a small cup of thick black coffee.
Sandwiches, pastas, meats and salads make up the typical Argentine lunch or almuerzo. El Lomito, a thinly-sliced steak in a bun, or El Sanwich de Miga, comprised of white bread and filled with eggs, cheese, ham and mayonnaise are typical Argentine sandwiches. The Milanesa sandwich, consisting of baked, breaded chicken, provides an option for those who do not eat red meat. If your schedule calls for a fairly quick and informal lunch, you can choose from:
A licuado, a fresh juice prepared with milk or water, might accompany your meal.
Merienda, the late afternoon snack, is a tradition that dates back to the early 19th century, when the British first arrived in Argentina. It is one of the most important meals of the day for two reasons:
A late afternoon visit to one of the classic confiterias of Buenos Aires, such as El Cafe Tortoni or Las Violetas, is also a lesson in history. Many of Argentina’s most significant political events and literary masterpieces were plotted within the walls of these establishments.
Some merienda meals represent an attempt at nutritional value, and might include a salad or a sandwich. Others work on the “life is short, eat desert first” philosophy. Merienda at a Buenos Aires confiteria would probably include an alfajore, a desert comprised of two shortbread cookies stuffed with dulce de leche and rolled in a choice of shaved coconut, chocolate or both. If you crave another round of medialunas, try them with dulce de membrillo, a sticky, sweet reddish paste comprised of quince fruit, sugar and water. Other dessert-type snacks might include flan, a caramel custard, or the churro, a fried dough, often dipped in powdered sugar or dulce de leche.
Despite its late hour, cena, or Argentine dinner, is often a leisurely affair that drags on for 2 or more hours. Your meal might begin with an appetizer such as chorizo, a type of pork sausage, or slices of faina, a flatbread made from chickpeas. For the main course, you will choose from entrees such as:
Carbonada Criolla: This unusual Argentine beef stew consists of apricots, raisins, sweet potatoes, winter squash, tomatoes and onions.
Argentinian Sorrentinos: Ham and different types of cheeses fill these sombrero-shaped raviolis.
Gnocchi: A potato pasta inspired by Italian cuisine. Gnocchi with tomato sauce is a vegan option.
Asado: The asado is usually a private party, held in someone’s backyard. Your host will grill a series of different cuts of meats, ranging from sausages, to ribs, to steaks and other cuts of beef. Your host might have some chimichurri, a sauce made from olive oil, lime, cilantro, garlic and other spices. If your travel plans include Barlioche, Estancia Peuma Hue hosts an asado for its guests.
When you order steak at an Argentine restaurant, your waiter will ask about your preference of cut, and how you would like it cooked. If your Spanish skills are minimal or non-existent, memorize these terms before you go.
Bife de lomo is sirloin steak, cut very lean.
Bife de chorizo is strip sirloin steak, which is fattier and juicier than bife de lomo.
Matambre is a fatty flank steak
Vacio is London Broil
Cooked jugoso is steak cooked rare.
Ask for a punto if you want it done medium rare.
Request bien cocido if you want your steak cooked well done.
The Argentinians elevate the dining to an art form, and consider it an experience to be savored at leisure. If you expect fast service and waiters hovering at your beck and call, you will be disappointed. Almost no waiter in Argentina will ask you if you are ready for your check or just bring it by your table with dessert. They assume that people sit around talking after eating and are in no rush, so please don’t take it as a sign of bad service if they don’t bring you your check right after you finish eating! Relax, go with the flow, and enjoy.