Argentine Cuisine: Succulent Meats Followed by Decadent Desserts, Washed Down with Ambrosial Wine
Argentina has a broad culinary tradition which draws from Indigenous, Spanish and Italian influences. From the ubiquitous asado and empanada to gnocchi, pizza and world-famous wines, Argentina offers food-lovers a gourmet extravaganza. Here’s an overview of the delicacies awaiting you.
Argentine Culinary Specialties by Region
- Northwest – mostly old Spanish traditions: maize, potatoes, peppers, llama.
- Northeast – Guarani influence: manioc, pumpkins, papaya, cheese, fish.
- Central Plains – partridges, ostriches, chinchillas, asado.
- Patagonia – deer, boar, rabbit, trout and salmon. Atlantic seafood. Sheep. German wild-strawberry jams. Welsh black cakes.
- Buenos Aires – traditional cafes, bakeries. Italian influence: gnocchi, pasta, pizza, ice-cream.
Soups & Stews
Locro is a slow-cooked, thick, creamy soup made of hominy (coarsely ground maize), meat (beef brisket), vegetables (pumpkin, leeks, sweet potatoes, onions), red sausages, broad beans and bacon. A popular wintertime dish throughout Argentina.
Puchero is a stew typical to northern Argentina which consists of ossobucco (or other meat on the bone), onion, potato, squash, sweetcorn, sliced chorizo and sweet potato.
Let’s Do Lunch
Tamales are croquettes made of cornmeal and often mixed with pumpkin, paprika, onions and meat. The mixture is wrapped within corn cob leaves, tied with a corn husk and steamed or boiled. Originally from the North-western region, tamales can now be found throughout the whole country.
Sandwiches de Miga are crust-less, buttered and usually filled with ham, cheese and lettuce. Commonly sold at bakeries and informal family-run kitchens.
Milanesas are thinly-sliced steaks which are bread crumbed and fried, similar to Wiener Schnitzel. Common on lunch and dinner menus.
Empanadas are an enormously popular snack food in Argentina. Similar to smaller versions of the Cornish Pasty, empanadas are semi-circular pastry pockets filled with a savoury mixture. Baked empanadas are a staple of Argentine bakeries while deep-fried empanadas are more commonly sold by street vendors.
Meat-filled empanadas are usually served as the traditional starter to an asado.
There are many varieties of Argentine empanada though the most common are ham and cheese empanadas and meat and onion empanadas, the latter often include olives, a slice of boiled egg or red pepper.
Salteñas are a more densely-filled variety of empanada which originated in Bolivia. Common in the north of Argentina, salteñas are filled to the brim with stewed chicken and vegetables.
Fish & Seafood
Pejerrey, or Silverside, is a surface-dwelling freshwater fish common in northern Argentine rivers. Battered and fried, pejerrey is usually served with thickly sliced potato chips and lemon garnish.
Rabas are calamari rings battered and deep fried, garnished with salt and vinegar. Commonly served in cones made of butcher’s paper.
Asado de parilla is the quintessential Argentine barbecue which consists of: beef cuts, chorizo (homemade pork sausage), morcilla (blood sausage), mollejas (sweetbreads), chinchulines (small intestine), empanadas, provoleta (provolone cheese), wine and mate.
The fire is prepared by burning wood or coal arranged in a pit on the ground or in a purpose-made barbecue. The grill sits approximately 10cm above a uniform layer of coals so as to properly roast the meat. Coals from a second fire are continually placed under the main grill to maintain a consistent heat.
The meat is only seasoned with a little salt prior to cooking – no other sauces or condiments are added. Some of the most common Argentine beef cuts are tira de asado (short ribs), vacio (flank) and lomo (tenderloin). The feast usually begins with choripan (chorizo in bread) and grilled provoleta cheese flavoured with oregano.
The meat is usually accompanied by bread and salad of lettuce and tomato. The only sauce to accompany an asado is chimichurri, a traditional uncooked sauce made from minced garlic, finely chopped parsley, vegetable oil and white vinegar.
Asado de palo is a style of barbecue which originated in Patagonia and was originally used to cook lamb, though today veal is cooked in this manner as well.
When all the main courses have been polished off, an exquisitely sweet selection of Argentina desserts awaits.
Mazamorra is a delicious custard of white corn, vanilla, sugar and water or milk.
Dulce de leche (milk sweet) is a super sweet milk-caramel jam. It is used as the filling in alfajores (round shortbread biscuits), profiteroles and medialunas (croissants).
Dulce de batata is candied sweet potato often served with white cheese.
Fernet is a popular Italian herbal liqueur brought to Argentina by Italian immigrants. It is commonly mixed with Coca-Cola and served with ice.
Gancia is an Italian sweet vermouth which is commonly mixed with lemonade and ice.
Ubiquitous Quilmes pale lager is the most popular Argentine beer and also the country’s most successful export beer. The brand colours reflect the Argentine flag and the brewery sponsors the national football team.
During the Spanish colonization of the Americas in the 16th Century, Francisco Pizarro & Diego Almagro took vine cuttings to Peru. From there, they were taken to Chile & Argentina. In 1566 the first vines were planted in Mendoza Province. Today, more than 60% of Argentine wine is produced in Mendoza. Other famous wine producing regions include La Rioja and San Juan.
Although it originated in Bordeaux, today the Malbec is known as the premier red wine of Argentina. The most famous white wine is the aromatic Torrontes.
The national infusion of Argentina is the universally adored, mate (pronounced ma-tay). Made from the dried powdered leaves of the yerba mate plant, mate is steeped in hot water in a calabash gourd and sipped through a metal straw known as a bombilla. The straw features a flat, perforated end which serves to permit the flow of liquid while preventing the flow of leaf matter. The drink is commonly enjoyed during family and social occasions. While only one person serves, everybody partaking of mate drinks from the same gourd.