In Argentina, eating is not just a necessity, it is a social pleasure. Weekends are marked by family barbeques where all are invited to dine on grilled meats, pasta and sweet desserts, rounded out with local wines or sweetened yerba mate tea. When you venture into this land of Italian, Spanish, Arabic and native flavors, you will find tempting dishes around almost every corner. These are some of the most memorable and should be on your must-taste list.
Steak is big in Argentina. Order one in an Argentine restaurant and you will likely be face-to-face with nearly a pound of beef. Those in the know order one to share with two or more friends. Add a salad or provletta, a type of round herbed cheese that is grilled before serving, as a side dish. Argentine beef has a distinctive flavor because the cattle are free range, grass fed.
Steaks are also grilled over charcoal on a parrilla, or supersized barbeque. Choose to have your steak undressed or add a spicy olive oil rub, called chimichurri, to give it an extra kick. If you are lucky enough to be invited to a weekend family asado, meaning barbeque, steak will share grill space with chicken, pork, sausages and sweetbreads. Parilla restaurants often offer mixed asado plates.
Empanadas are the Argentinean answer to the turnover. A flaky or doughy crust holds a treasure trove of ground beef, chicken, seafood, cheese and/or vegetables. These hand-sized snacks are either baked or fried, are inexpensive, portable and a local comfort food. In the Salta region, the empanadas tend to be smaller and are served with a hot sauce. Another variation is the Spanish empanada, or empanada gallega, shaped like an oversized tart but filled with mackerel or tuna. Empanadas with an Arabic twist, called empanadas arabes, have fillings laced with cumin and lemon rind.
Milanesas are the local version of the schnitzel. Beef or chicken is pounded until tender, dipped in egg and seasoned breadcrumbs and then baked or deep fried. They are eaten as a finger food, made into sandwiches or plated with fries or mashed potatoes. One variation is called milanesa a caballo and offers your milanesa with a fried egg on top. The dish was introduced by Central European immigrants and is now found throughout the country.
Dulce de Leche
Thick, creamy and achingly sweet, dulce de leche is a caramel-like sauce that is used as an ice cream topper, drizzled on warm muffins or even spread on toast. It is made by slowly cooking a mixture of sugar and condensed milk until most of the liquid evaporates. The caramelization gives the sauce a warm golden color.
Dulce de leche is used in making alfajores, a sweet treat made with shortbread-like cookies filled with the sauce and covered with coconut flakes. Sometimes they are also dipped in chocolate. Alfajores are often sold at roadside stands and some are so large that these rich desserts easily serve two.
If your trip takes you south, to the Patagonia Region, you may get the chance to try the curanto, or the Argentinean version of the luau. Assorted meats, chicken, sweet potatoes, potatoes and squash are cooked in an underground oven lined with hot stones and maqui leaves. More leaves, damp cloths and a layer of dirt cover the food and it’s left to slowly cook. Once smoke starts seeping out of the oven, you know the food is fully cooked. Then it’s just a matter of digging it all out and happily munching away.
What is your favorite Argentinean food?