The most important tip I can give you on Argentina local food, and the only one that will make you elevate from being a tourist to becoming a real traveler immersed in the local culture, is “Stay away from McDonalds“. When visiting Argentina, there is awesome local food to try. Head to the local eateries too, and go where the locals go. For me, the food, wine and and even the water is part of the travel experience.
What to Eat in Argentina
Argentinian breakfast is somewhat light compared to what travellers from English-speaking countries are accustomed to. Typically, it consists of a hot drink (coffee, tea, milk) with some toasts, medialunas (croissants, literally “halfmoons”), or bread. Hotels typically provide a free buffet consisting of coffee, tea, drinkable yogurt, assorted pastries and toast, fruit, and perhaps cereal. These kinds of breakfasts are also readily available in the many cafes. Lunch is a big meal in Argentina, typically taken in the early afternoon. Lunch is so big because dinner is not until late: 20.30-21:00 at the earliest, more commonly at 22:00 or even later. Most restaurants do not serve food until then except for pastries or small ham-and-cheese toasted sandwiches (tostados), for afternoon tea between 18:00 and 20:00.
Tea is the one meal that is rarely skipped. A few cafes do offer heartier fare all day long, but don’t expect anything more substantial than pizza or a milanesa (breaded meat fillets) or a lomito (steak sandwiches) outside of normal Argentine mealtimes. Dinner is usually eaten at 22:00 and typically consists of appetizers, a main course, and desserts. By the way, North Americans should beware that Argentinians use the term “entree” to refer to appetizers. This is common outside of North America but can surprise some Canadians and most Americans. Only in North America (outside of the province of Quebec) is the “entree” a “main dish”. In Argentina the main dish is a “plato principal”. The entree in Argentina typically consists of empanadas (baked pastries with a meat filling), chorizo or morcilla (meat or blood sausage), and assortments of achuras (entrails). For a main dish there is usually bife de chorizo (sirloin / New York Strip steak) and various types of salads.
Dessert is often a custard with dulce de leche and whipped cream topping. Beef is a prominent component of the Argentine diet and Argentine beef is world-famous for good reason. Argentina and Uruguay are the top 2 countries in meat per capita consumption in the world. Definitely check out Argentine barbecue: asado, sometimes also called parrillada, because it is made on a parrilla, or grill. There is no way around it – foodwise Argentina is virtually synonymous with beef. The beef is some of the best in the world, and there are many different cuts of meat. Lomo (tenderloin) and bife de chorizo are excellent. “Costillas” (ribs) is considered by locals the real “asado” meat cut and is very tasty. North Americans will see that costillas are different to those at home.
Argentinians cut ribs perpendicular to the bone. Having a parrillada dinner is one of the best ways to experience Argentine cuisine; preferably with a bottle of wine and a good amount of salads. In some popular areas, parrilladas are available from small buffets, or sidewalk carts and barbecue trailers. Skewers and steak sandwiches can then be purchased to go. Given that a large portion of Argentines are of Italian, Spanish and French descent, such fare is very widespread and of high quality; pizzerias and specialized restaurants are very common. Take note that a convention observed in Argentina is to treat the pasta and sauce as separate items; some travellers have found out what they thought was cheap pasta only to find that they were not getting any sauce.
You will see the pastas for one price and then the sauces for an additional charge. Cafes, bakeries, and ice-cream shops (heladerías) are very popular. Inexpensive and high-quality snacks can be found in most commercial areas, and many have outdoor seating areas. Empanadas (turnovers) containing meats, cheeses, or many other fillings can be bought cheaply from restaurants or lunch counters. The Alfajor is a must try snack of a two cookies with a dulce de leche filling and can be purchased at virtually any local kiosco. Smoking is now prohibited in most Buenos Aires’ restaurants and all of Mendoza’s restaurants. In some cities, it´s forbidden in all public buildings (cafés, shops, banks, bus stations, etc), so it´s better to ask before smoking anywhere.
What to Drink in Argentina
Yerba mate (pronounced in two syllables, ‘MAH-tae’) is a traditional Argentine herbal drink, prepared in a hollowed-out gourd which is passed around in a social setting and drunk through a metal straw. Though usually drunk hot, mate can also be served cold, usually known as “tereré”. Terere is preferred by the populace in Paraguay. Mate contains less caffeine than coffee, but contains other vitamins and minerals that give it a stimulating effect, particularly to those who are not used to it. It is naturally rather bitter, so it’s not uncommon to add sugar. The drinking of mate with friends is an important social ritual in Argentina. The informal tea ceremony is lead by a “cebador” or server and people arrange themselves in a “rueda” or wheel.
Those who like the drink bitter and those who like it sweet are clustered together to aide the server. Argentina is renowned for its excellent selection of wine. The most popular being Mendoza which is rated amongst the worlds most popular regions due to its high altitude, volcanic soils and proximity to the Andes Mountains. The terrain seems to complement the European grape varietals with interesting notes not present when produced in other climates, this allows the Argentine wine to be positioned in a league of its own. The best way to experience and understand the selection of Argentine varietals is one of the many tasting events.
Most restaurants serve a broad range of liquors. Beer is offered in draft form in a chopp (small glass) or served in bottles or cans, and is typically a light, easily drinkable lager. The most popular locally made brands of beer are Quilmes, Isenbeck, Schneider and Brahma (although it’s Brazilian). Widely-available imports include Warsteiner, Heineken, Budweiser and Corona. There are now many small pubs and bars in Buenos Aires that brew beer on premises, but most of these offer a poor quality product compared to what is widely available in parts of the USA and Europe.In the Buenos Aires area, the Buller Brewing Company in Recoleta and the Antares Brewery in Mar del Plata offer excellent handcrafted English/American style ales.
If you ask if there are “cervezas artesanales” you will be able to find out if there are local handcrafted beers. Fernet is widely consumed by Argentinians, especially in Córdoba, Santa Fe and Buenos Aires. Originally from Italy, it’s a bitter drink made from herbs, with 40% alcohol by volume and dark brown in color. It can be mixed with Coke (served in bars, pubs, clubs) and if you go to an Argentinian house they will have Fernet and Coke to offer you. Also, Fernet is usually served as a digestif after a meal, but may also be enjoyed with coffee and espresso, or mixed into coffee and espresso drinks. It may be enjoyed at room temperature or with ice. Cafes often have fresh-squeezed fruit juices, which is otherwise hard to find. The legal drinking age is officially 18, although most establishments will serve anyone approximately 16 or older.
Other local foods, or drinks that you recommend? Please add and comment.