Argentine Cuisine: More than Meat and Malbec

Despite being known as one of the top destinations for meat-eaters, Argentine cuisine is versatile enough to satisfy even the pickiest of eaters.

Argentine cuisine is heavily influenced by its Spanish and Italian roots. Although each province is unique, the basic Argentine diet doesn’t vary too much from region to region.

In fact, foreigners often joke that the Argentine food pyramid is composed of little more than meat (mainly beef), empanadas, pizza, pasta, dulce de leche, and ice cream (especially dulce de leche flavored ice cream) and that all of these food groups are often eaten in one sitting. Although this is a bit of an exaggeration, there is more than a grain of truth to it. The Argentine diet is heavy in carbohydrates, meat, and dairy products and sorely lacking in fresh vegetables and fruits.

That said, regardless of your food preferences, you’ll have no problem finding something to stimulate your appetite in Argentina.

What’s cookin’ in Argentina?

• Alfajor – During my time in Argentina, I became a bit of an alfajor aficionado. Although the alfajores from Mar del Plata were my treat of choice, I never passed up the opportunity to eat one of these short bread sandwich cookies. Alfajores are traditionally filled with a layer of dulce de leche, marmalade, or membrillo and are dipped in chocolate, meringue, or left uncovered and rolled in shredded coconut. Despite being viewed as junk food, they’ve become acceptable breakfast substitutes and are eaten during afternoon tea.

• Chorizo – Although I am not a big meat eater, chorizo quickly became one of my favorite Argentine foods. This juicy sausage is seasoned with paprika, garlic, and wine, smoked, and served as an appetizer or main course.

• Choripan – Chorizo + bread + chimichurri = the infamous choripan. A staple at asados and sporting events, not much can compete with this quintessential Argentine meal.

• Dulce de leche – Painfully sweet, dulce de leche is the Argentine equivalent of caramel. Argentines love it slathered on pretty much everything: toast, pancakes, ice cream (and dulce de leche flavored ice cream) and have been known to eat it directly out of the jar.

• Empanadas – Words cannot express how much I love these mini stuffed pastries. Although ham and cheese empanadas are my kryptonite, beef, chicken, veggie, Nutella and strawberry, and dulce de leche empanadas are excellent as well.

• Faina – Traditionally served in Uruguayan and Argentine pizzerias, faina is a flatbread made out of chickpea flour. Faina is usually served by the slice and eaten with a piece of pizza stacked upon it. I however, prefer my faina drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt or used as a gluten-free pizza crust.

• Helado – I scream. You scream. We all scream for ice cream. But no one screams louder than an Argentine and rightfully so. Argentine ice cream is superior in taste to most ice creams in the U.S. Its texture is comparable to gelato and is offered in an assortment of flavors and sizes. It is typical for an ice cream parlor to have five or six dulce de leche flavors alone! Parlors are open year-round and often stay open until 2 am making that late night ice cream craving even more dangerous.

• Mate – One of the worst faux-pas I made while living in Argentina was calling mate “tea”. Although this tea-like beverage has become quite trendy in the U.S. over recent years, it has been a longstanding custom in Argentina. The loose-leaf herbs (yerba) are typically steeped in hot water, served in a gourd (called a mate), and sipped through a metal straw (known as a bombilla). Traditionally, the drink is shared among a group of friends, family, and classmates.

• Medialunas – Even though Argentines aren’t big breakfast eaters, they sure love their pastries, especially these croissants. It’s impossible to pass a coffee shop during the morning and not see at least one Argentine eating a couple of medialunas with a cup of café con leche on the side.

• Ñoquis – In Argentina, the 29th of every month is “Gnocchi Day”. Although gnocchi was once considered simple fare, it is enjoyed by Argentines throughout the country. Gnocchi is served warm with a cream or tomato-based sauce on top. Although potato-based gnocchi is the most common, the sweet potato, beet, and spinach varieties are worth trying as well.

• Panqueques – Similar to their French counterpart, these thin pancakes can be served as a savory meal or a sweet treat. I love them smothered in dulce de leche and sprinkled with powdered sugar.

• Pizza – According to an industry study, it is estimated that the number of Buenos Aires pizzerias may exceed the number of parillas. In fact, Buenos Aires residents eat an estimated 14 million pizzas annually! Argentines love their pizza and will eat it in almost any form: thin crust, thick crust, cone-shaped crust (pizza en cono) and on a slab of breaded meat (pizzanessa).

• Tarta – Considered one of Argentine’s lighter lunch options, tartas are essentially quiches filled with an assortment of meats, cheeses, and veggies. Some are served with an open-face and others are topped with an additional layer of pastry dough.

• Tortilla Española – Unlike the flour and corn tortillas that are commonly associated with Central America, a Spanish tortilla is an egg-based dish similar to an omelet. It is usually cooked with an assortment of vegetables and/or potatoes, sliced, and served with a side salad. The tortilla de papas is my personal favorite. Roasted potatoes + minced garlic + eggs + Dijon mustard = the perfect winter treat.

Salivating yet? Maybe these blogs will help.

While the list of Argentine dishes could continue indefinitely, I’ll spare you. I do, however, encourage you to check out the blogs listed below. Maybe you’ll even feel inspired to attempt a recipe or two. Be careful though or you may end up dreaming of empanadas.

From Argentina with Love – Delicious Argentine recipes written by a U.S. resident living in Argentine wine country
Pick up the Fork – Pack your bags and check out this expatriate’s lust-worthy guide to Buenos Aires’ thriving food scene
Bee My Chef – Dust off that Spanish-English dictionary and attempt to recreate some of these Latin American dishes

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