* NOTE: I’m focussing on classics, I am aware that some regions in Argentina have their own gastronomy (especially the north) and I hope to explore more in 2019. If you think I’m missing something don’t hesitate to leave a comment – just remember this is a personal blog only, it’s not meant as the ultimate guide to Argentinian cuisine.
Well, dah. Ever since the Spanish first brought cattle to Argentina in the 16th century, the culinary fate of this country would be decided for eternity. Average supermarket meat in Argentina and Uruguay is still slightly better than your fancy Sunday beef abroad. Why is Argentinian meat so good? Apparently there’s a mix of reasons: The cows are grass-fed instead of corn-fed, the cuts are based on texture (rather than only body parts) and the Argentinians have developed and perfectioned their cooking technique, smoking the meat for hours. Most popular cut is Bife de Chorizo (if you’re new in town, you can’t go wrong by ordering that). My personal favorite: Entraña.
***And don’t forget to pair with an excellent Argentinian wine***
Where to eat:
My hint: Los Talas del Entrerriano
Modern twist: La Carnicería
THE NATIONAL SANDWICH. Simple and intense: A big fat sausage -chorizo- wrapped by a dense piece of bread. It is customary to add local sauces like chimichurri or salsa criolla (which I will explain later) but they will usually ask you before adding something or will hand you the “extras” for you to put yourself.
Where to eat:
The famous one and pocket-friendly: Street food trucks at La Costanera (Buenos Aires’ long promenade by the river) are not only considered the best; but eating a Choripán next to the River, surrounded by Argentinian families, should be on your to-do list while visiting Buenos Aires.
My hint: There is one place where I tried the best chori, apparently called “Lo de Freddy” in San Telmo. This was many years ago; I’ve been back several times over the years chasing that perfect choripán and I always find it closed; however according to Google it’s still up and running, so maybe it’s just bad luck.
Modern twist: Chori
THE NATIONAL CHEESE. While Argentina may not excel in the cheese area, you should definitely try grilled Provoleta cheese. This is the Argentine version of provolone cheese and it’s commonly served as a side dish for meat in asados. Salty, flavory, greasy. You should top with chimichurri for a taste boost.
Where to eat:
The famous one: Most critically-acclaimed provoleta is not in Buenos Aires. It’s in Uruguay and I haven’t tried it yet: La Cantina del Vigía
My hint in BA: Provoleta rellena at Caldén del Soho
I have to say, Empanadas are not my favorite Argentinian treat. However, they are important in all South America and each country has their own style. I have tried empanadas in Venezuela, Chile, Bolivia and even Spain. Argentina’s empanadas are different in every region, you must try them if you’re visiting, and you will try them eventually if you’re living here. They’re a tasty, cheap, convenient solution to parties, gatherings and quick lunches. Empanadas can be found everywhere with a wide variety of fillings, they can either be baked or fried (If I may: Try a fried, spicy meat empanada as a start).
Where to eat:
I actually wrote my own “Empanadas top 10” for Buenos Aires Connect (Spanish and French).
My hint: In the north of Argentina, you can find empanadas “tucumanas” and empanadas “salteñas” (among others) which are similar to those in Bolivia and I absolutely love. The dough is a bit sweeter and the filling is juicier. If you’re in Buenos Aires, you can try them at El Fortín Salteño and the Bolivian Market in Liniers.
Modern twist: The Stand
Actually I don’t know if your agency or your friend who visited Argentina 10 years ago will add this to your list. But I am adding it.
Well I’m sorry Italy, I’m sorry New York, Argentina has its own thing when it comes to pizza. This is a controversial topic, alright: most foreigners and half of porteños HATE Argentinian-style pizza. Not me. No sir. I’m rooting for that extravagant, salty, cheesy thing that locals have adopted as pizza.
How is it different? I have a lot to say in this matter, so please take 5 minutes to read this introduction to Argentina’s pizza. Long story short: ultra-dense dough, ultra-abundant cheese, special topping formulas in local pizzerias (I swear some of them are crazy AF) and very importantly: the Argentinian protocol for eating pizza (yes, it’s different).
Where to eat
My hint: Pin Pun’s Fugazzetta Rellena (at least their place in Villa Urquiza) – I have never seen that much cheese stuffed into one single pizza slice.
Pocket-friendly: Kentucky (there’s one every two blocks)
Modern twist: There’s no “modern twist” to the real Argentina’s traditional pizza. But you can find some unusual toppings in La Fachada including shrimps or french fries with ketchup.
NOTE: There are good Italian and American pizzerias in town. But for the purpose of this post we’ll limit ourselves to Argentinian style pizza.
Dulce de Leche
Argentinians will put dulce de leche in everything. They want everything to taste like dulce de leche. I can’t really blame them, it’s so sweet and delicious. It’s normal for newcomers to get hooked on dulce de leche during their first months living in Argentina. They will buy big jars at the supermarket and have a full spoon everytime they open the fridge to get something (or every half hour if there’s nothing to get from the fridge).
Where to eat
Dulce de leche pancakes, dulce de leche ice cream, dulce de leche flan. Don’t worry, you’ll get plenty of opportunities to try it. If you must buy one at the supermarket, Sancor and La Serenísima are well known brands; but gourmet shops will offer artisanal dulce de leche from other parts of Argentina.
My hint: If you get the chance please try the dulce de leche flan at Proper.
Most ice cream shops in Buenos Aires make an artisanal product – and you will notice the quality when you taste it. The average Argentinian eats 7 Kg of ice cream per year. They buy it by the kilo in big containers that they bring to parties and dinners – or just home. There are numerous ice cream delivery services, even beyond midnight. So you need to understand that ice cream is a BIG DEAL in Argentina.
If besides quality, you also want the “local” flavors, try 1) dulce de leche 2) Sambayón (cream and sugar with a touch of whiskey) 3) Menta granizada (mint plus chocolate chips).
Where to eat
I wish I could tell you more, but the truth is I don’t eat a lot of ice cream. There’s an ice cream shop around the corner from home which I find really good: Tufic. The chocolate ice cream from Rapa Nui (straight from Patagonia) is also among my favorite. Otherwise I satisfy my occasional craving at the nearest Freddo (chain). If it helps, my favorite flavours are Chocolate italiano and Mousse de Maracuyá (passionfruit). Don’t hesitate to google a more dedicated ice cream recommendation list.
Alfajor de maicena
THE NATIONAL COOKIE. This sort of cookie-sandwich consists of two layers of cornstarch dough glued together by the omnipresent dulce de leche. The cookie texture is rather soft and crumbly. Today, there are many types of alfajor, but the cornstarch one remains the most traditional and representative. You can have one (or several) in any traditional bakery, or just buy the “industrial” ones at any supermarket.
Where to eat
I have no favorites here. I have tried many, in different neighborhoods, different occasions and they all taste the same: delicious.
Ok, Mate is not food and I’m not mentioning any other beverages here… but I think it should be among the basics.
Mate is an infusion made with dried leaves from a native tree called Yerba Mate. The ideal conditions for its cultivation can be found only in this region of South America and Argentina is the world’s leading producer. The drink itself has a herbal and slightly bitter taste.
I write regularly for the Taragui blog, so I’ve studied Mate very closely and I’ve felt fascination at times.
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Yerba mate leaves can be found in two types: darker or light-colored. It all depends if they are shade-grown or sun-grown. This also can affect to it's taste, and because of that sometimes it is nice and heavy (shade-grown) or relatively monotonous taste (sun-grown). photo by: Jose Luis Lara #matetea #pure_argentino #mategourd #yerbaargentina #mateargentino #yerbamate #drinktea #pureargentino #yerba #argentinianmate #timeyerba #matecup #lovemate #timemate #timetea #drinkmate #loveyerba #materos #mateporfavor #mate #matero #harmony #purelove #pure #teatime #cup #calabashgourd #travel #nutritional
Where to try
Now, as a tourist it may be weird for you to just go and try Mate. You have to rely on an Argentinian friend to prepare it – not only because a mate “set” is needed and because it has to be prepared a certain way by someone who knows the process – but also because the ceremony of sharing a round of mate is a vital part of the experience.
Another option is to order mate service as a restaurant. I only recommend this as a last resource if you’re leaving tomorrow and didn’t get a chance to try it. Ironically, not all cafés offer this mate service, but I know for sure that Cumaná (Rodríguez Peña 1149) does.