Sadly, I visited Argentina as a recent college graduate which basically translates to, food was not my top priority and I had no interest in spending too much money on it, so seven years later I know that I missed out on some really good eats. But here are five things I did get to try and would recommend to anyone who visits to do the same!
Dulce de Leche
While this particular item isn’t unique to Argentina (it’s also majorly popular in neighboring Uruguay and in other Latin American countries), it’s still the culinary lifeblood of everything that is Argentine. Literally translated, its name means “candy of milk” and it is basically that-it’s prepared by slowly heating sweetened milk to create a product that derives its taste from the Malliard reaction of the product, changing flavor and color. It’s basically “food sin” in a bottle. If you think peanut butter is rich and sweet, you’ve never tried dulce de leche. In Argentine grocery stores, it’s sold just like peanut butter and jelly is here. Breakfast was provided at the hostel my friend and I stayed at and each morning cereal, rolls and toast was offered along with dulce de leche. This popular confection has also made its way into cakes and ice creams. I had an amazing bowl of dulce de leche ice cream at the famous Buenos Aires landmark, Cafe Tortoni.
Empanadas are also not “strictly” an Argentine food item, and yet you’d be hard pressed to go anywhere in the country and not come across them either being sold on the street or in a cafe. An empanada is a stuffed pastry that is either baked or fried (think turnovers). The fillings vary ranging from ground meats to chicken to even vegetarian ones (i.e. cheese). I’m not lying when I say that my friend and I ate a ton of these while we were in Argentina-as I mentioned above, we didn’t go hog wild with our food spending and empanadas were dirt cheap. Just as a croissant isn’t the same outside of Paris, I feel the same goes for empanadas outside of Argentina.
I’m somewhat hesitant to include this item since I didn’t exactly love Argentine pizza but feel that it’s still somewhat culturally important to do so. Starting at the turn of the last century, Argentina received a large influx of immigrants from Europe, but primarily from Italy. So along with Italian words and phrases invading the Argentine vernacular (and making the Argentine accent completely unrecognizable to the naked ear), so did Italian foods. Pizza was one of them although there are notable differences between Argentine and Italian pizza. The former has a thicker crust and more cheese (almost too much if you ask me). The pizza slices I had also didn’t have a ton of sauce on them. To me, copious amounts of sauce are needed, otherwise you’re just eating dough with cheese on it. Another pizza item to try that’s special to Argentina is the fugazetta which is Argentina’s version of the deep dish pizza. As I said, a lot of people leave Argentina never having fallen in love with its pizza-I was one of them but it’s definitely a unique culinary item you should try at least once.
One can’t go to Argentina and not have some steak as they are renowned throughout the world. They actually have their own cuts and like to separate the different types of meat by structure and shape (hardcore if you ask me). So there’s that and then there is the incredible asado-Argentina’s answer to the barbeque. An asado is a much slower process and puts more emphasis on slightly smoking the meat. I didn’t get to dine at Cabana Las Lilas, one of the most famous steakhouses in Buenos Aires but I still got to partake in an asado. On the day I went to a gaucho farm, a traditional lunch was put on including asado meats-chicken, sausages, and of course steaks. If you ever come across a steak from Argentina, splurge and get it.
Although mate is another item not completely unique to Argentina (are you noticing a pattern here, how many of the South American countries share numerous culinary items even though they’re completely separate from each other?), it’s decidedly Argentine. Mate (or yerba mate as it is also known) is a caffeine-rich infused drink and it’s so big here that it’s defined by law as the “national infusion.” It’s prepared by steeping dried leaves of yerba mate in hot water. Mate is served with a metal straw from a shared hollow calabash gourd. The straw is called a bombilla in Spanish and is traditionally made of silver. It’s very much a “community drink”-by this I mean a group of people would all drink from the same container. On our way to the gaucho farm, the tour guide actually shared his gourd with everyone in the van.