Eating and drinking

Asado and parrillas

Not for vegetarians! The great classic meal throughout the country is the asado - beef or lamb cooked expertly over an open fire. This ritual is far more than a barbecue, and with luck you'll be invited to sample an asado at a friend's home or estancia, to see how it's done traditionally. Al asador is the way meat is cooked in the country, with a whole cow splayed out on a cross shaped stick, stuck into the ground at an angle over the fire beneath. And in the parrilla restaurants, found all over Argentina, cuts of meat are grilled over an open fire in much the same way. You can order any cuts from the range as individual meals, but if you order parrillada (usually for two or more people), you'll be brought a selection from the following cuts: achuras - offal; chorizos - sausages including morcilla (British black pudding or blood sausage); tira de asado - ribs; vacío- flank; bife ancho- entrecote; lomito - sirloin; bife de chorizo - rump steak; bife de lomo- fillet steak. You can ask for 'cocido' to have your meat well-done, 'a punto' for medium, and 'jugoso' for rare. Typical accompaniments are papas fritas(chips), salad and the spicy chimichurri sauce made from oil, chilli pepper, salt, garlic and vinegar.

Other typically Argentine meals

Other Argentine dishes to try include the puchero, a meat stew; bife a caballo, steak topped with a fried egg; choripán, a roll with a chorizo inside (hot dog). Puchero de gallina is chicken, sausage, maize, potatoes and squash cooked together. Milanesas, breaded, boneless chicken or veal, are found everywhere and good value. Good snacks are lomitos, a juicy slice of steak in a sandwich; and tostados, delicate toasted cheese and tomato sandwiches, often made from the soft crustless pan de miga.

Italian influences

It might seem that when Argentines aren't eating meat, they're eating pizza. Italian immigration has left a fine legacy in thin crispy pizzas available from even the humblest pizza joint, adapted to the Argentine palate with some unusual toppings. Palmitos are tasty, slightly crunchy hearts of palm, usually tinned, and a popular Argentine delicacy, though they're in short supply and the whole plant has to be sacrificed for one heart. They're often accompanied on a pizza with the truly unspeakable salsa golf, a lurid mixture of tomato ketchup and mayonnaise. You'll probably prefer excellent provolone or roquefort cheeses on your pizza - both Argentine and delicious. Fresh pasta is widely available, bought ready to cook from dedicated shops. Raviolis are filled with ricotta, verduras (spinach), or cuatro quesos (four cheeses), and with a variety of sauces. These are a good option for vegetarians, who need not go hungry in this land of meat. Most restaurants have pasta casero - home-made pasta - and sauces without meat, such as fileto (tomato sauce) or pesto. Ñoquis (gnocchi), potato dumplings normally served with tomato sauce, are cheap and delicious (traditionally eaten on the 29th of the month). But vegetarians must specify: 'No como carne, ni jamón, ni pollo', (I don't eat meat, or ham, or chicken) since many Argentines think that vegetarians will eat chicken or ham, and will certainly not take it seriously that you want to avoid all meat products.

Vegetarian

Vegetables in Argentina are cheap, of excellent quality, many of them organic, and available fresh in verdulerías (vegetable shops) all over towns. Look out for acelga, a large-leafed chard with a strong flavour, often used to fill pasta, or tarta de verduras, vegetable pies, which you can buy everywhere, fresh and very good. Butternut squash, zapallo, is used to good effect in tartas and in filled pasta. Salads are quite safe to eat in restaurants, and fresh, although not wildly imaginative. Only in remote areas in the north- west of the country should you be wary of salads, since the water here is not reliable. In most large towns there are vegetarian restaurants and don't forget the wonderful vegetarian empanadas such as cheese and onion, spinach or mushroom .

Regional specialitiesThroughout Argentina

The Argentine speciality empanadas are tasty small semicircular pies traditionally filled with meat, but now widely available filled with cheese, acelga (chard) or corn. They originate in Salta and Tucumán, where you'll still find the best examples, but can be found all over the country as a starter in a parrilla, or ordered by the dozen to be delivered at home with drinks among friends.

Northwest

Around Salta and Jujuy you'll find
humitas
, parcels of sweet corn and onions, steamed in the corn husk, superb, and
tamales
, balls of cornflour filled with beef and onion, and similarly wrapped in corn husk leaves to be steamed. The other speciality of the region is
locro
- a thick stew made of maize, white beans, beef, sausages, pumpkin and herbs. Good fish is served in many areas of the country and along the east coast you'll always be offered
merluza
(hake),
lenguado
, (sole), and often salmon as well.

Atlantic Coast

If you go to Puerto Madryn or the Atlantic coast near Mar del Plata, then seafood is a must:
arroz con mariscos
is similar to paella and absolutely delicious. There will often be
ostras
(oysters) and
centolla
(king crab) on the menu too.

Lake District

In the lakes the trout is very good and is best served grilled, but as with all Argentine fish you'll be offered a bewildering range of sauces, such as roquefort, which rather drown the flavour. Also try the smoked trout and the wild boar. Berries are very good here in summer, with raspberries and strawberries abundant and flavoursome, particularly around El Bolsón. And in Puehuenia, you must try the pine nuts of the monkey puzzle trees: sacred food to the Mapuche people.

Northeast

In the northeast, there are some superb river fish to try:
pacú
is a large, firm fleshed fish with lots of bones, but very tasty. The other great speciality is
surubí
, a kind of catfish, particularly good cooked delicately in banana leaves.

Desserts

Argentines have a sweet tooth, and are passionate about dulce de leche - milk and sugar evaporated to a pale, soft fudge, and found on all cakes, pastries, and even for breakfast. If you like this, you'll be delighted by facturas and other pastries, stuffed with dulce de leche, jams of various kinds, and sweet cream fillings. Helado (ice cream) are really excellent in Argentina, and for US$2.50 in any heladería, you'll get two flavours, from a huge range, piled up high on a tiny cone; an unmissable treat. Jauja (El Bolsón) and Persicco (Buenos Aires) are the best makes. Other popular desserts are dulce de batata, a hard, dense sweet potato jam, so thick you can carve it; dulce de membrillo (quince preserve); dulce de zapallo (pumpkin in syrup). All are eaten with cheese. The most loved of all is flan, which is not a flan at all but crème caramel, often served on a pool of caramelized sugar, and dulce de leche. Every Argentine loves alfajores, soft maize-flour biscuits filled with dulce de leche or apricot jam, and then coated with chocolate, especially if they're the Havanna brand. Croissants (media lunas) come in two varieties: de grasa (savoury, made with beef fat) and dulce (sweet and fluffy). These will often be your only breakfast since Argentines are not keen on eating first thing in the morning (because they've only just had dinner), and only supply the huge buffet-style 'American Breakfast' in international hotels to please tourists.

Drink

The great Argentine drink, which you must try if invited, is mate. A kind of green tea made from dried yerba leaves, drunk from a cup or seasoned gourd through a silver perforated straw, it is shared by a group of friends or work colleagues as a daily social ritual. The local beers, mainly lager-type, are excellent: Quilmes is the best seller, but look out for home-made beers from microbreweries in the lakes, especially around El Bolsón.Spirits are relatively cheap, other than those that are imported; there are cheap drinkable Argentine gins and whiskeys. Clericó is a white-wine sangría drunk in summer and you'll see lots of Argentine males drink the green liquor Fernet with coke. It tastes like medicine but is very popular. It is best not to drink the tap water; in the main cities it's safe, but often heavily chlorinated. Never drink tap water in the northwest, where it is notoriously poor. Many Argentines mix soda water with their wine (even red wine) as a refreshing drink.

Wines

Argentine wines are excellent and drinkable throughout the price range. Red
grape varieties of Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and the white Torrontes are particularly
recommended; try brands Lurton, Norton, Bianchi, Trapiche or Etchart in any restaurant. Good champagnes include the
brut nature
of Navarro Correas, whose Los Arboles Cabernet Sauvignon is an excellent red wine, and Norton's Cosecha Especial.

Eating out

The siesta is observed everywhere but Buenos Aires city. At around 1700, many people go to a confitería for merienda - tea, sandwiches and cakes. Restaurants rarely open before 2100 and most people turn up at around 2230, often later. Dinner usually begins at 2200 or 2230; Argentines like to eat out, and usually bring babies and children along, however late it is. If you're invited to someone's house for dinner, don't expect to eat before 2300, so have a few facturas at 1700, the Argentine merienda, to keep you going.

If you're on a tight budget, ask for the
menú fijo
(set price menu), usually good value, also try
tenedor libre
restaurants - eat all you want for a fixed price. Markets usually have cheap food. Food in supermarkets is cheap and good quality.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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