Food in Argentina
Argentine breakfast is a little light compared to what travellers from English-speaking countries are used to. It usually consists of a hot drink (coffee, tea, milk) accompanied by some toast, medialunas (croissants, literally “half moons”) or bread.
Hotels usually offer a free buffet of coffee, tea, yoghurt drinks, various pastries and toast, fruit and perhaps cereals. This type of breakfast is also available in many cafés.
Lunch in Argentina is a hearty meal, usually taken in the early afternoon. The reason lunch is so important is that dinner is late: 8.30-9pm at the earliest, more often 10pm or even later. Most restaurants do not serve anything until then, except for pastries or small grilled ham and cheese sandwiches (tostados) for afternoon tea from 6 to 8 pm. Tea is the only meal that is rarely skipped. Some cafés offer more substantial meals throughout the day, but don’t expect anything more substantial than pizza, milanesa (breaded meat fillet) or lomito (steak sandwich) outside normal Argentine meal times. Dinner is usually at 10pm and consists of starters, a main course and desserts.
By the way, North Americans should be wary of Argentines using the term “entrée” to refer to appetizers. This is common outside North America, but may surprise some Canadians and most Americans. Only in those parts of North America (outside the province of Quebec) is the “appetizer” a “main course”. In Argentina, the main course is a “plato principal”.
In Argentina, appetizers usually consist of empanadas (baked dumplings filled with meat), chorizo or morcilla (meat or blood sausage) and assorted achuras (offal). The main course is usually bife de chorizo (beef fillet/New York steak) and various types of salad. Dessert is often a pudding with dulce de leche and whipped cream.
Beef is an important part of the Argentine diet and Argentine beef is world famous for good reason. Argentina and Uruguay are the top two countries in the world for meat consumption per capita. Be sure to try the Argentine barbecue: the asado, sometimes called parrillada because it is cooked on a parrilla, or grill. There’s no escaping it: in culinary terms, Argentina is practically synonymous with beef. Beef is some of the best in the world, and there are many different types of meat. Lomo (tenderloin) and ‘bife de chorizo’ are excellent. Costillas (ribs) are considered by the locals to be the true cut of meat “asado” and are very tasty. North Americans will find the costillas different from those at home. Argentines cut the ribs perpendicular to the bone. A parrillada dinner is one of the best ways to experience Argentine cuisine, preferably with a bottle of wine and plenty of salads. In some popular areas, parrilladas are served in small buffets, or in street carts and barbecue trailers. Kebabs and steak sandwiches can then be bought to take away.
Given that a large percentage of Argentines are of Italian, Spanish and French descent, these dishes are very common and of high quality; pizzerias and specialist restaurants are very common. Note that it is a convention in Argentina to treat pasta and sauce as separate items; some travellers have discovered what they thought was cheap pasta, only to find they had no sauce. You’ll see the pasta at one price, then the sauces at an additional price.
Cafés, bakeries and ice cream parlours (heladerías) are very popular. Inexpensive and quality snacks are available in most shopping areas, and many have outdoor seating. Empanadas (dumplings) filled with meat, cheese or other ingredients can be bought cheaply from restaurants or takeaways. A must-try is the alfajor, a snack consisting of two biscuits filled with dulce de leche, which is available at all kiosks.
Smoking is now prohibited in all restaurants in Buenos Aires and Mendoza. In most cities, smoking is prohibited in all public buildings (cafes, shops, banks, bus stations, etc.), so it is best to ask before smoking anywhere.
- Empanada (baked dumplings filled with meat, cheese and/or vegetables)
- Milanesa (breaded meat fillets)
- Chorizo (sausage) and choripan (with bread)
- Tarta de Jamón y Queso (baked pastry crust with ham and cheese filling)
- Guiso Criollo – with meat, vegetables and fruit
Desserts and snacks
- dulce de leche
- Flan con Dulce de Leche
- Torta de Ricotta
Drinks in Argentina
Yerba mate (pronounced in two syllables, “MAH-tae”) is a traditional Argentine herbal drink, prepared in a hollow calabash that is passed around socially and drunk through a metal straw. Although usually drunk hot, mate can also be served cold, usually called “tereré” – the preferred version in Paraguay. Mate contains less caffeine than coffee, but other vitamins and minerals that give it a stimulating effect, especially for those not used to it. It is quite bitter by nature, so it is not unusual to add sugar to it, although it is polite to ask before adding sugar. Drinking mate with friends is an important social ritual in Argentina. The informal tea ceremony is conducted by a “cebador” or waiter and people arrange themselves in a “rueda” or wheel. Those who like the drink bitter and those who like it sweet are grouped together to help the server.
Argentina is known for its excellent selection of wines. The most popular is Mendoza, which is one of the most popular regions in the world due to its high altitude, volcanic soils and proximity to the Andes. The terrain seems to complement European grape varieties with interesting notes that are not present in other climates, allowing Argentine wine to play in a league of its own. The best way to discover and understand the range of Argentine grape varieties is to attend one of the many tastings.
The official drinking age is 18, although most establishments serve anyone aged 16 or over. Most restaurants serve a wide range of spirits. Beer is available on tap in a chopp (small glass) or served in bottles or cans. It is usually a light, easy-drinking lager. The most popular local beer brands are Quilmes, Isenbeck, Schneider and Brahma (although it is Brazilian). The most common imports are Warsteiner, Heineken, Budweiser and Corona. There are now many small pubs and bars in Buenos Aires that brew beer locally, but most of them offer a product of mediocre quality compared to what is widely available in parts of the US and Europe. In the Buenos Aires area, Buller Brewing Company in Recoleta and Antares Brewery in Mar del Plata offer excellent English/American craft beers. Ask to see “cervezas artesanales” to see if there are any local craft beers.
Fernet is widely consumed by Argentines, especially in Córdoba, Santa Fe and Buenos Aires. Originating in Italy, it is a bitter herbal drink, 40% alcohol by volume and dark brown in colour. It can be mixed with Coke (served in bars, pubs and clubs) and if you go to an Argentinian house you will be offered Fernet and Coke. In addition, Fernet is usually served as a digestif after a meal, but it can also be enjoyed with coffee and espresso, or mixed with coffee and espresso drinks. It can be enjoyed at room temperature or with ice.
Cafés often offer freshly squeezed fruit juice, which is difficult to find elsewhere.