“Vegetarians are served chicken”– Argentine saying
Argentina is, first and foremost, a beef lovers paradise. The cuisine is also a fascinating mix of indigenous foods like Locra (hominy stew), humidas (tamales), and yerba mate (tea) with grilled meats from the cattle introduced by the Spanish in the mid-1500s. Dishes like pizza and breaded cutlets which are also popular, were brought later by Italian immigrants.
Social gatherings are commonly centered on sharing a meal. Invitations to have dinner at home are viewed as a symbol of friendship and warmth. Sunday lunch is traditionally when friends and family gather for hours on end. During the warmer months (September – March) it’s almost always around a day-long Asado (Argentine BBQ).
The national dish of Argentina is beef. There are huge cattle ranches in Argentina and many dishes contain meat, all made with a unique Argentine twist.
Geography and History
Argentina is a huge land mass, occupying the majority of the South American continent’s southern half. The harsh Andes mountain range runs down its western border with Chile, while most of the rest of Argentina is flat lands. The lush and fertile flatlands that surround Buenos Aires are known as “Los Pampas” and have played an essential role in Argentina’s development as an incredibly diverse country and culture. The vast swathes of long, succulent grasses and open skies of Los Pampas are perfect grazing territory for cattle and other livestock.
Indigenous people lived in Argentina centuries before the European explorers arrived. They survived by growing squash, corn, melons, and sweet potatoes. Argentine cuisine is basically a cultural fusion of these indigenous recipes with the Mediterranean influences brought by the Spanish during the colonial period, and then by the millions of mostly Italian immigrants who arrived during 19th and 20th centuries. Between 1857 and 1950, Argentina took in more immigrants than any other country in the world besides the US. These great waves of immigration have defined Argentine cuisine.
Asados – In Argentina, an asado is just not just an outdoor barbeque – it’s an art form; an all day social affair and a major component of the Argentine national identity. A traditional asado is an elaborate system and purposeful set of customs masterfully orchestrated around the grilling of special cuts of meats, sausages, vegetables, salads, and red wine. Sharing the social embrace of an asado with friends and family reaches back generations.
Chimichurri – Probably Argentina’s most recognizable dish, the magnificent chimichurri salsa is perfect as both a marinade and a sauce for grilled meats and poultry. This simple sauce packs a powerful punch with its herbaceous mix of parsley, garlic, vinegar, and olive oil. It’s close to impossible to find any grilled or roasted meat in Argentina without a fresh bowl of chimichurri nearby.
Empanadas – It’s believed that the early Spanish conquistadors brought the recipe to Argentina during the 16th century. Empanadas were considered a working man’s meal because they were easy to carry to work in the fields. Although no longer considered that today, the ease and tastiness of these meat-filled pastries remain a favorite at restaurants and an easy dinner meal or party food for home cooks.
Stews and Soups – Hailing from Patagonia, Carbonara Criolla is a hearty meat stew that is prepared with chunks of beef, potatoes, squash, sweet potatoes, corn, and tomatoes. It is typically enriched with dried or fresh fruit, usually apricots or raisins, and served inside a whole pumpkin.
Locro is a thick hearty soup traditionally made with hominy (dried corn), dried beans, squash, vegetables, and meats. Locro goes all the way back to the time of the Incan empire. It eventually migrated to the north before the colonization of the Spaniards. After a brutal 6 year revolution ending in 1816, Argentina declared independence from of Spanish rule and established its own government. Locro was named a national dish to signify the rise of their own culture. It is always served on 9 de Julio as part of de la Independencia celebrations.
Dulce de Leche – Although versions of this this sweet caramelized milk is enjoyed throughout Latin America, it is especially loved in Argentina. The Argentinians are so passionate about it that they celebrate “World Dulce de Leche Day” annually on October 11th. It is used to fill cakes and cookies, drizzled over ice cream, and scooped straight from the jar.
Alfajores (Al-fuh Hore-aze)- South American alfajores are made with 2 layers of cookie or cake-like confection with a sweet filling of dulce de leche, quince, or fruit jam. The traditional Argentinian alfajores are soft and have a superb texture that explains why these snacks are so popular everywhere in South America.
Yerba Mate – Mate refers both to the container where the popular infusion is prepared and to the drink itself. The container might be simply made out of a hollowed-out gourd or carefully crafted in silver or other metals. It is drunk with a special straw with holes in one end to filter out the tea leaves. The slightly stimulating infusion is made with leaves from the yerba mate plant which is cultivated in northeast Argentina since Incan times.
Malbec Wine – Argentina is the among the largest wine grower outside Europe and its annual per capita consumption of among the highest. Argentina’s Malbec red wines are considered by many to be the best in the world. The Malbec grape, once discarded from France, found an ideal environment in Argentina’s Mendoza region. Mendoza now accounts for 70% of the country’s total wine production. In a country obsessed with beef, this perfect red wine is…perfect.
Recipes for many of these interesting and utterly delicious dishes have been updated for the modern kitchen by MHT and shared here.