Argentina is iconic for its flavorful and satisfying asado, or BBQ, dishes. These meats, mostly beef along side other varieties, are cooked on a special grill or open fire. Going for asado is a big part of the culture; however, it’s not the only cuisine locals eat. Next time you’re in Argentina, make sure to also try these foods and drinks for a well-rounded gastronomic experience.
Empanadas (In Certain Places)
Argentina is well-known for it’s empanadas, pastries stuffed with meats, vegetables, cheeses, fruits and more; however, not all empanadas are created equal. When in Buenos Aires, many locals confessed to me it was nearly impossible to get a good empanada in the city unless you went to a select few restaurants, like Cumana or La Cholita, both in the Recoleta neighborhood. The best empanadas are found in the north of the country in cities like Salta, Tucuman, Santiago del Estero and Jujuy, with fillings varying from region to region. For example, in Mendoza they traditionally use beef, onion, egg and sometimes olives or cheese as filling, while in Salta, potatoes, beef, chicken and sometimes llama meat is used. In Cordoba, empanadas take on a sweeter flavor, with white sugar, potatoes, olives and meat.
This traditional tripe stew contains cow stomach and slow-cooked vegetables like carrots, onion, tomatoes and celery, as well as spices like garlic and cilantro.
Milanesa dishes take meat cutlets and lightly fry them. Common varieties include chicken, beef, veal and sometimes pork, eggplant and soy. The cutlets are dipped into beaten eggs, sprinkled with salt and other herbs and spices, dipped in bread crumbs and shallow-fried in oil.
Literally meaning “wrapped up children,” no children are actually harmed in the making of this dish. While these stuffed beef rolls do resemble swaddled babies, they contain a filling mixture of ham, boiled egg and vegetables like onion, peppers and spinach rolled up like sushi inside a piece of sirloin. Sometimes, Ninos Envueltos also refers to a similar recipe that uses cabbage instead of beef as the roll.
Pastel de Papa
The Argentinian version of Shepard’s Pie, The recipe for this dish varies slightly depending on who makes it. While one person might use a pie crust on the bottom and a potato crust on the top, another might use a potato crust for both. The potato pie contains beef, olives, mozzarella cheese, hard boiled eggs and sometimes spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and oregano. The photo above shows the dish in the preparation stages.
Translating to “hunger killer,” this filling dish features a rolled flank steak that is filled with eggs, vegetables and herbs then broiled or roasted in the oven. Typically, people eat it with chimichurri sauce, which is made from chopped parsley, minced garlic, oregano, olive oil, white or red vinegar and sometimes additional seasonings like cilantro, paprika, lemon, bay leaf, cumin and thyme.
Argentinians love their barbecue, even when it comes to cheese. First made around 1940, the grilled cheese has a crispy outside and gooey inside. To make, small discs of local-produced provolone cheese are topped with chili and oregano and placed on a grill. Often, the cheese is seasoned with chimichurri and eaten socially with bread. In 1963, Provoleta was trademarked and you can purchase it in a package.
I got to try this Argentine version of hot chocolate in Buenos Aires at the country’s oldest cafe, Cafe Tortoni, although you can get them all over the country. You’ll get a cup of hot milk and a submarine-shaped chocolate bar and a cookie. Drop the chocolate into the milk to make a rich, flavorful variety of hot cocoa.
This hearty stew can be found all over South America, although the recipe varies by country and region. Originally originating from Andres region, In Argentina, the soup contains yellow corn, pumpkin, beans, beef, cow stomach and intestine, chorizo, bacon, fat, onion and chili powder.
When talking to local Argentinians about food, you’ll quickly learn they love dulce de leche. It’s no surprise, then, they created a cookie sandwich incorporating the sweet spread. Alfajores are two sweet butter cookies or biscuits with dulce de leche in the center, dipped in chocolate or covered in powdered sugar. While many westerners would look at this as a treat, in Argentina alfajores are a perfectly acceptable breakfast.
Berenjenas en Escabeche
Simply put, this dish is pickled eggplant. It is commonly served as a side dish to asado meats, on bread or as part of a picada, a selection of appetizers like cured meats, cheeses, vegetables and olives for everyone to share. The slices of eggplant are typically soaked in a jar or marinated in a mixture of oil, vinegar, garlic and herbs, as well as a bit of crushed red pepper for some spice.
You’ve never really had Malbec wine until you’ve had it in Argentina. It is the most popular wine grape variety in the country, being planted since the mid-19th century when Malbec grapewine cuttings were brought from France to Argentina. However, the grapes in Argentina differ from their European relative, as the Argentine grapes have tinier berries and grow in smaller, tighter clusters. Flavors usually associated with the wine include fruits like cherries, plums, raspberries and currants, as well as notes of spice, vanilla and sometimes tobacco.
Walking around Argentina, you’ll undoubtedly see myriad locals walking around holding calabash gourds with long protruding silver straws sipping something that looks like tea. This is yerba mate, a blend of herbs, proteins, caffeine and hot water that holds a special meaning to the people of Argentina. People often associate it with sharing, using it as an excuse to get together with family and friends and enjoy some mate.
Choripan and Morcipan
If you’re in the mood for asado but don’t want to go to a traditional asado restaurant or have a giant meal, street vendors often sell choripan and morcipan. The choripan is a grilled and greasy chorizo sausage served on bread, or pan. You can top it with condiments and sauces like chimichurri, ketchup, mayo, mustard, peppers sauces and more. The morcipan is blood sausage – congealed blood, fat and flavorings – on a bun. While to many the latter may sound unappetizing, I actually tried it without knowing what it was and it reminded me of flavorful black beans.
Top image: Empanadas. Image via victormar.