How to Eat Like an Argentine

To say that we ate our way across Argentina would be a fair statement. Trying new foods is one of the great pleasures of travel and this trip did not let us down, so we thought we’d write a short post (which turned very long) about what it’s like to eat in Argentina. In a country known for its steaks, there is so much more on the menu – so check it out:

Breakfast

Breakfast is a pretty light affair in Argentina. Most of the time it involves a medialuna (a small croissant covered in sugar) and a cup of cafe. While this didn’t satisfy my undying love of all things breakfast, most hostels and B&Bs supplemented the meal with bread (often homemade), dulce de leche (a caramel spread) and yogurt. The yogurt here is pretty interesting: it’s very liquid and you drink it out of a cup – more like the consistency of a milkshake.  We’ve grown to really like it.

Medialunas: the breakfast of champions… and sugar-addicts

Lunch and Dinner Schedule

Lunch is the big meal for Argentines. Usually they eat between 12 and 3pm, followed by a siesta. Dinner is usually something light and people eat at about 10pm. As a side note, most Argentines go to bed well after midnight. Many restaurants don’t open until 8pm; bars don’t open until 12am and clubs don’t open until 2 or 3am. Hence the siesta in the middle of the day!

Empanadas

Ah yes, the mighty empanada. It’s fair to say that the number of empanadas we’ve consumed on this trip is well into the triple digits. You might be familiar with central American empanadas, which is usually what you’ll find back home, but these are very different and, in my opinion, much better. An empanada in Argentina is a small pocket of dough filled with meat and then baked, not fried. With bakeries selling them on almost every corner, they make a very convenient lunch or snack and are great to take hiking.

La Casa de Empanadas – possibly the best empanadas in the world

Each city produces unique empanadas. In Buenos Aires they’ll be filled with beef or chicken, often with the addition of hardboiled eggs and a small amount of spice (Argentines generally don’t eat spicy food). In Patagonia they’re a little more plain but you might find some with calabaza (squash) or spinach. Mendoza adds olives in with the meat. Santiago de Chile likes them really big, filled with pino (a meat and spice mixture), and sometimes fried.

But the best ones are in Salta and Jujuy where they fill them with llama meat, all sorts of veggies, cheese, and spices. They’re really small in this region and the dough is just perfect.

Empanadas that we made in our cooking class

Pizza, Pasta, and Gelato

Many people in Argentina are of Italian heritage, especially in Buenos Aires. So naturally their ancestors brought along their favorite recipes when they moved here. It’s really easy to find good pasta and many restaurants make the pasta in house, which you’ll see on the menu as pasta casero. One interesting note is that in most restaurants, you order the pasta and the sauce separately.

Jenny with a plate of lamb ravioli and a “pingüino” – a penguin shaped pitcher of wine found in Patagonia

Pizza frequently shows up on the menu as well. The Argentine style is with a thick, soft crust, a lot of cheese, and not much sauce. To be honest, I like the pizza we get at home better with its thin crust. And watch out if you get olives on your pizza: they contain pits!

The best surprise though is that the gelato is sooo good here. It rivals the gelato in Italy, and believe me, we’ve tried our fair share of both! Argentina introduces a lot of new flavors to the ice cream: dulce de leche, calafate (a berry from Patagonia), sambayon (a type of cream), pomello (like grapefruit), and many more. It’s worth traveling here just to get a scoop (or 12)!

Nicolo Helados – An ice cream shop we visited almost daily in Buenos Aires

Street Food

The undisputed king of street food in Argentina is the choripan. “Chori” as it’s called for short is a grilled chorizo sausage served in a roll and topped chimichuri sauce or salsa criollo. The chorizo is not as spicy as the Portuguese ones we get at home but it’s still good.

Wall art at Chori – a restaurant in Buenos Aires that serves, you guessed it, choripan

Other fast food includes the pancho (a hot dog) and the bandiola (a steak sandwich). If you ask for any of these “completo” they’ll cover it with ham, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, and a fried egg!

Parillas and Asados

Argentines love to grill so much that they have two different words for it! An asado is akin to a family cookout. The asador (cook) holds a special role in the proceedings and he cooks up different cuts of steak, ribs, chorizo, sausage, morcilla (blood sausage) and more.

Luca grilling up steak over a campfire

A parilla is an Argentine steakhouse and it is actually pretty similar to an asado. When you walk in the door you’ll see a huge grill with many cuts of meat and sausages. You tell the cook what you want and he’ll get it ready and have it delivered to your table. Sometimes you’ll even see whole lamb inside or outside the restaurant, especially in Patagonia.

For some reason they let me near the grill. I have no idea what I’m doing.
How to make friends at a parrilla
Lamb cooked over an open fire

Regional Dishes

Argentina is a large country and all the different regions have different typical dishes. A quick (but not complete!) rundown of what you’ll find around the country, from south to north:

  • Tierra del Fuego: king crab
  • Patagonia
    • cordero (lamb), often served in hearty stews
    • trucha (trout)
    • calafate jam, made from a berry with the same name
  • Buenos Aires: Steak and lots of international food
  • North
    • llama in stews or empanadas
    • locro, a stew made with pork, corn, potatoes, and seasonal vegetables such as pumpkin
    • Cactus fruit, which is made into a sweet jelly and served with desserts
Don’t eat me, bro!
I go loco for locro

Alfajores

I can’t believe it’s taken me this far to write about alfajores! Pronounced “al-fa-hor-ays”, you’ll find these cookies all over Argentina. They are made by taking dulce de leche (a caramel spread) and sandwiching it between two shortbread cookies. Jenny and I ate an even 50 of these in our trip and everyone got a kick out of the fact that I kept a running tally of them on my phone.

I’ll take them all, please!

Like most foods in Argentina they vary a lot between different regions in the country, with every city and every bakery putting their own spin on the dessert. Here’s what we found in different cities:

  • Buenos Aires: this is the purist’s alfajor. They’re about the size of your palm, filled with a good amount of dulce de leche, and rolled in coconut
  • Patagonia: sometimes filled with calafate berry jam instead of dulce de leche
  • Salta: smaller and sometimes filled with cactus fruit jam or sweetened quinoa paste
  • Santiago de Chile and Valparaiso: thinner, cracker-like cookies dunked in chocolate
  • Montevideo, Uruguay: Filled with A LOT of dulce de leche

Argentina (and neighboring Chile and Uruguay) have a lot of great cuisine to offer. This list is by no means exhaustive and we recommend that you take a trip there to discover the food for yourself. Buen provecho!

Snacks at a wine bar in El Chalten after a long hike
Our ten-thousandth empanada in Cafayate
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