A trip to Argentina is the perfect opportunity to indulge in some serious feasting - including sampling some of the country's legendary steak. We've suggested some traditional dishes to seek out.
Argentina is surging up the travel bucket lists for young and old alike. Whether you’re lured by the romance of ranching, cosmopolitan city life or in search of legendary steak, the country has platefuls of charm whatever your tastes.
Don’t leave Argentina without trying…
The way to Argentina’s heart is through its asado, or barbecue. Also known as parrillada, it is a crime to leave the country without spending a leisurely afternoon beside the warmth of a grill or open fire, feasting on copious grilled meats. This is the national dish, originating with the country’s gauchos, or cowboys, who would subsist on the abundant cows dotting the country’s plains. Expect to find beef, pork, ribs, sausages, blood sausages, and sweetbreads hot off the fire. In Patagonia, look out for a whole lamb or pig roasting over an open flame. Lightly salted, topped with chimichurri, and paired with Malbec – this is Argentina.
Sample it yourself... Barbecued lamb with sweet mint dressing
Chimichurri is the country’s go-to condiment. A green salsa made of finely chopped parsley, oregano, onion, garlic, chilli pepper flakes, olive oil and a touch of acid, like lemon or vinegar, chimichurri is as engendered here as the River Delta. This tangy, garlickly salsa is sometimes used as a marinade, though most often it’s blanketing grilled meats and heaps of other savoury foods throughout the country.
Argentineans give whole new meaning to grilled cheese with provoleta. A consequence of the significant Italian immigration to Argentina, provoleta is the country’s variant on provolone cheese. Pungent and sharp, sliced discs are topped with herbs, like oregano and chilli flakes then grilled. The nearly-melted cheese is crispy and slightly caramelised on the outside, gooey and smokey on the interior. Top it off with a drizzle of olive oil, or a spoonful of chimichurri.
Dulce de leche
Cows roaming Argentina’s expansive grasslands have not only provided the country with phenomenal beef, but also dairy. And it is from condensed milk that Argentina gets one of its culinary treasures, dulce de leche. Loosely translated as “milk jam,” this thick caramel is the result of condensed milk, reduced slowly until sweetened and sticky. Look for in it everything from alfajores, to dessert empanadas, to another national favourite, helado (or, ice cream) where it is liberally drizzled in and downed by the kilo-full.
Argentina is the world’s largest consumer of alfajores: crumbly shortbread-like biscuits sandwiching jams, mousses or dulce de leche. The alfajores’ roots lie in the Arab world, brought to southern Spain by the Moors. Spaniards later carried the sweets to Argentina and no one has looked back since. Akin to their national cookie, Argentines indulge in these cylindrical biscuits at breakfast, dessert, and throughout the day and across the country.
Another gift from the Moors to the Spanish and finally, to the Argentineans, where this hot, cheap and portable meal was popular amongst working classes. Like a South American pasty, empanadas are deep-fried or baked, then filled with sweet and savoury stuffing, depending on the province. Dessert empanadas are commonly packed with quince jam, sweet potato paste, or dulce de leche, and sprinkled with cinnamon, sugar or sweet raisins, as is typical in Cordoba. Savoury empanadas hug stewed and spiced ground beef, chicken, goats meat, cheese and/or vegetables, with the markings on the pastry fold identifying the treasures inside.
While the thick, slabs of Argentinean meat are not to be missed, at least once, opt for a matambre arrollado. This super slim cut of beef, like a flank steak, is thinly sliced then stuffed with vegetables, hard-boiled eggs, herbs and olives. The meat is rolled around the filling, then boiled, baked or grilled. Matambre translates literally to “hunger killer” and arrollado as “to roll-up.” The story goes that owing to the thin cuts of meat, these are often the first meats ready on the grill, staving off hunger while waiting for the rest of the asado to catch-up.
It was indigenous populations in South America that first used and cultivated yerba mate, prior to European colonisation. A herbal and caffeine-infused drink, you’ll find it filling everything from to-go cups to shallowed-out squash gourds across the country. In Argentina, each person consumes five kilos of yerba mate, annually. Leaves from the yerba mate plant are dried, chopped and ground into a powder, or steeped as whole leaves into hot water. Drinking yerba mate is a social practice and the gourd, fitted with a metal straw that doubles as a sieve, is often passed around a group, each person sipping before passing.
A pre-requisite before any football match, a go-to amongst taxi drivers, and a mainstay at markets and from street vendors, choripán is the ultimate Argentinean street food. Made with pork and beef chorizo cooked over charcoal or wood flames, the sausage is grilled then butterflied down the centre, topped with chimichurri, and served between slices of crusty bread. Depending on the province, caramelised onions, pickled aubergines, green peppers and a host of other condiments are also added. Another gaucho tradition the choripán has experienced a rural-to-urban shift that has placed it firmly on the country’s culinary map.
During cooler months in Argentina, carbonada is a staple, stick-to-your-ribs dish. A savoury, meaty, brothy stew, carbonada is made of meat, potatoes (sweet and white), corn on the cob, carrots, peppers, bacon and then topped with fruits, ranging from dried apricots and raisins to peaches, pears and green grapes. The stew is spooned into a hollowed-out pumpkin that is placed on the barbecue to cook. Throughout the country, different variants on the carbonada are found and it can even make its way into empanadas where it takes the form of the ultimate, portable stew.
Caitlin Zaino is the founder of The Urban Grocer and she's scouring the globe in search of the world's most cutting-edge food discoveries.
Are you a fan of Argentinian cuisine? Do you agree with our selection or have we missed your favourite? Share your must-try dishes below…