When you think of food in Argentina, the first thing you probably think of is steak. This makes sense, as meat is one of the most important elements of the cuisine. It is the heart of Argentinian cuisine, and Argentina would not be Argentina without it. However, upon further inspection, it is clear how important Argentina’s European heritage is in local culture and food. Favorites from Italy such as pasta and pizza are extremely popular, as well as other dishes from Switzerland and France.
Argentina was Matt’s favorite food country on The Trip. There is a minimal presence of nuts and sesame, and fish is not a staple like it is in other places we visited. His allergies did not hold him back from enjoying all of the most important and treasured delicacies of Argentina. And of course, it was all washed down with some of the most delicious Malbecs either of us have ever tasted. Since one cannot possibly eat steak everyday for six weeks without getting some kind of heart condition, we explored beyond the cow and found other dishes that were equally delicious and equally memorable.
In case you don’t know, I am oddly addicted to toast. I freak out if I go more than a few days without my beloved. Therefore, toast was a common appearance at our breakfasts and afternoon snacks. During the weeks we stayed in hostels, toast was the mainstay of the free breakfasts, served with butter and jam and coffee. In our Buenos Aires apartment, it also was the staple of the meal. Obviously. However, on the rare occasion we would go out, or on a day when you just need a little afternoon snack, medialunas were a favorite. Medialunas are basically little croissants (see the French influence?) made either in a sweet style or a savory style. I couldn’t really tell a big difference between the two styles other than *maybe* a mild warmth to the sweeter variety, but this crispy buttery toast-like treat was common when hanging out at a cafe.
Pizza is everywhere in Argentina, especially in Buenos Aires. There are pizza restaurants on almost every block, both large and small, serving both full pies and slices. Being from New York where pizza is king, we knew we had to give Argentina a chance to stand up to our own city’s legendary version. There are almost an infinite amount of pizza restaurants in BA, so we made hard work of tasting pizza from as many places as possible. We ate in restaurants, we ate slices on the way home after a long night of dancing, we brought it back to our apartment in a box. No matter where we ate it, thick crust Argentinan pizza was one of our favorite Buenos Aires meals.
It cannot, however, be compared with its New York cousin as the difference in crust thickness is so vast that it might as well be another dish altogether. With its chewy bready crust, oozy layer of hot mozzarella, and signature smattering of olives, Kentucky Pizzeria on Plaza Italia served up the best pizza at all hours of the day. Whenever we walked by, the ovens were on and the tables were packed. I could, however, do without the ridiculous amount of cheese. There was so much that it would end up sliding off the pie or the slice when hot. I ended up taking half of it off in order to avoid cheese-overload, which made it much more manageable.
When not eating pizza or toast, we’d turn to the empanada bakery only a few blocks from our Palermo apartment in Buenos Aires. Here, there were piles of empanadas of all different varieties – potato and onion, cheese, ham and cheese, beef, chicken and corn, lamb… You could pick them up just like a slice of pizza, heated in an oven and taken away in a box. We would often set out in the morning to walk around Buenos Aires and grab a few empanadas on our way back home to enjoy on our back patio in the late afternoon.
Or we’d turn to choripan – the South American hot dog. A spicy and flavorful chorizo, grilled hot, put on a fresh french roll. Depending on where you get your choripan, there might be topping options, like onions, tomatoes, and chimichurri (more on this later). The best place to get these is along the river in the Puerto Madero neighborhood of BA. There are many food stalls set up on the promenade grilling up chorizos and other meats all day for snacks and late night eats.
And if you’ re not in the mood for chorizo, thinly sliced flank steak (vacio) with a couple healthy scoops of chimichurri also does the trick. This is also served along the river, and is a good lunch after a long walk through the nature reserve in Puerto Madero.
But when you really want to sit down and have a steak, there is no other place in the world like an Argentinian steakhouse. When you sit down for a meal at a parrilla (the Argentinian grill, say par-ee-sha), the first thing to notice is the menu. In general, the main course section is a list of cuts of meat, followed by a selection of sides, salads, and starters. These are sometimes just as delicious as the meat, and if you are like me and love small plates/tapas/meze/appetizers, then you might love these just as much.
A perfect starter: sliced chorizo, grilled with provolone cheese and roasted tomatoes.
Papas Souffle: a puffed fried potato – they are impossibly light and are fluffier than regular french fries. (These are a specialty of the parrilla El Palacio de la Papa Frita. check them out)
Stuffed Baked Potato – instead of adding even more fattiness to the meal, go with something a little less heavy like a baked potato. Here, it was served stuffed with onions, tomatoes, provolone, and herbs.
Even though its technically a condiment, I usually piled on the chimichurri on any meat or side I ordered. Traditionally, chimichurri is a sauce of finely diced parsley, oregano, red pepper, onion, vinegar, and olive oil. It is ubiquitous across Argentina, but can be made in slight variations. Another popular condiment is onion and tomato in vinegar, which is also a great steak or potato topping. I was already a ketchup lover, a hot sauce lover, a parmesean cheese lover. Since traveling to Argentina, I’ve put chimichurri on my list of condiments-I-love-to-use-on-anything-I-eat.
And after dinner, no self respecting Argentinian would leave a meal without a little dessert. Though typically Matt and I are not big on sweets, we learned from our friend Jorge, a native to Buenos Aires, that dessert is a necessity. We generally chose to eat things we love and we know are good for Matt, like gelato, flan, and Oreos. Jorge graciously introduced us to Dulce de Batata (sweet potato jam served with farmers cheese) and the famous Argentinian sweet Dulce de Leche.
San Carlos de Bariloche is the center for all things chocolate in Argentina. The town itself is brimming with Swiss influence that is evident in the architecture, the Saint Bernards perched in the main square, and the chocolate stores all over the streets in town. It’s impossible to walk down the street, smelling the sweetness of chocolate, and not go in to a shop to peruse the aisles of chocolate confections.
And even beyond all of this amazing food – pizza, toast, medialunas, choripan, flan – there is still the steak! Argentina is not short on options of delicious dishes. Next time you think of Argentinian food, after reading this, you might not think of just meat.
Check it out: TravelShus’ Interactive Guide to Buenos Aires