Food. Not only does it give us sustenance to live, it is also delicious. It’s no secret that food is king here at World Travel for Couples, and it’s something I write about often. Food can make or break a destination for us, and it’s vitally important to our travel experience.
The focus has been on Argentina lately, and food was a very important part of our time there. Known for its red meat and red wine, Argentina is a delight for culinary fans, but it can be a bit dizzying at times. If travelers don’t know Spanish, deciphering between all the options can be challenging. Hell, even if you do know Spanish, trying to figure out what’s what is difficult.
That’s why I’ve created this guide to Eating your way around Argentina. It will help any traveler navigate the restaurants, bakeries, and markets of Argentina, and will go over cultural differences that you may not be used to, ensuring a successful and memorable trip for your belly.
How the Locals Eat
The culture is a bit different in Argentina than other parts of the world, particularly the United States. Things just move slower in Argentina, and it does take a bit of getting used to. Don’t expect to roll into a restaurant and have a server hot on your tail. Don’t expect to be waited on hand and foot. And for God’s sake, don’t expect your meal to go fast. Many people travel to a place like Argentina with no knowledge of local customs (which is obviously a HUGE mistake whenever traveling abroad) then immediately run to Trip Advisor and complain about terrible customer service. Just go in knowing that meals take a looooong time, but trust me, you will get used to it, and it may not take as long as you think. So sit back, relax, order another bottle of good, cheap wine, and just take it all in.
Now let’s get down to why we’re really here. The food. If you’ve done any homework at all, you probably know that Argentina is known for its steaks, right? Enter a restaurant, order a steak, enjoy. Sounds simple enough, right? Wrong! There are tons of options for steaks in Argentina, with many different cuts offered between all restaurants. And while steak is king here, there is plenty of other meat (and organs) for sale at most parillas (the word used for steakhouses in Argentina), and if you’re lucky enough to be invited to an asado (an Argentine barbecue), you want to know what you’re being offered.
Steak/Beef- First, let’s start with the most popular and go over what options you have when it comes to steak, and how you want to order it. We’ll start with the most popular cuts that you’ll see on most menus, then go with the less popular ones that you may only see at bigger restaurants, an asado, or a tenedor de libre (all you can eat steakhouse).
- Bife de Chorizo- On every menu, this cut has nothing to do with the sausage of the same name. A bife de chorizo is simply a sirloin strip steak. It’s one of the most popular cuts of steak in Argentina, and you can usually get a massive one, close to a pound (0.45 kilos) at a decent restaurant, for about $10US.
- Bife de Lomo- A tenderloin or filet mignon, this cut is lean and delicious. Not as much fat as the bife de chorizo, but very tender and delicious. One of the best cuts of beef you can get, and they’re they’re usually the most expensive cut on the menu, a bit more than the bife de chorizo.
- Ojo de Bife- An ojo de bife is simply a ribeye steak, which is similar to the bife de chorizo.
- Vacio/Matambre- This flank steak is a cheaper cut of meat that is not nearly as tender as the above options. It is very fatty, but like with most things, it’s that fat that makes it so tasty.
- Peceto- Round steaks
- Carne Picada- If you are brave enough to go to a butcher or grocery store to get some meat to cook yourself, you may want to get some carne picada, or ground beef, to make some delicious burgers. One night we were craving tacos so decided to make our own with some of this. Very tasty!
How to order your steak- If you’re ordering steak, hopefully you like it the right way, bloody. But if you like it ruined, that’s fine, too, so I’ll go over how to order your steak the way you want it. There aren’t as many options as back home, so it may take a time or two to get used to
- Jugoso (Hoo-go-so)- Jugoso means rare, but if you like your steaks medium rare at home, order it this way. They don’t really serve steaks rare in Argentina. but you can say “Muy jugoso” to get the point across that you like it bloody.
- Al Punto- This means medium, but it will might be between medium and medium well.
- Bein Cocido- Well done. Argentines like their steaks ruined cooked a lot, so if you order it like this, be prepared for it to be very dry.
Other types of meat- Beef and steak aren’t the only options when it comes to eating in Argentina. There are plenty of other favorites, offered in most restaurants, parillas, tenedor libres, and even on some street carts.
- Milanesa- A very thin slice of beef, chicken, or lamb is breaded, fried, and topped with an assortment of items. My favorite was the milanesa de la napolitana, which was topped with cheese, a piece of ham (they put ham on everything in Argentina), and a marinara sauce.
- Chorizo- Argentine chorizo is similar to the chorizo we’re used to in the US, but not exactly. It is a sausage, usually served sandwich style as a choripan.
- Choripan- Another Argentine specialty that can be found on the streets, a choripan is the above mentioned sausage, sliced lengthwise and served on a big bun or piece of bread. Some places have a “buffet” of toppings to put on, similar to a hot dog condiment stand.
- The following are just Spanish words that will be helpful to know in restaurants
- Pollo- Chicken.
- Cerdo- Pork
- Cordero- Lamb
- Ternera- Veal
Not for the faint of heart- How brave do you want to be? Eating in Argentina may not be as exotic as SE Asia or other areas of the world, but they do have some “interesting” items to try, particularly at parillas and tenedor libres. We actually tried most of the items below, and it’s really all about mind over matter and not thinking too much about what it is that you’re eating. Some of the things we tried were very good, actually, and we ordered them more than once in our time in Argentina.
- Morcilla- Blood sausages. Yes, the name, texture, and sight of these little sausages don’t exactly get your mouth watering, but the flavor is fantastic. Wrapped in a sausage-like casing, the texture beyond that is pretty mushy, almost mashed-potato like, and the color is a dark red (blood), almost black. If you can get past both of those, these things are actually very tasty.
- Mollejas- Sweet bread, or the thymus gland (throat, gullet, or neck), mojellas became a favorite of ours. We usually ordered it as an appetizer (who doesn’t love a cutting board of meat as an appetizer?), and I really see no reason why any meat lover wouldn’t love these delicious little treats that offer a sweet, rich taste.
- Rinones- Also served as an appetizer or a grill item at a tenedor libre, rinones are kidneys that are both crispy and tender. Like with most items on this list, texture is the tough thing to get over.
- Chinchulines- While pig intestine may not sound like the most appetizing thing in the world, just think of what other deliciousness has come from this wonderful animal. That should be enough to at least make you try it, right?
- Lengua- Tongue is one of the items that we did not try, but it is on many menus if you’re brave enough.
- Criadilla- Again, this was another of the items that we steered clear of, but by all means, if you want to try some young beef testicle, by all means do it. I’d love to hear how it tastes!
Other Argentina specialties
- Chimmichurri- A sauce served with most thing in Argentina and set on most tables like ketchup here, chimmichurri is a made of various herbs, garlic, and vinegar.
- Lomitos- If you’ve read the Salta or Cafayate pages, you’d know that the lomito became my favorite sandwich ever. I usually ordered the lomito completo, which consists of thinly sliced steak, cheese, ham, lettuce, tomato, onions, mayo, hot sauce (if you’d like), and topped with a fried egg. It’s served on a french roll or hoagie, and it’s mess, horribly unhealthy, and absolutely delicious.
- Empanadas- Empanadas are served throughout South America, but Argentina served our favorites. Baked instead of fried (like most other countries on the continent), and usually filled with beef, ham and cheese, or onion and cheese, these are tasty little appetizers or lunch, and you can usually get them for cheap. We even took to making our own when in Argentina, then even found empanada dough at home and have made them here several times, including for Christmas last year. A welcome addition from our travels.
- Pizza- Pizza can be found everywhere in Argentina, and they put their own little spin on it. The pizza here is more Italian than what we’re used to in America, and you may see some interesting toppings, like hard-boiled eggs, that you’re not used to at home. As a bit of a pizza afficionado and one who does not discriminate (I love New York style, Chicago style, St. Louis style, Italian style, and any style in between), I did enjoy the pizza in Argentina, but it wasn’t near the tops as a favorite.
Sweets- Seriously, I don’t know how all Argentines aren’t 300+ pounds. We honestly both gained a good amount of weight during our month long stay in Buenos Aires, and as you peruse this food guide, it’s easy to see why. Argentina loves their sweets, and they have some that are to die for.
Dulce de Leche- Tops on the list, dulce de leche is simply a creamy caramel made from sugar and milk instead of sugar and water. It’s fantastic, eat it as much as you can while here, and put it on everything. Delish!
- Dulce de Membrillo- A favorite of Megan’s, this is a firm, sticky, sweet reddish hard paste made out of quince fruit, sugar, and water. It is both sweet and mildly tart.
- Ice Cream- Taken from their Italian brothers, Argentines have an affinity for ice cream as well, and every time we had it, we loved it. Try the dulce de leche flavored ice cream, or better yet, get some dark chocolate ice cream, dulce de leche ice cream, put a scoop of each in a bowl, then drizzle with some dulce de leche. I’m telling you, I’m neither a stoner or a pregnant woman, and this bowl of frozen goodness has my mouth literally watering right now as I type the words. So, so good.
- Facturas- Thank God we didn’t find these or know of them until our final week in BA, because if we did, add about 10 more pounds to the mix of weight gain. Facturas are pastries served at most panaderias (bakeries). They are light, fluffy, and can be filled or topped with almost anything, including fruit, dulce de leche, dulce de membrillo, and/or sugar. Just follow your nose as you walk down the street, and pick yourself up a bag. Great for breakfast or a mid-afternoon, pre or post-siesta snack.
- Alfajores- Not my favorite (though I’m not a big fan of shortbread), alfajores are cookie-like treats made with shortbread and sandwiched together with dulce de leche or a fruit-type paste.
Drinks- Obviously we all know Argentina is known for its wine, but they do in fact have other drinks (though sometimes it’s hard to tell)
- Red- Red wine just goes better with red meat, so this it’s the flavor of choice in Argentina.
- Malbec- One of the more popular wines that comes from France, Malbec is a medium to full bodied red wine that is used a lot in blends in other parts of the world. This became our favorite red while traveling in Argentina.
- Other reds- Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Tempranillo are probably next as far as popularity goes, and both are on about every menu
- White- In certain parts of the country, more emphasis is put on growing grapes for Chardonnay, while the Cafayate region has their own specialty, and one of our new favorites, Torrontes.
- Red- Red wine just goes better with red meat, so this it’s the flavor of choice in Argentina.
- Beer- As a beer lover, South America in general (with the exception of Patagonia) is not tops on the list of places to visit. Most beers in the entire continent are light, blond, and watery. Quilmes is the most popular beer served in Argentina, and while they do have a stout, it’s not the tastiest around. It will work if you’re really craving a beer that’s not super light. More and more craft beers are turning up though, particularly in the south, so keep your eye out if beer is your preferred beverage.
- Mate- I tried it so many times. I wanted to like it. I think the gourds are super cool and definitively Argentine, but I just couldn’t get a taste for mate. Mate is made from the dried leaves of the yerba mate plant, then placed in a gourd and sipped out of a metal straw called a bombilla. It’s very bitter, and even when sweetened, I just personally didn’t like it. You’ll see it everywhere though, and the locals who drink it drink it seemingly all the time.
- Coffee- Like most of South America, coffee is not very good here, and instant is king. You can obviously find regular coffee, but most hostels will only have instant coffee. Argentina does have a larger amount of coffee shops serving good coffee than other countries on the continent, though, so poke around if you’re craving some joe.
* Photo by art_es_anna, Creative Commons