A nation famous for its succulent slabs of red meat and malbec, Argentina has a rich and varied food culture. The country’s cuisine is as heterogeneous as its heritage, drawing influence from indigenous cultures alongside the European nations of France, Italy, and Spain. From piping hot empanadas to bubbling wheels of provoleta cheese, there are many culinary delights to discover in this unique South American nation.
By far the most famous aspect of Argentine culture is its beef – almost any traditional restaurant menu comes complete with its fair share of cuts of beef, including steak, ribs, flank, skirt, and more. But there really is more to Argentine cuisine than grilled meat and red wine.
So, which are the dishes worth knowing about? Join as we do a deep dive into Argentina’s food culture. Don’t blame us if you get hungry!
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Argentina’s love of meat is legendary. By 8 pm on a summer evening, the streets of Buenos Aires fill with the mouth-watering smell of roasting meat. By far the most iconic aspect of Argentine cuisine is the asado. The Argentine word for ‘barbecue,’ an asado is a central component of Argentine culture. Every weekend, family, friends, friends of friends, neighbors, and anyone else who might be hanging around congregate to partake in a glorious meaty feast.
On the Parilla, you’ll typically find multiple cuts of beef, such flank, ribs, skirt, and – if you’re lucky – steak. Mollejas – sweetbreads – are another asado staple, as are chinchuín – small intestines. Offal is not for everyone, but both cuts of meat can be delicious when served piping hot and drenched in lemon juice.
Up next: Sausage. You’ll typically find at least two varieties of sausage on an Asado: plump chorizo sausages, and morcilla – a sausage made of pig’s blood, akin to what the British call ‘black pudding.’ For the non-meat eaters (a rare breed in Argentina), there might be grilled veggies, and perhaps a molten round of provoleta – Argentina’s favorite cheese (but more on that later). All of the above comes served with vast quantities of bread and chimichurri – a zingy condiment made from fresh herbs, garlic olive oil, and vinegar.
Empanadas are another staple of Argentina’s food culture. These hand-held savory pies are found all over South America, but hold a special place in Argentina’s heart (and stomachs). Served baked or fried, these soft pockets of dough come with a variety of fillings: beef, onion, chicken, egg, spinach, corn, the list goes on. Each province puts their own spin on the dish, varying the fillings, cooking styles, and dough consistency, but one thing is consistent: wherever you are in Argentina, you’re not far from an empanadaría, serving up empanadas for cents – a cheap, quick and satisfying lunch that has sustained Argentine workers for centuries.
Dulce de leche
Dulce de leche is the foundation for most Argentine desserts. Made by slowly heating milk and sugar until it turns into a thick and gooey caramel sauce, you’ll find dulce de leche drizzled over waffles, pancakes, and muffins, pumped into churros, and sandwiched between crumbly shortbread biscuits to make the classic treat, alfajores. While a beloved part of the nation’s food culture, Argentina is not the only country that claims ownership of dulce de leche – Uruguay, Chile, Colombia, and Perú all claim to have invented the delicacy!
Italy’s influence can be felt throughout Argentine culture, from the food they eat to Buenos Aires’ local dialect, Lunfardo, which leans heavily on Italian words and sounds. Fugazetta is an example of the evolution of this influence. Best described as the lovechild of focaccia bread and a Neopolitan pizza, fugazetta is a bread-heavy, deep-dish pizza, stuffed with mozzarella and topped with sweet onions. A cheesy, carb-laden treat, this dish is a staple of Buenos Aires’ famous pizza restaurants.
The humble chorípan is Argentina’s answer to street food. Not to be confused with a pancho (an American-style hot dog), a chorípan is a succulent chorizo sausage – typically comprised of 80% pork and 20% beef – served within a crusty baguette with generous helpings of chimichurri. You can’t get a better curb-side snack. Look out for the chorí van outside stations, on street corners, and in parks.
Milanesa is another dish close to Argentina’s heart. It is essentially flattened, breaded meat – typically chicken or beef, sometimes veal or pork – topped with various delights. Another culinary manifestation of Argentina’s Italian heritage, the milanesa napolitana is topped with mozzarella and tomato sauce. Other toppings include ham, fried eggs, various varieties of melted cheese and more. Served with chips and salad or between bread, this is a lip-smackingly delightful example of Argentine cooking.
Provoleta is a grilled or baked wheel of cheese. It’s an approximation of the Italian cheese, provolone but is more reminiscent of the Swiss dish raclette when it arrives, bubbling on the table. Salty and delicious, provoleta is typically served as an appetizer to Asado with chimichurri and bread.
Locro is a hearty soup made from meat, corn, beans, and some form of root vegetable such as potato or squash. It’s a national dish that is commonly eaten on May 25th to commemorate Argentina’s May Revolution – the first successful revolution within the push for South American independence. Locro makes for a warming bowl of comfort food, which is great when consumed on a winter’s day.
Mate is not only a drink, but a centuries-old social ritual that sits at the heart of Argentine culture. Originally consumed by the Guraní and Tupí people in pre-Colombian times, mate is served in a hollowed-out gourd, and sipped through a metal straw known as a bombilla. It’s packed with slow-release caffeine, so is traditionally drunk mid-morning or as an afternoon pick-me-up. Extremely bitter to taste, mate certainly takes some getting used to. Beginners may want to try it sweetened with honey or sugar.
A drink designed to be shared, the gourd is typically passed from person to person, with each participant taking turns to sip from the bombilla. Being asked to share mate is a sign of respect, and there’s a clear etiquette to this ritual. Hint: never move the bombilla!
What makes Argentina’s food culture unique?
The centricity of red meat is what makes the Argentine diet unique. Famously carnivorous, the average Argentine person eats 100kg of beef per year. That’s almost four times the beef consumption of the average American! Served on the grill as part of an asado (an Argentine bbq), as well as in empanadas, sandwiches, and stews, beef is an integral aspect of Argentine cuisine.
The prominence of sharing is another aspect of Argentina’s food culture that makes it stand out. From gathering friends and family to enjoy an asado, to passing around a mate, the most important aspects of Argentina’s food culture are as much about food as they are about the social ritual of breaking bread with loved ones.
What are traditional foods in Argentina?
Traditional foods in Argentina include multiple cuts of beef, including steak, ribs, flank and skirt; stuffed pockets of dough called empanadas, a hearty winter stew called locro, and dulce de leche, a caramel sauce which features in most Argentine deserts.
What is Argentina’s national dish?
The national dish of Argentina is the asado. The Argentine equivalent of a bbq, asados are as much about the meat as they are about the occasion. Every weekend in summer, friends and family congregate around the parilla (grill) to enjoy a meat-packed feast of steak, ribs, chorizo, mollejas (sweetbread), chinchulines (small intestine), and morcilla (blood sausage) – all served with lashings of a punchy herby sauce called chimichurri.
What is a typical breakfast in Argentina?
Argentines aren’t big on breakfast. Most days, breakfast will consist of tostadas – a simple slice of toast – topped with quince jam and soft cheese or fruit jelly. For a sweeter breakfast treat, Argentines will head to their local panadería and choose from a range of facturas (pastries) including medialunas (literally, ‘half moons’), the Argie take on croissants, which are somewhat sweeter and breadier than their French equivalents.
Of course, all the globalized classics – waffles, eggs, avocado toast – will likely be on offer in urban parts of Argentina, such as Buenos Aires, but if you’re looking for a traditionally Argentine breakfast, it’ll usually consist of bread or pastries washed down with coffee, orange juice and maybe even a morning mate.