Argentina – The Food post!
We spent 4 weeks total in Argentina, in three different regions. We were also in Chile for a week, but given we were mostly trekking there and eating non-regional food, we can't do a food-centric post for that country :( But we have plenty to say about Argentina! And even though we're no longer in Argentina, this delayed post was written while our feet were still firmly planted in the Southern hemi, it just took us a while to actually post it.
Argentinian Food – Overview
The food we've had in Argentina has been great! Overall, the flavors here are very simple and foods are prepared without much fanfare. The Argentinian palate is a mild one, and not friendly to spicy foods at all. One of our Porteño friends joked that once, while traveling in London, he ate Thai food, and it was nearly his death by spice. So here in Argentina, the food stands alone without much seasoning, and flavors really standout.
Overall, there are three ingredients that you encounter over and over and over again in Argentinian dishes: Beef. Ham. Hard boiled eggs. The beef is excellent, but the ham everywhere was not our thing. Does ham belong in lasagna? Not for me. So, we ate a lot of ham..... because we had to, but if I never eat ham again it will be too soon.
Breakfast. Simple and carby. We prepared breakfast at home for our whole stint in Buenos Aires, but whenever we stayed in hostels or hotels it was as simple as can be.... cereals, toast, maybe some sweeter pastries or a mini croissant.
Lunch. The simple lunch items are ham sandwiches and the ubiquitous Milanesa (see below). Their big lunch fanfare is the Argentinian Asado. This is a giant meat-b-que for lunch, sometimes served with salads. It's more common in rural areas, and is usually followed by siesta. Not a bad mid-day gig, but will put you on your a$$ for the rest of the day, as it's served with several glasses of wine usually.
Dinner. The defining thing about Argentinian dinner is how late it occurs. In BA and Mendoza, if you go to a restaurant at 9PM, you will be the only one there (they don't even open til 7 or 8). Go at 10PM, and it's respectable, but early-bird. At 11PM and the restaurant is nearly full. It wasn't uncommon for us to be dining until 12:30 or 1AM. Can't say I enjoyed how it felt to eat that much so close to bed, but we just went with the flow and dined late like locals. How Porteños who get up at 7am to go to work live like this, I have no idea!
Cordero (Lamb). Chris ordered lamb at every chance he got. Most of the cordero in Argentina is from Patagonia, and it is good. And I don't even like lamb! But I tried Chris's at every chance, and it's just not like the gamey, pungent lamb I've had before. It was supple and flavorful and delicious.
Trucha (trout). The trout in Argentina is the favorite fish... but it's unlike any trout I've had. It's usually pinkish like salmon, and so flavorful. This was my go-to menu selection, and it never failed to impress.
Empanadas. These are everywhere. On every menu. For lunch, or starters, or bar snacks. Most common kind is beef with a chimichurri. The best one we had was a pumpkin-cheese empanda. It came out so lava-hot that it actually burned my mouth and hand, but yet it still wins the favorite empanada award. We also had some good chicken ones, that inexplicably had hard-boiled egg inside. There they go again with putting egg in places egg doesn't need to be.
Grilled Proveleta. This is grilled provolone, sometimes served with oregano, but we preferred it with tomato and basil. Somehow, mysteriously, the cheese's structure in cube form remains in tact, despite the fact that it's been grilled, and hot cheese usually melts, right? And then they serve these ooey gooey delicious hot cheese sticks to you, and they taste like melty pillows of pure heaven.
Lomo. Argentina is famous for beef, and this is the cut to get. It's sirloin, and it's delicious.
Milanesa Sanguich. The go-to lunch option of porteños. It's a simple sandwich: A very thin piece of breaded and fried beef, on big roll, with lettuce. Sometimes tomato. Sometimes mayo. These were on every cafe lunch menu, as well on the street, sold out of giant boxes piled sky-high with homemade sandwiches made and sold by entrepreneurial women catering to the city rush.
Helado (Gelato). Helado shops are everywhere, on every corner. It's more ubiquitous than frozen yogurt shops are in NYC. My fave flavor was Mousse de Naranja Granzinada.... it was a basically creamsicle gelato... with flecks of dark chocolate! Chris ordered every possible permutation of Dulce de Leche. With chocolate, without, with coconut, with nuts, with sabayon.... if the flavor said dulce de leche, he tried it.
Pizza (if you can call it that). In Argentina, they looove pizza. And we dutifully tried it many times. But no pizza cut the mustard, in our opinion. The pizza is thick and cheesy, but not in a good way. It's a big slab of bread cloaked in a thick coating of mozzerella, and then generously seasoned with oregano to the point of overwhelming it with that flavor. And then they top it with a few whole briny green olives (with the pits) because that's logical, right? It's super easy to eat pizza and spit out pits at the same time. And you're wondering about sauce? Don't. There is none. Maybe you'll see a faint pinkish-red hue somewhere between your bread and cheese... but actual tomato sauce? No.
Wine. Wine. More Wine. This is a wine-drinking nation! Reds dominate, not surprisingly, since a) Mendoza is famous for red wines, specifically Malbecs, and b) it goes perfectly with a good steak.
Cervesas (beer). Beer culture in Argentina is alive and growing. We visited several small brewpubs, including the Antares tasting room, Argentina's first and most famous craft brewer. The main special beer in all the pubs is “Honey Beer” - we tried a few. They're OK. Aptly name for a sweet, honey flavor.
We have to name Siete Cocinas in Mendoza. They have a fantastic and reasonably priced wine menu, and the food is haute cuisine but the prices aren't crazy. The presentation of the food is spectacular, the chefs really know how to plate (edible flowers never cease to impress). But most importantly, they make true Argentinian cuisine shine. Each dish is specific to a region of Argentina and it's clear that the chef loves the cuisine of the country and designed each dish with pride.
Best Individual Dish
Don Julio's steak in BA. It's well-known, so you wait for a while for a table. But the beef is worth it. Cooked to perfection and so tender you could cry. I chose the lomo and Chris picked the bife de chorizo, both are their most popular cuts of beef. This restaurant is the only restaurant we liked so much that we dined at twice in our in Argentina.
Best/Worst Junk Food Finds
Jugos – Gummi candy coated in sugar, like a fruit slice, but way better.
Sonrisas - these happy little raspberry smile cookies!
Ham Crackers. Artificially flavored crackers meant to taste like artificially processed meat, what could be better?