Argentine Food Culture: The Best Dishes & Drinks
I’m part Argentine, which means that I’m surrounded by a lot of delicious meat all the time at family get-togethers. Growing up, my family and I attended a lot of barbecues. After all, barbecues are at the heart of the food culture in Argentina.
Some of my childhood memories involve my uncle serving me more meat than my stomach could handle. I learned what the saying, “meat-sweats” meant at a very young age.
Argentine food is interwoven into my cultural identity and into my definition of “family.” Argentines take serious pride in their ability to cook a good Asado (BBQ) … and man, can my family cook them well! Argentine food culture isn’t only about the BBQ though—there are other food items that stand out, and I’m outlining all of them here.
Beyond the Food
Argentine food is good, there’s no doubt about that. Argentines have every reason to take pride in their national dishes. But, to Argentines, food is more than just something to eat. Food is at the crux of almost every Argentine social gathering (such as dinners, parties, relaxing days in the park, etc.). It’s something that’s enjoyed with friends.
Food is a method of showing affection in Argentina. For example, every time my Argentine family members come to visit me in the USA, they bring me a box of Alfajores. Alfajores are an Argentine dessert, and I always know that receiving a box of them is a sign of endearment.
The same goes for the family meal that I described in the opening paragraph of this post; my uncle’s (overly zealous) sharing of meat was his way of showing that he cared.
In addition to love, there’s pride. A fail-safe way to make an Argentine feel proud is to compliment them on their cooking, and bonus points if it’s their barbecue that you’re complimenting.
When is Meal Time in Argentina?
Time is a funny concept in Latin American culture. In my experience, Latin American’s don’t pay much attention to the time at all. For example, growing up, there might have been a dinner scheduled for 6 pm, but my Argentine family would arrive at 9 pm to eat. This behavioral pattern regarding time is the norm amongst all of the friends that I’ve made in South America during my travels, as well. I think this is because there’s a big focus on enjoying life in Latin American culture, rather than sticking to a regimented schedule.
During my travels, I’m always interested in the cultural norms surrounding meal times & the types of food eaten for each meal. In Argentina, I found that breakfast & lunch were “in-line” with the schedule that I’m used to from growing up in the USA. The time frame that they chose to have dinner was much different, though.
Here’s a breakdown of when meals are usually had in Argentina:
- Breakfast: This happens as soon as people wake up in Argentina, like the USA. Not much of a difference here.
- Lunch: The most common time to eat lunch is between 12:30 PM – 2:30 PM. Again, not too surprising and “normal” by my standards.
- Dinner: This is where their food schedule deviates. Dinner in Argentina is between 8 PM – 11 PM.***
***I’m always in bed by 8 PM and was surprised to see how little Argentine’s seemed to sleep as a result of how late they ate dinner. The people that I met during my trip also always seemed to be super energetic despite their schedule.
The Best Argentine Foods
Here’s a run-down of my favorite foods to eat in Argentina.
You thought that I was going to lead this article with a blurb about the Asado, didn’t you? Nope, I’m going to start with Alfajores because those are the things that make me the happiest. For as long as I can remember, I have indulged in these sweet treats often. A box of them usually only lasts about a week in my household (and that’s a generously long estimate).
What are Alfajores?
Alfajores are a traditional pastry in Argentina. Alfajores consists of two cookies, with dulce de leche in the center. Dulce de leche is a creamy, sugary caramel that was first created in Argentina and is used in many foods today.
Alfajores and dulce de leche are also common in other Latin American countries including Peru, Chile & Uruguay.
Where did the Alfajor come from?
The history of the Alfajor dates back to the 1600s. The pastry actually started out in the middle east, before it came to Spain. The Spanish version of the pastry was different—it was cooked in a triangular shape and had a filling that was made of a honey paste.
When the pastry was adopted by South Americans, it was transformed into a round shape and filled with dulce de leche. The version that was re-invented by the South Americans is the version that’s still popular today.
Dulce de Leche (the filling inside Alfajores) was discovered in Argentina. Apparently, the maid of an Argentine general was cooking dessert one day and had a pot of milk & sugar on the stove. The maid was distracted by an order from the general’s family while she was cooking, and she left the pot cooking on the stove. When she returned, she discovered that the milk & sugar concoction had transformed into the thick brown sweet goo that we now know as dulce de leche.
Alfajores are popular in Peru, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia, and Chile but Argentina has the biggest industry for them to date.
Types of Alfajores
There are two different kinds of Alfajores in Argentina. The kind that is usually cooked and served by families, and the kind that’s packaged and sold as cookies. The cookie kind is the type that I’m addicted to, but they’re both delicious. I usually eat Havana Alfajores and recommend them if you’d ever like to give them a try.
How Do You Make an Alfajor?
The classic Alfajor is made with dough that contains flour, butter, and eggs. After baking them, two round cookies are sandwiched together with dulce de leche in the center. The cookies can then be dipped into a variety of coatings, the most popular are: coconut, vanilla, or chocolate.
Click here to view a great Argentine Alfajor recipe on vintagekitchennotes.com. The author is Argentine and breaks the recipe down in a simple way with great visuals. The article also gives even more background on where the Alfajores came from, in case you’d like to know more
2. Flan con Dulce de Leche
This is a dessert that I always have when I go to Argentine restaurants, and it’s hands down my favorite dessert of all-time. Most probably know what flan is, but in case you don’t—it’s a dessert that’s made of sweetened egg custard and different toppings. Dulce de leche is the most common topping that’s used on flan in Argentina.
Where did Flan come from?
Flan was introduced to South America by the Spanish in the 16th century. Argentines took the Spanish recipe and added dulce de leche to the mix—thus creating Flan con Dulce de Leche—which is the popular recipe eaten by Argentines.
How do you make Flan Con Dulce de Leche?
Flan con dulce de leche is made with milk, eggs, and sugar. The ingredients are straight-forward, but the recipe is particular. Click here to read a great recipe that details how to prepare an Argentine Flan con Dulce de Leche.
Now onto the Asado, which is what most people call to mind when they think about Argentine food culture. An Asado is an Argentine barbeque, and it’s done by cooking meat with nothing but salt over an open flame. It’s possible to spend one month in Argentina and survive off of a diet that only consists of meat. I don’t actually remember eating anything but meat when I visited last year. No regrets.
Most Argentines have a Parilla (barbeque) in their household and they like to use it often.
Argentine Parillas consist of several different types of meats, from different body parts. The meat can either be cooked and served all at once (a Parrillada ) or enjoyed individually.
When and why did BBQ become so popular in Argentina?
The popularity of the Argentine Parilla dates back to the mid-nineteenth century. Gauchos, which are Argentine cowboys, lived in the Pampa region of Argentina and developed an interest in roasting meat. They had a lot of animals on their land that they’d cook—including cattle, lamb, and goat. The gauchos cooked the meat on top of a slow-burning fire (now called an Asado).
What meats are included in an Argentine Asado?
It’s said that Argentines like to eat every part of the animal and in my experience, that’s mostly true. Here’s a run-down of some of the most popular meats that are cooked in an Argentine Asado:
- Various cuts of beef: short ribs, sirloin, strip steak, ribeye, skirt steak, tenderloin
- Chorizo: Argentine sausage made mostly of pork
- Salchicha: An Argentine hot-dog
- Chinchulines: Small intestine
- Rinon: Kidneys
- Blood Sausage: Sausage made of cooked animal blood, I personally think this is nasty but many people—including my Mom—love it
- Sweet Breads
- Chicken Breast
Other non-meat items can be grilled, too—such as provoleta (grilled cheese!)
How do I cook an Argentine Asado?
The best way to learn how to make an Argentine Asado is in person, but because that’s not accessible for most, I’m sharing an instructional video on how to make an Argentine Asado, by the Vagas Brothers. Warning: this video will make you want to eat tons of meat afterward. I ordered chorizo for delivery while writing this, actually.
This sauce is as common in Argentina as ketchup is in the USA. Chimichurri sauce is used as a condiment that is most often used with Asados however, it can also be used on pastas and other dishes (fish, chicken, lamb, etc.)
What is chimichurri sauce made of?
The main ingredients of chimichurri sauce are parsley, oregano, garlic, oil, and vinegar. The sauce can be made in varying ways, with ingredients swapped out here and there.
Where did chimichurri sauce originate?
There are several stories about the origins of chimichurri sauce. Some historians claim that English settlers invented it, while others claim that it was the Italians. The most popular story is that gauchos created chimichurri sauce to flavor the meat that they cooked in their Asados. While the exact origins are uncertain, all the stories point to it being invented in the 1800s.
How do you make chimichurri sauce?
If you’d like to make your own chimichurri sauce, check out this chimichurri recipe on simplyrecipes.com.
This article is sort of going in an order of things that I love the most, but it’s hard to give multiple items the #1 spot, so malbec will have to stay in spot #5 … even though it’s actually a very important item in my life. I’m drinking it as I write this, actually. Anyway.
History of Argentine Malbec
Malbec is famous for being the wine of Argentina but it actually originated in France! The wine was first grown in France in the middle-ages but the climate in France was not sufficient for producing ample amounts of the wine. In search of a better climate for the grape to grow, it was brought to Argentina by a French crop scientist (also known as an Agronomist) named Michel Pouget. As predicted, Malbec flourished in Argentina and has since become a national staple.
Here are some of my favorite Malbec Wine Brands:
There are many great Malbecs out there and it’s hard to narrow it down to a few faves. Here are two brands that I find myself drinking the most often lately:
- Fincas de Moras: Affordable and delicious, this is my go-to Malbec.
- Catena Malbec: I enjoy this wine a lot, and think that it’s reasonably priced as well.
Can’t get to Argentina and want to see what it’s like to explore a Malbec vineyard?
Check out the Vagas Brothers experience at a Vineyard in Mendoza, Argentina on YouTube.
I hadn’t heard of a Choripan until I visited Argentina last year. During my trip, everyone kept asking me if I had tried a Choripan yet. I wasn’t sure what it was, but was intrigued and went to the La Boca district in Buenos Aires to try one. It’s really good, and once I had one, I couldn’t stop seeking them out.
The name Choripan comes from its ingredients: Chorizo (Chori) and pan (which means bread in Spanish). A Choripan is a chorizo & chimichurri sauce, grilled and nestled within 2 pieces of bread (a chorizo sandwich).
The choripan is usually sold as Argentine street food, but can also be found in restaurants from time to time. The exact history of where the sandwich originated is not well known.
Check out this video, which shows someone grilling a choripan & serving it on the streets. The video is in Spanish, but the visuals are self explanatory if you don’t speak the language.
Mate is a beverage that’s made from the leaves of the yerba mate tree; which grows in Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina. Mate is a cultural staple in Argentina. Many Argentines like to drink Mate during tranquil social gatherings; like while at the park with friends.
Mate is candidly not my favorite Argentine food or drink item, but I’ve enjoyed sitting in a park in Buenos Aires while drinking it.
To prepare Argentine Mate, follow these steps:
- Source a Mate cup: Here’s an example of a good mate cup that can be purchased on Amazon. This one is made of metal; the more traditional mate cups are made of wood.
- Put Yerba Mate into the top of your cup
- Heat water to a simmer (not to a boil)
- Pour the water into the top of your cup (so that it seeps through the Yerba Mate)
- Finally, drink it out of the straw (that comes with your Mate cup) and enjoy it!
Most people associate pizza with Italians, and while that’s true, it’s also very popular in Argentina. Millions of Italian’s immigrated to Argentina in the 1900s and they brought their love of pizza with them. Through the years, pizza became popular in Argentina and now it’s an established industry there.
My family owns pizzerias in both Argentina and New York. Some of my greatest memories involve going to work for my Dad’s pizza place. My family’s love of pizza comes from their introduction to it by their Italian family, who lived in Argentina, like many other Italians do.
9. Argentine Meat Pies (Argentine Empanadas)
Empanadas are common throughout most of Latin America, including in Argentina. They can be found in many different forms, but the most loved version in Argentina is made of meat (of course!). My favorite version is the Empanadas Tucumanas—which originated in the region Tucumán and is made of juicy meat & onions.
Here’s an empanada recipe on mission-food.com that can be referenced if you’d like to try to make empanadas of the beef variety at home. If you don’t want to make them with beef, then you can replace that ingredient with anything that you’d like!
10. Fernet and Coke (Fernet con Coca)
A drink that combines fernet (a type of alcohol) and coca-cola has been a long-standing classic in Argentina. I don’t seek this drink out for my own pleasure, but I’ve seen many people enjoy it at barbecues and family get-togethers.
The cocktail first became popular in the 1980s by youth in Córdoba, Argentina, before it became a wide-spread country hit. The drink became especially popular when it was discovered to be an easy way to smuggle alcohol into soccer stadiums.
Argentine food is my favorite cuisine in the world. It feels like home to me, but beyond that, it really is just that good. The Argentine food culture is something that I grew up with, but it wasn’t until I took a trip to Argentina that I began to really appreciate it.
There’s much more to the food culture in Argentina than what’s listed here—and I encourage everyone to try anything that looks appealing. Argentine food & drinks are a great way to amplify your social events or to satisfy your hunger for something good.