Argentina is known around the world for its delicious, juicy, mouthwatering steaks, but it also has many lesser-known local dishes that will delight your tastebuds. We check out some of the tastiest dishes Argentina has to offer that aren’t slabs of meat.
Pastel de papa
Argentina’s answer to Shepherd’s Pie, this meaty, potatoey, cheesy bake is perfect for those not-so-cold winters, when people hide out in their houses for a few months. It’s a slightly drier version of the English classic, often with some olives and boiled egg thrown in for good measure. The ratio of meat to potato is about 50:50, so you definitely won’t need dessert after this feast.
Guiso de lentejas
Lentil stew is another firm favorite with Argentines when the temperature drops from about June to September, and this dense casserole has a tomato and red wine base with vegetable and chunks of chorizo sausage and bacon.
Eaten on national holidays and, again, in winter, locro is a traditional Argentine dish that will leave you full and satisfied. Made with corn, white beans and offcuts of meat such as veal shank (ossobuco) and pigs trotters, as well as bacon, chorizo and pork, locro is a hearty stew that was traditionally eaten by the working classes who couldn’t afford more expensive cuts of meat.
Milanesa is a staple in any Argentine household. A thin, breaded fillet of either beef or chicken, aubergine and soy milanesas are also a popular alternative to the meat varieties. Easy to cook, they can be grilled if you’re being healthy, or fried if you’re being naughty. They are often served “a la napolitana,” meaning they are topped with a slice of ham, tomato sauce or sliced tomatoes and cheese and put under the grill until the cheese melts. Delicious, but a heart-stopper.
The go-to snack on the go, empanadas are good to eat in or out. The lazy man’s option for home delivery, you are never too far from an empanada vendor, whether you choose to nip downstairs to pick up your docena, or 12 empanadas, or whether you get them delivered to you door. Beef, chicken, ham and cheese, cheese and onion, cheese and tomato and chard are the most popular flavors, but gourmet empanadas are fast becoming a regular feature on menus, so go for the picante options if you like your spice, or try out the open canastas for a bit of variety.
Given that Argentina is considered the Italy of South America by continentals, it is perhaps unsurprising that pizza reigns supreme here. Doughy, cheesy deep pans are the order of the day, and Argentines like to eat their slices with a knife a fork standing up at the counter. If you want the real local experience, order a slice of faina, a thin chickpea tart, to go on top of your pizza. It will keep you going ’til dinner time.
No asado or parilla would be complete without a slab of grilled cheese, or provoleta. Cooked on the grill itself with the help of a foil casing, provoleta is usually served as a starter, and you have to eat it quickly before it starts to congeal. Unfortunately this means it doesn’t usually last long enough for you to eat with your steak, but it acts as a nice lubricant for your belly before the meat arrives.
Sandwiches de miga
Loved by many, loathed by others, the sandwich de miga is a national institution. This thin, layered, crustless sandwiches hark back to old-time Argentina, before sushi and hamburgers were anywhere to be found. They can be eaten at any time of the day, and the best option is to order a toasted ham and cheese sandwich de miga, as it can be a bit dull otherwise.
Pasta follows on from the Italian influence in Argentina, and carb fans will drool over the multitude of fabricas de pasta casera, or homemade pasta shops, found around the country. From ravioli to gnocchi and cannelloni, high-quality egg pasta is available in abundance, and the choices of sauce range from bolognese, pesto, tomato and tomato and cream. Get them to make your pasta and sauce dish in-house to take away, or order a few boxes of ravioli to take home and whip up the pasta creation of your dreams in your own kitchen.
The days are longer here in Argentina, and most people don’t sit down for dinner until around 10pm, so locals need something to keep them going in the evening. This is where facturas, or pastries, come in. Consumed for merienda, or high tea, around late afternoon with coffee or mate, facturas constitute a healthy (or unhealthy, considering the carb, sugar and butter quantities in the pastries!) part of the Argentine diet.
Sure to give many the willies, lengua, or beef tongue, is a popular starter dish here in Argentina. Given that it is a muscle, it needs a long time to cook, but served “a la vinagreta” it is a tasty accompaniment to Sunday dinner.
Considering the wide use of beef in Argentine cuisine, it’s no surprise that veal shank, or ossobuco, is considered something of a treat. Slow cooked to melt in the mouth, ossobuco falls off the bone and is a great addition to stews or pasta dishes. The bone also gives the sauce great flavor and looks good on the plate!
Cordero a la cruz
A Patagonian specialty, it is rare to see lamb, or cordero, on the menu in other parts of Argentina. In Patagonia, the lamb is splayed and cooked on a cross in an open fire, giving it a delicious smoky flavor and delectable texture.
Disco de pollo
Another stew option, a disco is essentially a large, shallow pan which can be put into the fire and the contents cooked slowly. One of the most typical dishes to come from a disco is chicken casserole, great for feeding the masses when you’re on a road trip in Patagonia or staying at a country house for the weekend!