Top of the list is, of course, Argentina’s famous meat. Steak rules in Argentina, and ‘parrilla’ means a number of different meat-related things. First of all, it literally translates into ‘grill’, but can also mean ‘barbeque’ and ‘steakhouse’. So you can have meat cooked ‘a la parrilla’, or literally go to a ‘parrilla’ for dinner. Some of the best and most delicious cuts to order when you go to a parrilla are the ojo de bife (ribeye) and the tira de asado (ribs cut lengthways, Argentine style). Don’t forget a side of provoleta, or grilled provolone cheese.
Asado is essentially the same as a parrilla in that it involves grilled meat, but this is generally done informally at someone’s house. This is a very common way to socialise in Argentina, especially as rising inflation means that going out for dinner becomes increasingly more expensive. An asado is a barbeque and the person manning the grill is called the asador. A typical asado will feature tira de asado (sausage), and, if you’re lucky, chinchulines, which are intestines. Yum.
A Patagonian speciality, this lamb dish will make your mouth water. Cooked in a traditional manner on wooden poles formed into a cross and stuck in a red-hot fire, the lamb comes out crispy on the outside and melt-in-your-mouth on the inside. It’s tough to find lamb in other parts of Argentina, but if you go to Patagonia you will see it on every menu.
The cornerstone of Argentine cuisine, the empanada has everything you would expect from food in Argentina: carbs, meat, and very little veg. These little pies come fried or out of the oven, and the typical flavours are meat, chicken, ham and cheese, cheese and tomato, or spinach. They are great as a snack on the go, or easy to order if you’re feeling lazy. If you see a spicy meat variety, go for that, they are usually delicious.
Pizza in Argentina is in a league of its own. Thick crust, tomato sauce, heavy on the cheese and in calories, Argentina’s pizza is worlds away from the thin bases you would see in Italy or the US. It is common to eat napolitana pizza, pizza with ham and pepper, or the local onion fugazzeta or fugazza standing up at the bar in a pizzeria. Pizza is made to be shared, or else order a few slices, or porciones, with different toppings for the true Argentine experience.
You can’t have a slice of pizza without a slice of faina on top. Faina is a thin chickpea tart that is cut into slices and served on top of pizza, so you cut through both at the same time (yes, pizza is eaten with a knife and fork in Argentina), getting the best of both doughy worlds. It will definitely fill you up, so you usually only need one slice of faina with your pizza.
Milanesa is a butterflied piece of chicken or beef, breadcrumbed and either deep fried, grilled or roasted in the oven. ‘A la napolitana’ is a popular way of ordering it, with either slices of tomato or tomato sauce topped with cheese on top of the milanesa, a definite heart stopper, but a tasty one. You can find milanesas in traditional cantinas all over the country, and for vegetarians there are aubergine or soy versions available.
Argentina’s favourite festive dish, locro, is a meat, sausage, and bean stew that is eaten by locals on bank holiday and in winter. Traditionally a dish for the lower classes who used the offcuts of meat to make a hearty and filling casserole, locro is now popular with the masses, who look to it to fill their bellies when the weather is colder in the winter months.
A disco is a cooking pot that looks like a giant, shallow wok, and can hold everything from paella to chicken stew, which is what you get in a disco de pollo. This tasty chicken dish is served mainly in rural places where the disco can be cooked over an open fire, and so is popular in places like Patagonia, where all you need is a fire and a big pot to feed a lot of people, whether they are family or people you meet on the campsite while you are travelling.
Argentines don’t eat til later on in the evening, around 9–10PM, so they need a sugar injection around 4–5PM to keep them going until dinner. Merienda usually involves sharing mate, a local herbal tea, and consuming a few pastries, or facturas. This is usually a communal activity, where colleagues or friends will get together at this time to take a break from work and catch up while refueling before the night ahead.
A favourite of former president Juan Peron, pastel de papa is similar to shepherd’s pie, a meat and mashed potato dish popular in the UK, but the Argentine variation adds cheese, olives, and boiled eggs. A great winter warmer, or as a big feed on a day when you need some serious stodgy sustenance.
The lifeblood of Argentina, this sausage sandwich is the foundation of the country’s culinary construction. The humble choripan is served at pretty much every asado, consumed as a weekend snack in the park or out at the coast, and as a starter when you go to a parrilla. Argentina wouldn’t be Argentina without the choripan, and contemporary variations have started to pop up, which combine sausage meat with interesting additions such as cheese and herbs mixed into the chorizo.
Second to chorizo, morcilla, or blood sausage, is another building block of Argentine gastronomy. There are plenty of people for whom morcilla makes their stomach turn, given its moist consistency, but many others consider it a delicacy, and no parrilla or asado is complete without at least a bite of tasty blood sausage.
One for the veggies, this might seem like a strange combination to outsiders, but the marriage of a halved bell pepper filled with an egg and thrown on the grill is not to be sniffed at. Carnivores have been known to shun their precious meat in favour of morron y huevo, and considering the scarcity of vegetables on the tables of Argentines, you too will be rushing to scoff the pepper and egg combo before it’s all gone.
The best dessert around, this traditional flan is served with dulce de leche and whipped cream and is loved by Argentines far and wide, all of whom have a sweet tooth. This is the go-to dessert after you’ve had your fill of meat, and no one can finish a full flan after a barbeque, so order one to share between a few people.