The picada, which you’ll find on menus throughout Argentina, can be a confusing beast. Is it a meal? An appetizer? A snack? A shared plate? Well, all of the above, really.
As Joaquín Hidalgo of Wines of Argentina explains:
“For Argentines, a picada is a reason to meet. We have them in the garden, in the living room or a bar for something more substantial, with friends, talking and munching on a delicious snack. But for anyone who has not had a picada in Argentina, there are three things to know. Firstly, it mustn’t be rushed, because it’s not only about the food but also the conversation. Secondly, on the table there will be all kinds of meats and cheeses. And thirdly, wine is very important, red, white or rosé.”
Actually, you can absolutely have beer instead of wine and it will still count as a picada. Whatever your drink of choice, the Argentine food ritual is as much about the people as it is about the plate.
In a restaurant, a picada is an appetizer consisting of a variety of cheeses and cold cuts that are meant to be shared with others over a glass of wine or beer to get the night started. It’s not uncommon to order a picada as late as 7 or 8 PM, because Argentinians generally don’t eat dinner until 11 PM, or even midnight. Did you know that the word picada comes from the Spanish picar? Which means to snack.
One of the best picadas in Buenos Aires can be found at Pulpuría Quilapán in San Telmo. Or for something with a little more regional flair, try the Mendoza-inspired picada offered at Pan y Teatro in Boedo.
If someone says to you, “Come on over, we’re going to put together a little picada,” that usually means everyone will bring something to snack on over drinks until dinner plans are discussed.
If you’re in Buenos Aires, pick up your picada contribution at Il Posto Mercado in Palermo, The Pick Market, or one of the Kalimnos delis (there are several throughout the city). Here’s a guide to wines in Argentina, if you’re looking to bring a bottle.
At high and middle-class homes, a picada will involve specialty cheeses and sliced meats, and perhaps some olives or other conserved treats. A picada for a younger or more alternative set, on the other hand, usually involves an assortment of random snack items, like potato chips, crunchy, sweet-coated peanuts, or bizcochitos, a popular savory biscuit made from beef tallow.
A note of caution if you don’t eat a lot of meat in general: Go easy on the picada, or stick with cheese and olives. Why? Because in meat-loving Argentina, you may end up snacking on a bunch of sliced meats while waiting for the main event – the asado, or BBQ, which involves even more (a lot more) meat and sausages. Here are the best spots for meat in Buenos Aires. If you’re not used to eating so much, it’s a lot of meat. So it’s good to know going into a picada where your evening is heading, and choose accordingly.
But at the end of the day, it’s less about the food and more about the company and conversation. Really, a picada is just an excuse to hang out for hours and talk before dinner.
According to a 2012 article in La Nacion, sliced ham is the winning picada meat among Argentines, followed by salami, the Italian-inspired mortadella, and prosciutto.
What will your favorite be? There’s only one way to find out.