Argentina is often described as the most european of the South American countries. And why not? Much of the country is only removed a few times from their European ancestry. So it’s no surprise that the cuisine in Argentina is not particularly unusual to a visitor from the USA. They love grilled meat, pasta, and pizza. Even so, even the small differences are inevitably of note to a foreigner.
First, a disclaimer
I am staying in a small town called Anillaco at the foot of the Sierra de Velasco. My experience here may be, and probably is, different from the Argentine experience in Buenos Aires. Anillaco is primarily an agricultural town, despite this province being one of the driest in Argentina. The grape vines and olive trees benefit from a primitive but extensive irrigation system that collects water runoff from the mountains. That said…
Meat and not meat
Yes, it’s true. Los argentinos eat meat. A lot of it. The fresh fruit and vegetable selection in Anillaco is definitely lacking. Most of that is probably a product of it being a tiny town far from where these things are grown, but it’s also because they simply do not prepare many dishes with them. Even Changomas, the Argentinian Wal-Mart (quite literally, Changomas is owned by Wal-Mart) in the provincial capital of La Rioja had a minuscule selection of produce. As far as fruits go, they had oranges, pomelo, and pears. And about 5 bags of grapes curiously tucked away with the vegetables. As a corollary, they don’t really have salad dressing. I found some Caesar dressing at Changomas and something that looked like french dressing but the serving suggestion was for pizza. They did have 20 ft of an aisle devoted to mayonnaise though (ugh).
Asado, or cookouts/bbqs are common. Throw various parts of the cow onto a grill, maybe some chorizo, and bam, a delicious night is in store for you and your friends. Mmmm.
A popular Argentinian preparation is called milanesa. It was described to me as the Argentinian hamburger. Besides both being made of meat, they really aren’t anything alike. What he was getting at, though, is milanesa is everywhere. You can find it at most restaurants and it’s prepared at home all the time. Milanesa is a thin cut of meat that has been covered in egg, seasoning, and bread crumbs, then fried. It’s pretty much Weiner Schnitzel, but it’s usually beef instead of pork. The carniceria in Anillaco has a rotating selection of 2 or 3 meats (and sometimes tuna) available, but always milanesa. The first thing I ate in Argentina was a milanesa sandwich and it did not disappoint. I have some in the fridge and I’m fighting the urge to fry it up right now.
I don’t know if its ubiqutious, but it appears los argentinos also have a serious sweet tooth. Every kiosco (small neighborhood stores) has a pretty good candy selection.
Dulce de leche is basically soft caramel, but you’ll likely find it as a substitute for Nutella rather than a standalone candy (side note, they have Nutella here but not peanut butter). Dulce de leche is drizzled on pastries, fruits, cakes, or really anything you want to make sweeter and delicious.
Alfajor is a cookie sandwich type thing that often has dulce de leche inside of it. It’s pretty amazing. Even Oreo has an alfajor equivalent down here, which is pretty much two and a half oreos stacked on top of each other and covered with more chocolate. If you’re thinking that this sounds really unhealthy, you’re right. With all this red meat and alfajors, why aren’t the Argentinian people super fat?! There’s an entire website devoted to reviewing different alfajor varieties, in case you were interested (en español).
Spicy food (there is not)
Aside the antipathy toward veggies (hate to be vegetarian here!), the biggest annoyance is the lack of spicy food. As an American, when I think of Central or South American food, I think spicy. I’m aware my perception is heavily skewed by Mexican cuisine, but still. Not in Argentina. Nuh uh. Peru, yes. Argentina, no. There might be a little kick to the chimichurri, if anything (it’s a sauce for grilled meat). I’m told the best places to get spicy food here are at Thai or Vietnamese restaurants. Well, there aren’t any in my town of 1500 people, so I guess I’ll do without. Next time I come, I’m smuggling in some cayenne pepper to add to my milanesa. Its probably sacrilege, but whatever.
Stayed tuned for a later post on liquid libations and such…