Being a food enthusiast, I've always believed that the heart of any culture is deeply intertwined with its culinary traditions, and no other country could check this box more fittingly than Argentina and its delicious food.
And it’s not just about the difference between grilling brisket or grilling ribs: it's about an entire world of secret recipes and social experiences that go hand in hand with mouth-watering dishes. In this article, I’d like to uncover all of these secrets and provide you with a comprehensive guide to Argentinean food.
To understand Argentina's culinary culture, it’s important to understand its history and migration. The country has often been referred to as a "melting pot" for a reason: over the years, it has received countless waves of immigration from different parts of Europe.
This European cuisine, in combination with the unique flavors cooked by native indigenous peoples, has resulted in a vibrant culinary identity you have to taste. So, from the Italian-inspired pasta dishes to the smoky, grilled perfection of Argentine asado, let’s explore these influences below.
Let’s start with the beginning. As you can imagine, the indigenous peoples of the region have played a crucial role in shaping Argentine gastronomy. For example, the Guarani, Mapuche, and Quechua communities prepared delicious dishes like humita, made from ground corn and wrapped in corn husks before being steamed to perfection, and locro, a hearty stew featuring corn, beans, and various meats. These Argentinean foods are still prepared and enjoyed by families today.
The Spanish influence on Argentine culinary culture is perhaps most prominently displayed in the country's love for meat. When Spanish conquistadors first arrived in Argentina, they brought with them a strong meat-eating tradition, which was rooted in their own culinary heritage. This, combined with the grilling techniques of Argentine gauchos, ultimately transformed the way meat is prepared and celebrated in the country and made it unique.
Today, asado culture has become synonymous with Argentina, and not only because of its delicious flavor; asado here equals family and friends and a full ritual of slow-grilling various cuts of meat over an open flame, a glass (or maybe a couple) of wine and music playing in the background.
Spanish influence on Argentinean food also shows in the delicious pastelitos de membrillo, which can be traced back to the Moorish influence on Spanish cuisine. These are delicious pastries filled with quince, typically enjoyed as a snack or dessert over a cup of coffee (or mate!).
Like a long-lost cousin who arrives at a family reunion after a very long time, the Italian migrants who came to Argentina in flocks in the 19th century enriched the culinary landscape with their pasta and pizza traditions. Thanks to them, their love for pasta, sorrentinos and Argentine-style pizza were born.
Plus, we can't discuss Italian influence in Argentina without a nod to red wine. Argentina's vineyards embraced the grape varieties brought over by Italian immigrants, and now Malbec is known all over the world as much as Messi. But wait, there's more! Argentine people also adapted the Italian "cotoletta alla milanese" and gave birth to the Argentine milanesa, a crispy, golden, breaded cutlet.
The French, renowned for their culinary finesse, also had a sweet impact on Argentinean food: ever heard of facturas? These treats, very popular with mate, are reminiscent of French viennoiseries and come in different shapes and flavors. You can’t miss the flaky, buttery layers of medialunas or the sweet facturas con dulce de leche!
As you can see, Argentinians do not only cook because they are hungry: they do it because it’s a cultural experience that connects people, fosters bonds, and preserves traditions. Let’s take asado as an example that transcends the act of grilling meat.
Instead, it’s more like a ritual that holds a special place in the hearts of families and friends. Despite the terrible economic situation of the last few years, asados are still prepared almost every Sunday and also on special occasions like birthdays, Christmas, and even important football matches - very big asados were made when Argentina became World Champion in 2022!
Preparing an asado is taken very seriously, with people waking up early to clean up the grill, set the fire, spice up the meat and, why not, start drinking some tasty craft beer in the company of family and friends. But we’ll delve into this further below!
Similarly, drinking mate in Argentina is more than just a beverage choice; it's a cultural cornerstone. Sharing mate symbolizes trust and camaraderie - the best gossip happens around mate! Preparing milanesas is also a communal effort. While one family member beats the eggs with parsley, another one will tenderize and season the meat, and somebody else will heat the oil.
With all the delicious items present in Argentinean food, it’s only natural for tradition to be passed down through the art of cooking. For instance, getting the most delicious batter for milanesas or acquiring the closely guarded "secret" recipe for tortas fritas (fried bread) is a rite of passage. Similarly, achieving aesthetically pleasing and, let’s not forget, functional repulgues is a culinary art form passed down through generations.
Now, let’s delve into the juicy part of the article: Argentinean food itself. From sizzling barbecues to delicate pastries, we’ll go into detail about delicious dishes and traditions that transform ordinary meals into meaningful experiences.
Argentine asado is deeply ingrained in the culture: it’s a regular event where friends and family gather around the grill, share stories, and strengthen their bond over delicious meat. Everything starts with the selection and preparation of meat, which is in fact considered a form of art. Only very experienced asadores know if beef, like flank steak, is tender and delicious just by looking at it.
And while an Argentine barbecue is simple at its core - meat, fire, and a little seasoning - it isn't a fast affair. It's a slow, deliberate process that can take hours. This is what makes it special: its slow pace emphasizes the value of taking time to savor life and enjoy the company of others.
And asado is not only about ribeyes or short ribs: a big part of Argentine asado culture includes achuras, that is, internal organs of the cow and special sausages made for the barbecue. One great example is chorizos, typically eaten with bread (choripanes), made with the best things in life: ground pork, spices, and herbs.
Have some bread, salad, and, most importantly, Malbec wine, and you’re ready to enjoy your asado. Remember, wine is the sidekick, not the hero!
Empanadas are baked or fried dough delicacies that can be filled with a variety of ingredients, including meat, cheese, vegetables, and more. The most typical include meat empanadas and humita (made of corn). To close the dough, Argentinians use repulgues (decorative folds that seal the dough beautifully and efficiently).
Mastering the art of creating repulgues is a sign that you are a skilled cook in regards to Argentinean food - and this is usually passed from mother to daughter! Learn to prepare your own empanadas and you won’t only be Indulging in their rich, savory flavors: you’ll be engaging in a ritual.
Just like asado, mate is a social glue in Argentina: a communal experience that brings people together. Dating back to indigenous peoples who used gourds to drink it, mate is a tradition passed down through generations.
Drinking it on your own is a symbol of maturity (even if you’re only a teenager at the time!). And preparing and serving mate is also a ritual in itself. It seems simple (how can dried yerba and hot water go wrong?) but there are many elements to consider if you want to become a good cebador (the person who pours this beverage). Some examples include the water temperature, the position of the bombilla, how fast or slow you pour the water, and whether you include more herbs or not… the list is endless.
And while mate is usually the protagonist of breakfast and meriendas (afternoon snacks), the truth is most people take it anytime. And we mean anytime, even walking down the street or when commuting to work.
Street food in Argentina is incredibly popular: everywhere you go, you’ll find food trucks or more humble carts featuring different dishes you can eat anywhere. From the iconic choripán, (a chorizo sandwich many times dripping with chimichurri sauce), to equally tasty panchos (a local take on hot dogs), you’ll never run out of new options to try.
Don't forget the ever-popular empanadas or juicy burgers: street food in Argentina is a cultural institution, uniting people in the joy of quick, mouth-watering bites.
Argentina takes its libations seriously, and that's evident in the wide array of national alcoholic beverages enjoyed across the nation. For example, Gancia is a herbal aperitif enjoyed by many any time of the week, while Fernet, often mixed with cola, is the unofficial drink of late-night revelers.
We can’t stop mentioning how, in the last few years, craft beer has exploded in popularity, offering a taste of innovation with a growing number of unique brews. And Argentina's wine culture deserves a standing ovation, with Malbec as the star of the show, but not without notable performances by Cabernet Sauvignon and Torrontés. In short, Argentina’s not just a food lover's paradise but a beverage enthusiast's dream. Cheers!
All in all, tasting Argentinean food is an experience you will not forget. And the experience will be even more unique if you decide to try and prepare these foods. Be it with an Argentinian friend or using a YouTube video, soon you’ll discover that grilling your asados or preparing your empanadas is not about satisfying your hunger (don’t worry, they will!), but it’s rather about the art and heritage that come with preparing and sharing these delicious dishes.