October 27, 2023

From Asado to Empanadas: Touring the Argentinean Food Scene and Savoring Argentine Food

Being a food enthusiast, I’ve always believed that the essence of any culture is deeply intertwined with its culinary traditions, and Argentina, with its rich array of Argentine food, perfectly embodies this connection. It’s not merely about the culinary techniques involved in grilling brisket or ribs but about an entire universe of traditional dishes, secret […]

Daniela Solis

October 27, 2023

Being a food enthusiast, I’ve always believed that the essence of any culture is deeply intertwined with its culinary traditions, and Argentina, with its rich array of Argentine food, perfectly embodies this connection.

It’s not merely about the culinary techniques involved in grilling brisket or ribs but about an entire universe of traditional dishes, secret recipes, and the social experiences that accompany these mouth-watering Argentine foods. In this article, I aim to unveil these secrets and provide you with an insightful guide to exploring Argentina’s cuisine.

argentine asado

The Journey Begins: Delving into Argentinean Food & Culture

To fully appreciate Argentina’s culinary culture and its traditional food, one must delve into the country’s rich history and diverse migration patterns. Known as a cultural “melting pot,” Argentina has welcomed numerous waves of immigration from various parts of Europe, each adding a layer to the complex tapestry that is Argentina’s traditional food scene.

This melding of European cuisine with the distinct flavors created by native indigenous peoples has forged a vibrant culinary identity that is a must-experience. From Italian-inspired pasta dishes to the smoky, grilled marvels of Argentine asado, we embark on a journey to explore these influences and more.

Guarani, Mapuche, and Quechua Influences on Argentine Foods 

The indigenous peoples of the region, including the Guarani, Mapuche, and Quechua, have significantly influenced Argentine gastronomy, contributing to the array of traditional dishes available today. These communities have introduced us to Argentine foods like humita, a delightful dish made from ground corn, wrapped in corn husks, and steamed, and locro, a robust stew of corn, beans, and various meats that remains a staple in Argentine households.

Spanish Influence on Meat Culture in Argentina’s Cuisine

The profound impact of Spanish influence is perhaps most evident in Argentina’s meat culture. The arrival of Spanish conquistadors introduced a meat-eating tradition that, fused with the grilling techniques of Argentine gauchos, revolutionized meat preparation in the country, highlighting the uniqueness of Argentina’s cuisine.

Today, asado is not just a cooking method; it symbolizes the Argentine spirit of family and friendship, embodying a ritual of slow-grilling various cuts of meat over an open flame, often accompanied by wine and music. This tradition is a cornerstone of Argentina’s culinary scene.

Moreover, the Spanish contribution is visible in the delicious pastelitos de membrillo, reflecting the Moorish influence on Spanish and, subsequently, Argentine foods. These scrumptious pastries, filled with quince, are a favored snack or dessert, typically enjoyed with coffee (or mate!), further enriching the palette of Argentine foods.

Whether you’re dining in an Argentine restaurant or exploring the country’s streets, the journey through Argentina’s traditional food landscape offers a taste of the nation’s soul, inviting travelers and food lovers to explore the depth of Argentine cuisine.

Italian Influence: The Most Delicious Pasta

Like a long-lost cousin who arrives at a family reunion after a very long time, the Italian migrants who came to Argentina in the 19th century enriched the culinary landscape with their pasta and pizza traditions. Thanks to them, a deep love for pasta, sorrentinos, and Argentine-style pizza, pivotal elements of Argentine food, were born.

Argentine-style pasta

Moreover, we can’t discuss the Italian influence on Argentinian cuisine 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, symbolizing the richness of hearty Argentine food just as much as Messi. But wait, there’s more! Argentine people also adapted the Italian “cotoletta alla milanese” into the Argentine milanesa, a crispy, golden, breaded cutlet that has become a cornerstone of traditional Argentinian food.

French Influence on Pastries

The French, renowned for their culinary finesse, also made a sweet impact on Argentinian food: have you ever heard of facturas? These treats, very popular with mate, are reminiscent of French viennoiseries and come in various shapes and flavors. You can’t miss the flaky, buttery layers of medialunas or the sweet facturas con dulce de leche, which have become quintessential examples of Argentinian cuisine.

How Argentineans Connect Through Cuisine

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, a tradition that transcends the simple 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 challenging economic situation of the last few years, asados, enriched with tomato sauce and other local ingredients, 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. This communal cooking experience embodies the essence of Argentinian food and culture.

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, often served with a rich tomato sauce, is also a communal effort. While one family member beats the eggs with parsley, another tenderizes and seasons the meat, and somebody else heats the oil, illustrating the communal spirit and depth of Argentinian food traditions.

milanesas

Transmitting Culture Through Food

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, an essential part of preparing delicious Argentine food.

The Argentine Gastronomy Showcase

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.

1. Asado: The Quintessential Argentine BBQ 

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 grilled 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.

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!

2. Empanadas: The Beloved Handheld Delicacy 

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.

3. Mate: The National Drink of Argentina

drinking mate

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 Sensation: A Culinary Carnival on the Pavement

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.

Let’s Not Forget About Drinks

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. Additionally, the explosion of craft beer in recent years offers a taste of innovation, showcasing a growing variety of unique brews that cater to all palates. And, of course, Argentina’s wine culture deserves a standing ovation, with Malbec as the star of the show.

Malbec wine

However, it’s not without notable performances by Cabernet Sauvignon and Torrontés, further enriching the country’s profile as not just a paradise for lovers of delicious Argentine food but also a dream destination for beverage enthusiasts. Cheers to exploring the diverse and rich flavors of Argentine beverages!

Conclusion

All in all, tasting Argentinean food is an experience you will not forget, and it becomes even more unique when you decide to try and prepare these foods yourself. Whether you’re learning alongside an Argentinian friend or using a YouTube video as your guide, you’ll soon discover that grilling your asados or preparing your empanadas is not just about satisfying your hunger (though they certainly will!). It’s about embracing the art and heritage that come with preparing and sharing these delicious dishes. Engaging in this culinary adventure allows you to experience firsthand the rich tapestry of Argentine culture, where every meal is an opportunity to connect, celebrate, and savor the delicious Argentine food that is so much more than just sustenance; it’s a way of life.

Frequently Asked Questions

What makes traditional Argentine pizza unique compared to other styles?

Traditional Argentine pizza stands out due to its thick, fluffy crust, which is more similar to Italian focaccia than to the thin crusts associated with Italian or New York-style pizzas. Another distinctive feature is the generous amount of cheese used, often a mix of mozzarella and other local varieties. Unlike other pizzas, Argentine ones often come with fewer toppings, allowing the rich, gooey cheese and the quality of the dough to shine. Olive oil is sometimes drizzled on top, adding a subtle, fruity flavor that complements the heavy cheese and soft crust.

How is olive oil used in Argentine cuisine?

Olive oil plays a significant role in Argentine cuisine, used both for cooking and as a finishing touch to dishes. It’s a key ingredient in preparing traditional dishes, like salads, grilled vegetables, and meats, enhancing their flavors with its rich, fruity notes. Olive oil is also often used in making chimichurri, a quintessential Argentine sauce served with grilled meats. Furthermore, it’s drizzled over pizzas and empanadas before baking, adding a crisp texture and a depth of flavor.

Can you describe some unique Argentine pasta dishes?

Unique Argentine pasta dishes reflect the country’s Italian immigration influence, blending traditional Italian recipes with local twists. Sorrentinos, for example, are an adaptation of ravioli, large and filled with a mixture of ricotta, ham, and mozzarella. Another distinctive dish is ñoquis del 29 (gnocchi served on the 29th of each month), a tradition that combines potato-based pasta with various sauces, including a simple yet flavorful mix of butter and sage or a heartier beef ragu. These dishes showcase the creativity and diversity of Argentine cuisine.

What are dessert empanadas, and how are they different?

Dessert empanadas are a sweet take on the traditional savory Argentine staple. Instead of being filled with meat or vegetables, these empanadas are stuffed with sweet fillings like dulce de leche, quince paste, or sweet potato jam. Some versions may include fruits, such as apple or banana, often spiced with cinnamon or nutmeg. Dessert empanadas can be fried or baked and are typically sprinkled with sugar on top. They offer a delightful end to a meal, showcasing the versatility of the empanada.

When it comes to empanadas, which is preferred: fried or baked?

The preference for fried or baked empanadas varies by region and personal taste within Argentina. Fried empanadas are beloved for their crispy texture and are often found in the northern provinces, where the dough encases juicy fillings, creating a delicious contrast. Baked empanadas are more common in Buenos Aires and the central regions, offering a lighter, flakier crust. Both methods are authentic and cherished, with the choice largely depending on the occasion and regional traditions.

Are there vegetarian options in Argentine cuisine?

Yes, Argentine cuisine offers a variety of vegetarian options, reflecting the country’s agricultural diversity and the modern palate. Traditional dishes like empanadas can be filled with cheese, corn (humita), or spinach, providing delicious vegetarian alternatives. Unique Argentine pasta dishes, salads drizzled with olive oil, and grilled vegetables are also popular among vegetarians. Additionally, pizza in Argentina can be topped with an array of vegetables, making it a favorable option for those avoiding meat.

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