I traveled South America for over a year, including two months in Buenos Aires to devour Argentinian food. The entire time in South America I had been looking forward to eating in Argentina as I heard the food was delicious.
The best way to describe it? Overrated.
This is a very controversial opinion -> read the comments from Argentines below. It’s not entirely fair to say this. Argentinian food is delicious and to be fair, I spent almost all my time in Buenos Aires – which certainly isn’t representative of the entire, massive country of Argentina.
In fact, most people from Argentina are offended if you think they are Porteño (from Buenos Aires) after all – all city people are jerks.
But I say food in Argentina is overrated for two reasons:
Tourists build it up to be this mecca of steak, which it may have once been, but now you can get equally fantastic grass-fed steak in North America. The steak did not blow my mind.
If you tell me otherwise I immediately discount all of future opinions about food because you fell for the hype.
Argentineans (well Porteños from Buenos Aires) are vocal about it being the best food in the world. They proclaim it’s because they are of Italian heritage but I think the Nonas forgot to bring their recipes over to South America because it’s a faint memory of Italy.
Hands down Peruvian food is the best South American country for food, but I left it. I felt the romantic lure of Argentina and so I left Peru two weeks early.
And I did have some fantastic Argentinean food…not a lot of salad, but a lot of great traditional dishes that I think are worth eating.
Is Argentinian Food Spicy
Not at all. The only country in South America where you’ll find spicy food is in Peru. Otherwise you can expect hot sauce on the table in many countries but food in Argentina is very mild.
I once visited a Mexican restaurant and asked for my food to be “foreigner spicy” not “Argentinian spicy” because locals don’t like the heat.
Typical Argentine Food
Better known as black pudding to the British and Irish, I had never heard of it before in South America. Morcilla is a blood sausage which means it is made from pig’s blood and ground up pieces of pork or offal mixed in with spices.
Those who can get beyond the idea of eating a sausage of blood sometimes have a problem with the texture because it can be a bit moist.
At Siga la Vaca my friend Jorge reminded me that in Colombia it also has rice in it which helps dry it out. He suggested eating it on a piece of bread which does really help the texture issue.
The recipes for morcilla will vary greatly from butcher to butcher. Each uses their own blend of spices and herbs. They are pre-cooked by the butcher. When you buy it you only need to warm it up so it can be served in minutes.
But texture and blood aside, it really is delicious.
Beef is one of the most important products in Argentina, and you will find steak in almost every restaurant in the country. The large amount of flatlands in the country lend themselves well to cattle production. A significant proportion of Argentina’s exports are beef.
Steaks are an important part of Argentine cuisine. And Argentines consume more steak than anyone else in the world.
The best steak in Argentina is not in a restaurant, it’s with friends. If you’re lucky enough to be invited to an asado, or Argentinian barbecue, DO NOT TURN IT DOWN.
It’s not so much about the meat, but the experience of spending Sunday afternoon with friends, having a few drinks and cooking meat outdoors. It could be at someone’s home, or even a park as there are dedicated asado areas.
The asado is a greater meal that is made up of steak and a range of other beef products, and is usually a weekend or communal meal.
A traditional asado will see different people bring different sides to the meal, while the meat is being cooked.
The first cuts to be cooked are those that cook quickly such as morcilla, chorizo and mollejas which are served with bread and cheese. The larger cuts such as steak, ribs and other meats such as pork, chicken and goat are then grilled and shared.
Don’t Have Argentine Friends?
If you can’t find locals for whom you can invite yourself to their asado the next best thing is eating it in one of many great parillas or steakhouse restaurants.
Yet, I refuse to comply with the propaganda that Argentina has far superior steak today. I’m sure it once did, but they don’t raise it the same way they once did and it’s now often corn fed like the rest of the world.
However, I will say this:
Hands down Argentina has the best quality cheap steak. You can get cheap steak sandwiches and cuts that are amazing. You don’t need to go to a high-end steakhouse to realize that Argentines really do know how to cook meat.
I will say this. Argentina has the best cheese in South America. A nod to their Italian heritage, this is a type of provolone cheese that is often eaten as an appetizer and common at asides.
The discs of the cheese are often cooked on the grill or in an oven so that the interior is wonderfully gooey, while the exterior is still intact.
The cheese is then served as a communal appetizer with chimichurri, oil and bread for dipping.
The name meaning “half moons” these croissants are very typical at breakfast in Argentina with coffee.
Medialunas made with lard are advertised as ‘de grasa’, and are crisper. Those made with butter made with butter are ‘de manteca’ and tend to have a lighter and fluffier texture.
People say the ones made with lard are better than with butter but I hadn’t found a single one I would rave about in Buenos Aires.
Worse yet, I have asked around and no one else really praises them. They may be a tradition but one Argentines don’t keep well. Nonetheless, they are so common you will usually end up eating one or two unless you are actively avoiding these ubiquitous pastries.
This Argentinian food is a stew that is found in many parts of South America, especially in Ecuador.
Locro is a dish that is most commonly found in the mountainous Andean region of the country. This hearty dish is usually made with corn, potatoes and beans that are cooked with chunks of beef.
Some variants will also include pancetta, chorizo or even offal. The broth is seasoned with paprika, black pepper and cumin. The stew is slow cooked for wonderfully tender meat.
Locro is often to be considered one of the national dishes of Argentina, and is particularly cooked for national celebrations. Argentina’s Independence Day is on 25 May is an annual holiday, and many people will prepare large servings of the stew for the whole family.
Another of the typical hearty stews that is found in many parts of South America, including Colombia. Puchero is one of the few that has a vegetarian variety in Argentina.
However, the most common variety of puchero stew includes three types of meat. The pork, beef and chicken are cooked with diced vegetables. Common ingredients can include potatoes, carrots, onions, corn, celery, squash, sweet potatoes and onions.
The blend is then slow cooked in a broth seasoned with black pepper, allspice and saffron for a lovely warming dish.
Another culinary descendent from Italy, faina is the close relative to the Italian chickpea flatbread called farinata.
Faina by itself is a simple patty that is made by combining chickpea flour and water into a smooth dough. These are then flattened into patties and cooked on the grill or in the oven.
By far the most common way to eat faina today is to have a slice of it along with a slice of pizza, holding both together as you eat. Why? I have no idea? But this is how you do it.
This is known as ‘pizza a caballo’. Occasionally, you can also find faina by itself, where it has been cooked with tomatoes and cheese, in a similar dish to pizza.
In fact, you can usually find faina in pizza shops in Buenos Aires.
The matambre is a cut of flank steak that is actually quite thin, and this feature helped inspire this dish.
Essentially this dish takes inspiration from a Swiss roll, with the meat used as the dough which is rolled with a layer of red pepper, boiled egg, olives and other vegetables.
Some recipes will include a layer of chimichurri here as well, while others may also season the meat before cooking. This is then rolled into a cylinder that can be held together with toothpicks for cooking.
The dish is then sliced to serve.
If plain steak is starting to bore you, there’s always the option for variety with breaded and deep fried steak.
Milanesa is also available in other meat forms along with toppings such as tomato sauce, cheese and egg.
These steaks are often served with fries or mashed potatoes, and are a popular Argentinian food.
Similar to Austrian or German schnitzel, this method of cooking steak has become so popular it even has its own national day, which is held on 8 May every year.
Personally, I prefer milanesa in a sandwich.
This is the focaccia pizza that inspired one of my favourite dishes, fugazetta. The original version was brought to Argentina by Italian immigrants.
Fugazza is made by using a light focaccia dough to make a pizza. The original version is topped with fried onions and sprinkled with oregano.
As with pizzas across the world, there are plenty of other toppings including parmesan, pimento, olives and meat, depending on your tastes.
While Argentine pizza derives from Neapolitan cuisine, the Argentine fugaza/fugazza comes from the focaccia (Genoan).
While I ate my fair share of thick AF fugazza in Argentina, what interested me more was the fugazetta.
Not diet friendly, fugazetta is essentially the fugazza stuffed with cheese. It is the ultimate stuffed crust pizza.
In some cases, you can find ham or onions included within the crust. And it’s not only in the crust but underneath the pizza toppings.
Don’t try to eat more than one slice!
Pizza a la Piedra
Typical Argentinean pizza has an inch-thick crust and more cheese than anyone could possibly need. But unless you have a crazy hangover it’s awful pizza.
Thankfully, thin crust, or pizza a la piedra, is becoming more popular. One of the interesting aspects of pizza in Argentina is that there is no pepperoni in sight. However, there are plenty of chorizo options and other spicy sausages on the pizza.
Among the other common toppings you may not find elsewhere are blue cheese, artichoke hearts and anchovies.
You will also find olives on almost every pizza in Argentina.
The literal translation of cazuela in English is ‘cooking pot’, and this refers to the pot in which this stew is cooked.
There are a variety of different stews that this can refer to, but the most common is cazuela gaucho.
This is a stew that is slow cooked with potatoes, carrots and other vegetables, along with chicken.
However, you may also find varieties that will include beef or fish, which is generally restricted to those areas where fishing is part of the local economy.
One of the legacies of the indigenous population, humitas are particularly common in the mountainous region near the Andes.
The dough of the humita is made with corn, onion and seasoning. In some areas, they will also add a few chunks of the local queso fresco cheese into the dough, which will help to keep it moist.
These are cooked in a similar way to tamales, wrapped in corn husks before being cooked in water.
Argentina isn’t generally considered to be a great exporter of cuisine, but this sauce is one that has spread across the world.
With their great passion for steak and other beef cuts, Argentines spent a long time perfecting this fresh herb sauce which pairs perfectly with meat. Sometimes it’s made with dry herbs but the good places make chimichurri with fresh herbs.
It can be used as a marinade, spooned on to the meat during cooking, or used as a condiment. Chimichurri is made with parsley, garlic and oregano, combined with olive oil and wine vinegar.
There is also a red chimichurri, which adds tomatoes and red peppers to the sauce as well.
Independence Day is July 9 in Argentina, and one of the common festive dishes is the carbonada.
This Argentinian stew is a fascinating combination of ingredients, but is also served very distinctively. It is traditionally presented in a pumpkin that has had the flesh removed.
Beef is the most common meat for this Argentinian food, supplemented with potatoes, carrots and peppers.
However, the twist here is that fruit including pears, peaches and grapes are also cooked in the stew.
Traditionally the pumpkin would be cooked in the coals for several hours until the stew was ready, but it is more commonly cooked in the oven these days.
Argentinian Street Food
Also common in Chile, choripan is exactly what it says it is chori (chorizo) with pan (bread).
At the best spots you’ll also get a bit chimichurri sauce and you’ll never want a junky hot dog again.
It’s pretty simple but delicious.
The traditional method of serving choripan is by splitting the sausage down the middle so that it fills the bun. The chimichurri should already have been spread on the bread before the sausage is added.
These are particularly popular at football games, but there are sellers found in most towns and cities.
A choripan can also be an appetizer before all the meat is ready during an asado.
But I warn you not to eat the choripan at an asado or else you’ll be too full for the main steak course.
Another of the great Argentine sandwiches, the bondiola shies away from beef and is filled with pork instead.
This Argentinian food is made with a piece of pork shoulder that is sliced and cooked on the grill.
It’s placed in a bun with pickled cabbage (yay vegetables!), salsa and served with plenty of chimichurri.
In some areas the sandwich may have cheese and a fried egg.
Any Argentina travel guide will profess the quality of steak in Argentina. But really I think the best Argentinian food is the Lomita.
A lomito is a sirloin steak sandwich. I had my first in Salta and immediately fell in love. I prefer to remove the egg but otherwise it’s one of the cheapest most delicious things in Argentina.
Along with steak and a fried egg, these sandwiches also commonly include lettuce, tomatoes, onions along with sauces such as chimichurri and mayonnaise.
Be sure to grab a napkin when you buy your lomito though, as they are not the cleanest of street foods to eat!
The pancho is a simple Argentine food version of the hot dog that is found around the world.
A frankfurter sausage is cooked on the grill and placed in a bun. Pretty simple.
You will usually find a variety of sauces and mustard available to top your sausage. In some cases, the vendor may add a sprinkling of fried thin-cut potato fries as well. It’s a nice addition.
I’ve had empanadas and their culinary cousins around the world. But I must admit the best empanadas are in Argentina.
Yes they are found across the country and across South America but Argentinean empanadas are the most diverse.
Little pockets of pastry stuffed with tasty fillings. Every region will have a different variety. Although naturally there are plenty of meat options, it is Argentina afterall, there are lots of non-meat versions.
In the north, you’ll find varieties with beef, potatoes and scallions, along with some that have peppers for a little spice.
If you are exploring further south, in Patagonia there are lamb varieties, or even some with crab or mussels as well.
My favourite in Buenos Aires were small spinach empanadas, they are one of the easiest ways to get a decent vegetable intake in this carnivorous country.
Dulce de Leche
THE sweet ingredient in Argentina, you can make your own from condensed milk or buy it already prepared.
This Argentinian food is a sweet paste, but more importantly dulce de leche is a national obsession.
It is used to fill cakes and pancakes, spread over toasted bread for breakfast or as an ice cream flavour it is one of the few things people eat that is considered a gaucho cuisine.
As well as being delicious and sweet, it is also very easy to make. Either heat a can of condensed milk until it turns into caramel or make it from scratch: heat milk and sugar slowly until it is reduced into the paste. You must constantly stir, giving the smooth texture of the dish.
There are also some varieties that may add flavours, such as vanilla into the paste.
Progressing on to another way to enjoy dulce de leche, this dessert is one that has no shortage of sweetness.
This is essentially made by layering very thin layers of cooked dough with a generous serving of dulce de leche.
After about seven or eight layers of pastry, top the dessert with a fluffy meringue. This is definitely not one of those desserts to try if you’re on a diet!
Known as helados in Spanish, ice cream is an important part of the culture in Argentina. You will usually find that most towns and cities will have several heladerias selling ice cream.
They can be served in plastic cups or in an edible cone, and you will usually find a good selection of flavours available.
As with most desserts in Argentina, dulce de leche is the most popular of the flavours on offer.
One of the great things about Argentina is that ice cream delivery is a thing. Yes, if you have some friends over or decide you really need an ice cream fix, the heladeria will deliver a kilo or more of your favourite flavour to your home!
Found in cafes, bakeries and homes across the country, alfajores are a simple but delicious indulgent treat.
Two cookies are baked and then used to sandwich a thick, moist layer in the middle. As it is one of the national dishes this is commonly dulce de leche.
The cookies themselves may have a layer of chocolate, or be dusted with powdered sugar as well. You will also find some speciality stores that have a wide range of different fillings and flavours that you can try.
I learned to make alfajores at this Buenos Aires cooking class.
Peanuts and almonds are a snack that are eaten across the world, but in Argentina they do a little more to make them especially tasty.
The Argentine love of sweetness is reflected in that the nuts are peeled, before being cooked with sugar and some vanilla essence. The sugar creates a caramelized crust around the nuts, to make for a tasty snack.
These are commonly sold by street vendors during the fall and winter months, while they are also often associated with Christmas.
I can always tell if someone is Argentinian because they are carrying around a thermos and gourd for Yerba mate. No matter where they go in the world, Argentines must travel with it.
Yerba mate is a type of tea that is made with the leaves of the yerba mate plant. Essentially the leaves are placed into a particular gourd for brewing, and is made with hot, but not boiling water.
It brews and is drunk through a particular type of straw known as a bombilla. Yerba mate is commonly enjoyed in the morning, as it does pack a caffeine punch.
Like most of the generic beers in Latin America, Argentina has its own national brand.
Named after the district of Buenos Aires where the beer is brewed, Cerveza Quilmes is one of the most common beers in the country.
The beer has been made in the city for over a century, with the brewery founded by a German immigrant in 1888. The beer is a light lager that is refreshing in the hot summers of Argentina.
One of the best things about visiting Argentina is that the red wine is a very reasonable price and it can be great quality. Also, red wine pairs particularly well with steak, which means it is widely made in Argentina.
The best of the Malbec varieties in Argentina are those that are grown in Mendoza, a region in the foothills of the Andes at a relatively high altitude. Some of these wines are not only drunk locally, but are exported and acclaimed around the world.
Originating in Italy, Fernet was not a huge success in its home country, but in Argentina it has become hugely popular.
This bitter liquor is made with herbs including saffron, myrrh and chamomile along with a selection of other flavours.
You will find that it is served in most bars, where it is paired with the sweetness of Coca-Cola.
The initial response that people trying the combination for the first time is not usually favourable – mine wasn’t. But you do get used to it!
The ‘Fernecola’ is an acquired taste, but so many people enjoy the drink that Argentina consumes over three quarters of the Fernet in the whole world.
Pin it For Later: Traditional Argentinian Food
What do you think about Argentinian food? Did you find it amazing or overrated?