Food in Argentina
Eating Out On Your Argentina Holiday
Eating Out in Argentina
Eating out is one of the great joys of any holiday in Argentina, and the food in Argentina is almost certain to figure on your postcards home. Steak is obviously the most famous export, but there is much, much more to food in Argentina than just those perfect cuts of beef, so if you're vegetarian or just not a huge steak fan then fear not! There is plenty to keep you interested, as well as some lovely Argentinian wine to enjoy while you decide what to have.
Lunch and Dinner
Argentines enjoy taking their time over meals, and both lunch (almuerzo) and dinner (cena) are leisurely affairs. Lunch is usually the major event, with at least two courses the norm. Salads, steaks and pasta are all likely to feature, and expect to spend a couple of hours eating, drinking and chatting.
You might think eating two three-course meals is excessive, but you must remember that Argentinians eat dinner very late indeed, even by Spanish standards. If you try and eat dinner in Argentina before 8pm you'll be looked at like you're crazy, and don't be surprised to find even families with small children arriving at restaurants as late as midnight. Dinner is often two courses as well, and steak and fries is definitely a preferred dinner option.
Steaks in Argentina
There is much more to food in Argentina than just this, but... the steaks are very, very good in Argentina! The asado or grill is a real national tradition and something that (unless you're vegetarian) you really should try and experience on your Argentina holiday. You'll find all sorts of cuts of meat here, from sausages and chicken to ribs, but the highlight is undoubtedly the steak, which comes in the following varieties:
- Bife de lomo: usually called tenderloin in the UK, this is the first choice for many. It's usually served very lean and certainly looks the part, but the flavour can stop a little short of a real knock-out steak.
- Extraña: a skirt steak and usually comes very thin but nevertheless quite chewy (although not fatty). If you want lots of flavour but are feeling quite full, then this can be a great steak to try.
- Bife de chorizo: the classic Argentinian steak - a real juicy slab of carne. In the right place this is the king of Argentinian steaks, but it needs to be the right (read, expensive) cut or it can be very fatty indeed - if you're in a cheaper restaurant you might want to go for the bife de lomo instead.
- Vacio: this is an unusual flank cut which you don't see much outside of Argentina. It's thinly cut but with a thick band of fat on the outside which is cooked until crisp. Not for everyone, but uniquely Argentinian.
You'll find steak served throughout Argentina, so you'll have plenty of opportunities to try all the different cuts and settle on your favourite. Steak in Argentina is usually served with a green/tomato salad and a generous portion of thin-cut chips. And, of course, a bottle of Malbec to help it all go down nicely.
The Italian Influence
The Argentine love of grilled beef is often ascribed to the Spanish influence on Argentinian food, but it has to be said that the other overwhelming influence comes from Italy. Hundreds of thousands of Italians emigrated to Argentina around the turn of the last century, bringing a love of fine food with them, and today you'll find Italian food served everywhere in Argentina.
So if you're not having steak for dinner on your first night in Buenos Aires, then you'll find a mouth-watering array of pasta dishes to choose from. You'll find all the usual pasta types, but Argentinians seem to specialise in stuffed pastas like ravioli and canneloni. One local speciality is sorrentinos which are a kind of large, circular ravioli filled with ham, ricotta and parmesan, and which is absolutely delicious.
Pizza is also everywhere, although in true Italian style, most places only serve very simple toppings - if you're looking for your meat feast/chicken tikka combo then you'll be out of luck!
As well as pizza and pasta, you'll also find the Italian influence on Argentinian food in the milanesa, which is another staple consisting of a fried breadcrumbed meat fillet - usually chicken, beef or veal - and the ever-present delicious Italian-style ice-cream!
Vegetarian Food in Argentina
Argentina is famously a nation of carnivores, but in fact being vegetarian in Argentina is a lot easier than in many South American countries. Partly this is down to the ubiquity of Italian cuisine, with vegetarian pastas and pizzas available everywhere, but also because Argentina is one of the few South American countries to genuinely appreciate decent cheeses and the value of a good salad.
There is also a huge array of vegetarian sandwiches on offer everywhere, and empanadas (pasties) although traditionally containing meat, are often available with cheese fillings instead. Finally, it's good to know that at the end of the main meal you'll be able (thanks to those Italians again) to enjoy some of the fabulous ice-cream.
Although eating vegetarian food in Argentina isn't at all difficult, being a vegan in Argentina is much more challenging. Although there are vegan restaurants in Buenos Aires and Cordoba, and vegetarian restaurants in other cities who will at least attempt to cater properly for vegans, it has to be said that Argentina is not terribly vegan-friendly, so self-catering can be the best way to proceed.
Drinks in Argentina
More than anything else, Argentina is famous for its wine, and you can see our full guide to wine in Argentina for more, but suffice to say that you can drink some excellent wine very cheaply indeed in Argentina. Malbec and Merlot are the grapes that have made Argentinian wine famous, but you'll find several you may not be familiar with, but which are poised to make worldwide breakthroughs.
A wave of new micro-breweries is opening up in Buenos Aires, but one name dominates the market for beer in Argentina, which is Quilmes. This full-flavoured lager is often the only option available, but happily it's a decent beer so it's not too much of a hardship.
For breakfast, people usually drink fruit juices and cafe con leche, which is half strong black coffee and half milk. After breakfast, coffee in Argentina almost exclusively means espresso, although some people do add milk to it. Tea as we know it is unusual, but Argentinian men in particular are addicted to maté - a herbal tea which is drunk in a special gourd through an elaborate metal straw. If you wonder why so many Argentine guys carry tooled leather satchels, it's because that's where they keep their bag of maté, their thermos of water, and their gourd...