As Europeans began arriving in the region of
Argentina, they also brought with them their foods, cooking techniques,
and dishes. Some of these were brought over without any changes, but most of these
ingredients weren't present in the region so local substitutes were found. Today
the foods in Argentina are truly a combination of European dishes and cooking styles
with South American foods and ingredients, although
in recent years this has been changing.
The two greatest European influences were from
Spain and Italy as this is where most immigrants to
Argentina arrived from. Today Spanish influence is ever-present,
including in their stews and desserts, but Italian influence is even more pronounced
as pizza and pasta are very common today. However other immigrants left their mark
as tea is popular from the British, Levantine foods
can be found due to Middle Eastern immigrants, while German
pastries and cakes are present from those immigrants.
In addition to the Europeans bringing over their foods and
techniques, they also brought over entirely new plants and animals that vastly changed
the culinary landscape in Argentina. The Europeans are
responsible for bringing over many of the grapes the country is now well-known for
as well as introducing wheat and rice. They also introduced new animals, most particularly
pigs, chicken, and cattle, which led to the meat and dairy diet of the people today.
Other ingredients were also introduced and are now common in Chile, including onions,
cilantro, black pepper, limes, garlic, broccoli, cucumbers, carrots, lettuce, olives,
bananas, apples, and oranges.
More than European influence, the lifestyle in
Argentina itself during the colonial days led to the growth of asado
(barbeque). As many people found jobs as ranchers in these huge open spaces, grilled
and smoked meats became a staple in the diet and this trend continues today as the
country is well known for their grilled meats, which are served at most large gatherings.
Since the late 1800s the diet has been constantly changing, but during this time
due to technological changes. Better transportation and storage techniques allow
the importation (and exportation) of foreign foods, which are now easily accessible
in large cities. This time has also altered cooking techniques and the eating culture
as fast food has been introduced, as have already prepared frozen foods.
Ethnic foods have also grown in popularity recently, especially in large cities
like Buenos Aires, which is now home to various ethnic restaurants. Despite the
recent changes, most people still prefer a home cooked Argentine meal or going out
to a restaurant as opposed to fast food, frozen food, or ethnic foods.
When & Where to Eat
Breakfast in Argentina tends to be small and is more focused
on coffee or tea than it is on food. Although numerous foods can be served for breakfast,
many people just have a small pastry or bread with their drink.
Breakfast is small in part because lunch is not. Throughout most of
Argentina lunch is the largest meal of the day and many people close shops
to eat at home from about noon to about 2:00 or 3:00 pm. This meal generally consists
of multiple courses and usually includes soup, meats, rice, potatoes, pasta, vegetables,
dessert, and coffee or tea. In some areas lunch is still followed with a siesta
or nap. In the large cities the long lunch at home is almost completely absent as
people tend to work longer hours so lunch is taken at work, from a street vendor,
or from restaurants or cafes. For the people in the cities lunch is generally a
bit smaller as dinner has taken the role as the largest meal of the day.
One place many people in the cities have lunch are restaurants or rotiserias,
both of which tend to offer small foods served quickly called minutas.
These minutas are most common for lunch or snacks, but are also popular
for dinner in large cities like Buenos Aires. Another popular place for city-goers
to have lunch or a snack are in cafes, which tend to offer coffee, tea, and small
plate foods, usually called picada.
Dinner in most of the country tends to be small and takes place very late, generally
beginning at 9:00 or 10:00 pm. Most people tend to have dinner in the home with
family, but as restaurants are growing in popularity more people seem to be dining
out each year. In the cities, like Buenos Aires, where lunches tend to be smaller,
dinners take on the traditional lunch foods mentioned above. Also in the cities
dinners are more commonly eaten in restaurants, especially on weekends; despite
this dinner is usually served in home at about 9:00 or 10:00 pm.
Beef: perhaps not a true staple, but beef and other grilled meats
are so common they are the centerpiece of many meals
Bread: breads are served with most meals or are a part of meals,
Pasta: also known as "pastas" are found in many dishes
due to the heavy Italian influence
Pastries: pastries are commonly served for snacks, breakfast, or
dessert as they can be seen everywhere
Regional Variations, Specialties, & Unique Dishes
Asado: the "national dish" is simply a cooking
technique; barbequing meats and vegetable of all kinds is very popular
Dulce de leche: this is not a dish so much as a sweet
paste used on many desserts and pastries
Empanada: these are dough pockets filled with chicken
or beef along with onions, eggs, or other items.
The Argentines tend to dress nicely, especially over meals
with new friends or business acquaintances so if you get invited to dine with the
locals be sure to dress nicely and if at a business meeting a jacket and tie are
needed for guys and girls should wear a blouse or skirt. If you are lucky enough
to be invited into a local's home for a meal this is a great sign of affection.
No matter where you're eating, be sure to arrive about 30-45 minutes late as
this is when the Argentines tend to arrive. If you get there before everyone else,
take a moment to use the bathroom if needed as getting up during a meal is considered
rude and meals in Argentina can last quite a long time.
Before sitting down let your host show you a seat as they may have a particular
seating chart; be aware that men and women also tend to sit on opposite sides of
the table so if they insist you seat yourself, try to follow this rule, but reserve
the heads of the table for the host and hostess. Once you settle in try to avoid
any sensitive subjects like politics or religion; also avoid business topics, even
if you're at a business meeting as this is typically a time to get to know each
other, but business may be brought up by your host after the meal.
The table setting is similar to that of North America
or Europe so most people are familiar with it, but there
are a couple things to remember when eating. First, always keep your hands above
the table so they are in sight, preferably by resting your wrists on the edge of
the table. Next, don't begin eating or drinking until your host or hostess invites
you to do so. This is usually initiated by the words "buen provecho"
to begin eating and a toast, perhaps as simple as "salud" before
drinking. Also try to avoid pouring wine as there are a number of rules on how wine
should be poured; the two most important being to never pour with your left hand
and to always pour the bottle forward into the glass.
When the food arrives and you start eating, be sure to eat in the continental style,
meaning the knife stays in the right hand and the fork remains in the left. You
should use your utensils to eat everything except bread, which will often sit on
the table itself or on your main plate as bread plates are uncommon. Also try to
avoid cutting lettuce in a salad and if you pass food it should always go left.
As you finish your meal leave a bit on your plate, which is a sign you were given
more than enough. Also put your fork and knife together, prongs down and handles
When you are finished eating you may be offered dessert, coffee, tea, brandy, or
another beverage, which is polite to accept. After this is done and the conversation
has ceased summon the waiter or waitress over (if you invited others out to the
restaurant) by making eye contact and saying "mozo" (you will
not get a bill until you ask for it). The inviter is expected to pay for everyone,
but if you are not the host offer to help pay none-the-less. If you do pay, leave
a tip of about 10%, which is standard for good service at a sit down restaurant.
If you dined in the home of a local, thank them for the meal and conversation then
call them the next day to again thank them for their hospitality.
Celebrations & Events
There are numerous celebrations and events that bring the best of
Argentina's food to the table. This includes religious and secular holidays
as well as the weekly dinner every Sunday that brings families together for pasta
or another traditional dish.
The most famous of these large annual celebrations is Carnaval, which takes
place on the Tuesday prior to the beginning of Lent, a date that varies every year,
but generally falls in late February or early March. This festival involves an over-consumption
of alcohol and more food than one should ever eat, including many local favorites.
A couple events focused more on the drinks are Fiesta Nacional de la Vendimia
and Festival Nacional de la Cerveza, which are the national wine and beer
fest, respectively. The wine fest takes place in Argentina's
most famous wine city, Mendoza during the harvest, which takes place in February
or March. The beer festival is somewhat of a nod toward the many Argentines with
German heritage and takes place every October.
Additional holidays are also celebrated, but in very different ways from region
to region and from family to family. Christmas and other religious holidays are
often celebrated with family, while New Year's and other secular holidays tend
to be more commonly celebrated in public with both family and friends.
Although Argentina boasts all the world's best known
beverages like tea, coffee, soft drinks, and milk, they also have a few unique drinks.
The most popular of these is mate, which is made from the yerba mate
plant in much the same way tea is made. Drinking this indigenous beverage is also
a ritual as it must be drank from a certain container (usually a gourd) and using
a certain straw.
Argentina is also well known for their wines, a growing
industry that has gained an excellent reputation in recent years. Among the many
varietals, Malbec is perhaps the one the country is most closely associated with.
Despite this large industry, and the people's love of wine, beer and other alcoholic
drinks are gaining popularity. Beer is very popular, including the local beers:
"Quilmes," "San Carlos," "Rio Segundo," and "Cordoba"
among others. Hard liquors are also available including the local aguardiente
or cana quemada, which is made from sugar cane.
Generally speaking, the tap water is safe to drink in the large cities of
Argentina, but not safe in more rural regions. Either way, check with locals
before consuming the water and if you do decide to drink the water, remember that
many people may have troubles adjusting to the local tap water as it will most certainly
be different from what your system is used to.