Argentina does not have an obvious traditional cuisine. This is primarily due to the high influx of immigrants throughout the history of Argentina, all of whom have left their mark on the food eaten in Argentina. Spanish food is the predominant cuisine in Argentina, with other food influences including French, German, Italian and English. Chinese and Japanese food have also become popular in recent years. In Buenos Aires, nearly every national cuisine is available, but such variety is almost unheard of in the provinces. Smaller cities in the rest of the country are a bit slow to follow, but several regions also have their own particular type of cuisine. Arab and Middle Eastern spicy dishes are popular in Mendoza and in the north of the country. In the south, you will find that lamb and mutton dishes prevail over the variety which require beef. River fish are excellent in the northeast and you have your choice of the tastiest and freshest fish every time.
Argentina is predominantly a meat loving country and the Argentines love their traditional barbeques (al asador) and mixed grills (parallada). Grilled meat from the asado is a staple, with steak and beef ribs especially common. Chorizo (pork sausage), morcilla (blood sausage), chinchulines (chitterlings), mollejas (sweetbread), and other parts of the animal are enjoyed. In Patagonia, lamb and chivito (goat) are eaten more than beef. Whole lambs and goats can be seen on the asado. Chimichurri, a sauce of herbs and chili, is usually the only seasoning for steak and chorizo.
Breaded and fried meat (milanesas) are served as snacks, in sandwiches or eaten warm with mashed potatoes. Empanadas – pastries of meat, cheese, sweet corn and a hundred other varieties – are a common sight for parties, starters and picnics across Argentina. Another variation is the “empanada gallega” (Galician empanada), which has a round shape. Vegetables and salads are important too for Argentines, even beyond the fried or mashed potato. Tomatoes, onions, lettuce, eggplant, squash and zucchini are common sides.
Just as much as beef, Italian staples such as pizza and pasta are eaten. Fideos, ñoquis, raviolis and canelones can be bought freshly-made in many establishments in the larger cities. Italian-style ice cream is served in large parlors and even drive-through businesses.
Sandwiches de miga are delicate sandwiches made with crustless buttered white bread, very thinly sliced cured meat and cheese and leaf lettuce. They are often purchased from entrepreneurial home cooks and consumed for a light evening meal.
A sweet paste, dulce de leche is another national obsession, used to fill cakes and pancakes, spread over toasted bread for breakfast or as an ice cream flavor. Alfajores are shortbread cookies sandwiched together with dulce de leche or a fruit paste. The “policeman’s” or “truck driver’s” sweet is cheese with quince paste or dulce de membrillo. Dulce de batata is made of sweet potato/yam: this with cheese is the Martin Fierro’s sweet. Apples, pears, peaches, kiwi, avocados and plums are major exports.
A traditional drink of Argentina is an infusion called mate (pronounced mah-tay). The dried leaves and twigs of the yerba mate plant are placed in a small cup, also called mate, usually made from a gourd. The drink is sipped through a metal or cane straw called a bombilla. Mate can be sweetened with sugar, or flavored with aromatic herbs or dried orange peel, to hide its bitter flavor. Hot water is poured into the gourd at near-boiling point so as to not burn the herb and spoil the flavor. At family or small social gatherings, one mate may be shared by the group, with the host preparing the mate to the preference of each guest. When one guest is finished, the mate is returned to the host, who will then prepare a mate for another guest. This is considered an important social ritual. Mate cocido is the same leaf, which rather than brewed, is boiled and served, as coffee or tea, with milk or sugar to taste.
Other typical drinks include wine (occasionally mixed with carbonated water), tea and coffee. Quilmes is the national brand of pale lager, named after the town of Quilmes, Buenos Aires, where it was first produced.
Common restoranes or restaurantes nearly anywhere in Argentina today serve (into the wee hours) quickly prepared meals that in the course of the 20th century came to be known as minutas (“short-order dishes”). Some examples of minutas are “bifes a caballo” (beef steak with two fried eggs), “milanesa a caballo”, “milanesa completa” (a milanesa with two fried eggs and a garnish of fries), “revuelto Gramajo”, “colchón de arvejas”, “suprema de pollo” (a kind of chicken milanesa), matambres, “lengua a la vinagreta” and “sandwiches.”
The variety of “sandwiches” (called thus in Argentina, as opposed to the Spanish emparedado) are nearly infinite. The most common are those made of milanesa, baked ham and cheese, pan de miga, toasted bread, pebetes, panchos, choripanes, morcipanes, etc.
It is also worth mentioning picadas, which are consumed in homes or bars, cafés, “cafetines” and “bodegones”; they consist of an ensemble of plates containing cubes of cheese (typically from Mar del Plata or Chubut), pieces of salame, olives in brine, French fries, maníes (peanuts), etc. Picadas are usually accompanied by an alcoholic beverage such as “fernet,” beer, or wine with soda.