If you have yet to try the cuisine of Argentina, you’re in for a treat. Argentinian food includes a marked preference for meat, a dietary staple of the gauchos (cowboys) who worked the Pampas for centuries. Today, asado is an essential symbol of national pride. You’ll also find delicious desserts that build upon the creamy perfection of dulce de leche. These include everything from ice cream to cakes. Of course, no mention of Argentinian food would be complete without its most iconic beverages, mate and Malbec.
With that in mind, let’s dive into some of the tasty things you should try while visiting the nation. We’ll also explore how Argentina food culture and national identity are interwoven.
Enjoy an Asado
Asado cooking techniques dominate Argentinian cuisine and for many good reasons. During an asado, beef, lamb, pork, and chicken get roasted until they’re delectable and juicy. (By the way, the term asado refers not only to the barbecue style of cooking used but also to the social nature of the barbecue event.)
In other words, an authentic asado is a “Gaucho Party,” one best enjoyed on a working ranch. There, you’ll learn more about local agriculture as well as the distinctive cooking techniques employed over the parrilla (grill). While other South American nations claim the asado tradition, too, Argentina has made it synonymous with its identity as the national dish.
Savor Dulce de Leche
Besides the smoky, savory flavors of asado, Argentines also love their sweets. Nowhere does this prove more apparent than in the nation’s obsession with dulce de leche, another point of national pride. There’s even a phrase used in the country that speaks to this dish’s fundamental cultural character, “S/he is more Argentine than dulce de leche.”
A caramel-colored, creamy spread made from milk and sugar, it’s a tasty indulgence with pastries or cakes. You’ll even find it a frequent breakfast companion to waffles, pancakes, and toast. Argentines don’t stop there, though. Dulce de leche also tops meringue, chocolate, bananas, and more. Although versions of dulce de leche can be found throughout South America, Argentina and Uruguay have an ongoing dispute over its origins.
Argentina took it to the next level in 2003, petitioning UNESCO to declare dulce de leche a unique aspect of Argentina’s cultural heritage. But Uruguay would hear nothing of it, proclaiming it part of the Gastronomical Heritage of the Rio de Plata (the border region between the two countries). Despite the dispute, dulce de leche remains, well, just about as Argentine as it gets.
Mate is a strong, bitter drink brewed from an herb called yerba mate. You may have tried Americanized versions of this beverage, but you need to understand that the Argentine version is strong. Served in a cup crafted from a gourd, you drink it through a metal straw with a bulbous end (that strains the herb from the tea). This “straw” is called a bombilla.
Although an acquired taste, the mate drink comes with plenty of health benefits. These benefits include more antioxidants than green tea. It also has enough caffeine to hone your mental focus and energy without making you feel jittery. Children start drinking yerba mate around two years old, and by the age of five, many are gifted with their first miniature drinking gourd.
Argentina produces a wide variety of world-renowned wines, particularly Malbecs. While the vine cuttings for Argentina’s vineyards come from French Bordeaux grapes, Argentina’s unique soil and climate have led to surprising results.
The fruit grows in tighter clusters and is smaller in size. These characteristics result in a base that tastes both spicier and more berry-infused than a French Bordeaux.
Grown from Mendoza to San Juan, you’ll also notice tasty variations that reflect the terroirs of Argentina’s different regions. For example, Malbecs grown in the warm vineyards of the north taste darker with more oak. They also contain slightly higher alcohol content.
Argentina Food Culture
Argentina prides itself on a handful of iconic foods and beverages: asado, dulce de leche, mate, and Malbec. While you can find them in other South American nations, too, Argentina food culture has made them integral parts of its national identity.
Are you ready to explore Argentina’s culture and identity through some of its most popular dishes and drinks? Find out more about our Argentina Family Vacation, a spectacular journey into the heart of this South American gem.
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