Do you like big slabs meat? Feel like Joey from Friends about sandwiches? Have a big appetite? Then you’ll love Argentinian food.
Here’s what I learnt about Argentinian food during my four weeks touring the country.
The mighty parrilla / asado
Argentinian food is all about the meat. I reckon Argentinians like a barbie even more than the Aussies.
Therefore, no matter where you are in Argentina you won’t be far away from a
matter where you are in Argentina you won’t be far away from a parrilla restaurant.
A parrilla is meat cooked on a wood-fired barbeque or grill. You can order different cuts of beef, sausage, pork loin, and in Patagonia lamb, to be cooked in this way. Or you can just order a parrilla for one or two which is a mixture of meat cuts – steak, on the bone, possibly offal – and usually consist mostly or solely of beef.
Beware, portions are big. Always ask whether one parrilla is enough for two because, as has happened to us many a time, you’ll order sirloin steak for one and three steaks will arrive. In most cases the waiter won’t tell you that one order is enough for two, they’ll let your order everything and watch you gawp, wide-eyed in amazement as they deliver a banquet big enough for at least four people. Luckily my husband and I eat A LOT.
Sides are also big, usually enough for four, so a parrilla, in my opinion, is better if there is a group of you because you can order lots of sides to share without being overwhelmed.
Steak tends to be cooked on the well-done side so if you like it rare make sure you tell the waiter.
Parrillas and most other dishes come with bread, in varying quality, and is charged for as cubierto, meaning ‘cover’, on the bill. It’s usually around 40 pesos per person (£2). When we first encountered this charge on our bill and asked the waiter what it was for he said it was for the cutlery etc, as well as the bread so I don’t think it’s worth disputing it, not that I ever would.
Here are some of my parrilla recommendations. (Please note for costs a mid-range bottle of red wine is included and usually a dessert to share – yes we are fatties. My apologies for my shockingly terrible photography).
One of my favourites. The ham and provencal cheese and ham to start – basically grilled ham and cheese with some herbs and salt – muy rico (very Delicious). One is enough for two to share. Though we didn’t realise this so my husband ordered empanadas for his starter. For main course we had steak, which comes with lots of different sauces. We had chips and vegetables for sides – both massive in size.
Cost: our meal was about £70 (1,500 pesos).
Tip: book and try and get a table inside. We sat outside and the street smell was a bit pungent.
A local and tourist staple. We had blood sausage (basically the same as black pudding but with a much softer texture) and chorizo sausage (a salty pork sausage – not the same as Spanish chorizo) to start. Then steak for mains. One is enough for one person. They give you Champagne while you wait for a table.
Cost: around £50 (1,068 pesos)
La Lucia , Mendoza
We had ceviche to start – excellent – and a parrilla to share. This included black sausage, chorizo, entrecote steak, lung, pork loin and beef on the bone, plus salad. They have a great wine selection, as you’d expect in Mendoza, and the atmosphere is relaxed but fancy.
Cost: around £35 (747 pesos) – a bargain, I reckon.
One of our favourites. The white-haired owner is well renowned in these parts for his parrilla. There are two restaurants near each other; one is always busier than the other -I have no idea why. We couldn’t get in the busy one, and again, I don’t understand why because my Spanish let me down when having discussions with the head waitress, on two separate occasions.
Nevertheless, we walked into the less busy one and got a table without a reservation and the food was excellent. We had provencal cheese to start, not quite as good as La Cabrera’s, but delicious none the less, and steak (one order is enough for two). The steak was perfectly cooked to our liking (rare) and well-seasoned.
I’ve noticed in Argentina that they’re not heavy on seasoning, which I am, so it’s always a bonus if your food comes properly seasoned.
Cost: about £35 (747 pesos)
A lomito is not for the healthy eater or weight watcher. If you’re one of these, skip this bit completely.
A Lomito consists of beef, usually a thin steak cooked well done, cheese, ham and sometimes fried egg in one giant, glorious sandwich.
There are variations. For example, a ‘lomita completa’ will usually have everything, all of the above, plus salad. Others might just have beef, ham and cheese or just beef.
Lomito a la Plata (Lomito to the plate) is a gigantic mount of chips topped with beef, ham, cheese and egg. Not for the faint hearted.
Pizza Argentinian style
Argentinian pizza is not for me.
Argentina’s food is heavily influenced by migration and in particular from the Italians. The delicious traditional Italian pizza, however, in Argentina has evolved into a thick heavy base, no crust and lashings of (low quality) toppings, usually tons of cheese and ham, to make a stodgy, doughy dish that just doesn’t do it for me.
However, if this is your thing you’ll find pizza everywhere. (I don’t have a picture as I never ate it much).
The simple empanada – pastry filled with carne (beef), jamon y queso (ham and cheese) or pollo (chicken) – is delicious and abundant. The perfect snack or light lunch.
I had my favourite empanadas in a shop called Che Empanadas in El Chalten. They had loads of variations including Patagonian lamb which was delicious.
Argentinian food isn’t big on vegetables, but you can get some good vegetarian options such as pasta and salads and some soya alternatives to meat.
When ordering pasta you pick the type of pasta you want then choose the salsa (sauce) which are usually very simple, but delicious combinations.
For an alternative dining experience in Buenos Aires try a ‘closed’ door restaurant. These are restaurants run by people in their homes. They’re small, intimate affairs. Find out more here.
We went to Casa Felix, which specialises in seafood. The dinner takes place in a little flat that has a herb garden on the outside patio. I wanted to meet some locals so I could practise my Spanish, however most people there were actually tourists and we were seated with two lovely Dutch people.
Argentinian food is cooked simply without much messing around and mostly of good quality (we found price does denote quality). What’s not to love?!
However, I must say, being half Mediterranean I did really miss garlic after a month! And a bit of fiery spiciness (us Brits do love our curry).