The cuisine of Argentina is distinctive in South America because of its strong resemblance to Spanish, Italian, French and other European cuisines rather than the other Latin American cuisines. Indigenous gastronomies derived from groups such as the Quechua, Mapuche, and Guarani have also played a role.
Another determining factor in Argentine cuisine is that Argentina is one of the world's major food producers. It is a major producer of meat (especially beef), wheat, corn, milk, beans, and since the 1970s, soybeans. Given the country's vast production of beef, red meat is an especially common part of the Argentine diet. Historically, Argentine annual consumption of beef averaged 100 kg (220 lbs) per capita, approaching 180 kg (396 lbs) per capita during the 19th century; consumption averaged 67.7 kg (149 lbs) in 2007. Similarly, the enormous quantities of domestically-harvested wheat have made white bread (made with wheat flour) the most commonly found on the table, the wheat-based Italian dishes popular, and Argentine pizza use more dough than Italian pizza.
Besides some regional disparities addressed in this article, there exist at least two other comparisons which are important in understanding Argentine cuisine: the first distinguishes a cuisine that is essentially urban and cosmopolitan (highly influenced by the "globalization" of food and eating patterns) from a more traditional, idiosyncratic rural cuisine. The second comparison is made on the basis of socioeconomic differences.
While certain foods can be found in all corners of the country (Asado -"barbecued meat"-; dulce de leche; empanadas; yerba maté in addition to all sorts of Italian, Spanish, and French dishes) one can map out four broad culinary regions based on major trends.
Argentines are famous for their high protein diet, particularly beef. Grilled meat (parrilla) 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 (schnitzel)— milanesas — are used as snacks, in sandwiches or eaten warm with mashed potatoes — purée. Empanadas — small 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 and is more like a big, round meat pie made mostly of tuna. Vegetables and salads are important too for Argentines, even beyond the fried or mashed potato. Tomatoes, onions, lettuce, eggplants, squashes and zucchini are common sides.
Just as much as beef, Italian staples, such as pizza and al dente pasta, are eaten. Fideos, Tallarines, ñoquis, ravioles and canelones can be bought freshly-made in many establishments in the larger cities. Italian-style ice cream is served in large parlours 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 lettuce. They are often purchased from entrepreneurial home cooks and consumed for a light evening meal.
Argentine food also reflects its European roots and sometimes tend to vary in certain reigions then in others.
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 flavour. 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 Martín Fierro's sweet. Apples, pears, peaches, kiwifruits, avocados and plums are major exports.
A traditional drink of Argentina is an infusion called maté (in Spanish, mate). The dried leaves and twigs of the yerba maté plant (Ilex paraguariensis) are placed in a small cup, also called mate, usually made from a gourd, but also bone or horn. The drink is sipped through a metal or cane straw called a bombilla. Maté can be sweetened with sugar, or flavored with aromatic herbs or dried orange peel, to hide its bitter flavour. Hot water is poured into the gourd at near-boiling point so as to not burn the herb and spoil the flavour. At family or small social gatherings, one mate may be shared by the group, with the host preparing the maté to the preference of each guest. When one guest is finished, the maté is returned to the host, who will then prepare a maté 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 known as soda); tea and coffee are equally important. Quilmes is the national brand of pale lager, named after the town of Quilmes, Buenos Aires, where it was first produced.
This region consists of the provinces of Buenos Aires, Santa Fe, La Pampa, part of Entre Ríos, and all of the city of Buenos Aires. It is also a crucial center of cattle production for Argentina and is thus the origin of the quintessentially Argentine dishes carne asada (barbecued beef) and dulce de leche. It is here that red-meat-based foods are combined with white meat, dairy products and pasta, producing a high-protein diet.
In addition to the aforementioned carne asada and dulce de leche, other dishes that typify the region are milanesas (Its name derive from the original cotoletta alla milanese from Milan, Italy ), or breaded meats. A common dish of this variety is the milanesa napolitana (the name comes from a restaurant that used to be in Buenos Aires, "El Napolitano"). Milanesa napolitana is an Argentine innovation despite its name and consists of breaded meat with cheese, tomatoes and in some special cases, ham. In addition to roast beef, bifes, and churrascos, a visitor to the central region will find many dishes of Spanish and Italian origin that have been incorporated into Argentine cuisine and, in the case of the Italian staples, heavily modified from their original forms.
Pizza (locally pronounced pisa or pitsa), for example, has been wholly subsumed and in its Argentine form more closely resembles Italian calzones than it does its Italian ancestor. Typical Argentine pizzas include pizza canchera, pizza rellena (stuffed pizza), pizza por metro (pizza by the meter), and pizza a la parrilla (grilled pizza). While Argentine pizza, derives from Neapolitan cuisine, the Argentine fugaza/fugazza comes from the focaccia xeneise (Genoan), but in any case its preparation is different from its Italian counterpart, and the addition of cheese to make the dish (fugaza con queso or fugazzeta) is an Argentine invention.
Fainá is a type of thin bread made with chickpea flour (adopted from northern Italy). During the 20th century, people in pizzerias in Buenos Aires, Rosario or Córdoba have commonly ordered a "combo" of moscato, pizza, and fainá. This is a large glass of a sweet wine called moscato (muscat), plus two triangular stacked pieces (the lower one being pizza and the upper one fainá). Despite both pizza and faina being Italian in origin, they are never served together in that country.
Nevertheless, the pastas (pasta, always in the plural) surpass pizzas in consumption levels. Among them are tallarines (fettuccine), ravioles (ravioli), ñoquis (gnocchi), and canelones (cannelloni). They are usually cooked, served, and consumed in Argentine fashion, called al-uso-nostro, a phrase of Italian origin.
For example, it is common for pasta to be eaten together with white bread ("French bread"), which is unusual in Italy. This can be explained by the low cost of bread and the fact that Argentine pasta tends to come together with a large amount of tuco sauce (Italian suco "juice"), and accompanied by estofado (stew). Less commonly, pastas are eaten with a sauce of pesto, a green sauce based on basil, or salsa blanca (Béchamel sauce).
Sorrentinos are also a local dish with a misleading name (they do not come from Sorrento, but were invented in Mar del Plata). They look like big round ravioles stuffed with mozzarella, ham, and sometimes ricotta too.
Spanish influences are abundant: desserts like the churros (cylinders of pastry, usually fried, sometimes filled with dulce de leche), flan, ensaimadas (Catalan sweet bread), and alfajores are all descended from Spain. Main dishes such as the tortillas (omelets of egg, onion and potato, and having no relation to the Mexican dish of the same name), nearly all kinds of stews known as "guisos" or "estofados", arroces (rice dishes such as paella), and fabada (Asturian bean stew). All of the guisos and pucheros (stews) are of Spanish origin. Argentine preparations of fish, such as dried salt cod (bacalao), calamari, and octopus, originate from the Basque and Galician regions.
Germanic influence has impacted Argentine food as well, particularly sweet dishes. The pastries known as facturas are Germanic in origin: croissants, known as medialunas, are the most popular of these, and can be found in two varieties: butter- and lard-based. Also German in origin are the "Berlinese" known as bolas de fraile ("friar's balls"), and the rolls called piononos. The facturas were re-christened with local names given the difficult phonology of German, and usually Argentinized by the addition of a dulce of leche filling. In addition dishes like Chucrut (Sauerkraut) have also made it into mainstream Argentine cuisine. Most of the names given to bakery and pastry elaborations such as 'facturas' are dubbed as mockery to Church or State institutions and bosses due to the anarchist or socialist tendencies of bakers' unions during the 1900s.
The scene was different until the first half of the 19th century. Lucio V. Mansilla in his Memorias records that in the cities of Buenos Aires province (which at that time also included Montevideo, now in Uruguay) common foods were quibebe, mazamorra (a sweet, milky corn pudding) as a dessert, chancaca (a sugary, brown, corn cake), the pacú fish, surubí, sábalo, asados (roasts) etc.
When the Salta-born Juana Manuela Gorriti wrote her book La cocina ecléctica (Eclectic Cuisine) in the last years of the 19th century, already a large part of the Argentine preparations mentioned in this book were forgotten among the people of the Central region and the Pampas. It was precisely in this era that the great innovative influx of Italian immigrants and Italian food occurred. The aforementioned L.V. Mansilla noted the existence of ravioles in principal cities of the Río de la Plata basin around the 1880s; Jorge Luis Borges said that "the first time" that he came to know ravioli was at the beginning of the 20th century, while very young, at the home of Italian immigrants whose son invited him.
In the rural areas of the Pampas corresponding to la Pampa Húmeda, principally in the center and south of Santa Fe, center, east and south of Córdoba and north Buenos Aires, sausage preparations such as salames (salami), bondiolas, codeguines, salamines, etc. are very common.
The preparation of ham is inherited as much from the Spanish jabugos as from the prosciutti of Parma (Italy). The most famous Argentine hams are probably the jamones serranos (Serrano hams) from Sierras de Córdoba and environs.
Though many Italian and Spanish immigrants came from coastal areas, and despite the fact that Argentina is rich in marine resources, the level of fish consumption has been relatively low. The main explanation of this phenomenon was the abundant availability of beef and poultry (mainly chicken) and that these types of meat are more filling than most fish and shellfish; the most common preparations of fish have been simple escalopes of fillet of merluza and chupínes. Although since the second half of the twentieth century the percentage of practicing Catholics has steadily declined, and although in 2005 they may account for only 20 percent of the total population, many of the festivities and dishes associated with their tradition have remained visible.
Christmas (Navidad) –on Christmas it is traditional to eat oven-roasted pork or, less commonly, duck, accompanied by turrons, and pan dulce that is directly derived from Milanese panettone. For Easter they eat Easter eggs, whereas during the Semana Santa or days leading up to Easter the Catholic teaching is to avoid meat except for fish. During this time a typically eaten food is empanadas de vigilia, which are empanadas principally filled with tuna, and guisados with bacalao (cod).
Wine production in this part of Argentina is qualitatively and quantitatively inferior than that in the Northeast and the Cuyo; nonetheless, there are some interesting wines: in the colonial era, famous wines were made by the Jesuits in Alta Gracia (in the Sierras de Córdoba), and since the end of the 19th century notable wines have come from Caroya, also in the province of Córdoba though not in the sierra but the piedemont of the Cordoban pampa. Also, this region has grown and produced wines in the humid region called "La Costa", which is to say the area around the river Paraná and the river La Plata from the city of Santa Fe to the adyacencias of La Plata; on the other side of the Río de La Plata, in Uruguay, they produce higher quality wine, principally in Juanicó.
The region is a center of dairy production (although it was harmed by the rural movement towards soy products during the 1990s and 2000's. Although this high level of dairy production does not include an entire line of regional cheeses, there are a few, including queso Mar del Plata and queso Colonia (cheese of the Colonia City). (is inirially a Uruguayan product made in Colonia Suiza, but its manufacture has spread to Buenos Aires and Santa Fe). Also originating in this zone, as its name indicates, is queso Chubut; during the twentieth century, the southern province of Buenos Aires was an important producer of this cheese. Argentine pizzas tend to be prepared with musarela, a cheese which imitates the Italian mozzarella (although for the most part musarela is made with sheep's milk or cow's milk, unlike the buffalo's milk used for mozarella), and with noodles and pasta (including polenta) covered with grated parmesan or reggiano.
A cheese of Italian origin much appreciated in Argentina (and often eaten together with asados) is provolone, though for the most part during the 20th century Argentines have preferred cheeses of the French type, and good Argentinian cheeses are often imitations of French Cheeses.
The cuisine of this region shows more influence from its prehispanic cultures in the Andes Mountains than in the rest of the country; in fact the historical centers of the provinces of this region are located in Andean areas, with the exception of Tucumán, Santiago del Estero. Although, still the primary influence is by European foods.
In agriculture, in addition to potatoes and corn, one finds many varieties of indigenous vegetables: quinoa and kiwicha prosper in the least humid zones, while in more humid areas, beans, tomatoes, pumpkins, chile peppers, avocados, and chayote abound.
In the most humid areas, there is a large production of sugar cane, lemons, plantains, and oranges. Apples do well in the coldest areas. From this we can infer that, traditionally, this region has had a great foundation for a great variety of dishes. Generally what stands out are the tucumanas and salteñas, stuffed with meat or humita.
Another typical dish of the region (and available throughout the country) is a type of succulent stew prepared mostly with corn grains: el locro. In truth, there are many varieties of locro, including huascha locro and locro pobre.
Other culinary specialties of this region are almond paste (marzipan), dried peaches, maize cake, pork stew with corn, steak, cheap stew, meat stew and eggs quimbos; as well as potato cake, although this last one is often made in other areas of Argentina in recent times.
While nearly all the provinces in the region (except for Tucumán and Santiago del Estero) produce wines that in most cases have won worldwide acclaim, among the wines one must mention at least one that is exclusively Argentine: torrontés, a fragrant white wine with a fruity flavor, produced in the Calchaquíes Valleys. Among vintners producing torrontés, the most famous is Cafayate. In the north, as well as in Tarija, liquors (aguardientes) are made from grapes or distilled from wine, such as singani, or others similar to Chilean pisco.
However, the great majority of Argentines prefer French-style wines (including sparkling wines like champagne). This taste is found in the higher economic strata, where the purchasing power is greatest, and as a consequence, native, Italian, and Spanish wines all play second fiddle to French wines in Argentina.
In certain parts of Argentina and certain socioeconomic classes there is a preference for artificially sweetened wines known as abocados (no relation to the vegetable, which is known in Spanish as aguacate), a taste derived from vinos de misa (principally one known as mistela), which can be better understood if one remembers that the first grapevines for wine were planted in Argentina at the start of the 16th century precisely to be used in Roman Catholic communion.
Mention has already been made of the carob tree, whose bark is used to make artisan foods and drinks: a type of bread called patay and a type of bear called aloja.
Northwest Argentina is a territory that produces a great variety of sweets, some of which are consumed in massive amounts in other parts of the country: dulce de batata and dulce de membrillo. These are used, together with queso fresco, in the desserts known as fresco y batata and postre vigilante, very common in most parts or Argentina.
Four principal foods characterize the nourishing productions of this Argentine region: la mandioca, rice, freshwater fish, and mate.
This area of Argentina provides yerba maté (Guarani, caá) to the rest of the nation, and even to neighboring states. The two provinces of Corrientes and Misiones are the principal producers of yerba. As the main producer of yerba maté, the maté drink is most popular in this area. In the Northeast, maté is sometimes mixed with cold fruit juices (called Tereré), or even with spirits. Mandioca cassava and many dishes of Northeast Argentina are identical or very similar to those of Paraguay and of Santa Cruz de la Sierra. Common foods include varieties of home-style breads (es:pan casero), some made with mandioca flour, and tapioca. Varieties of tapioca called chipá and chipaca spread throughout Southern cone due to internal migrations. Mandioca is also the base for the dish called beyú (also known as mbeyú or mvejú). Empanadas are also made here with Mandioca flour instead of traditional wheat flour. Rice is widely available and is often used in the filling of empanadas. In the Entre Ríos province it is also possible to find empanadas filled with milk pudding.
The abundance of rivers, streams, and lagoons makes fish common to the northeastern diet. Among the fish commonly eaten are pacú, dorado, surubí, mandiyú, manguruyú, patí and boga. They can be roasted, served with rice stews or in empanadas.
Fruit production is also widespread, and fruit is a component of various desserts and beverages. The horticultural fruits are oranges, bananas, watermelons, avocados, grapefruits, tangerines, and pineapples.
Here, one can encounter asados (roasts), dulce de leche, empanadas, and the intake of infusions of yerba maté (although it often has to come from abroad).
Tallarines, Raviolis, ñoquis (gnocchi), and pizzas are also common in Southern Argentina. Unlike the rest of the country, the southern region has, like its natural production, migratory influences, and its climate, has come unique characteristics. In addition to the always present influence of Italian and Spanish flavors, one can notice the influence of Central and Northwestern Europe.
Welsh immigration, for example, since the second half of the 1860s in Chubut has introduced two large contributions to local cuisine: the torta negra, and the cheese called Chubut, whose consumption later spread to the greater part of Patagonia (especially in Neuquén) and in the south of the province of Buenos Aires.
Central European immigration has spread the preparation of certain desserts and sweets (cherry, apple, raspberry, bilberry, rosa mosqueta, zarzaparrilla (sarsaparilla), sauces, etc.) chocolates like those of Bariloche and the practice of smoking wild boar and red deer meat.
The original peoples had made their particular contributions, such as the curanto, el ñaco (a kind of porridge), breads and cakes made from flour composed of "nuez" de pehuén, a candy called llao llao, as well as the fruits of the lenga and calafate.
The coastlines and lakes of this region have proven rich in fish and shellfish, leading to extravagant preparation of seafood. It is common to find "patés", roasts and guisos of centolla (spider crab), squid, octopus, pollock, salmon, trouts, corvinas, oysters, and so forth.
The cold weather is a good "excuse" for the consumption of spirits, the Andean portion of Patagonia produces their crafted beers, and the current trends compare those found in Ireland and Central Europe. In the valleys of the Río Negro y Neuquén (ultimately going into northwest Chubut) fine white wines such as Riesling are made, being perhaps the most southern vineyards in the world.
Characteristically, in the southern part of Argentina, besides cattle roast, there are pig roasts, goat roasts, and especially "corderito patagónico" (Patagonic lamb), ñandú (rhea), and "ciervo patagónico" (Patagonic deer).
For example, though the importance of the production and consumption of wine (vino) has been discussed, it is important to note that beer (cerveza; the Italian birra is frequently used) in the second half of the 20th century (at the least) and in the first five years of the 21st, competes with wine in popularity. Breweries appeared in Argentina at the end of the 1860s, started by Alsatian colonists; the first were almost in the downtown of Buenos Aires (el égido de la Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires), and soon Polish brewers began industrial production of beer: San Carlos in the province of Santa Fe, Río Segundo and Córdoba in the province of Córdoba, Quilmes (Quilmes beer) and Lavallol on the outskirts of La Plata (in Buenos Aires Province), San Miguel de Tucumán in the province of Tucumán and on the outskirts of the cities of Mendoza and Salta. The presence of a rather important production and consumption of beer has supported the existence of related events, for example the so-called Oktoberfests (sic) or "Fiestas de la Cerveza" in locations that have a significant German population (Villa General Belgrano in Córdoba, San Carlos and Esperanza in the province of Santa Fe, etc.). Such celebrations copy, in an Argentine manner, Munich's Oktoberfest, and similarly are tourist attractions. However, the presence of a vigorous population of Celtic lineage, principally of Irish origin, has supported the creation of other celebrations of beer, often for marketing purposes, such as Saint Patrick's Day (Día de San Patricio), patron of Ireland, which is celebrated with abundant libations.
The consumption of alcoholic beverages in Argentina is perhaps similar to that of most Western European countries, than that of the United States, but certainly much less than that of the the Republic of Ireland, the United Kingdom, Scandinavian countries, or Central and Eastern European countries, Argentines enjoy a variety of alcoholic beverages and Argentina can boast a varied array of elaboraciones, whether industrial or artisanal. Besides beer and wine, Argentines frequently drink cider (here again, the heritage comes from Spain and Italy, more precisely from Asturias and Campania). Cider is the most popular beverage of the middle and lower economic classes at Christmas and New Year (the upper classes proverbially preferring to celebrate with locally produced champagne, although real old-line "creole" aristocrats will still drink cider, which is much more traditional).
Other widely consumed spirits are aguardiente (firewater) made from sugar cane, known as caña quemada ("burnt cane") or, simply, caña ("cane"). (Although "caña" is really derived from "cognac" and was traditionally used in old Argentina for any brandy, but especially peach brandy, caña de durazno.) A folkloric note about caña quemada: until June 21 it is traditional to drink caña quemada with ruda macho (a variant of common rue), it is supposed that this mixture prevents the flu and other illnesses. Caña competes, mainly in rural areas, with gin ("ginebra"—as in the Dutch kind of gin.)
There are many artisanally produced liqueurs (distilled, flavored alcoholic beverages) in Argentina, for example those flavored with orange, egg, anise, coffee, cherry and, inevitably, dulce de leche. The esperidina is a type of liqueur made from orange peels, invented in Argentina around 1890. One may also encounter chitronchelo or (in Italian) citroncello, based on lemon. This beverage arrived with immigrants from the Mezzogiorno, and is produced both artisanally and industrially (for example, at Mar del Plata).
Argentines enjoy a wide variety of non-alcoholic infusions (although now and then both "families" are mixed; the yerbiao for example, is maté mixed with caña or gin). Among these, maté has long been the most widely enjoyed; in 2006, over 700,000 metric tons were harvested in Argentina, mostly for domestic consumption.
The fact that maté is so prevalent in the Southern Cone, however, must not lure visitors into thinking that other infusions are rare in the region; in Argentina especially, given that there is a strong European cultural imprint, the consumption of coffee is very common (141 cups per capita, annually). Chocolate infusions are also popular (the eating of chocolate is a Spanish influence—although the plant originated in Mesoamerica), this consumption grows during autumn and winter, or in the cold regions of the country; there are two dates where consumption of chocolate infusions is traditional in the primary educational centres: 25 May and 9 July, that is, the two national dates of Argentina.
To conclude the summary of infusions consumed in Argentina, it must be said that medicinal herbs are common in the whole country; among the most popular are: chamomile, lanceleaf, boldo, poleo, peperina, carqueja, thyme, canchalagua, rue (macho and hembra, that is, "male" and "female"), mallow, rosemary, passion flower, bira bira, palán palán, muña muña, to mention only the main ones. Many of these herbs are also used in apéritifs and bitters, whether alcoholic or not.
Common restoranes or restaurantes nearly anywhere in Argentina today serve (into the small hours) quickly prepared meals that in the course of the 20th century came to be known as minutas ["short-order dishes"]. Some of the dishes included in the category of minutas are milanesas, churrascos, bifes, escalopes, tallarines, ravioles, ñoquis, although some are very typical of locations that sell food: "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" (sandwiches de miga).
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.; from Montevideo comes a different species of sandwich called the chivito, even though it contains no goat meat.
Also worth mentioning are picadas, which are consumed at home or in 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 eaten accompanied by an alcoholic beverage ("fernet", beer, wine with soda, to give some common examples).
To conclude, it should be noted that the people of Argentina greatly enjoy helado (ice cream, sorbet, etc.), especially the Italian kind. This fondness is not new: from the time of the Spanish colonies there has existed a type of sorbet made from fallen hail or snow. (This has been documented; desserts were made with snow in Mendoza at the beginning of the 19th century.)