Argentina is the land of the three Ps: parilla, pasta and pizza. While the parilla (BBQ) is top notch, don’t get over excited about the other two Ps – they often fall short of the expectation set by such a strong Italian ancestry. Do however indulge in the meat circus of a parilla and embrace the cultural experience by gorging over a four-hour lunch with friends, whether at their home or in a restaurant.
While meat in Argentina is world renowned for great flavor, you might be surprised that it is often very well done and slathered in salt, so if you have an aversion to either do exaggerate your thirst for blood and your allergy to salt to the waiter and you might just get away with it. Most wineries are now accustomed to understanding that rare means at least a little bit pink, and that blue really does mean blue, but as a general rule you should declare your preference as a little under how you really like it.
The rest of traditional Argentine food tends to be quite campesino (country bumpkin) with meat stews, steak sandwiches and more grilled meat as the national favorites. When delving into the more gourmet cuisine sector you will find some fabulous and rich baby goat and sometimes a stray Patagonian lamb, although it is mainly beef, chicken and pork. Commonly found highlights include tasty steak, crispy pork back and the aromatic blood sausage (which is far better than it sounds, and great smeared on bread).
Fish leaves a little to be desired in Mendoza with even the local trout proving a bit gangly. While sushi is one of the biggest food trends in the last five years in Mendoza it is rarely fresh off the boat and is usually stuffed with cream cheese and sweetened rice. It does offer a welcome meat break though and they’ve come up with a few colorful creations that might dismay authenticity hunters but will delight others. There is some interesting river fish coming from East Argentina, and the earthy taste is quite unique and pairs wonderfully with an Argentine Pinot Noir.
If you are vegetarian, it is important to remember that a couple years ago veggies would be offered ham or chicken as the only meat alternative. Nowadays there are vegetarian take-aways popping up all over the place, but we sincerely wish the best of luck to any vegetarians out there. On the upside, beautiful olive oil, fruit, nuts and veg are produced locally.
Empanadas are part of the national heritage and can be experienced on almost every street corner. The most typical of these baked or fried pastry parcels is carne (minced or chopped beef often mixed with onion and cumin) but you will also find ham and cheese, chicken, spinach, corn and just plain cheese.
While the land of wine really ought to have good cheese, as a general rule, it doesn’t. Mainly creamy and bland, true cheese lovers will be disappointed. The goats cheese is quite decent though as is the creamy burrata which is excellent when eaten as a starter in fancier restaurants.
Dulce de leche. If you don’t know what this is, you haven’t been here long enough. Sweet condensed milk that becomes a toffee-like delight to spread on bread, fruit, cakes and fingers. Take a jar back with you when you leave.