Once in Argentina, you find yourself in a vast territory. The landscapes and the weather vary, from the Northern desert, with yellow and red shades, to the green and blue tones that paint the Patagonia, the exuberant colors from the Litoral or the immensity of the Pampa plains. This land is a feast for the senses.
Being a young country, only 200 years have passed since it was declared an independent land, diversity is the common factor between the territory and its people: there is more than one typical dish here. The reasons for this can be found in the vastness of its lands, as well as in its human fabric, which was knitted with the American heritage and the new identity of the immigrants that traveled overseas. The result of these flavorful combinations is a rich, diversified cuisine, which is becoming stronger as it develops its own identity. There is no consistency on the tables from North to South, or from East to West–they are all, however, bound by that common denominator: being Argentine.
When we say Argentina, the word association immediately begins: Maradona, Messi, tango, good wine and meat. Indeed, meat has always been and will be the greatest national ingredient, the building block of the menus that identify us all over the world. The star meat is beef, brought by the Spaniards in 1580. The cattle ran away from the corrals and adopted the wild plains as their habitat. The development of the meat-packing industry introduced new breeds from British origin: Shorthorn, Aberdeen Angus and Hereford. Production is based on an extensive grazing system, with animals on the move. This type of breeding practice and genetic improvement resulted in a natural, tender, juicy, tasty, bright red meat, one of a kind across the globe. The annual average per capita meat consumption in the country is 67 kilos.
Meat is prepared in many different ways. There is one dish, however, that acquired a ritualistic status: the asado. Aside from being the name of a beef cut, it also evokes the meal that brings families and friends together. The meal consists of meat and offal, barbecued on a grill that is heated with embers. It is usually savored with dressings, such as chimichurri, herb sauce and spices. There are many specialized restaurants where you can try chorizo, blood sausage, sweetbreads, chitterling and all kinds of cuts, starting with ribs, flank, loins and different steaks. (For more information on Argentine meat, visit www.carneargentina.org.ar)
We Argentineans are beef people, but there is more to us than meat. Even though we are identified by meat, there is also something to be said about what was already in the American lands, before the Spanish conquest, and which, by way of a reverse conquest, became the pillars of other great cuisines.
What would Italian cuisine be like without tomatoes? What about German food without potatoes? Is it possible to imagine European pastries without chocolate? Therefore, when we talk about Argentine cuisine, we are focusing both on native American produce as well as on the products brought by each of the men who arrived at these promising land in search of work, with their own produce and recipe notebooks.
That is the key: diversity is what defines Argentine flavors. Today, we focus on our roots, the typical products and the traditions that were adopted and molded by our people as a nation. On the tables of each region, people created appetizing dishes, combining part of their pre-Hispanic culture and the gifts from nature: in the Norte, they had Andean-Inca influence, in the Litoral, the guaraní influence, and the Mapuche in the South. Native elements mixed with the novelty from the immigrant communities.
The first community was formed by the Spaniards, whose cooking was characterized by boiled and fried dishes: stews, omelets, croquettes and rice can be found in different versions. One of the national and most emblematic dishes, the empanadas (stuffed usually with meatdough pies), were brought by the Andalucians, but their origin dates back to the Arabs. Alfajores (cookie sandwiches) share the same background. We can also trace desserts back to an overseas origin: they were passed on in convents, such as the traditional rice pudding and candies, except for the popular "postre del vigilante" (watchman dessert), which is a slice of cheese and a slice of sweet paste – quince jelly in the classic version.
That Hispanic heritage later on merged with that of other communities. The biggest impact was made by the Italian culture, which was reinterpreted in all its diversity. Pizza, pasta, polenta and sauces are the foundation of the Argentine menu, especially in the big cities. Then, meat started to be served in different ways, including stews with homemade pasta on Sundays, which is another national ritual, like the gnocchi served on the 29th day of each month.
Before continuing the analysis of the culinary legacy from other migratory waves, it is necessary to devote a paragraph to dulce de leche, here known as "el dulce", a preparation made with milk and sugar. Argentineans annually consume over 3 kilos of dulce de leche per capita, which is why it was proclaimed "Cultural, Nutritional and Culinary Heritage". People eat it with a spoon, in desserts, with flan or as a stuffing for crepes.
When referring to communities, it is important to mention that each group of immigrants added their dishes to the national selection and to several ethnic restaurants across the country. So it is possible to find Asian, Arab, Eastern European and African flavors, along with many others, which have lately acquired a Latin American flare due to the Peruvian influence.
Visitors will be able to try different dishes across the country, which will be connected to Argentine customs, such as sharing a family meal, hanging out with friends, the ritual of cooking the best asado, making homemade pasta or drinking mate–everyday examples that show the simplicity of the Argentine people when it comes to enjoying food, and the value of food as a way of showing affection. The traveler can visit elegant restaurants, canteens and pubs, small cafés, bars and even community clubs to enjoy such dishes. Throughout the history of our country, we have welcomed immigrants with open arms; we have overcome crises and gone through rough times. And our cuisine was like a sponge that absorbed everything and turned it into something delicious. Welcome to the Argentine cuisine.
Raquel Rosemberg is "porteña". She was born and is currently living in Buenos Aires. She is very passionate about flavors, without limits or nacionalities. She has a Degree in Social Communication, and she is a gastronomic journalist, editor of the magazine "El Conocedor" and Obsession (Buenos Aires, Argentina); journalist for "Ollas & Sartenes" supplement of Clarín newspaper (Argentina). She wrote "Sabores que Matan"(Flavors that Kill) food and beverages in the black-criminal genre, published by editorial Paidós, her first book, which brings together a collection of articles that have been written over her career.