Many dishes in Argentina are comparable to those of other countries, yet there is something distinctly different about them. A chori is not a hot dog. A humita is not a tamale. Provoleta is not just grilled cheese, and dulce de leche is certainly not caramel. Developing your palate to notice these subtleties is part of the fun of diving into Argentina's culinary identity, so much so as discovering regional specialities like llama steaks or iron cross lamb. While Argentina is a meat-centric country, some classics are vegetarian friendly—and with the rise of veganism, many more plant-based interpretations of other staples are becoming common.
Nothing says independence like a bowl of meaty stew in Argentina, and this cheerfully yellow dish consists of beef or pork broth, beans, onions, potatoes, squash, hominy (a variety of corn), cumin, paprika, and pepper. Originated from Andean tribes, locro served as a national symbol for freedom when Argentina ceded from Spain. Throughout the country, it is now commonly served on May 25, the anniversary of the Argentine revolution, and July 9, the anniversary of their Declaration of Independence. Vegan and vegetarian restaurants also serve meatless versions of it.
Each region of Argentina has their own specialty of these bready pockets of meat, veggies, or cheese. Baked or fried, common varieties include chicken, beef, sweet corn, and ham and cheese. Patagonia makes theirs with lamb, while Salta's have spicy beef and raisins. A popular flavor in Tucuman is mondongo (tripe), and Misiones stuffs them with cassava. Pizzerias and street vendors sell them throughout the country. They make a filling snack or a light meal, depending on how many you eat. Vegetarian restaurants and even some street vendors make vegan varieties, too.
Asado is the pinnacle of Argentine food culture: high quality meat, vegetables, and cheeses grilled in simple fashion for optimal flavor. Popular asado meat cuts include sirloin, ribeye, flank, skirt, and short ribs. Sweetbreads and chitterlings with a squeeze of lemon are also common, and veggies like eggplant, onion, bell peppers, and whole potatoes are typical sides. All items are thrown atop a charcoal grill. Most meats are only flavored with salt, pepper, and garlic, allowing the unique flavors of each cut to shine. Experience an asado as part of a tour, or (if you get invited) in someone’s home during a typical Argentine weekend gathering.
These plump chorizo sausages might look like American hot dogs, but they are juicier, thicker, and come seasoned with paprika. Split down the middle and stuffed into toasted bread buns, they’re sold throughout the country at football games, restaurants, protests, and street corners. Spoon chimichurri— a tangy Argentine condiment of oregano, parsley, garlic, chili flakes, and lemon juice—on top for a fully loaded “chori." Also unlike hot dogs, it’s seen as bad form to walk and eat these. Sit down and enjoy them with the locals.
A cookie sandwich, alfajores traditionally consist of two soft shortbread cookies and a thick filling of dulce de leche (caramelized condensed milk), which is rolled in powdered coconut or sugar. Some confectioners choose to use chocolate or membrillo (quince) jam for the filling. Other varieties of alfajores come dipped in milk, dark, or white chocolate. Argentines eat them as a post-meal dessert or for a merienda (tea time) pastry. You can find alfajores in cafés, bakeries, or kiosks throughout the country.
Drunk anywhere and everywhere in Argentina, mate is the national beverage. Argentines drink this highly caffeinated tea to start their morning, for an afternoon pick-me-up, or as a social beverage to pass around with friends. While it can be bought in individual teabags (called "mate cocido"), the traditional way to drink this loose-leaf tea is in a gourd with a filtered metal straw called a “bombilla." Not typically served in restaurants, it's best to befriend Argentines drinking it in a park and ask for a sip. Alternatively, you can buy the mate (called “yerba”) in the grocery store along with the bombilla and gourd.
Some describe its flavor as “earthy” while others say it’s “gamey." Either way, llama meat is known to be leaner and healthier than cow meat, and it proliferates the menus of Argentina’s northwest provinces of Salta and Jujuy. In this part of the world where llamas are more common than cattle, you can find llama steaks, llama empanadas, and even llama tartar—if you’re feeling fancy. The most common llama dish is cazuela de llama, a llama stew, the perfect meal for winter nights by a large fire.
Patagonia lamb, known as asado al palo, has a distinctive way of being cooked: split down the middle, stretched over an iron cross, and roasted vertically. In this way, the fat drips down, helping to baste the meat. While it cooks for anywhere from three to five hours over an open flame, an herb mix called “salmuera” (water, salt, clove, and garlic) is brushed onto the meat every so often. Crispy-golden on the outside, yet tender and juicy on the inside, the meat pairs perfectly with another one of the country’s specialties: a full-bodied Malbec.
Provoleta is a thick slice of provolone cheese grilled on a parilla (Argentine grill). Drizzled with olive oil and dusted with ground oregano and crushed red pepper, the spices infuse the cheese as it cooks in a small, specially-made skillet. The final result is a lightly seasoned, smokey-flavored cheese, generally paired with bread. Browned and a bit crunchy on the outside (but oh-so-gooey inside), it generally serves as the precursor to the main course of an asado. You can sample provoleta at parilla-style restaurants or family asados throughout the country.
A dish from Andean cuisine, these sweet or salty corn cakes descended from the Incan dish “jumint’a." Made by cooking fresh ground corn, sautéed onion, spices, and goat cheese, these are common in the northern provinces of Jujuy, Salta, and Tucuman. While they resemble tamales, the use of fresh corn and cheese (as well as the way they are wrapped) make them distinctly different. In other parts of the country, you’ll more likely find humita as a lightly sweet empanada filling on menus, rather than a plate of humitas themselves.