Friday, February 4, 2011

Bife de Argentina (and other delicious treats)

As our time in Argentina has come to an end (in terms of the blog, that is -- we actually left Argentina on December 22nd and have visited five countries since then), it's time to turn our attention to one of the most important GT topics - feeding time.  With Dave's (borrowed) mantra of "each meal should be a snowflake," aka perfect and unique (a positive update from his previous and more morbid slogan, "this could be my last meal") we made it our mission to try Argentina's best and most traditional foods.  [DSM: Thanks Klover & Chrissy].  Unfortunately, "best" and "most traditional" only sometimes correlate, but we found that, in general, Argentines do Argentinian food very well... and other food, not so well.  Below, here's our summary of all of the deliciousnesses that Argentina has to offer, based on our three months in the country - we may be wrong about some of this stuff.


DSM:  mmmm, costillas.

This is Argentina after all, home to grass fed, free ranging vacas (cows).  My favorite cut is generally the bife de chorizo (strip steak), but I am also a big fan of the lomo (filet).  These were Dave's favorites too, but he also agonized over vacio (flank steak) and salivated over costillas (beef ribs cut the short way).

A regular dinner of bife de chorizo, lomo pimiento and lots of sides at La Cabrera
As far as we've seen, the traditional method for cooking steak (and other meats) is as follows:  A wood fire is made, and when the coals are white-hot they are raked over to the cooking side of the oven.  A grill is placed on top of the coals and the meat on top of the grill.

Part 1:  Diego cooks up a mean lunch during our horseback ride near Mendoza
Part 2: A delicious, perfectly-seasoned piece of steak
 As a result, Argentine steak is generally cooked more well-done than we like it.  So we always order it muy jugoso (rare), and it usually comes out to a perfect rare/medium rare.  On occasion I have insisted, to great disbelief, that yes, I like my bife sangriento (bloody).

The rare flag is not planted in very many Argentine steaks.
In this instance La Caballeriza got it just right.
Also, a quick note on portion size.  In a word, enormous - 600-800 grams (that's 21-28 ounces!) per steak!  Typically Dave and I share a steak (this embarrasses Dave to no end, he insists that he order the steak for himself and I order the salad instead of just ordering both for the two of us).

Steak for one?  It is literally as big as his entire face.  For real.
Our favorite parillas (steakhouses) and asados (barbeques):
[Many of these are recommended in guidebooks and other blogs, we felt these were the ones worthy of such recognition]

- Don Mario's - Our first foray into Argentina was a great success.   After a boozy afternoon at the superb Hostel Lao, the steak at Don Mario's assured us that if nothing else we would eat well for the next three months.

- El Monumental - there are two El Monumentals catty-corner to one another and serving up thick slabs of carne goodness.  We chose the divier looking branch.  Yum.
- Viejo Jacks - by far the biggest steaks we have ever encountered, and delicious to boot.
- Sayta Estancia - dios mio, Enrique is a master asador!
Enrique's asado leaves no man hungry
Buenos Aires:
- La Cabrera (five visits)- touristy, but so delicious. Get the bife de chorizo, lomo pimienta, grilled provoleta and an order of fries.  The photo at the top of the post is a very close-up of the exceptional lomo pimienta.
- Don Julios (three visits) - another great, more casual parilla. 
- La Brigada (two visits) - we loved the old-timey touches (and the delicious steak). 
- Las Cabanas las Lilas and Happening (once each) - two slightly fancier parillas located in the upscale Puerto Madero neighborhood

- El Boliche de Alberto in Bariloche - This was one of our final steaks in Argentina.  The entire meal, but especially the steak, was delicious.  We are still not sure why it was so good.
- A Punto in El Bolson
La Caballeriza in Villa Angustora

A composite photo of each of our dishes from Boliche de Alberto's.


Although we tend to think that offal is awful (har har), we certainly ate a lot of it.  Offal such as mollejas (sweetbreads) and sausages such as morcilla (blood sausage, photo below), chorizo (pork sausage) and salchicha (a long thin sausage, sometimes available in "white" (Dave's favorite)) are regular staples of an asado.  We have fewer photos of these because they were served first, one of the few times Dave is not taking photos....


Not sure if you can tell but... we ate a lot of empanadas in Argentina.  They are cheap, portable and, especially in Salta, the empanada capital of Argentina, delicious!

Baked empanadas from Dona Salta
They come in tons of variety but we usually go with meat, spicy meat (never actually very spicy), chicken and cheese.  Generally, we preferred baked to fried almost always, expect for certain cheese empandas, which were actually just giant mozzarella sticks.  Some of our favorites were those we bought on the street from unnamed vendors.  Our general strategy was to go for the oldest and most hearty looking woman among the bunch.  She usually had the best empanadas….

Fried empanadas (left) from Patio de Empanadas
On the right are humuitas (see below)
Our favorite empanadas (all in the Salta region):
- Dona Salta - Get the dried salted meat ones.  The meat is not dry and they are sooooo good.  So good, that we stopped at Dona Salta on our way to the bus terminal to pick up a half dozen of these guys for our 22 hour bus ride from Salta to Buenos Aires.  These are the ideal bus food, according to Dave.  I disagree based on the quality of a 22 hour long bus bathroom.
- Patio de Empanadas
- Pulenta Estates – Perhaps the best empanada we had the entire trip was filled with sweet potato and corn.  No meat.  Whoa.

The delicious insides of meat empanada - note the flaky, crispy outside.


Many of the foods we ate in northern Argentina were similar to what you might find in Bolivia, Peru or Ecuador: locro (a thick cornmeal-based stew with beans and meat), cazuela (goat stew), tamales (meat wrapped in corn husks), humitas (similar to tamales, but made with corn and onion).

Tamales and humuitas - not as good as empanadas, but still good.

Want to grab a quick coffee?  Better yet, looking for a cup to go?  Not a chance.  Cafes are ubiquitous throughout Argentina, but these are places where you are expected to sit and linger over your cafe con leche (coffee with hot milk), espresso, cortado (espresso with just a little steamed and foamed milk) or, if you're not a coffee drinker, submarino (hot milk with a bar of chocolate dropped in).

Cafe con leche from the famous Cafe Tortoni
And no coffee break in Argentina is complete without a snack such as:

Medialunas:  These delectable breakfast (or in our opinion, anytime) treats are like upgraded croissants.  Available in two varieties (salada, made with lard, and de graso, made with butter and glazed).  They are usually offered with cafe con leche or a cortado and, if you're lucky, delivered to your table still warm from the oven.

Medialunas salada
Medialunas de graso
Alfajores:  Little cookie sandwiches, filled with dulce de leche and coated with chocolate.  Not as good as a mallomar or an oreo, in my opinion, they are a famous Argentine sweet and are available everywhere.

A wall of alfajores at Cafe Havana

Dulce de leche: Dulce de leche gets its own little shout out, a sweet, sticky caramel sauce that seemingly gets put on everything - on bread for breakfast, on cookies for snacks, and on pastries for dessert.  Supermarkets devote an entire aisle to dulce de leche.


Pizza and pasta abound in Argentina.  Argentine pizza is light on the sauce, heavy on the dough and extremely heavy on the cheese.  It's the antithesis of New York pizza, and it made us very sad.  Pastas are often made fresh and include tallerines (fettucini), noquis (gnocci) and sorrentinos (big raviolis).

Fast-food type meals include milanesas (like schnitzel), panchos (hot dogs) and lomito (steak sandwich).  Add "completo" to the end of any of those and top with ham, cheese, fried egg and who knows what else.  Sandwiches de miga are flat white bread sandwiches with the crusts cut off and what seems like a single layer of cheese or ham between the bread.  Also, papas fritas.  Lots of papas fritas.

Papas fritas topped with cheese and ham.

Helado (ice cream) is possibly the national food and is as delicious as Italian gelato.  My favorite - dulce de leche granizada (with chocolate chips).

So many choices!

But Dave always went for mint chip, and then would eat my dulce de leche granizada

MateArgentinians love their mate and seem to drink it 24/7.  If you are ever offered a cup of mate, drink as much as you want (without futzing with the straw) and then hand it back.  We were told that to rush someone through their mate is incredibly rude.

Mate in a traditional gourd.
Photo Credit: Bern Schmotzer
Wine: We've written enough about Argentine wine - see here, here, here and here - that we don't need to go into it any further.  Suffice it to say that malbec is delicious and cheap.

Beer:  In many places, you could only buy a beer in a giant liter size!  I think that's hysterical.  Quilmes, Salta, and Stella Artois (for a splurge) were the brands we encountered the most.

You can get four Quilmes for the price of one Stella. 
Ordering is easy in Argentina.

Our almost three months in Argentina were a wonderful start to the GT.  Our ears got accustomed to the crazy Argentine Spanish, our stomachs got accustomed to eating giant steaks at 11 PM and our eyes even eventually got accustomed to the mullets and rat-tails that are seemingly the height of Argentine male hairstyle fashion. We learned to patiently wait an eternity for service in a restaurant and to chase to down waiters for our check.  We never really got used to the concept of a siesta and invariably sought out food just as everything closed.  We were spoiled forever with full-flat seats on long-haul bus rides.   Dave mastered the stickshift, became a supertrekker and learned the names of every type of sausage available in Argentina.  I survived grimy bathrooms, became an expert in reading car manuals in Spanish, and was promoted from "Assistant to the Director of Maps" to "Assistant Director of Maps.

Although our Spanish is already slipping away, Argentina will always have a special place in our hearts, and as we continue to travel the world we will always look back fondly on the friendly people, gorgeous scenery, our ability to communicate and, of course, those giant steaks.

Our most common spot in Argentina:
waiting for our giant steaks with wine, beer, and agua con gas.


  1. What else can I say but...YUM!

  2. Ugh, I am so jealous! Your time in Argentina was equally enjoyed by those of us reading your blog:)

  3. Who knew Argentina could be so delish!?

  4. What a great ending to your first chapter!


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