Argentinian Food Rules: 9 Tips to Eat Like a Local
Food is not just sustenance in Argentina; it’s a way of life, a cultural expression, and a source of national pride. Argentinians have a deep and passionate relationship with their cuisine, and it’s no exaggeration to say that food helps define their identity. From the Italian influence on pasta and pizza to the diverse regional traditions like empanadas from the provinces of Tucumán and Salta, every dish in Argentina has its own ritual, a story to tell, and a unique way of bringing people together.
In this blog, we’ll explore 9 Argentinian food rules that will teach you how to prepare and enjoy your food like a local.
Table of Contents
- 1. Add Lots of Grated Cheese to Your Pasta
- 2. Eat Your Asado in the Right Order
- 3. Make Sure There’s Fresh Bread on Your Table
- 4. Pizza Should Be Crusty
- 5. Choose How You Prefer Your Empanadas (But Be Ready to Fight)
- 6. Salad Seasoning Should Be Minimal
- 7. Don’t Cut or Break Spaghetti
- 8. Expect a Late Dinner
- 9. Have a Nice Afternoon Snack
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1. Add Lots of Grated Cheese to Your Pasta
While adding cheese to your pasta in Italy might be considered a crime against Italian cuisine, in Argentina, it’s practically a national pastime. Argentinians love to generously sprinkle grated cheese on their pasta, whether it’s spaghetti, gnocchi, or ravioli.
But here’s the secret: While you can easily grab a packet of industrial-grade grated cheese at any store, the true Argentine way is to buy a quality piece of cheese and grate it yourself over your piping-hot pasta dish.
This adds a layer of authenticity and a burst of flavor that pre-packaged cheese can never match. So, don’t be shy with that cheese grater, and let your taste buds savor the difference!
2. Eat Your Asado in the Right Order
When it comes to unwritten Argentinian food rules, there’s an art to the order in which the different parts of an asado meal are cooked and served.
Argentinians take their asados seriously, and the ritual starts with achuras, which are the offal or organ meats, including chinchulines (small intestines) and mollejas (sweetbreads). Argentines see these as delicacies and they are usually the first to hit the grill.
Next up are the sausages, particularly chorizo, sizzling with flavor. Following the chorizo, chicken pieces are grilled, often marinated in vibrant chimichurri sauce (a hot sauce made with oil and assorted spices).
Once you have indulged in all these savory cuts, you are ready for the main course – the beef. Just make sure you’re not completely full by the time it comes to the table!
3. Make Sure There’s Fresh Bread on Your Table
Though this tradition is gradually fading as younger generations become more health-conscious and dietary trends like keto gain popularity, fresh bread remains an integral part of traditional Argentine cuisine.
Whether you’re feasting on a succulent steak, indulging in a plate of pasta, or savoring any other Argentine delight, bread is there to grace your table: You can use it as a vehicle to sop up flavorful sauces, as a companion to help food make its journey from plate to fork, or as a way to cleanse your palate in between dishes.
4. Pizza Should Be Crusty
When it comes to Argentinian pizza, there’s an unwritten rule that it must have “un buen piso,” which translates to a firm and crispy bottom crust. This is a fundamental distinction from the softer, more pliable pizza crusts commonly found in Italy.
Argentinian pizza has a crunchy foundation, and you shouldn’t expect to fold it in the Neapolitan style as they do in Italy. The emphasis here is on the crispy texture of the pizza base, providing a delightful contrast to the toppings.
This variation of the typical Italian pizza is a testament to the meticulous attention to detail that Argentinians give to their food, even when it’s a dish from another culture.
5. Choose How You Prefer Your Empanadas (But Be Ready to Fight)
Empanadas hold a special place in the hearts and stomachs of Argentinians, and there’s an ongoing debate about who makes the best empanadas: the Tucumanos or the Salteños. This culinary rivalry arises from the distinct traditions of two northern Argentine provinces, Tucumán and Salta.
La Empanada Salteña: Hailing from Salta, these empanadas are typically larger and boast a thicker, flakier crust. They are famous for their juicy fillings, often containing ingredients like diced beef, olives, hard-boiled eggs, and, more controversially for people from other regions: potatoes. The flavor profile is a savory delight, with a hint of spice from ingredients like red pepper flakes.
La Empanada Tucumana: Tucumán, on the other hand, has its own empanada claim to fame. These empanadas are smaller, with a thinner, crispier crust. The fillings tend to be a bit simpler, focusing on minced beef, onions, and various seasonings. Tucumanas are usually fried to golden perfection, creating a delightful contrast between the crispy shell and the flavorful interior.
No matter which type of empanada you choose, it’s essential to be consistent in your choice and follow the recipe carefully. After all, the best way to honor Argentinian cuisine is by showing respect for its traditions!
6. Salad Seasoning Should Be Minimal
Salads in Argentina are often considered a healthy complement to meat-centric meals or even a substantial lunch option in their own right. However, when it comes to seasoning, less is definitely more.
Argentinians prefer to keep their salads light and health-conscious, so heavy dressings like Caesar, packed with fats, are a big no-no.
If you want to eat like a local while in Argentina, your salad dressing combo should consist of a simple mixture of oil and vinegar, allowing the freshness of the greens and other ingredients to shine. Lemon juice, soy sauce, and balsamic vinegar are also acceptable alternatives that add a delightful tangy twist if you need a bit of extra flavor.
But remember — the idea here is to enhance the natural flavors of the vegetables rather than smothering them in rich, creamy dressings.
7. Don’t Cut or Break Spaghetti
In Argentina, the way people handle spaghetti seem a bit more relaxed than in Italy, but there are still some unspoken rules to follow. While younger generations might not bat an eye, some elders could gasp in shock if they witness you reaching for a knife to cut your spaghetti.
Breaking the spaghetti in half before cooking them is a big culinary no-no in Argentina. Instead, the tradition is to fully immerse the long strands in boiling water and wait until the submerged portion starts to soften. At that point, you can gently nudge them into the pot, allowing them to gradually soften and fit comfortably. This method ensures that you can twirl your spaghetti gracefully onto your fork without the need for any cutting utensils, preserving the pasta’s elegance and integrity on your plate.
8. Expect a Late Dinner
Argentinians have their own sense of time when it comes to meals, and dinner is no exception. Unlike some other cultures where dinner takes place early in the evening, in Argentina, dinner is a more relaxed and late affair. Believe it or not, it’s not unusual for locals to sit down for dinner as late as 9 or 10pm.
The late dinner tradition is deeply ingrained in the Argentinian lifestyle. It’s partly due to the fact that lunch, often the main meal of the day, is typically served around 1pm. This leaves a significant gap between lunch and dinner, making a late evening meal the natural choice.
More importantly, the evening meal in Argentina is an opportunity for families and friends to come together, unwind, and enjoy each other’s company. It’s a leisurely affair. So, if you’re invited to dinner, try to relax and don’t be surprised if dinner is served late.
9. Have a Nice Afternoon Snack
If you’re feeling hungry in the afternoon and wishing dinner time wasn’t so late, do not worry. We have a lovely concept to introduce you: the merienda.
In Argentina, merienda is more than just a simple snack; it’s a cherished daily tradition that punctuates the afternoon. A few hours after a hearty lunch and before a typically late dinner, Argentinians indulge in merienda to keep their energy levels up and to socialisze with friends or family. This afternoon snack is a delightful blend of flavors and culture.
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So, what do you need to know to enjoy merienda like a local? Simply choose something sweet, like alfajores (cookie sandwiches filled with dulce de leche), pastafrola (a tart-like pastry topped with quince jelly and sprinkled with confectioners’ sugar) or medialunas (croissants), and serve it with tea, coffee, or of course, mate (a traditional herbal tea).
Immersing yourself in the world of Argentinian cuisine is a wonderful way to experience the rich culture and traditions of this vibrant country. From the love of cheese on pasta to the meticulous art of crafting the perfect asado, each aspect of Argentinian food culture has a story to tell.
By following these 9 Argentinian food rules, you can eat like a local and truly savor the flavors of Argentina.
And if you’re thinking about exploring Argentina further, why not take the opportunity to learn the language? Learning Spanish can open doors to a deeper understanding of the culture and the people.
At Listen & Learn, we offer personalized Spanish courses tailored to your needs and goals. So, whether you want to order empanadas with confidence or engage in passionate discussions about Argentinian cuisine, our courses can help you on your journey to becoming a true connoisseur of both the food and the language.