My Argentinian Food Experience with Beef
This past October, I had the opportunity to travel to Argentina to attend the International Congress of Nutrition. Beyond my work obligations, I built in some vacation. Because, well, a 12-hour plane ride from Minneapolis to South America is a long way to go without experiencing some international cuisine and culture.
I must admit, Argentina is a country that has been on my list of “places to go” for many years now, perhaps because Argentinian people have a love and appreciation of food and eating, and so do I!
Argentine cuisine is described as a cultural blending of Mediterranean influences such as those created by the Italian and Spanish. In Buenos Aires, I found everything from pizzas and pastas to more traditional South American dishes like empanadas (tiny, homemade meat pies).
Argentinians also embrace dancing, and the tango is an integral part of history which is still found in all parts of Buenos Aires, from mythical cafes to the middle of the streets, and also in parts of the city’s most authentic neighborhoods.
Outside of Buenos Aires, regions of Argentina, like Mendoza, are known for the production of Malbec wine and other varieties like Cabernet Franc. Most vineyards in Mendoza do not distribute to the United States, so the opportunity to learn about agriculture and growing conditions that favor lush Malbec grapes, was truly a unique opportunity.
My first stop in Argentina was in the capital city of Buenos Aires. When I first arrived, the locals told me that I had to experience a traditional Asado, which is an Argentinian barbecue that includes a premium cut of beef prepared over a hot fire, plus other tapas style dishes, each paired with a unique Argentinian wine.
Unlike barbecues in the states, an Argentinian Asado is so much more than your average barbecue. It means cooking in its purest form with just fire, a grill and some meat. It is very common to have an Asado with friends and spend quality time together conversing over great food and locally produced wine!
I was excited to experience a traditional Asado and searched for the finest restaurant in Buenos Aires that would offer a unique experience. “Steaks by Luis” is what the locals recommended because it is not your ordinary place to eat. Instead, “Steaks by Luis” is hosted in the private quarters of a chef’s home and groups are limited to about 10 guests at a time.
Dinner begins at 8:00 p.m, and you are welcomed with a traditional course of picada (i.e. antipasto). I learned that antipasto in Argentinian culture is very similar to Italian antipasto. You nibble on items like olives, prosciutto, and sun-dried tomatoes. Argentinians also like to add mini-empanadas and chorizo to the antipasto dish. After antipasto, we were served a mixed green salad with confit tomatoes, apples, cheese and a house-made honey mustard vinaigrette. On to the next course, the Achuras which are assorted cuts of meat, including sweetbreads, that are grilled to perfection and served with chimichurri sauce, a spicy mixture of garlic, vinegar and onion.
At this point, I’m on to my fourth course, if you’ve been counting! The fourth (and main!) course was the main entrée (350 grams of premium “Bife de Chorizo,” or New York Strip, with a side of roasted potato in olive oil and sea salt).
Is your mouth watering yet? The cut of steak was so tender, flavorful and honestly, unlike anything that I have ever tasted!
It’s no wonder that people fly from all over the world to eat steak in Argentina. To pair with the steak, was a healthy pour of Argentinian Malbec wine, made from a small family-owned vineyard in Mendoza.
To finish off this fantastic five course meal was a serving of “Dulce de Leche” cheesecake topped with whipped cream and a candied orange peel. “Dulce de Leche” means “sweet from milk” and can be found all over South America with slight recipe variations from country to country.
Our Asado ended at 11:00 p.m, and it was truly an amazing experience. The opportunity to learn about Argentinian cuisine from a local chef and share food with great company was all I could have asked for.
After my experience at “Steaks by Luis,” I began to think that all Argentinians must be beef-lovers. As it turns out, I’m not wrong.
Here’s some quick stats for you:
In 2016, Argentinians consumed about 120 pounds of beef per capita1. This is second to Uruguay, with consumption of 124 pounds of beef per capita1. Hong Kong falls third with consumption of 114 pounds of beef per capita, and the United States is fourth in terms of beef consumption per capita (about 80 pounds in 2016)1.
Argentine people LOVE eating beef, and no other dish more genuinely matches their national identity. Social gatherings are centered on sharing a meal and invitations to have dinner at home is viewed as a symbol of friendship and warmth.
Besides dinner, lunch is also considered an important meal, with people taking time out of their day to meet with friends and family, or to connect with colleagues. Lunch is typically a later meal compared to the U.S. and eaten at 2:00 p.m. Lunch meals, from what I experienced, are an assortment of freshly-roasted vegetables, cheeses, olives, and bread served with a glass of red or white wine (of course!).
The lunch meal is spread out over two hours and ends with something sweet like “Dulche de Leche” or something simpler like a good piece of chocolate and coffee. Either way, you can’t go wrong with the dessert either!
My experience in Argentina was incredible, and I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to embrace the local culture and enjoy authentic food while I was there! I already know that I will travel back again one day to explore other parts of the country like Patagonia.
Until next time!
- World Beef Consumption Per Capita. http://beef2live.com/story-world-beef-consumption-per-capita-ranking-countries-0-111634. Accessed November 5, 2017.