Argentinians eat half again more meat than Americans and, thanks to their apparent hatred of everything vegetable, have such a high rate of hypertension that restaurants in Buenos Aires are no longer legally allowed to put salt on the table. This rugged yet friendly country – the west of the south – is carnivore heaven.
Shortly after the Spanish arrived in Argentina in the 1500s, Jesuit missionaries discovered that the pampas grasslands were perfect for raising cattle to feed their missions in less friendly climes. Herds have dominated the landscape ever since and grass-fed cows have made Argentina a watchword for meat eaters in the know. Their diet is a source of pride for many Argentinians so travelers will also have no trouble finding someone willing to help them talk to the butcher.
Buenos Aires' increasing prominence as a cultural capital has resulted in a recent influx of tourists and in the capital becoming a fairly easy place to get to from the U.S. Traditionally travelers had flown to Rio de Janeiro or other major South American cities and caught Aerolineas Argentina flights, but now American Airlines is offering direct round trip flights to Ezeiza Airport from New York for as little as $1200.
Destin-Nation Argentina: No, We Won't Eat Vegetables!
Like “barbecue,” the word asado refers to both a dish and a culture. Meaning the act of roasting and saucing animal parts over a charcoal flame, asado also refers to the conversation and drinking that transpires as the coals heat up and, more specifically, the largest section of a cow’s rib cage. Ribs are a point of national pride for Argentinians and so are the chimichuri sauces used to season the meat or as dips. The green sauces inevitably include the usual suspects, parsley, pepper, and garlic, but can also include lemon, paprika and any number of other spices.
Buenos Aires’ Rodi Bar is a well-known “parilla,” or steakhouse, where visitors can indulge in massive helpings of meat for a little more than ten bucks. For those with more delicate sensibilities – or smaller hands – the restaurant offers asado de tira, or short ribs.
Eating this dish will not give anyone street cred with Argentinians, many of whom find it wanting for taste and texture, but many visitors find themselves ordering it again and again because saying no to a $12 filet mignon just isn’t easy. And that is exactly what bife de lomo is, a cut of gently browned meat with little fat and a soft consistency.
The temptation is to head towards expensive restaurants to find this tender cut, but that would be a rookie mistake. The quality of Argentinean steaks has everything to do with grass-fed beast and nothing to do with silver cutlery. A tip for visitors picking out their own steaks at local markets or at the parilla: Look for a more marbled steak and hope that the fat will dissolve during the cooking process. Also, it is a total waste to order bife de lomo well done.
A South American staple, the Milanesa’s Argentinian permutation is a breaded beef baked and served alla Napolitana, meaning with a prosciutto, melted cheese and tomato topping. This is a mid-range restaurant staple at between $8-10, but also takes sandwich form for those on the run. The name of the dish comes not from Naples, but from Jose Napoli’s, the shuttered Buenos Aires haunt that introduced the dish to Argentinians.
Milanesas can also by made of chicken or veal and a commonly found in the freezer aisle of Argentinian grocery stores. Chicken milanesas are basically vegetarian food by Argentinian standard.
One of the amazing technologies the Spanish brought to the new world was certainly the sausage and the Chorizo is its purest South American form. But Argentina’s answer to the hot dog has distanced itself a little from its European forebears: Unlike many chorizos, the chorizos here are grilled rather than fermented. Cooked chorizos are then split down the middle, stuffed with various condiments (including onions, mustard and ketchup) or chimichurris and served in a bun.
The street running parallel to the Reserva Ecologica in the coastal Puerto Madero neighborhood is known for having excellent Chorizo stands, but beware that the street gets crowded come lunch time. Another surefire way to grab an authentic chorizos is to go a soccer game, where one will inevitably find you. For $2, mas o menos, stocking up is a good idea.
The advanced Chorizo is filled with rice, onion, spices, pieces of offal and a lot of pig’s blood. Morcillas are for unrepentant carnivores only. They taste is strong and the texture is, well, let’s say heterogenous rather than lumpy. The adventurous gourmand will likely be happily surprised by this spicy dish, which is served in a “mariposa,” butterfly or split down the middle, style like chorizos, but should probably not be picking up a morcilla on the roadside. Just seems risky.
The morcilla is the gateway food to the more intimidating charcuterie that Argentina has on offer.
Tierra del Fuego is a chilly and remote enough that visitors’ eagerness for a warm dish often overcomes their squeamishness. Mollejas are – there is no dancing around it – thymus glands and throat. The sheep estancias or ranches of southern Patagonia are a big business, but not big enough that their owners can afford to throw away spare parts. Everything gets eaten here. And it turns out throat does taste good with a little bit of seasoning.
For the curious urban germophobe, the best option is probably the Duhau Restaurant in Buenos Aires’ Hyatt, but finding Mollejas shouldn’t be hard. They are best served fresh so just listen for the tell-tale bah.
Just because the U.S. Department of Agriculture warns against eating something doesn’t mean it isn’t delicious. Sometimes it just means its delicious and a little bit gross. Chinchulines, for any southerners reading this, are basically chitlins with a little far southern spice. For those unfamiliar with the ways of Dixie, Chinchulines are cow intestines that have been hosed out to get rid of fecal matter then cooked on a grill.
The problem here is Yersinia Enterocolitica, a bacterium found in pigs that can cause severe food poisoning. Because most travelers are not capable of determining with their naked eye the difference between cow and pig intestines, eating Chinchulines by the roadside can be a high stakes game of luck. Better stick to the restaurants on this one. Try El Pobre Luis in the capital.