The herbal tea (pronounced as mah tay) is ubiquitous in Argentina. Often drunk through a metal straw called a bombilla, mate is served hot and has a caffeine kick. Sharing a mug of mate is a common social ritual among Argentines and the drink has a precise preparation, so ask a local how it should be made.
This coarse, garlicy sausage is a common starter dish, particularly at an asado (barbecue). Not as spicy as the chorizo found in Spain, Argentine chorizo is placed in between bread to make the popular choripan (literally sausage bread) sandwich, an excellent street snack.
From ojo de bife (ribeye) to bife de chorizo (sirloin), Argentina’s succulent steaks are a source of national pride. Once you’ve mastered the names of the many cuts available, get used to the fact that most Argentines enjoy their steak cooked medium to well-done and served with chimichurri, a herb-filled, spicy sauce.
Argentines have a sweet tooth and alfajores are their treat of choice. These are cookies with a dulce de leche centre – the caramel-like spread made from condensed milk typically commands its own supermarket aisle. In bustling Buenos Aires, individually-wrapped alfajores are sold from kiosks on every corner for those seeking a sugar hit.
5. Red wine
If a giant steak is the iconic meal of Argentina, it is washed down with a glass of robust red wine. The 5th largest wine-producing country in the world, the majority of its bodegas (wineries) are found near Mendoza, in the north-west. The malbec grape is the nation’s most popular, and makes full-bodied reds with a silky-smooth finish.
These savoury turnovers, which are either deep-fried or baked, come with various fillings including cheese, minced meat and vegetables. Sold on street stands throughout the country, they can’t be beaten for a quick and delicious bite.
7. Ice cream
The influence of Italian migrants is evident in Buenos Aires, from pizzerias to the passionate porteños (city residents). Ice cream parlours have also proved a welcome import, and Argentines claim their ice cream is up there with the world’s finest. Buenos Aires’ parlours stay open long into the night to serve up various flavours from wild Patagonian berry to the old favourite dulce de leche.
8. Patagonian lamb
With beef so plentiful (and cheap), Argentines are not big eaters of lamb but it is a must-have dish in Patagonia. In the south of the country, where wild weather and a barren but beautiful landscape are the reality, sheep roam free. Traditionally cooked slowly over a wood fire, the tender lamb is a delicious delicacy.
A semi-hard, circular provolone cheese that is unique to Argentina, provoleta is barbecued and served before the main course. Sometimes covered with oregano and chilli, the cheese is cooked until it can be pulled apart and bread can be dipped into its gooey centre.
The idea of morcilla puts many people off. Similar to the black pudding popular in the UK, morcilla is a blood sausage made with pig’s blood, ground pork, rice, herbs and seasoning. If you’re lucky enough to be invited to an asado, definitely have a taste.
– TEXT BY ROBERT KIDD
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This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.