Argentina is known for it’s amazing steaks and good wine. The problem with “must-try” things and being a tourist is that everyone is trying to get you to try their “thing” and their “amazing” price. It can be hard to find where the locals go and to avoid tourist traps. It’s hard to know what is too cheap, and who is taking you for a ride.
Asado – Argentine Barbecue
The best steak you can eat in Argentina is the kind made at an Asado (barbecue) with friends. This is most likely going to be better than any high class restaurant.
An Argentine barbecue is not at all similar to an American barbecue. It is a multiple hour affair and the barbecue itself is an architectural structure as opposed to the semi-portable structure we know.
The way it works is that wood is burned, or carbón (previously burnt wood, not coal), to the point where embers are persistent. Then the embers are spread out below the grill. The grill itself is adjustable to different heights. The grill should be at the height that you can hold your hand for 10 seconds before it is too hot. Keep the grill at this level for multiple hours to cook delicious, juicy, tender, meat.
What kind of meat should you get? Bife de Chorizo is similar to a sirloin strip steak and is a good chuck of meat. It is the most popular cut. There is Lomo, which is like a tenderloin and also Ojo de Bife which is like a rib eye. For ribs, the main choice is Tira de Asado. These are not like American short ribs though! The bones are only about an inch long and the meat around the bones it more the goal than the meat on the bones.
While beef is the most popular asado protein, chicken and sausage can also be cooked. As well as an egg in bell peppers for the vegetarians.
If you are unable to find locals to cook with, the best restaurant meat we had was in Palermo at República de Eslovenia and Báez. It is a red building that looks better casual and is amazing.
Empanadas are basically mini calzones, without the pizza undertones. They are a very popular go to snack. They are best fresh, and are baked or fried depending on which country you are in. In Buenos Aires they use a crust similar to a calzone, but thinner, and they are baked. In Colombia and Venezuela is more like a cornbread dough and are fried.
You can buy pre-made empanada shells are most grocery stores and then fill it with whatever you like. Traditional fillings are ground beef with olives or raisins, chicken, and cheese and onion.
Taylor made us empanadas in our AirBnB and it was awesome. She basted the empanadas in egg and then followed the instructions on the shells to bake them. We made caprese empanadas and avocado and cheese ones that were delicious. You can’t go wrong. Unless your filling has too much liquid. Taylor says to not have too much liquid.
Mate is tea. It is a very serious part of South American culture. At least in Ecuador, Uruguay, Argentina, and Chile. It is served in tulip shaped cups made from gourds. There is a special straw that has a filter on the end so that you don’t slurp up leaves.
There is a way to make the mate that we have not perfected. Apparently, you put leaves in the cup and then flip the cup upside down on your palm and shake to get some of the powder out. Then you add a little cold water to the bottom of the cup. Insert the mate straw. Pour hot water along the straw. Do not flood the leaves!
When with friends, mate is drunk in a round repeating order. One person is the mate master with the hot water thermos. They fill the cup, pass it to person 1, person 1 drinks and then passes back. Then the master passes it to person 2 and repeat until everyone has had mate except the mate master, the master drinks and the process starts again. If any person says “thank you,” that means they don’t want anymore mate.