The recent renaissance in Argentine food has seen appetites move away slightly from the traditional beef, pasta, and pizza-based menu. Strong regional influences are coming to the fore, and the best restaurants are keen to offer local products in tune with the seasons. The Northwest is fond of indigenous recipes with a strong Spanish colonial tradition. Locro and humita are two maize-based broths often accompanied by tamales and empanadas stuffed with llama meat. In the wetlands of the northeast, the Guarani Indian tradition is evident in dishes made from manioc, pumpkin, and fruit such as papaya. The river lifestyle means excellent fish in the form of dorado, surubí, and pejerrey. Kid goat is popular in the central western provinces; Patagonian cuisine consists of wild boar, venison, and lamb; and plentiful trout and salmon caught fresh from the many rivers and king crab rule the dinner table in the far southern coastal areas such as Tierra del Fuego.
Despite such changes, there is no denying that beef remains the staple of every Argentine household and world-famous Argentine steak is top of every visitors list to try as soon as possible. Sidewalk restaurants and cafes have a multitude of meat-based snacks such as milanesas (filet in bread crumbs) and lomitos (steak sandwiches). The ultimate cow experience is the epic Argentine asado, something the translation "barbecue" does no justice to as there is not a hot dog or hamburger in sight. Instead you get a mouthwatering parade of every meat cut imaginable such as costillas (ribs) and bife de chorizo (tenderloin). Offal is popular in the form of mollejas (sweetbread) and chimchullinis (intestine). A weekend invitation to a family asado should not be missed, and as you travel around you will see such gatherings in the unlikeliest of places such as freeway curbs, street steps, and high-rise balconies. When Argentines want to celebrate, it is always with an asado. If such an invite is not forthcoming, settle for an asado de tira in any parrilla (grill-house restaurant), with the ubiquitous empanadas for starters.
Regarding drinks, mate tea is a national obsession, with groups consuming this bitter, green infusion on street corners, park benches, and even behind the car steering wheel. Service stations have machines dispensing free hot water to those who want to top up their thermos, which in turn tops up their mate gourds. Coffee is popular and served strong. Cafe culture is vibrant, with the prework caffeine lift and chat a prerequisite among many. For something different, try a submarino -- a tall glass of hot milk dunked with a lump of dark chocolate (often in the shape of a submarine). Ice cream is indulged in at all hours, and many parlors remain open until the early morning serving a bewildering choice topped by the national pride dulce de leche (caramelized milk).
The Italian digestif Fernet has taken on a new life as the alcoholic drink of the young and is phenomenally popular in late-night bars and discos; its sweet cough-medicine taste is tamed with lots of cola and ice. Argentine wine is now some of the best in the world, with the powerful red Malbec from Mendoza the perfect companion with beef and the aromatic white Torrontes from Salta and La Rioja excellent with fish or pasta. Other wine varietals to look out for are the toast-flavored Bonarda and the rich and silky Tempranillo.
Argentine eating habits deserve a book in itself. Just be aware that dinner is late and most restaurants do not get busy until after 10pm.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.