Buenos Aires is one of the world's most important food cities. Its cuisine derives from a mix of influences, using beef from cows raised on the Pampas, Italian staples such as pastas and rich sauces, and even underlying native Indian ingredients like choclo (a form of corn). With the Argentines' growing wealth and desire to emulate what they saw as they traveled the rest of the world, French and other European influences entered the cuisine. The go-go Ménem years of the 1990s, in particular, saw the rise of sushi and other Japanese specialties throughout Buenos Aires.
The most important Argentine staple is beef, and the world-famous Argentine steak should be at the top of every visitor's list of foods to try as soon as possible. Sidewalk restaurants and cafes throughout Buenos Aires sell a multitude of meat-based snacks such as milanesas (filet in bread crumbs) and lomitos (steak sandwiches). The ultimate steak experience is the epic Argentine asado, an event for which the translation "barbecue" does no justice, as there is not a hot dog or hamburger in sight. Instead, you get a mouth-watering parade of every meat cut imaginable, from costillas (ribs) to 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 most unlikely places such as freeway curbs, street steps, and high-rise balconies. When Argentines want to celebrate, it is nearly always with an asado. If such an invite is not forthcoming, settle for an asado de tira (rack of grilled beef ribs) in any parrilla (grillhouse restaurant), with the ubiquitous empanadas for starters. You'll find wonderful choices all over the city; the family-run La Boca favorite El Obrero and Puerto Madera's upscale Cabaña Las Lilas represent just a few.
The neighborhood of Palermo Viejo reigns supreme in food experimentation. It is here that some of the most interesting examples of Argentine-nouvelle cuisine were born, largely in response to the peso crisis. Look to such restaurants as Meridiano 58, Te Mataré Ramírez, and Casa Cruz for this type of cuisine. In addition, some restaurants have turned to ancient Argentine staples now popular in neighboring regions such as Peru. These include Bio, a vegetarian restaurant that uses quinoa, the grain of the Incas, in some of its dishes; and De Olivas i Lustres, serving dishes containing quinoa, yacare (river alligator), and llama, many cooked in a Mediterranean fashion -- a fantastic fusion of continents. Even beyond the gourmet re-creations of star chefs, the Indian heritage of Buenos Aires remains in other staples, such as locro, a heavy winter stew of meats and chocla.
With more than half the population of Italian descent, Italian food can hardly be considered an ethnic specialty in Buenos Aires, or anywhere in Argentina for that matter. Italian food is Argentine food. However, Middle Eastern influences exist in the city -- a remnant of the immigrants who moved here after the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire -- in such restaurants as Viejo Agump and Garbis. Similarly, kosher restaurants, particularly with Sephardic and Mizrahi influences, exist in the neighborhoods of Abasto and Once. If you're craving peanut butter, kosher shops will stave the craving. Asian food can be found all over the city, particularly sushi. Sushi's popularity during the Ménem years continued during the presidency of Fernando de la Rúa, whose economic advisors were nicknamed "the Sushi Club" because of their consumption of the dish during meetings. In Buenos Aires, head to such restaurants as Asia de Cuba and Sushi Club if you're craving raw fish. Recently, the sushi trend has resulted in another cultural fusion, born of immigration from Peru during the economic boom and the rise of Japanese-Argentine star chefs. Peruvian cuisine, itself based on raw fish and now often served by Japanese sushi chefs, can be best enjoyed in Palermo's Ceviche.
Mate tea is a national obsession, with groups of people consuming this bitter green infusion on street corners and at soccer games. Scan the city's parks on a hot day and you'll see it carried by nearly everyone out enjoying the sun. Coffee is popular and served strong. For something different, try a submarino -- a lump of dark chocolate (often in the shape of a submarine) dunked in a glass of hot milk. Ice cream is indulged in at all hours, with many parlors open until early morning and offering a bewildering range of flavors 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 popular in late-night bars and discos. Argentine wine is some of the best in the world: The powerful red Malbec from Mendoza is the perfect companion for beef, and the aromatic white Torrontes from Salta and La Rioja is excellent with fish or pasta.
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