Disclaimer: I stole this post idea from my friend Adam, who is a Fulbright Teaching Assistant in Barranquilla, Colombia. You can see his discussion about food in his part of Colombia here.
If an American were asked about food in Argentina, I think they would probably respond with “meat.” I can confirm that those rumors are true. There is a lot of meat here. But food in northwestern Argentina goes way beyond that. Here is my Top 10:
Turron is a traditional dessert in NW Argentina. The ingredients are eggs, flour, baking powder, anise, honey, sugar, dulce de leche, and walnuts. You basically layer dough and dulce de leche until you run out of dough, and cover it with a merengue topping and chopped walnuts. It is really, really sweet! It’s mostly available at restaurants or people make it at home.
9. Empanadillas de Cayote
Empanadillas are available at most bakeries, street corners during holidays, and on long-distance busses. At any given stop people will get on and yell, “Empanadillas! Empanadillas de Cayote!” The dough is made from flour, baking powder, butter, egg yolks, anise liquor, and water. They are glazed with a mix of egg whites, powdered sugar, and lemon. So what’s on the inside?
They can be filled with sweet potato, but more commonly they are filled with cayote. No, not coyote like the animal. The cayote is this giant, giant fruit that I had never seen before living here (see the picture above). It’s known by a bunch of different names in different Spanish-speaking countries. Apparently in English it is the “Seven Year Melon” according to Wikipedia, but I’ve never heard of that in my life. It is absolutely huge and to get to the stuff on the inside, when ripe they just throw the huge fruit thing on the ground until it smashes to pieces and the outside shell falls off. The inside is sweet but I personally do not like the taste of it at all. They mash it up to make the filling, and there you get Empanadillas de Cayote.
There are many different kinds of alfajores. The picture on the left is called a “maicena,” assumably because it is made with cornflour (maicena). There are two cookies with dulce de leche sandwiched in between, and then rolled in coconut. You can find these at any bakery and are often eaten as a snack with tea or coffee. The alfajores on the right are the ones sold at convenience stores, grocery store check-out lines, etc. The major brands are Milka, Bon-o-bon, Havanna, and Oreo, among others. They are made up of two cookies with dulce de leche sandwiched between, and are coated in chocolate. Many variations exist – Havanna makes one that is coffee-flavored, the Oreo ones are made with oreo cookies, some have mousse rather than dulce de leche, others are covered with a glaze or with white chocolate… you get the idea. No matter the combination, I think they are delicious.
La milanesa is another food that exists in many combinations. The picture is a milanesa a la napolitana con papas fritas. A milanesa itself is a piece of meat (usually veal, but also can be chicken or beef), coated in breadcrumbs and fried. It’s kind of like chicken parmesan but the meat is very thin. Then it’s covered in something or accompanied by something. A la napolitana means it’s covered with ham, cheese, tomatoes, and oregano. It can be plain, covered with a number of sauces, and accompanied with salad, lemon wedges, french fries, veggies… the list goes on. Milanesas are available at every restaurant in Argentina, more or less.
The outside of the tamal is made with corn husks and the inside is a mix of corn and meat.
You use the head of a cow or a pig (seriously, the head) and let it boil in water. Once it’s “cooked,” you let it cool and cut off the meat. You reserve the water that it was boiling in, and then add cornflour, lard, onion, salt, cumin, pepper, and broth. You put this mixture inside a corn husk and steam it. They are round in shape and tied at the top.
Humitas are made with corn, green onion, squash or pumpkin, salt, paprika, green pepper, cheese, basil, and water. They are a vegetarian alternative to tamales and are also square in shape, rather than round. You mix together all those ingredients, wrap them in a corn husk, and steam them. I personally like tamales more (even though the process sounds gross), because I get bored with the same flavor and texture throughout the entire humita. But that’s just my humble opinion!
Locro is the big “winter” food here (July-August/September). You basically throw a ton of stuff in an enormous pot and let it cook all day. It’s very popular at restaurants but also big family get-togethers and parties. The major ingredients are corn, beans, random chunks of meat (doesn’t matter what, even hooves and stomach and bones and things), squash, green onion, water, salt, cumin, paprika, and pepper. When it all comes together it’s delicious, I just had to not think about all of the random meat things in it… haha.
3. Dulce de Leche
YUM. Dulce de Leche is the peanut butter of Argentina. You can put it on absolutely anything. Fruit. Cookies. It shows up inside things. Candies. Cakes. You can eat it alone out of the jar. I add it to chocolate pudding sometimes. They also make dulce de leche ice cream, candies, and a million other things.
I am addicted to dulce and will no doubt be bringing several jars home with me.
Asado is normally pronounced “asao” (without the “d”). Most Argentinian families dedicate Sundays to asados, which just involves a lot of meat and a grill. Restaurants also offer asados, where you select which meats you want and they bring it to your table on top of a little mini grill that’s either placed on the table or next to the table. Blood sausage (morcilla) is very common, along with chorizo, and different steaks.
I have probably eaten 1000 empanadas since getting to Salta. Want a cheap, easy meal? Empanadas. Most run about 5-6 pesos (less than 1 dollar) and are available in cheese, meat, chicken, and sometimes ham and cheese, caprese, or some other variety. You can have them baked or fried — my personal favorite, and the more common variety, is baked. They make a great lunch, or an appetizer, or a dinner, or a snack. And in Salta they are always served with “salsa picante,” a somewhat spicy red sauce (see bottom right of the picture). Salta is known for having the best empanadas in Argentina — I think it’s the dough that makes them so good. YUM!