Must-Try Foods in Argentina: A Backpacker’s Guide to Gastronomic Delights

Must-Try Foods in Argentina: A Backpacker’s Guide to Gastronomic Delights

Argentina, the land of tango and stunning landscapes, also boasts a rich and diverse culinary heritage. For backpackers venturing through this South American gem, exploring the local cuisine is a journey in itself. This guide will take you through the must-try foods in Argentina, offering a taste of the country’s cultural and culinary richness. From succulent steaks to delectable pastries, Argentina’s gastronomic delights are sure to leave a lasting impression.

The Quintessential Argentine Asado

Asado: The Heart of Argentine Cuisine

Asado is more than just a meal in Argentina; it is a social event and a crucial part of the country’s cultural fabric. An asado typically involves grilling various cuts of meat, especially beef, over an open flame or a parrilla (grill). The star of the show is often the bife de chorizo (sirloin steak) or costillas (ribs).

How to Enjoy Asado

Backpackers can experience an authentic asado at numerous parrillas (steakhouses) scattered throughout cities and towns. For a more immersive experience, try to get an invitation to a local’s asado, where the camaraderie and hospitality enhance the flavor of the meat. Do not miss the chimichurri sauce, a green concoction of parsley, garlic, vinegar, and oil, which is the perfect complement to grilled meats.

Empanadas: The Perfect On-the-Go Snack

A Bite of Tradition

Empanadas are savory pastries filled with a variety of ingredients, such as beef, chicken, cheese, or vegetables. Each region in Argentina has its unique take on empanadas. For instance, the Salteñas are known for their juicy, meat-filled centers, while Tucumanas are larger and often contain potatoes and raisins.

Where to Find Empanadas

Empanadas are ubiquitous in Argentina and can be found in bakeries, cafes, and street vendors. They are an ideal snack for backpackers on the move, providing a quick and satisfying meal that encapsulates the local flavors.

Milanesa: A Tasty Breaded Delight

What is Milanesa?

Milanesa, a dish brought to Argentina by Italian immigrants, consists of a thin slice of beef or chicken, breaded and fried to golden perfection. It is often served with mashed potatoes, salad, or sandwiched in a roll for a milanesa sandwich.

Where to Taste Milanesa

Milanesa is a common dish in many Argentine homes, restaurants, and cafes. Backpackers can enjoy it in a local bodegón (traditional eatery) or even try a milanesa sandwich from a street vendor for a quick and delicious meal.

Locro: A Hearty Stew for the Soul

The Essence of Locro

Locro is a traditional Argentine stew, particularly popular during national celebrations such as Independence Day. It is a hearty blend of corn, beans, potatoes, and various meats like sausage and pork.

Savoring Locro

For a true taste of Argentine culture, seek out locro in local markets or family-run restaurants, especially during national holidays. This dish is perfect for backpackers looking for a warm, filling meal after a day of exploring.

Choripán: The Argentine Hot Dog

The Ultimate Street Food

Choripán, a combination of chorizo sausage and bread, is Argentina’s answer to the hot dog. Grilled chorizo is sliced down the middle and stuffed into a crusty roll, typically topped with chimichurri or salsa criolla (a mix of tomatoes, onions, and bell peppers).

Where to Get Choripán

Choripán is a popular street food and can be found at food stalls, markets, and even roadside stands. It is an excellent, affordable option for backpackers craving a savory snack on the go.

Dulce de Leche: A Sweet Indulgence

What is Dulce de Leche?

Dulce de leche, a creamy caramel-like spread, is a beloved Argentine sweet. It is made by slowly heating sweetened milk, causing it to caramelize. This versatile treat is used in a variety of desserts and pastries, or simply enjoyed on its own.

How to Enjoy Dulce de Leche

Backpackers can find dulce de leche in supermarkets, bakeries, and cafes. Try it in alfajores (shortbread cookies filled with dulce de leche), facturas (sweet pastries), or as a topping for helado (ice cream).

Alfajores: A Cookie with a Cult Following

The Beloved Alfajor

Alfajores are two delicate cookies sandwiched together with a generous layer of dulce de leche and often coated in chocolate or dusted with powdered sugar. Each region of Argentina adds its unique twist to this classic treat.

Finding Alfajores

Alfajores are widely available in bakeries, cafes, and supermarkets. They make for a perfect snack or a sweet souvenir to take home. Backpackers should try different varieties to fully appreciate this iconic Argentine dessert.

Mate: The Quintessential Argentine Beverage

The Ritual of Mate

Mate is a traditional Argentine drink made from the dried leaves of the yerba mate plant. It is typically served in a hollowed-out gourd with a metal straw, called a bombilla. Drinking mate is a social activity, often shared among friends and family.

Trying Mate

Backpackers can buy a mate kit from local markets or shops and join locals in this communal ritual. Many hostels and guesthouses also offer mate sessions where travelers can learn about the customs and etiquette surrounding this cherished drink.

Recreation or FAQ Section

Recreating the Argentine Culinary Experience at Home

Bringing the flavors of Argentina to your kitchen is a fantastic way to relive your travels and share your experiences with friends and family. Here are a few tips to help you recreate some of the dishes mentioned above:


  • Ingredients: High-quality beef cuts (such as sirloin, ribs, or flank), coarse salt, chimichurri sauce (parsley, garlic, vinegar, oil).
  • Method: Grill the meat over an open flame or use a charcoal grill for an authentic flavor. Season with coarse salt. Serve with chimichurri sauce.


  • Ingredients: Dough (store-bought or homemade), filling (ground beef, onions, hard-boiled eggs, olives, spices).
  • Method: Sauté the filling ingredients until cooked. Fill the dough circles with the mixture, fold, and seal. Bake or fry until golden brown.

Dulce de Leche

  • Ingredients: Sweetened condensed milk.
  • Method: Place an unopened can of sweetened condensed milk in a pot of water, ensuring the can is fully submerged. Simmer for 2-3 hours, adding water as needed. Let the can cool before opening.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Q: What is the best time to visit Argentina for food lovers?

A: Argentina can be visited year-round, but food lovers might enjoy visiting during national holidays like Independence Day (July 9) or Revolution Day (May 25), when traditional dishes like locro are widely available. Spring (September to November) and fall (March to May) are also pleasant times to travel.

Q: Is it easy to find vegetarian food in Argentina?

A: While Argentina is famous for its meat-centric cuisine, vegetarian options are increasingly available, especially in larger cities. Look for empanadas with cheese or vegetable fillings, milanesas made with soy or eggplant, and a variety of salads and vegetable dishes.

Q: Can I find gluten-free options in Argentina?

A: Yes, gluten-free options are becoming more common, particularly in urban areas. Many restaurants and bakeries now offer gluten-free versions of traditional dishes and desserts.

Q: How can I enjoy Argentine cuisine on a budget?

A: Eating at local markets, street vendors, and casual bodegones is a great way to enjoy Argentine food without breaking the bank. Empanadas, choripán, and milanesa sandwiches are affordable and delicious options for budget-conscious travelers.

Q: What are some must-visit food markets in Argentina?

A: Some popular food markets include San Telmo Market in Buenos Aires, Mercado del Norte in Salta, and Mercado Central in Mendoza. These markets offer a variety of local produce, prepared foods, and culinary delights.

In summary, Argentina offers a plethora of culinary experiences that are as diverse as its landscapes. From the communal joy of an asado to the sweet indulgence of alfajores, the country’s food scene is a must-explore for any backpacker. By understanding the essentials and knowing where to find these dishes, you can fully immerse yourself in the gastronomic delights that Argentina has to offer. And with some creativity, you can even recreate these flavors at home, keeping the memories of your Argentine adventure alive.

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