Argentine Cuisine: Bread, Bread, and More Bread

If you are a lover of bread, Argentina is the gastronomic hotspot for you.  Most Argentine’s ancestors were of Spanish or Italian descent, and Italian-style food has definitely left its mark. Since arriving to Córdoba, Argentina on Sunday, I have consumed bread at every single meal and have eaten meals in an entirely different way than I am used to.

Breakfast is light and usually consists of bread slices (which may or may not be toasted) with mantequilla (butter), marmelada (jelly), and a cup of coffee or tea.  Breakfast does not seem to be of much importance here, and I have trouble staying full until lunch…

Especially because lunch starts at 1:30pm at the earliest.  Many people wait until 2, 3, or even 4pm before sitting down for their midday meal.  However, lunch (as well as dinner) is much more substantial.  Dinnertime in Argentina isn’t until 8pm or later, a fact that’s hard for all-day eaters like me to swallow (ha!).

As I said before, almost all meals are comprised of 90% bread—but they are also delicious and normally made with fresh, chemical-and-additive-free ingredients.  Some of the meals I have really enjoyed here are polenta, milanesa with papas fritas (a flat piece of chicken or beef with French fries), and empenadas.  (As a sidenote, I’m a very picky eater, so these aren’t very adventurous foods.) Even foods that are consistenly eaten in America—such as hamburgers, pizza, and French fries—seem to take on a whole new flavor in Argentina.  The cheese tastes like real cheese, and the French fries are made with real potatoes and typically aren’t greasy or salty.

If you go to a restaurant for lunch or dinner, you can expect a good-sized—if not large—plate of food.  The camarero (waiter) will ask you what you want to eat first.  After ordering, you will usually wait anywhere from 25 minutes to an hour for your food.  After bringing out your delicious meal, the camarero may or may not ask you what you want to drink.  From what my study abroad group and I have experienced, if you ask for an alcoholic beverage like beer or wine, the camarero will immediately bring it to the table.  However, if you ask for anything else, it could take almost an hour to receive your beverage.  (I have actually been to a restaurant that never brought me my drink.)  In addition, “refills” seem to be nonexistent.  You either pay for another drink, or you decide to stick with the small glass of whatever for the duration of the meal. Also, there is no ketchup bottle, salt-and-pepper shakers, or sugar on the table.  You have to specifically ask for anything extra—when I ask for ketchup, it always comes in packets or on a small plate, and I usually don’t receive very much.

The meal, whether lunch or dinner, will last anywhere from 1 hour and 45 minutes to 3 and a half hours.  Here, meals are about socializing.  There is really no such thing as a quick meal unless you go to one of the few fast food restaurants.

From personal experience, the meals prepared in the home tend to be much smaller and much more closely resemble a healthy portion size.  Again, they are not made quickly—the meals are homemade with fresh ingredients.

As far as fast food goes, I have seen a handful of fast-food restaurants in Córdoba—2 McDonalds, a KFC (maybe 2), and a Subway.  I have only had close enough contact with a handful of people from Córdoba to draw any sort of conclusion about their fast-food preferences, but from what I can tell, there is a clear divide of people who love it and people who hate it.  Many people here still believe in old-fashioned, home-cooked meals that take a while to prepare and involve sharing time with loved ones.  However, I have seen and talked to a minority of people who eat McDonalds frequently.

Snack foods are virtually nonexistent. There are super tiny stores located along the streets that sell a small selection of candy and junk food, but there is very little variety and people do not seem to eat it much.  I haven’t recognized any of the junk food except for Oreos, which are only sold (unless you go to el supermercado) in a row of about 4-10 cookies.

Drinks: Bottled water must be bought, and you must choose water con gas or sin gas (with or without gas, or carbonation).  If you order water or Pepsi/Coca-Cola products in a restaurant, you will almost always receive it in a glass bottle. In Peru, a popular carbonated beverage is Inca Kola, which more or less tastes like bubblegum. In Argentina, mate, a brewed herbal “tea” that is served in a gourd with a metal straw, is very common. (Also, the tea here is not sweet tea—it’s typically an herbal tea.) I have been very thirsty since coming to Argentina because the tap water is not necessarily safe and restaurants are stingy with drinks.

Although I have had a hard time getting used to the long waits and lack of drinks, it’s refreshing to eat meals with real ingredients and to actually enjoy what I’m eating, instead of scarfing it down on the couch in front of a television.

Sincerely, Erika

*P.S.  I hope to add more pictures to this post later so that you can more clearly see what I am writing about.

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