Savor the Flavors of Buenos Aires: 8 Must-Try Local Specialties
Savor the Flavors of Buenos Aires: 8 Must-Try Local Specialties - The King of Steaks: Argentine Asado
No trip to Argentina is complete without indulging in the country's famous asado. This grilled meat extravaganza is a point of pride for Argentines and the undisputed king of steaks. Forget your filet mignons and ribeyes, Argentinian asado puts American steakhouses to shame.
The preparation of an asado is an art form, usually handled by an asador who has perfected the technique over many years. Only wood fires are used, imparting a smoky depth to the meat. Popular cuts include chorizo (sausage), morcilla (blood sausage), mollejas (sweetbreads), and a mix of short ribs, skirt, flank and tenderloin. The asador patiently tends to the fire, adjusting the height and temperature of the grilling surface and repositioning the meat for optimal cooking.
While the variety of cuts is impressive, the undisputed stars of the show are the rich, juicy ribeyes and T-bone steaks. With a deep marbling rarely found elsewhere, the steaks are cooked quickly over high heat, just long enough to develop a nice char while keeping the interior a perfect medium-rare. The smoky, mineral-rich flavor of the meat is incredible, with fatty ribeyes achieving a butter-like tenderness.
No proper asado is complete without chimichurri sauce for dipping and dousing over everything in sight. This uncooked sauce combines parsley, garlic, olive oil, vinegar and oregano for a refreshing contrast to the rich meat. Crispy potatoes and salads provide a lighter accompaniment.
Asado is a social experience, with family and friends gathering for hours to eat, drink local wine and socialize. The asador diligently mans the grill, blotting steaks with paper towels before delivering perfectly cooked meat right from the fire. Multiple rounds of steaks emerge as the night progresses.
What else is in this post?
- Savor the Flavors of Buenos Aires: 8 Must-Try Local Specialties - The King of Steaks: Argentine Asado
- Savor the Flavors of Buenos Aires: 8 Must-Try Local Specialties - Empanadas - Portable Meat Pies
- Savor the Flavors of Buenos Aires: 8 Must-Try Local Specialties - Dulce de Leche - Argentina's Sweet Obsession
- Savor the Flavors of Buenos Aires: 8 Must-Try Local Specialties - Alfajores - Classic Cookie Sandwiches
- Savor the Flavors of Buenos Aires: 8 Must-Try Local Specialties - Provoleta - Grilled Cheese Gone Gaucho
- Savor the Flavors of Buenos Aires: 8 Must-Try Local Specialties - Locro - Hearty Beef and Corn Stew
- Savor the Flavors of Buenos Aires: 8 Must-Try Local Specialties - Mate - Sipping an Argentinian Institution
Savor the Flavors of Buenos Aires: 8 Must-Try Local Specialties - Empanadas - Portable Meat Pies
Argentina’s famous empanadas are the ultimate portable street food, stuffed with savory fillings enclosed in a pastry crust. These half moon-shaped hand pies can be found everywhere, from corner shops to high-end restaurants. Buenos Aires even has entire cafes dedicated to empanadas, with counters displaying dozens of varieties fresh from the oven.
The pastry casing is made from wheat flour and lard, giving it a delicate crispness that shatters on first bite. The fillings vary widely, though ground beef, chicken, ham and cheese are common options. Regional empanada specialties include humita, filled with creamed corn, onion and cheese, or roquefort, stuffed with blue cheese and spinach. Even dessert empanadas are found, filled with dulce de leche or sweetened pumpkin.
Porteños frequently eat empanadas as snacks on the go, grabbing a couple from their neighborhood empanada shop for breakfast or lunch. Sit-down empanada restaurants offer leisurely lunches, where you customize your order from the variety of options. Many upscale restaurants put gourmet twists on traditional empanada fillings, utilizing high-end ingredients.
The best places focus on quality over quantity, using fine ingredients like grass-fed beef and artisanal cheeses for the fillings. The empanada dough is kneaded diligently to achieve the perfect consistency—not too thick or doughy, not too flaky and crumbly. Skilled empanada makers carefully seal the edges of each half-moon bundle, ensuring the fillings are fully encased.
Watching the empanada makers stretch and fill the dough is part of the charm when dining in an empanada restaurant. The atmosphere is lively yet relaxed, as diners sip local wine while waiting for piping hot empanadas fresh from the fryer or oven. Sharing a large order of a dozen assorted empanadas makes for an exceptionally social dining experience.
Beyond restaurants, empanadas are everywhere in Buenos Aires—sold in the little shops on street corners, by vendors at bus and train stations, and even in supermarkets to take home and bake yourself. Trying empanadas from different purveyors is a fun way to get a taste of barrios beyond the touristy areas. The hand-held meat pies make perfect snacks while exploring Buenos Aires on foot.
Savor the Flavors of Buenos Aires: 8 Must-Try Local Specialties - Dulce de Leche - Argentina's Sweet Obsession
No discussion of Argentine cuisine is complete without mentioning dulce de leche, the country’s national obsession. Translating to “milk candy,” this sweet, caramel-like substance oozes its way into everything from cakes to cookies, ice cream, pancakes, and more. Locals even drizzle it over fluffy baked meringues for an instant dessert. Food historians trace dulce de leche back centuries to the time when Argentina was first colonized by Spain. Cans or jars of dulce de leche are ubiquitous in supermarkets and convenience stores across the country.
Argentines typically make dulce de leche by slowly simmering milk and sugar for hours until the mixture caramelizes and thickens. The richness intensifies as water evaporates off, leaving behind a smooth, velvety confection. The pantry staple is dolloped into everything from morning toast to late-night snacks. Café con leche (coffee with milk) transforms into café con dulce de leche for an indulgent caffeine fix. Even panqueques crepes and waffles become dessert with generous drizzles.
Alfajores cookies sandwiching dulce de leche are an iconic teatime snack, with confectioners Havanna and Cachafaz leading popular brands. Another sweet treat is arrollado, a rolled sponge cake oozing with dulce de leche filling. At family gatherings and holidays, dulce de leche flans and cakes take center stage. Restaurants get creative by incorporating dulce de leche into menus. A parrilla steakhouse might serve it drizzled over grilled pineapple, or swirled into a decadent milkshake. Trendy heladerias like Un Altra Volta and Freddo tout exotic ice cream flavors like dulce de leche-chocolate chunk and dulce de leche-brownie batter.
Savor the Flavors of Buenos Aires: 8 Must-Try Local Specialties - Alfajores - Classic Cookie Sandwiches
Alfajores hold a special place in Argentine cuisine, serving as an iconic teatime snack for generations. These round shortbread cookies sandwich a sweet dulce de leche filling for a perfect afternoon pick-me-up. Though versions of alfajores exist across Latin America, the Argentine style reigns supreme.
Two tender, melt-in-your-mouth cookies cradle a generous layer of creamy caramel filling. The shortbread dough strikes a delicate balance between crispy and soft, enhanced by a light sprinkling of powdered sugar. This crumbly texture provides a pleasing contrast to the lush dulce de leche at the center. Each bite melts sweetly on the tongue, with the subtle hint of vanilla in the cookies balancing the richer caramel notes.
While simple alfajores have just two cookies with dulce de leche in between, some gourmet versions boast extra adornments. Chocolate or dulce de leche drizzle atop the cookies adds decadence, and many specialty alfajores incorporate nuts, fruits like quince paste, and even ganache or truffle cream for ultimate richness. Glazed or frosted cookies provide crunch and visual appeal.
Part of the appeal lies in their portability – alfajores are the ideal snack for an afternoon break or quick bite on the go with coffee. In Buenos Aires, locals regularly enjoy alfajores from historic cafés, grabbing a paper bag of the cookies and dulce de leche as a mid-afternoon snack. Friends meet at cafés in the evening after work to catch up over coffee and a shared plate of alfajores.
The indulgent cookies also tempt as an after-dinner treat. Following extended family meals involving multiple courses of steak, pasta, roasted vegetables and rich sauces, a few alfajores provide the perfect sweet finale. Holiday tables feature platter after platter of the cookies for guests to enjoy. Even restaurants get into the alfajores craze, serving mini versions alongside the check.
For travelers, visiting historic alfajores producers Havanna and Cachafaz makes for a delicious Buenos Aires experience. At their elaborate, elegant cafés, you can taste the full range of alfajores flavors and styles. Watching the bakers crafting each cookie and filling level by hand provides insight into the care that goes into this specialty. Of course, you can also pick up packaged alfajores at their shops and kiosks all over the city.
Savor the Flavors of Buenos Aires: 8 Must-Try Local Specialties - Provoleta - Grilled Cheese Gone Gaucho
Argentina’s provoleta puts a gutsy gaucho spin on ordinary grilled cheese, transforming the humble sandwich into an iconic appetizer. In this dish, slices of provolone cheese are grilled or pan-fried until lightly charred and oozing. The provoleta showcases the nuances of Argentina’s exceptional artisanal provolone, with its smooth texture and sharp, tangy bite.
Unlike many grilled cheese recipes that use processed sandwich slices, provoleta relies on high-quality ingredients. Crafted by small producers across Argentina, traditional provolone has a stellar reputation, with aficionados celebrating its complex flavour profiles. This semi-hard cheese offers subtle smoky and buttery notes well-suited to melting.
With just a few key components involved—thick slices of cheese, olive oil or butter, and bread—the quality of each shines through. When cooked correctly at high heat, the cheese forms a beautiful crust while turning soft and gooey within. Sourdough bread soaks up the rich drippings for a decadent accompaniment.
The indulgent dish appears on the appetizer menus of countless steakhouses, known as parrillas, where slabs of provoleta emerge sizzling from wood-fired ovens. Served piping hot in its small cast iron pan, the cheese exudes an irresistible aroma. Diners eagerly dig into the molten provoleta using crusts of bread to soak up the glorious juices.
Beyond restaurants, provoleta turns up at Argentine barbecues and family meals. The asador tending the grill takes special care cooking the cheese over the wood fire’s hot embers. Part of the fun is waiting for that first bite when the provoleta has cooled just enough not to burn your mouth. The smoky char on the outside gives way to the elastic, creamy interior, coating your palate in flavor.
Some recipes add garlic, herbs, or spicy chimichurri sauce for extra dimensions. However, traditional provoleta focuses on the stellar cheese itself rather than competing flavors. Connoisseurs believe any embellishments merely distract from the provolone’s subtleties.
Provoleta satisfies as a quick snack or appetizer when you crave gooey cheese but want something more interesting than a basic grilled cheese. It requires minimal prep work, using ingredients on hand in most kitchens. The dazzling, restaurant-worthy presentation belies how simple it is to make at home.
Savor the Flavors of Buenos Aires: 8 Must-Try Local Specialties - Locro - Hearty Beef and Corn Stew
Locro exemplifies the rustic, hearty cuisine of Argentina's interior provinces. This thick corn and meat stew provides stick-to-your-ribs comfort, ideal for chilly weather. While locro recipes vary by region, the base combines hominy corn, beef, onions, squash or pumpkin, potatoes and herbs. The origins trace back centuries to native South American stews incorporating corn, an integral staple. Today, Argentines celebrate Día Nacional del Locro each October, gathering with family and friends to feast on enormous pots of the rib-sticking dish.
Preparation of locro involves slowly simmering the corn, meat, vegetables and seasonings for hours to let the flavors meld. Chewy kernels of hominy corn provide texture and body, while potatoes thicken the broth. Tough cuts of beef transform tender after prolonged cooking, infusing the stew with a rich, meaty essence. Many recipes also call for pork belly or sausage for extra decadence. Winter squashes like calabaza or zapallo add natural sweetness when cooked down, complementing the corn.
The ideal consistency is a spoon-coating thickness, so the stew clings to your palate in satisfying mouthfuls. Every component works in harmony – the tender beef and potatoes, sweet bursts of squash, onions lending a savory undertone, and corn providing pleasant chew. Subtle chili spice brings warmth. You may garnish with fresh herbs like parsley or cilantro.
Locro makes for a wonderfully convivial meal, as the fragrant stew simmers lazily for hours, perfumes the whole house, and puts everyone in a cozy mood. It satisfies hearty appetites yet requires minimal active cooking time. The stew keeps well for days, improving in flavor, so families enjoy locro throughout an entire weekend. Leftovers freeze perfectly for quick future meals.
Part of locro’s appeal lies in its versatility. The basic medley of corn, meat and vegetables serves as the foundation for creative embellishments. Cooks incorporate leftover roast chicken, spicy chorizo sausage, additional vegetables like bell peppers or carrots, even pasta or rice to soak up the rich broth. Toppings like fried eggs, cheese, avocado or buttery croutons provide textural contrast.
Savor the Flavors of Buenos Aires: 8 Must-Try Local Specialties - Mate - Sipping an Argentinian Institution
Mate exemplifies Argentina’s intricate tea culture, serving as a beloved social ritual. This caffeine-rich, grassy infusion represents far more than a casual drink. Sharing mate with others facilitates meaningful connections and forges a sense of identity.
Yerba mate leaves and twigs form the basis for this tea. Argentines customarily pour hot (not boiling) water over the dried leaves in a gourd or cup, then sip the infusion through a metal straw with a filter tip. The mate gourds and straws—called bombillas—come in elaborate styles representing different regions.
Passing the mate gourd in a circle and refilling it with hot water fuels long conversations. Each participant drinks from the same straw, making it an intimate experience of sharing flavors. Friends chat for hours, with the mate circulating continuously. During family meals, parents and kids leisurely sip mate between courses. At lively cafes in Buenos Aires, patrons order takeaway mate cups or thermoses to enjoy while people watching from the terrace.
Newcomers to mate often remark on the grassy, vegetal taste, which can be an acquired pleasure. But Argentines savor the clean, gentle stimulation mate provides, without the jitteriness of coffee. Beyond cafes, mate permeates daily life. Office workers sip from thermoses during breaks to reinvigorate. Students cradle gourds in university quads, fueling study sessions. Thermal mugs allow sipping on the go.
Sharing mate rituals nurture a sense of belonging to traditions greater than oneself. Multi-generational families uphold mate customs passed down through the generations. Even as Argentines embrace global influences, mate grounds their heritage.
The rituals also foster connection. When sharing mate, you let your guard down and open up to whoever is passing you the gourd and straw. The warmth of hands cradling the mate eases communication, as you make eye contact and trade smiles across the circle. Within couples and families, mate fuels affection.