The Argentina Gastronomic Traditions you can’t miss on your trip!

Foodies' Guide Posted on 07/01/2015

Ever walk through a park or plaza in Argentina and wonder what the strange looking square leather bags on everyone’s shoulders are? This is one of the most identifiable cultural objects in the country, Argentina mate tea. This is one of the traditions, but let’s see more.

#1 Let’s start with Argentina’s traditional drink: The “mate”

This tea is a staple in households, workplaces, and friendly gatherings across the country. For those visitors who are unfamiliar with the leafy beverage, it definitely deserves a thorough explanation on how to fully enjoy an Argentina mate.

The Argentina mate originated in northern Argentina with the Guarani indigenous culture (originally from the Iguazu area). Guarani culture is filled with spirituality, bravery, and tradition. Yerba mate has been a part of Guarani culture for hundreds of years, mostly used as a ritual and spiritual drink for good health. Mate has natural caffeine that helps keep you awake while quenching thirst and suppressing your appetite. The tea leaf is quite strong so don’t be surprised if the first time you drink it, you have endless energy! This tradition has created a mate culture all over Argentina, where there is never a wrong moment to drink a mate.

What’s in the square leather bag? 

The bag normally contains a hot water thermos, a mate gourd, yerba mate tea, a metal straw, and maybe a snack. Mate can be drunk all throughout the day, but it is most popular during afternoon snack time, called merienda. Merienda is a time to take a late afternoon break to have a snack, relax, catch up with a friend, and of course, share a mate.

How do you drink mate?

Mate is normally drunk in groups or at least with one other person, although it can be drunk alone. One person is in charge of serving and pouring the tea, while the rest take turns sipping and passing it back to the leader. Yerba tea leaves are placed into the gourd and hot water is poured from the thermos. The metal straw, called a bombilla, has special holes on the bottom so that only the liquid tea enters the mouth and not the leafy bits. Never move the straw! It stays exactly where it is and never moves from the bottom of the gourd.

Mate can be enjoyed naturally and more bitter or sweeter by adding sugar, it all depends on your taste preferences. When it is your turn to drink, you can drink all of the tea that is in the gourd, and then pass it back to the leader when you’re done. Just make sure to only say thank you when you have had enough and don’t want anymore!

#2 Empanadas’ tradition in Argentina

Another Argentine tradition is the Empanadas. No one can deny that empanadas are an Argentine trademark, in every house empanadas are prepared. There are infinite varieties, it is possible to say that there are as many varieties as homes where they are prepared. However, there are characteristics that define the region where they come from:

  • Empanada Tucumana (from Tucuman): It is characterized because its main filling is meat, it also has onion, green onion, hard-boiled egg, paprika, cumin and fat.
  • Empanada Salteña (from Salta): Meat cut by knife, onion, sweet paprika, cumin, ground garlic, hard-boiled eggs and green onion. But the ingredient that makes the empanada salteña stand out is the diced potato. It can be accompanied by a spicy chili sauce. 
  • Empanada Mendocina (from Mendoza): they have a distinctive ingredient, the black olive. Empanadas and Mendoza wine, a traditional marriage at the Argentine table.  

Extra Facts: Patagonian Empanadas did not have beef as the main filling as in the rest of the provinces, due to the fact that those arid and cold lands had no cattle. So the settlers used lamb meat as the main ingredient, formerly guanaco meat. Likewise, in the coastal areas, like in Peninsula Valdes, it is common to find empanadas based on fish and especially seafood.

#3 The mighty Asado

Argentina is a traditional breeding country. Here some of the best pastures in the world can be found. As soon as you start your trip to other areas of Argentina outside Buenos Aires, you can easily find cows and horses grazing in endless Pampa lands. The same, when you approach Patagonia, traditional ranches where sheep and cow breeding are numerous. 

Though Buenos Aires the asado is made with cow and sometimes even pork meat, in Patagonia this tradition changes a little bit. In the southern lands, the “asado de cordero” (lamb barbecue) is the must-try dish! The tradition states that in Argentina the lamb must be done in a stick buried into the grown, where the meat cooks slowly. 

The Argentine tradition of the asado can change again if you visit northern Argentina, where llamas abund everywhere. This type of camelid not only is appreciated for its meat, but also for its wool. The products, like sweaters and ponchos made by llamas wood are specially warm! There is another type of camelid that can be found in Salta and Jujuy, the alpaca. The products made with alpaca’s wool are far more expensive since alpacas have a more refined fur. 

If you visit Iguazú Falls, the asado Argentine tradition is also maridate with the most common product of the area, the fish. In Iguazú, you can enjoy a “fish barbecue”, and try the pacú and the dorado, two river delicacies. 

For other cool Argentine traditions continue reading our blog! Or to see these things for yourself, contact Say Hueque today to start planning your trip to Argentina!

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