As a nomad at heart, I am one of those people who spend every spare penny and minute they have either travelling or daydreaming about hopping on a plane to a dreamy, exotic destination. While this is true, I am also a hopeless romantic who will be forever in love with my home country, Argentina, despite the bad press it may have around the globe. And that is why I’m bringing this piece to you: I am making an effort to defend my beautiful homeland and, if I’m lucky, to create one or two new fans.
Argentina is what happens when you add into the mix so many different elements without minding what the end result will be. It started as a Spanish colony and has always been very open to immigrants, resulting in the most varied and colorful people you could meet. There are dark patches in our history too: the ethnic cleansing done after gaining independence from Spain in order to rid the Southern territory of its natural aboriginals inhabitants is, to this day, something a lot of us still mourn. Some might say that Argentina was open to immigrants as long as they were Europeans and not as eager to receive people if they come from other Latin American countries.
These Europeans immigrants were mainly Spanish and Italians, reinforcing several traditions that were in place since the time of the colony: (catholic) mass on Sunday, big families and a special place in our hearts for good food and better company.
Argentinians pride themselves on their food. Is one of the very few things we can brag about without fearing any repercussion. Most of the world will agree with us: very good beer and better wine, with great typical and fusion cuisine. We have the different peoples that have lived in these territories to thank: gauchos, criollos, immigrants and aboriginals have all contributed into creating the most varied menu you will find.
If you travel to Cordoba, for example, you will find that most immigrant settings were from Germany, so you can go to the annual Oktoberfest and enjoy some very German plates you might not find in the rest of the country: sauerkraut, German sausage, what have you. On the North of the country, you will see that there are lots of people that come from the aboriginals that first lived there (and still practice their culture, speak their own languages and make a living by selling their hand crafted products), so the cuisine will include beef, several types of potatoes and even more types of corn. In Buenos Aires, the capital of the country, you will even find our very own Chinatown, with its typical stores and even more typical foods.
If you are more interested in drinking rather than eating, there is nothing better than the provinces that share a border with our sister nation Chile: Mendoza, San Juan, La Rioja and even Salta and Tucumán. Some of the finer wines in the world have been produced in that area in the last few years, and people from all over the world come to our wine tastings and to travel “the wine path”, which is a guided tour that not only takes you all over these territories, but also helps you understand the history behind it and the people that have worked so hard to make it what it is today. Argentinians take a lot of pride in what they do, whatever that might be.
I wouldn’t be making local food justice if I didn’t dedicate at least one paragraph to it. Tortas fritas, empanadas, asado, milanesas, choripanes. You can’t leave Argentina without tasting at least one plate of each. Every region has its own way to prepare these dishes, and they are all (except tortas fritas, that are grease-fried pastries) made with the best beef you will ever taste. If you want to have tortas fritas, take them in the afternoon, at tea time, with a pot and bowl of mate. Mate is our most typical beverage and it is one of the many presents the aboriginal peoples gave us. Prepared with an herb called yerba mate, it is drunk bitter or sweet through a special straw called bombilla. It is intended to be shared and many Argentinians will agree that some of the fondest memories we have is around a good mate with good company.
Though we might generally come off as too strong, Argentinians are aware of the bad press we have worldwide so we have a general weakness for tourists and foreigners and we like to please. A little politeness and gratefulness will take you a long way here because we love what we do and even more when people appreciate it but mind you: most average people only speak Spanish, so if don’t know how to speak the language, make an effort to understand and be understood, you will not regret it.
“Argentina: A Brief Trip Around the Country Through Its Cuisine” is written by Pilar Barraguirre from Santa Fe, Argentina for The Ria Exchange’s “The World We Live In” blog series. Pilar is currently a linguistics and literature student in university. She dedicates her life to the study and understanding of English.