Top 5 reasons to miss Argentina

Now that we have left the country that has basically been our home for the last 3 months, we have decided to pay homage to its awesomeness with a list of the things we will miss. We have mulled over our list for some time and have made some tough cuts. Obviously there are hundreds (if not thousands) of reasons to miss the land of the Argentine, but for the sake of brevity we have narrowed it down to only five.

Of course we could mention the beautiful diverse landscapes or that Argentineans are among the friendliest and most helpful people we’ve ever met. There are also the double-decker luxury buses and the forlorn dogs that attach themselves to you when you show them the least bit of affection. We could mention the exciting emerging hair trend where men and women have grown rat tails and bedazzled them with beads and embroidery thread. We call them Avatar tails and have come to enjoy their colours and personality.

But this would not be a blog by Gillian and Leah if all of the top 5 things to miss in Argentina weren’t food related.

1. Meat

The fabled meats of Argentina have bypassed all expectations and stood up to their lofty reputations. The ubiquitous parrilladas (bbq meat restaurants) dominate the restaurant scene. Ordering the “parrillada mixta” will get you an unimaginably large portion of mixed meats, bbq’ed to perfection, served on a wooden platter. Blood sausage, chorizo, bife de chorizo (rib roast steak), and matambre (flank steak) are usually present, but we have also been served riñones (kidneys), higado (liver), and chinchulin (intestine). In this way we have become intimate with the anatomy of a cow.

Ready to lunge on another perfectly prepared parrilla

Apart from ordering the pile of asado meats, it’s also possible to enjoy a good steak. Our steak consumption was great, but our favourite remains as a restaurant in Buenos Aires called Desnivel. We have had the bife de lomo (tenderloin) twice and all we can say is heaven must be missing steak because Desnivel is serving it.

2. Dulce de Leche

It’s everywhere and it’s delicious. “Dulce” as it is fondly known by Argentineans, is caramelized sweetened milk and tastes like a luscious caramel spread. On every bus ride we were given a minimum of two dulce cakes, which is basically a Jos Louis filled in layers with dulce de leche. Luckily after the first one we tried, we started giving them away or we might currently be rolling our way through South America.

Dulce de leche in every shape and size fill the supermarkets

Every cake, pastry, or dessert is likely to have some dulce element. In the grocery stores you can get it in all forms, including in giant brown sugar-sized bags. The dulce section of the supermarket usually has the equivalent shelf space as the pastas and sauces combined.

3. Mate

Mate is not a beverage it is a social ritual. We have shared mate with many friendly Argentineans – on buses, in cars, while getting our hair cut – in the most precarious situations. Nothing comes between an Argentinean and their mate consumption. Much like the coffee addiction in North America, Argentina has a serious mate addiction. It might even be more serious.

Mate, the friendship builder

The mate beverage (pronounced mat-tay) is prepared by packing yerba mate, a kind of loose-leaf tea, into a hollowed gourd and steeping it in hot water. The process is very delicate. The water can not reach a boil or it will burn, the silver straw must be perfectly placed so as to avoid sucking leaves into your mouth. After our first encounter with mate we were perplexed, thinking that there must be a more convenient way to curb the addiction. Surely they could make a mate teabag of some kind? And perhaps a travel mug would be more practical?

But as we quickly learned, mate is not only about the consumption of the bitter beverage, but is a social ritual and meant as a shared experience. The preparer always takes the first suck, clearing the straw of any leafy debris then passes the gourd clockwise. The first drinker finishes the water and passes it back to the preparer to add more water. The second drinker is then passed the gourd with the second refill of water. This process is repeated until everyone’s mate cravings are wholly satisfied. Clearly germs are not an issue.

4. Banana Split Ice Cream

We have never had anything like the Argentinean banana split ice cream. It is basically real banana ice cream (not that fake yellow stuff) swirled with dulce de leche. At first we thought we had come across something unique in one chain of ice cream shops, but soon came to see that it was as ubiquitous as chocolate or vanilla.

Banana split ice cream carefully prepared into typical cone shapes, dwarfs the cones

Not only the banana split, but the ice cream in Argentina in general is divine. It was creamy, rich, and often even homemade. We would even venture to say it is on par with Italian gelato.

5. Food

This may seem like a very broad last reason to miss Argentina, but we felt the need to mention the impressive cuisine we experienced in Argentina. A bad meal was hard to come. Even in places that one might call “tourist traps”, where the prices are high and the food is typically poor (because the restaurateurs know you won’t be coming back anyways), we were well-fed. Pizzas, pastas, meat and fish were typical on most menus, but each restaurant was unique in their execution and produced something worth writing home about.

We’re surprised that we don’t see more Argentinean restaurants in Canada. Their mouth-watering cuisine makes it hard to say goodbye.

Left: A post-trek dinner at our favourite restaurant "La Cerveceria" in El Chalten (mushroom ravioli and caprese salad). Right: Post-hike reward at "La Chocolateria" in El Chalten (dulce brownie and apple pie).