Argentina is a country with a rich culinary tradition which draws on the plentiful foods grown in different regions of Argentina, the traditions of the diverse people who settled there as well as certain ritual customs and the foods which are both cultivated and grow wild. In Buenos Aires there is a strong European influence with a genuine Italian focus, while in the other provinces Criollo foods grounded in Argentine tradition form the basis of local cuisine.
The geographic location of Argentina has an impact on the cuisine of the nation due to lack of proximity to nations but for those on the continent as well as its placement in the Southern Hemisphere which impacts the climate. The country has the Andes mountains to the west, the Atlantic coast to the east from which it is a short ferry ride to Uruguay, and borders with Paraguay, Bolivia and Brazil to the north.
Given that the only nations that are proximal are those on the South American continent, Argentina must rely significantly on its own food production. Economic volatility also raises the profile of national agriculture and food production. The closest neighbor to the west is Chile, then a wide expanse of Pacific Ocean. To the east there are the disputed Malvinas or Falkland Islands, however there is a diplomatic impasse between Argentina and the British nationals who claim the islands. Continuing east it is a long way to the African coastline.
Argentina is in the southern hemisphere, and its most northerly reaches go just north of the Tropic of Capricorn. This is warmer and lush than the most southerly reaches of Patagonia where sheep and goat farming is a more popular activity. The lands and climate in the grasslands have been very good for cattle farming which meets the high domestic demand for fresh beef (ICSTAI 2008).
The cuisine of Argentina has been influenced by many different cultures including the various indigenous cultures (Pueblos Indigineros), Italian culture, Spanish culture, and the cultures of the surrounding Latin American nations.
The two most apparent influences are that of European food culture as well as the rustic image of the independent gaucho cowboy. In Argentina the cosmopolitan approach in the urban areas such as Buenos Aires stands in contrast to the Criollo influence or gaucho culture (Pilcher 2012). While the more cosmopolitan influences include European style coffee, wine, pastries and Italian dishes, the Criollo dishes include asado (barbecued beef), puchero, locro (stew), empanadas (a savory pastry), and humitas (also known as tamales) (Pilcher 2012).
In the early days of Buenos Aires in the late 18th century Monsieur Ramón, an Englishman, ran a cooking school in that city which disseminated European techniques widely among African slaves, indigenous people and others from the diverse cultures that composed Argentine society at the time (Pilcher 2012). Only one hundred years later there was a significant diversity of foreign influences in Buenos Aires with a distinct emphasis on European traditions of the Italians, French and Spanish (Pilcher 2012). African influences remain as many African slaves in the early days of what would be Argentina were often preparers of food, making bread, vegetables, and the locros (Pilcher 2012).
Practical and social rituals associated with Argentinian cuisine include large gatherings of family or friends, particularly where beef is barbecued as asado, as well as the distinct ritual of the Yerba Mate tea.
The grilled meats of the asado tradition are an important and expected part of meals at gatherings or celebrations (Mirad 2005). Yerba mate is known as “the Gaucho’s liquid vegetable”, and it is a daily ritual for Argentines across the nation (Ballvé 2007). This bitter tasting tea is a shared ritual and often people carry a kit to ensure access. The traditional cup is made out of a dried gourd, and the tea is passed around to all in attendance (Ballvé 2007).
Practical aspects of Argentine cuisine include seasonings, cooking methods, distinct cooking utensils and the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables.
A major feature of Argentine cuisine is chimichurri, a sauce made of lemon, garlic and parsley which is used for marinating meats or a salad dressing which is invariably served with most meals in one manner or another (ICSTAI 2008).
Another is the fine art of grilling. Barbecue and open fire cooking is the most common way to cook meats, particularly in rural areas. Very hot clay ovens, both indoor and outdoor, are also used for grilling beef and chicken as well as making Italian style pizza.
There are other unique practical aspects, such as the distinctive African cooking pots were once exclusively used for locros, however they are less common today (Pilcher 2012).
Many tropical fruits such as oranges and lemons are easily available and used to make juice. Grapes grow well, and a wine industry has become very popular. Red wine is a most popular domestic product, with an industry focused on Mendoza in the Midwest of Argentina.
Argentina has benefited from a rich and diverse history of geographic, historical and cultural influences which have created a culture of food which has aspects of European flavor and Gaucho tradition. Meals and dishes based on asado, chimichurri, fine Italian cuisine and African influenced stews washed down with yerba mate or red wine coexist as the many manifestations of Argentine cuisine.