Top Four Reasons to visit Argentina for a Cooking Vacation
Argentina is a country of striking beauty and incredible geographical diversity. Its capital city, Buenos Aires, is a vast cosmopolitan metropolis that will charm any visitor. Mendoza, the country’s wine capital in the foothills of the Andes to the west, is a must-see for wine lovers and foodies alike. Here’s our list of why you should visit Argentina on one of our fabulous Culinary Vacations in South America.
Argentines love few things more than grilling, so let’s begin with the obvious -- meat. Everyone knows that Argentina is famous for its beef, but why? The secret is in the land itself. Argentina is blessed with some of the best habitat on earth for grazing cattle. Its temperate and fertile plains, the famous pampas, cover an area of approximately 290,000 square miles extending from eastern/central Argentina north across Uruguay and into Brazil. All of this grass-fed beef helps explain the Argentine obsession with asado, or barbecue. No cooking vacation to Argentina would be complete without experiencing this distinct national pastime. Americans accustomed to US-style barbecue will immediately notice that Argentines never marinate their meat or grill with charcoal. Instead, a traditional asado uses little more than salt for seasoning, and is slow-cooked over wood in order to highlight the natural flavors of the meat. The philosophy behind this simple approach to grilling is that the flavor of high-quality meat speaks for itself, though sauces like chimichurri and salsa criolla are always ready to hand for those who like to add a little something extra to their steak. Bring a big appetite when you take one of our Cooking Vacations to South America, because in addition to the beef on the grill, an Argentine asado also features plenty of other goodies like chorizo (pork sausage), morcilla (blood sausage), grilled provoleta cheese, grilled vegetables, salad, and fresh fruit for dessert.
What better to pair with your asado than one of Argentina’s many excellent wines? Argentina is one of the largest wine producers in the world, with production centered most heavily in the region around Mendoza where viticulture has been practiced since the 16th century. Growing conditions are ideal in this western part of Argentina, which accounts for two-thirds of all wine produced in the country. Red grape varieties grown in Argentina include Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Tempranillo, and Banardo, along with Italian imports like Nebbiolo and Sangiovese, but the undisputed king of Argentine wine is Malbec. Malbec cultivation in Argentina began in the mid 19th century with vines brought from France and is today considered the national grape. Find out why Malbec grows so well in this part of Argentina when you explore the Cuisine and Wine of Mendoza!
3) Café Culture
Argentina is not among the South American countries synonymous with coffee, but it should be! Not for growing coffee, as it doesn’t actually do any of that, but for drinking it. The many Italians who immigrated to Argentina in the 19th and 20th centuries brought Italian café culture with them. In Argentine cities it is impossible to walk more than a block or two without finding a cafe serving great espresso. For coffee with a little milk, ask for a café cortado. Requesting café con leche will get you a drink that tastes more like milk with a splash of coffee. As in Italy, the Argentine breakfast consists of little more than espresso and small pastries called facturas. Most popular among the many types of factura is the medialuna, or half-moon, similar to a croissant. Bet you can’t eat just one!
4) Yerba Maté
If there is one thing the Argentines like more than asado, it is Yerba Maté. This green tea can only be described as a national obsession. Loose tea leaves, called Yerba, are spooned into a container called a Maté, hence the name Yerba Maté. Hot water is then poured over the loose tea leaves and sipped through a straw with a built-in strainer known as a bombilla. Argentines drink maté at all times, in all places, but especially in the afternoon. Visitors to any Argentine city will spot parks filled with people sitting on grass, sipping mate with friends. Finding hot water is never a problem, as men with thermoses circulate throughout city parks selling water to Argentines in need of their maté fix.
By Adrian Hall