The eighth largest country in the world, stretching almost from the Amazon to Antarctica with every type of climate and terrain, the Argentinian landscape is full of variety. Immigration is so important they enshrined it in their constitution and the influence this has had is very apparent. At one point in their history immigration was 8 times the domestic population of the country. Despite all of this, there is a surprising amount of continuity in the variety of foods available across the country.
Take a small circle of pastry, place a fistful of filling in the centre, fold the pastry over the filling to form a semicircle, seal it and bake it. That's how the Argentinians make these little parcels of flavour that can be found on every corner, in every shop and cafe in the country. If you can imagine it, they'll put it in an empanada. The most common versions are carne (minced beef) and jamon y queso (ham and cheese) but I've seen all sorts of fillings; chicken, seafood, corn, spinach and sweet versions with dulce de leche and chocolate. Such variety, however, presents a particular challenge: how do you know what's inside after you've made them? The trick they use here is to use different patterns when sealing them, depending on the filling, in order to tell them apart.
Chori, short for chorizo (although chorizo in Argentina just means any kind of sausage, not just the chorizo we know in Europe) and pan, meaning bread. This, in my opinion, is the Argentine equivalent of the Belfast Bap. The sausages are much thicker though, closer to an Irish pudding in size. They are sliced in half and cooked on the barbecue. The traditional version comes with chimichurri, a sort of salsa made with garlic, oil, chillis, vinegar and oregano. Of course, there is a wide range of variations of toppings including eggs, cheese, different sauces, to name a few. Again, being so fond of their sweet treats, I've also seen sweet versions of these with chocolate sausages!
This is the closest thing I've found to a national dessert in Argentina. These biscuits are everywhere. They are in every shop, little or large, every bakery and every café. Traditionally, they're made by sandwiching dulce de leche between two biscuits and covering the whole thing in milk chocolate. Again, however, the variations are endless. They normally come in individual packages like wagon wheels did once upon a time, but the closest thing we have to them is a chocolate kimberley. I must admit I'm not entirely sold on them, particularly when they are served up for breakfast.
Obviously, I couldn't speak about Argentine food without mentioning beef. The country is huge and once they had gotten rid of the nomadic indigenous people from the land, the colonisers seized the opportunity to rear a lot of cattle. Now Argentina is famous for its beef, and that fame is not unwarranted. The most famous method of cooking this wonderful beef is asado. It actually just means barbecue but it is a central part of their culture. Births, deaths, weddings, they celebrate with asado. Yes, the quality of the beef is paramount, but the type of wood (not gas or coal) used is also of huge importance because of the flavour it imparts.
Dulce de Leche
I feel I must mention this sauce specifically. It is a sweetened, condensed milk and it is everywhere. They have it on their toast in the morning and with their dessert at night. It is so important that there are entire shops dedicated solely to its sale. In fairness, it is delicious.
Café y Medialunas
Translated directly, medialuna means half-moon. In reality it is a croissant. You'll often see them, along with a coffee, in front of people at around 5 or 6 in the evening - a snack, to stave off the hunger until dinner at around 10pm. With such a connection to Europe, it's no wonder the Argentinians have a French pastry whilst observing Mediterranean daily schedules. In every city and town in the country, the best way to compare costs in cafés is by looking at the price of a coffee and a medialuna.
With such continuity in their cuisine, if you like Argentinian food, you will be happy no matter where you are in the country. That being said, I wouldn't like to be a vegetarian here!
P.S. If you're from Ireland or the UK and you are travelling in Argentina and despite all of this wonderful grub you need a fix of home food like a pot of tea, scones, cakes and simple sandwiches there is a place of refuge. Not far from Trelew, in a little town called Gaiman, where many of the Welsh people who immigrated to Argentina settled down. You can still find tea houses with Welsh names there today. It's a lovely way to spend an afternoon chatting like you would at home.