Those who make the trip to South America will know that, from a culinary point of view, the thing Argentina does best is steak. Steak, steak and more steak. Any self-respecting carnivore who arrives in Buenos Aires will put aside a good amount of time to feast on healthy cuts of Argentine steak. However, few know that there are in fact more pizza houses in Buenos Aires than Parrillas (steak houses). On these busy streets, with an earth-stone oven on almost every corner, the Italian influence in Buenos Aires is palpable. So why does Italy have such a big influence in Argentine food? Well, partly because around 40% of Porteños (residents of Buenos Aires) have their roots in Italy. So let’s start this article about Argentine food with pizza and carry on from there.
Pizza in Argentina is unlike pizza anywhere else in the world. As opposed to the stylish, thinly-crisped, rustic pizzas of Napoli and other Italian regions, pizzas here come in monstrous slices, thick with steamy dough and they are (literally) flooded with mozzarella. There is nothing dainty about Argentine pizzas, there is little emphasis on presentation. Argentines like their pizzas like they like their steak, thick and juicy. Yet the flavours that zing from these slices are arguably as good as (if not better than) the European variant. This variation is called the al molde or masa alta and is what you will find at most pizzerias around town. Of course you can find a la piedra (Italian-style thin crust) but it is far less common. As far as Argentine food goes, Pizza is a must.
I had lunch at Kentucky Pizza the other day and returned to work fully satisfied with the sweet dough still crammed into my teeth. Here the pizzas are just as enormous and you are given the choice of a portion, a small pizza or a regular pizza. I would recommend the traditional fuguzetta slice, a mozzarella and tomato base stuffed with a simple but delectable blend of cheese and onion. Perhaps the best thing about the pizzas here is that you are guaranteed to walk away stuffed after 2 or 3 slices.
For some of the best al molde pizza in town, someone seems to always mention Guerrin. They are known to do the best mozzarella slice bar none. Or else you could try Angelin, which has razzled up their own unique creation called the pizza canchera (Stadium Pizza). It is based on the pizza that was traditionally served cold at football games without cheese on top. The fine pizza chefs of Angelin have tweaked it over the years, adding the customary mozzarella, to make the restaurant a local favorite. Another pizzeria that reigns superior in the city is Los Inmortales. Come here for a compromise between thin and thick crust and enjoy a mouth-watering variant in their media masa (thick-ish) pizzas.
I am not yet a connoisseur of empanadas but I am trying my best. I have been to a fair few empanaderias around the city but to claim I have enough experience in the sampling of this particular pastry would be outrageous. Much of the main streets of Buenos Aires are occupied by empanaderias. You can often find rows of them lined up alongside each other. And if they’re not empanaderias, then they are cafes or stalls that sell empanadas (among other things). Needless to say, I have a lot to get through.
If you are not yet aware of this Argentine delicacy, then allow me to explain. Empanadas are delightful little parcels of pastry that come with a range of fillings and make the perfect afternoon snack, light lunch or even as a side to your pizza. For argentine empanadas the dough is simply made of flour, pork fat (or butter) and salty water – the recipes vary within each Latin American country. Inside each pillow is stuffed a burst of flavour in the form of anything the chef fancies including. This could be minced meat or vegetables or a selection of cheeses. Put them in the oven for decadent, soft dough, or have them fried for a crispy body.
Working in downtown Palermo, I have the pleasure of being just a block away from what is well-known to be one of the best empanaderias in the capital, Cumen Cumen. After tasting their empanadas, this is now my regular lunch destination. Their fillings are so flavoursome and their pastry so impeccably formed that it is hard to want to explore further (I know, this way I’ll never become a connoisseur). They are known to use foods of always the highest quality that are imported from trusted sources. My favourite empanada is their speciality; the carne cortada a cuchillo. Instead of minced, it contains ground beef that crumbles away in your mouth as you eat it. You are guaranteed to have a decent pit stop for empanadas somewhere near you but if all else fails or you want to try some of the Buenos Aires’ best, then come down to Avenida Jorge Luis Borges and pay Cumen Cumen a deserved visit.
3. Ice Cream (Helado)
First and foremost, in a country where the temperature rises to a boiling 40ºC (105ºF) on a mild summer day, you would expect the ice cream to be good. Well, you wouldn’t be mistaken, it is no overestimation to say that the best ice cream in the world is made in Argentina. Once again many could put forth a claim that the Italians have been beaten by their own ballgame. Agreed, I read the same thing before I came to Argentina and dismissed it as nonsense immediately (maybe because I am half Italian). It was not until I came to Argentina and tried it for myself that I began to wonder who really wears the crown for the best ice cream. Again, I am no connoisseur, but I sure love the Argentine food.
Let’s not forget the bulging population of Italians here in Buenos Aires. This is again a direct influence from Southern Europe and unlike the difference in the style of pizza-making between the two nations; with ice cream there is an undeniable similarity in recipe. The taste is exquisite; not too milky, not too sugary and superficial-tasting, but is made with fresh products to find the perfect, paradoxical balance between thick and silky.
As the principal filling for many sweets and confectionary here, dulce de leche (caramel cream) provides the trademark Argentine flavour in the heladerias. It is the latino twist on Italian ice cream and therefore the flavour I had to try first. I popped into Freddo’s and chose a combination of dulce de leche and banana split. I wanted to use the proverb ‘a match made in heaven’ but I would then truly be in danger of going overboard. Let’s just say it was a fantastic choice; the thick, curdling dulce de leche complementing the sweet zing of the banana. Delicioso!
Different districts are supplied with different local heladerias and there are certain chains here that do ice cream really well. I’ve mentioned Freddo’s already and they are hard to beat but other heladerias worth visiting include El Podio in Almagro, Fratello in Palermo, Furchi in Belgrano, and Arnaldos in Olivos.
These days you can come by ice cream any flavour imaginable. You name it, they have it, the other day I even came by some Fernet ice cream. So whether you’re a fan of the classics or you’re feeling a bit more experimential, get yourself some ice cream to pass the hot days.