While studying in Buenos Aires, Argentina I experienced my first culture shock. It wasn’t the people, weather, customs, or unfamiliar transportation that threw me off- it was the food. Argentina has a unique menu and eating schedule that’s quite different than the US. Learning about these Argentine foods and eating etiquette will allow someone to have a better understanding of the Argentine culture.
If an Argentine tells you “I’ll be there at four!” what they really mean is “I’ll be there around six!”. Be sure to take this into consideration when making dinner plans, as you don’t want to be the first one there. This laid-back attitude is evident in most elements of Argentine culture, even in the workplace. Be sure to note that dinner is usually not eaten until around ten or eleven o’clock at night. This is mainly because the Argentine day starts much later than ours does, beginning with people waking up around ten and heading to work at noon.
Breakfast and Lunch
In the US, breakfast is popularly referred to as “the most important meal of the day”, however, in Argentina, breakfast is largely nonexistent. Coffee or tea is commonly had with a piece of a baguette, but that’s it. Lunch is usually a relatively large meal, seeing as dinner is so late at night, while in the US our lunches are fairly small. In the business world, lunch is used as an opportunity to collaborate with coworkers, or get to know the boss. It’s to out of the ordinary to have an extremely informal relationship with one’s boss in Argentina.
“Meridena” is another meal in Argentina that resembles a tea time. In the US, the closest thing to a “merienda” we have is a “happy hour” and maybe a tea time for some. “Merienda” is typically held around seven o’clock at night. Small pastries, toasted bread, tea, coffee, and mate are almost always present during a “merienda”. A small cake called an “alfajoro” consists of chocolate cookies layered between dulce de leche, which is a caramel spread is commonly eaten. The most important component of a “merienda” is mate.
Buenos Aires is known as “the meat capital of the world” and that’s no understatement. The US doesn’t even compare to Argentina as far as meat consumption goes. When friends gather for dinner or a celebration is in order, an “asado” is typically thrown. An “asado” is basically a potluck but with meat. Everyone who comes to the “asado” brings a different type of meat and it is all grilled in a large oven. Many homes in Argentina have a large, brick oven on a patio in their yard simply for the purpose of grilling meat at “asados”. Barbecues in the US are quite similar to an “asado” as they are a chance for friends to get together, celebrate, and grill, however, there is not nearly as much meat as there is at an “asado”.
As shown by these varying practices at different meals, the tastes and etiquette pertaining to food are extremely different from the US, but nonetheless wonderful. Meals are used as social and business opportunities, and each item on an Argentine menu has its own story and cultural significance to accompany it.