Argentina vs. the US: Comparing the food we eat and the part it plays in our culture

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Photograph by: Darian Woehr

 

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.

Timing 

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.

Empanadas- a common lunch item in Argentina

Empanadas- a common lunch item in Argentina Photo by: petersongarden.org

Merienda

“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.

Photo by: www.zmescience.com

Photo by: www.zmescience.com

 

Dinner

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”.

Photo by: therealargentina.com

Photo by: therealargentina.com

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.

 

 

32 thoughts on “Argentina vs. the US: Comparing the food we eat and the part it plays in our culture

  1. Darian, good first post. You have some great information here, and it would be great to hear more about how you experienced these differences. Also, a bit of a contextualizing opening would help frame this post for the reader (beyond the title) and let us know more clearly what your column will be covering.

  2. Hi Darian, I really enjoyed your article! It’s fascinating to see how cultural differences can impact something universal like food. You talk about how it was a culture shock for you – and I think the article could be a bit more personal and welcoming if you described some of your own first encounters with asados or meriendas. How did your time in Argentina change how you viewed food, or how did you overcome the culture shock that you felt there? I think that these kinds of personal insights could make your article even better.

  3. I must say, the topic isn’t one that I would pull up just for kicks, but the writing itself is perfect. It’s short, well-focused, informal, and easy to relate to. Something I found interested was the timing. If Americans held the same standards as Argentinians when it came to waking up around 10, beginning work around 12, staying up extremely late, and rarely ever showing punctuality with dinner plans, we would not be considered as the most socially adept people. I also found it interesting how another country can actually consume significantly more meat than we do. So much for those who say we’re one of the world’s greatest problems in meat consumption! Overall, the piece was well put together. It really is a topic that requires special skill to make it interesting to the public. Otherwise it would seem like a random analysis. Good job!

    • Thanks for this comment! I completely agree that the schedule of Argentines is something that takes a lot of getting used to, and would be frowned upon in many other cultures. It makes me feel a bit better that Americans aren’t the biggest consumers of EVERY resource in this world.

      • That schedule is incorrect. Work in Argentina starts usually at 9am and ends at 6pm with a 1h lunch break at 1pm.

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  10. Hi there Darian! This was an interesting post, but honestly I couldn’t disagree more! See, I lived in Argentina for years, and I only had 1 friend who would always be late, everyone else was either a bit early or a bit late, depending mostly on traffic. Except for parties where you don’t wanna be the dork who’s early. Breakfast is mostly coffee around 7am and either cereal, fruit, toast or pastries (I ate low carb so I had eggs, but it’s not that common). Most people had to be at work around 8, my first class was actually at 7.30am (not 12). The “merienda” is basically the British “5 o’clock Tea”, it’s generally at 5 pm and you can have coffee, tea or milk(or chocolate milk) and cookies, scones, or “alfajores”. Oh and yogurt and also smoothies are super popular!
    People only made “mate” when several friends got together. “Asados” are totally a thing, but generally when we had dinner with friends we would order pizza and empanadas (those are totally a thing too) or Chinese food, or even sushi more often than the “Asado” thing. Oh and the thing everyone would always have delivered was artisanal gelato! Which is not a thing in America and I was surprised you didn’t mention it 🙁

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