Here, Eat This: A Beginner's Guide to Argentine Cuisine

Categories: Here, Eat This

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Photo by Troy Fields
Argentina's new tourism slogan ought to be: "A Meat Lover's Paradise."
For this week's edition of Here, Eat This, we venture into South America, where hardy Houstonians possessed of a hearty appetite will find much to love in the pampas of Argentina.

See also:
- Here, Eat This: A Beginner's Guide to Nigerian Cuisine
- Here, Eat This: A Beginner's Guide to Korean Cuisine
- Here, Eat This: A Beginner's Guide to Indian Cuisine

Argentina is yet another beef-obsessed nation, much like Korea, where the cowboys in South America routinely consume 150 to 200 pounds of beef per person each year. Much like Texas, however, the country's varied cultural influences have created an atmosphere that blends foods and influences seamlessly.

Italian and German immigrants to the country brought their culture, architecture, music and food -- especially to the capital city of Buenos Aires, which could pass as an old European city at first glance -- and those cuisines have melded with Spanish and native Indian foods to create a national cuisine that's as much a melting pot as our own.

It's not unusual to find Italian dishes such as pizza and pasta, German dishes like schnitzel (repurposed here as milanesa) and Spanish dishes like empanadas all keeping company together on one menu. Argentines even have their own version of barbecue called asado. Argentine restaurants offer food that's accessible to even the shyest eater -- but there are still a few odd and interesting gems to be appreciated along the way.

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Photo by Troy Fields
Indoor asado set-up at Pampa Grill.
Asado

As mentioned, this is the Argentine version of barbecue. Food writer and historian John T. Edge, speaking at the Foodways Texas symposium last weekend, noted that the word "barbacoa" (from which "barbecue" stems) originally referred only to the structure used to elevate and cook the meat over an open flame. Typical asados in Argentina are the precursor to a George Foreman grill: Foods are fastened to a large tilted grilling area that allows the fat to drip off while the meat is cooked over hot coals. The result -- as seen at restaurants such as Pampa Grill -- is meat that's flavored with the rugged char of the grill instead of greasy smoke. Anything from chicken to beef can be cooked this way, although it's most common to find short ribs, flank steak, skirt steak and offal on the asado.

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Photo by Troy Fields
The morcilla is that plump black sausage in the center.
Morcilla and mollejas

I don't need to explain ribs or steak, but these two items are equally popular asado-style meats. If you order a parillada (a portable hibachi-style grill that's delivered to your table with the sizzling asado-cooked meat heaped on top), you'll probably find both among the piles of beef. Morcilla is the Argentine version of blood sausage -- a delicacy found across the world, also called "black pudding" -- served in giant, plump links that bear a creamy, nutmeg- and clove-laced interior once you cut through the tender skin. Mollejas are simply sweetbreads, those unctuous little offal rounds, crisped up on the grill and full of flavor.

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Photo by Troy Fields
Empanadas at Marini's.
Empanada

Every culture has a pocket food. In Argentina -- as with its original colonial power, Spain -- it's the empanada. But there are a few specialty flavors to look for when you're browsing Argentine delis like Manena's or Marini's: Empanadas de humita bring to mind corn casseroles with their filling of lightly creamed corn and red peppers, while the empanadas de carne are filled with juicy ground beef mixed with green peppers, onions and chile powder.

Location Info

Venue

Map

Manena's Pastry Shop and Deli

11018 Westheimer, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

The Original Marini's Empanada House

10001 Westheimer, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Piola

3201 Louisiana St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

My Voice Nation Help
21 comments
kos.vee
kos.vee

I love this place. The food is so good and the people are just really nice and kind. It's also BYOB another plus. =)

gossamersixteen
gossamersixteen topcommenter

My new world German self loves Argentine food.  I don't go a month with making fresh chimmichuri.

Mai Pham
Mai Pham topcommenter

Great list -- also must not misses: choripan (chorizo sausage sandwich, street food like the american hot dog), and lomito (steak sandwich)

Aggie_Kelli
Aggie_Kelli

You should check out Argentinian Cafe, that place is amazing, their empanadas are too die for!

Brandon BC
Brandon BC

Isn't it ironic that they are destroying sections of the rainforest to make more cattle farms? Stupid Rainforests. We have Iphones!

Brandon BC
Brandon BC

The only thing healthy about beef is the love of it

MadMac
MadMac

This reads absolutely wonderful.

Bardot
Bardot

Don't forget the Korean Argentine place: Pradaria

Craigley
Craigley

Pope Benedict's (Argentina) favorite meal is Bavarian potato ravioli with pancake\n strips.

TeeLodge
TeeLodge

Nice recomindations. I personaly think eveyone should try Morcilla at least once. Argentina Cafe on hidalgo and sage is really good! Family owned and run.

johnnybench
johnnybench topcommenter

@Aggie_Kelli I was going to make the same recommendation (though I think it's technically Argentina Cafe).  The lomito especial sandwich is a beast.  Filet Mignon w/Ham, cheese & two fried eggs.

kshilcutt
kshilcutt moderator editor

@Aggie_Kelli I haven't been there yet. Thanks to you and @TeeLodge for the reminder. I'll make it out there soon!

kshilcutt
kshilcutt moderator editor

@TeeLodge If someone tells me they don't like black pudding/blood sausage, I send them to Pampa Grill for the morcilla. It's made believers out of plenty of blood-averse diners.

Aggie_Kelli
Aggie_Kelli

I've had the Lomito a Caballo and the Entrana, both are excellent.  Must get a beef empanada and an onion and cheese (and I'd order 2 of each cause you're going to want to take some home).  Pair it with Quilmes and you're good to go.  I have yet to try their Sandwiches de Miga but they they look like they would be perfect for a picnic.

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