For this foodie, living in Argentina has presented a real challenge at times. While the proliferation of expats and changing tastes among porteños have translated into increased demand and availability of ethnic foods and imported products in the capital, most ingredients for exotic cuisines like Indian, Mexican, Thai or American (ha!) remain nearly impossible to source outside of Buenos Aires and other large cities.
Although some Argentines are slowly expanding their palates and learning to embrace new foods, the backbone of the menu here is still rather limited. Take a glance at the Argentine food pyramid if you have any doubts.
The Argentines' dislike of spicy foods, in particular, creates a problem for chili heads like me. Many people automatically equate any cuisine south of the border with spicy, but I assure you that there is nothing fiery about Argentine food. Most Argentines will cough and sputter if you so much as go heavy-handed with the black pepper. They also seem to show a general disdain for sweet and sour or sweet and salty food combinations.
[Look, it's cayenne pepper! A display at El Gato Negro, one of the few specialty spice shops in Buenos Aires]
While I've certainly embraced Argentine cuisine and food culture, there's still a definite comfort factor associated with foods from the "old country." Plus, as someone who enjoys variety and experimenting with food, a steady diet of asado, empanadas, and pasta—as delicious as it is—loses its shine quickly.
Given the lack of availability of many products, in most cases I make do without, substitute a similar Argentine product, or make the item from scratch; however, for those ingredients that I simply can't live without, I maintain a private stash more closely guarded than Fort Knox.
In the interest of aiding friends and family who'd like to send care packages to those living abroad in Argentina, or if you need a packing list of your favorite items for an impending move to this country, I have compiled this (partial) list of hard-to-find foods.
Update: Due to import restrictions that went into effect in 2012, it has become even more difficult to find certain specialty/imported foods in Argentina.
American Foods That Are Difficult to Come by in Argentina
**Meats: Italian sausage, breakfast sausage, bacon, pepperoni, many American-style cuts of beef [Argentine cuts vary significantly]
**Dairy: *cream cheese, *cheddar cheese, *brie, feta, cottage cheese, sour cream, fresh mozzarella, *plain yogurt, buttermilk
Spices: dried dill weed, celery seed, red pepper flake, dried chile peppers, spice blends such as lemon pepper, chili powder and taco seasoning
Condiments/Sauces/Spreads: *barbecue sauce, *salad dressings such as French, ranch, and blue cheese, *Dijon and spicy brown mustards, *Worcestershire sauce, *horseradish, *pickles, relish,*peanut butter, grape jelly, *maple syrup
Baking: marshmallows, brown sugar, shredded sweetened coconut, mint extract, *molasses, *chocolate chips
Drinks: root beer, cream soda, birch beer, ginger ale, Dr. Pepper, Mountain Dew, bottled fruit juices, apple cider
Snacks: *tortilla chips, *jarred salsa, *pretzels
Miscellaneous: bagels, flavored coffee, cranberries, licorice, corn tortillas, *pecans, rye bread
*Spotted in Argentina (primarily in Buenos Aires) but hard to find and/or pricey
**Please note that customs restrictions and/or conditions during travel prevent many of these items from being brought into the country.
Tips for Tracking Down Unusual Ingredients
Hunt down your favorite exotic and imported foods at the following locations.
» Barrio Chino (Chinatown) in Belgrano [intersection of Arribeños and Juramento], Buenos Aires
» Jumbo in Palermo [intersection of Av. Bullrich and Cerviño], Buenos Aires
» Disco, Carrefour and Walmart (all three have locations throughout the country)
» Dietéticas (health food stores) sell products in bulk including spices, grains, nuts and beans. Many foods that prove difficult to find elsewhere can be sourced at a well-stocked dietética.
» Casas de repostería carry ingredients and supplies for baking, cake decorating, and candy making. Head to one of these shops if you're searching for a special ingredient for your next cake or batch of cookies.
Which foods do you miss from your home country?