It sounds weird, but one of my favorite things to do in new countries is peruse supermarkets. I got this from my mother, so please judge her first.
It’s just so interesting to see what they have a plethora of options for, and what is missing. In Argentina, it doesn’t take so long to figure out this country loves meat, loves ham, loves Port Salut (as far as I can tell, it’s just mozzarella?), and has no concept of milk substitutes. If you’re doing the vegan/raw/gluten-free/paleo/whatever else is trendy in LA right now thing… I recommend bringing a lot of snacks.
I’ll start with the obvious. Massive selection of my favorite thing in the world… raw, pure crack. I mean, dulce de leche. Thick, creamy, extra sugary, extra milky, for topping cakes, for eating plain. Any way in which you could consume this delicious shit, it’s here. Nom nom nom. I’ve only tried about half of these so far (just kidding, i’m not that fat yet) and am definitely not an expert, but i have yet to be disappointed. Argies love their DDL, and I am quite happily jumping on board.
Next we’ll move onto another Argie love. Strange processed meat concoctions. They’re almost entirely centered around pork as far as I can tell, but I think there may be some cow products in there too. It’s real hard to say, especially when they’re made into various shades of pink rubbery substances and twirled around eggs and ham and some sort of sweet (weird?) spongy bread. It’s called “matambre” and it tastes as weird as it looks. Then there are your purist salames and jamon crudos and jamon cocidos. Prosciutto and cooked ham and chorizo comes in exponential multiples of what I’ve seen offered in the U.S, and if you find the right section you can find em nicely chopped up along with olives and cheese and ready for a little “picada” on a Sunday afternoon with your friends. Don’t think about what part of what animal you’re about to consume, and cheers!
Cheese. Looks like a vast selection, but alas, upon further inspection you shall be disappointed. Everything you see here – EVERYTHING – is “port salut” cheese. I have never heard of this (i don’t think?) but it tastes like a relatively flavorless mozzarella. It comes in any variety of low or high fats and sodiums, and can come in a massive block or creamy spread. You’ll find the spread version in front of you next to the bread basket when you sit down in a restaurant here, and melted block version on top of any tarta, milanesa, or jamon y queso “sandwich simple.”
If you can look past the Port Salut, there are a few other options. Very VERY mild blue cheese, and brie. And shredded mozzarella, to really spice things up. I’ve had goat cheese at restuarants (never seen it somehow) but it’s always hard block cheese, rather than the delicious crumbly heaven we know in the States. I also once found Feta in China town, and hoarded it defensively until it mocked me and grew moldy, but nada más. It’s a lástima indeed…
To go with the “Port Salut” cheese of course, you need your dulce de batata or dulce de membrillo or dulce de zapallo. These are chunks of, as far as I can tell, really hard extra sweet jam. They are cut into slices and eaten WITH the cheese. It’s as odd as is sounds, but I guess relatively similar to their idea of spreading toast with Port Salut (the creamy one, obvs) cheese and jam. These are just the block versions. They call it dessert. I call it bullshit, and ask for some dulce de leche.
Milk and yogurt. They both come in boxes, and the milk is only refrigerated sometimes. They are both nearly always whole milk based, and only sometimes 2%. There are approximately 30 options for milk, and there is SOMETIMES one that is nonfat. It’s a rare find, and I think Americans are the only ones to ever purchase it. Which makes sense, cuz we’re the most obese nation in the world.
Yogurt here comes in bags and tubes and bottles and is often drinkable. Their children apparently do not grow out of the go-gurt phase, and they just went with it. All yogurt, ALL yogurt, is sweetened. Either flavored yogurt, flavored yogurt with fruit on the bottom, or flavored with chocolate and/or dulce de leche with candy pieces on top for mixing in. I am not kidding. You can buy dulce de leche yogurt, throw a bag of M&Ms in it, and call it breakfast in this country. If you need a break from your medialunas smothered in dulce de leche. I’m in love.
Small shout out to the plethora of fresh pasta in all supermarkets, a hat tip to their Italian heritage. I’m not sure why one would ever buy dried boxes pasta with these miracles on display, but they have that stuff también. You can also buy ham and cheese raviolis or ham and cheese flavored pasta, obviously.
Finally, you can’t call it an Argentina supermarket experience without noting the aisles upon aisles of maté (Argentine tea beverage – tastes terrible in my opinion but I drink it anyway because I’m convinced the weird caffeine-like substance in it is the only reason Argentines are skinny). You can buy it flavored, mixed with other teas, or straight up. It tastes earthy and bitter, and is carried around during the day for emergencies by many, along with a “termo” of hot water for multiple refills. If you have one with you, you will be asked to share, and you may not know the person asking you. This is not a joke, they really want a sip of your mate. Likewise, you can demand a sip when someone else has some, but just don’t say “gracias” or you’ll be passed. Maté. The reasons Argentines are all so skinny. I remain convinced.
Last but not least – all the pastry covers! There are tons of options to make your tartas (pictured) or empanadas (not pictured, but consumed.) Argentines are flabbergasted we don’t also have empanadas, and given that they’re about $0.80 to buy or $0.15 to make, I’m upset we don’t have them either. They’re like little calzones, filled with meat (duh) or ham and cheese (duh) or äcelga (chard maybe?) or onions and cheese. They are small and cheap enough you can rationalize them as a snack, but maybe don’t, or your jeans will end up fitting like mine.