Patagonia is the land of unforgettable landscapes and brag-worthy hikes. But did you know that the culinary experiences are equally noteworthy? Trust me that they are, or book that ticket and experience them for yourself.
When I first arrived in Patagonia, my imagination was in overdrive. What day hike will I do first? How achievable is getting a photo of the Andes uninterrupted? Am I going to feel like an ant among all of these overwhelming natural wonders? The least of my concerns was the food that would fuel me on this month-long journey through the region.
If I was to ask you to describe the food in one word it would likely be “STEAK!” and though there is a lot of steak to go around, there is so much more to the Argentine and Chilean culinary experience than meets the eye.
What makes Patagonian food special is how vastly it varies as the region varies – from its southernmost tip, through the inland deserts and onto the lakes region. After living in Argentina for four months, I’ve collated everything you need to know about the food scene:
Platos típicos (typical dishes)
Prepare for your mouth to start salivating… NOW!
Hongos del bosque – Forest mushrooms are usually harvested and dried. You will find them in sauces or as an accompanying side dishes to your fish and lamb all year round.
Trucha patagónica – An absolute must-try! The trout in Southern Patagonia is, I think, one of the best known pleasures of Patagonia beyond the traditional lamb.
Chupe de Centolla – Not a red meat eater? There are still plenty of seafood options to discover! Patagonian King Crab , ‘Chupe’, is a traditional Chilean dish in which seafood is cooked in a stew with breadcrumbs baked on top leaving a thick, creamy chowder beneath.
Cervezas Artesanales – Craft beers are everywhere in the Americas, and Patagonia is no exception. Where is the best place to find them, you ask? Stop in at any of the many refugios along your hiking trails to experience the best of the best.
Eating together: A joy that’s shared
Wandering the streets of cities and towns on a Sunday will feel much like a scene from an old Western but why are those streets so deserted?
Sharing is a value held most highly to Argentines and is ingrained deep in the culture. Sundays are reserved for family and friends to gather, share their time and relax after a long week. The culmination of these gatherings is the family asado (barbecue), which is likely the best food you’ll have in Argentina. The thing that makes this experience particularly unique in Patagonia is the Asado al Palo – barbecue on a spit. Friends and family gather around the open coal and wood fire pit where the iron crosses are erected with a full side of lamb masterfully tied in place to slowly cook throughout the afternoon.
Typically, you will be passed brewed herb called yerba mate which you listen to music and share stories, while your asador, the elected barbecue chef, sweats it out tending to the fire. After three hours of cooking, you’ll be presented with the most tender, juicy lamb-based encounter of your life.
Befriending a local and sharing this experience is a true immersion into Patagonian culture. From my experience, an Argentine family can become a foreigner’s surrogate family all within one shared meal.
Food + views = an unforgettable experience
I could not confess my love for culinary delights of Patagonia without highlighting the absolutely breathtaking views that surround you whilst consuming them! Hidden in the middle of Torres del Paine, Chile, you will find Lake Pehoe. Whilst walking across the bridge I could not help but pause in complete wonder at the visions before me.
And at Hostería Pehoe, the food is spectacular. Traditional lamb or trout on offer with wine or cocktail pairings (try the Calafate sour!). But what really takes your breath away is the view! Looking directly across the lake at the “horns” of Torres del Paine. I couldn’t help thinking “Surely, this is not real life”.
Language tips: A little goes a long way
Trying to speak a little Spanish, particularly the Argentine or Chilean Spanish, will always be much appreciated by your server. A few simple words and phrases that helped me be welcomed with a smile are:
¿Qué quieres tomar? – Simply, “What do you want to drink?”. The use of the verb tomar (to take) is used in these countries rather than beber (to drink). You ca respond with “Quiero tomar….”
¿Cuál es los platos típicos aquí? – Great for a local recommendation. “What is the typical plate (local speciality) here?” You are guaranteed to end up eating a local favourite!
¡qué rico! – How tasty/ delicious! A great response to the server ¿Cómo está tu comida? (How is your meal?).
¡Buen provecho! – Don’t be alarmed when the couple who have just walked into the restaurant speak to you as they walk past! They are just being good mannered by saying “Enjoy your meal” you can respond with “Gracias” or if they too are eating “Gracias igualmente” – thank you, same to you. This is an extremely common occurrence in this region.
Cubierto and Propina – Many restaurants will change a service charge (cubierto); don’t confuse this with propina (your tip) as tipping is customary at 10%.
Thankfully, Argentines and Chileans in Patagonia are a lot friendlier than those you find in the heart of the big cities so don’t be afraid to test your skills and make mistakes!
My must-know parting tips:
- Many restaurants in Patagonia still do not accept credit cards so be prepared with some cash in hand.
- Service is usually very slow and laid-back so if you are used to the ‘service with a smile’ in North America, be prepared to adjust.
- If you are used to an early dinner after a long day out on the trail then you may need to back a few extra empanadas for the road. Typically in Argentina and Chile, restaurants will open for dinner service between 8pm and 1am.
- Be fearless. See a place that looks packed with locals but you have no idea what’s beyond the doors? Lean in! It’s the only way to experience true Patagonian hospitality!
Ready to eat and hike your way through this incredible region? Check out Intrepid’s range of Patagonia tours.
(All images courtesy of Intrepid Travel.)