Unlike Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Chile and Bolivia, the population of Argentina is more European than mestizo or Indian. Italian and Spanish settlers have influenced the cuisine a great deal, although the French, German, Swiss and Eastern Europeans have left their culinary stamp as well.
Argentina was never a heavily populated area, so as a result, it claims almost no indigenous cuisine, prior to the arrival of immigrants. Europeans, who arrived heavily in the 1880's, are largely responsible for its national cuisine and even for the creation of its capital, Buenos Aires. Italian sailors arrived in Argentina's ports and found the country so hospitable they settled there, resulting in a large number of Italian neighborhoods and restaurants. Pastas are as at home on the Argentine menu as are steaks — a good thing for any vegetarians choosing to reside in this country!
If there is a single food that can represent Argentina, it is beef. The rich grassland plains, the pampas, rest in the shadows of the Andes and feed the people not only their wheat and corn, but also the grazing land for the cattle and sheep. Argentine beef is highly prized for its flavor and tenderness. The cattle were introduced in the 16th century, and were running wild in vast herds less than 200 years later. As with the US, the romantic image of the cowboy, or "gaucho," pervades the culture.
Argentina, though, boasts a healthy coastline and fish are plentiful. You'll find them grilled, fried, marinated and cooked in just about every way imaginable. Argentines may also dine on viscacha, a large variety of hare. Emu ranches produce now-fashionable meals, similar to ostrich, known for its lean but flavorful meat. Empandas, stuffed sweet and savory pastries found in many Latin American nations, can be eaten as appetizers or light meals.
The cooking method of choice in Argentina is, without a doubt, grilling. Beef steaks, sweetbreads and kidneys crackle over the flame, along with vegetables, fish and sausages. The tender skirtsteak, the churrasco, and the bistek, or flank steak, are some of the most popular cuts. Ropa viejo ("old clothes") slowly simmers less tender cuts until they can be shredded easily. If you have ever eaten a rolled, struffed flank steak in Italy, don't be surprised to find it as a popular Argentine dish as well — an excellent use of one of Argentina's best known products, beef.