Watch football, dance tango, eat steak, drink mate, listen to folk music – experience Argentina with all of your senses.
The traditions in Argentina stem from a wide range of influences, including Italian, Spanish, French, Polish, German and Jews as well as African and Indigenous cultures. They are complex, intriguing and often revolve around bringing people together and savoring the good things in life. Here are some essential customs and traditions to experience on your Argentina trip.
Football is almost like a religion in Argentina. On a Sunday millions of Argentinians cheer on their favorite team at the stadium or watch the game on television. Watching a live football match while you are in Argentina is an absolute must. The players give it their all for 90 minutes and so do the fans – cheering, singing and dancing at the top of their lungs while clad and painted in the team colors.
Unfortunately, according to Jürgen and Mike from Buenos Aires for 91 Days, seeing a Boca Juniors match (the most popular team in Argentina) has become a rip off. The tickets are only sold through tour operators who add an exorbitant markup (nearly 10x the price) for tourists. Instead, they recommend seeing a San Lorenzo match where tickets are cheaper and the overall atmosphere is much more friendly and welcoming.
Argentines have the highest consumption of red meat in the world and the barbecue (known as “Asado”) is revered as an art form. Greg fromTheLatinKitchen.com writes, “On any given weekend, a stroll through a neighborhood is sure to leave your belly raging and your head reeling with smoke and sizzling meat sights and smells of asado.”
A traditional Argentinian barbecue includes several different types of meat, including chorizo, morcilla (blood sausage) and other cuts of beef and organs that are cooked on a grill – which is called a parrilla. The meal might also include other dishes, such as a platter of cheese, baguettes and salami or a basic green salad. Chimichurri, a condiment consisting of onion, parsley, oregano, pepper, salt, cilantro, olive oil and vinegar is often served alongside the meat as a dipping sauce – giving a wonderful flavorful punch to the juicy, grilled meat. Don’t forget some red wine or Fernet (a herb liqueur) and Coca Cola to wash everything down.
The act of barbecuing is taken very seriously and one person – the asador – is nominated to take charge of the grill. “Once designated, for better or worse, he or she takes charge of the process from start to finish – and no interference is tolerated.” explains Greg.
The asado is a social affair that brings family and friends together and it can last for hours. “Once the meat is served and everybody has tucked away to chat with their asado partner, someone calls out for a round of applause for the asador and everyone pauses, raises their greasy faces and sated eyes to the hero of the day and claps, at length and with a gusto. It means the same thing in every language: job well done.”
“Mate is not simply a traditional drink but symbolizes several national values, friendship, brotherhood and the warmth of the Argentine people.” says Franco fromBuenos Aires Free Walks. Mate is a traditional South American infused drink that is made with the steeped leaves of the yerba mate plant. It is served in a shared container and sipped through a metal straw.
“As the asado, mate is a very important tradition in Argentina because it is evidence of Argentine social activity.” explains Franco. “While many people drink mate alone, it’s usual to meet with friends or relatives in houses or parks for a delicious mate accompanied by a collation.” (a small snack)
Want to give Mate a try during your visit to Argentina? “In many bars across the country you can ask for mate to taste it,” Franco recommends. “Also in every market you may find mates to buy your own set.” It has a complex, earthy flavor and it really gives you an energy boost that will keep you going.
“It is a culture, a lifestyle.” says Megan from Blogger At Large, “It is the heartbeat of the nation.” Tango is certainly a big part of Argentine tradition as this sexy, sultry dance originated here in the 1880s. It is influenced by South American and African dance styles, blended together with European dances such as the polka and the waltz.
During a tango, the two dancers are pressed close together and the women feels the man’s every move, following his lead and alternating between short and snappy steps and long and smooth movements. The mood is of sensual passion, with a hint of melancholy and nostalgia.
The best place to experience tango is not at one of the touristy dinner and tango shows, but at a local “milonga.” This is a type of social club where the locals get together to dance and the atmosphere is laid back and fun. You could sit on the sidelines and watch, but why not join in and ask a local to show you the moves?
Another one of the most important traditions in Argentina is folk music. “ Everyone associates Tango with Argentina.” says Franco. “The reality is that Tango has been quite neglected and today is a tourist attraction. Slowly, young people are getting interested in this style, but it still remains very touristy.”
He recommends you take the time to listen to other traditional folk music styles such as chacarera, zamba, gato, chamamé, carnavalito, vidala, among others. “In every city of Argentina you will find Peñas.” says Franco. “These are meetings in bars, restaurants and private homes where people play and dance Argentine music.”
These are just a few of the traditions you must experience during a visit to Argentina, in order to fully appreciate the culture here. “You will notice that all our traditions converge in the same goal,” Franco explained to me. “to be united, organize meetings and hang out with family and friends.” What could be better than that?
Have you experienced any of these Argentinian traditions? Let us know in the comments below.
Kelly Dunning is a Canadian freelance travel writer. She lives a nomadic lifestyle with no fixed address – working from the road for the last 5 years with her partner Lee, a web-designer from England. They have traveled to over 40 countries and they offer travel tips, stories and inspiration on Global-Goose.com.