One of the draws of Argentina is its sizzling nightlife, which sometimes marches beyond daybreak. Argentines of all ages love a night out, so bars and cafes have liberal hours. Expect everything from speakeasies and cocktail bars to Irish pubs and craft-beer bars.
Argentines love their coffee, and you can order several versions. A café con leche is half coffee and half milk, while a cortado is an espresso with a little milk. A café chico is an espresso and a lagrima is mostly milk with a few drops of coffee.
Té negro or té común is black tea; herbal tea is usually manzanilla (chamomile). Chocolate lovers should try a submarino, a bar of chocolate melted in hot milk. Fresh-squeezed orange juice is jugo de naranja exprimido. A licuado is fruit blended with milk or water.
Even in big cities like Buenos Aires, the agua de canilla (tap water) is drinkable. In restaurants, however, most people order bottled mineral water – ask for agua con gas (with bubbles) or agua sin gas (without). In older, more traditional restaurants, carbonated water in a spritzer bottle (un sifón de soda) is a great for drinking. Gaseosas (soft drinks) are very popular in Argentina.
Mendoza is Argentina’s premier wine region and well known for its robust malbec, but other provinces also produce excellent wines. San Juan is famous for its succulent syrah and Cafayate for its torrontés, a crisp, dry white wine. Meanwhile, the Patagonia region is becoming a stronghouse for pinot noir.
If Argentina has a national beer, it’s Quilmes. Order a porrón and you’ll get bottled beer (a half-liter bottle in Buenos Aires; a big bottle up north); a chopp is a frosty mug of draft. Unless you order it with a meal, beer is usually served with a free snack.
Most fine restaurants have a wine list, called la carta de vinos. Sommeliers are scarce.
At the harder end of the spectrum, it’s all about Fernet Branca, a bitter, herbed Italian digestif originally intended as medicine. Fernet con Coke is Argentina’s favorite cocktail and, despite many claims that it won’t give you hangover, it will (trust us).
Mate & its Ritual
The preparation and consumption of mate (pronounced mah-tay) is more than a simple drink. It's an elaborate ritual shared among family, friends and coworkers.
Yerba mate is the dried, chopped leaf of Ilex paraguayensis, a relative of the common holly. Argentina is one of the world’s largest producers and consumers of the stuff, and its citizens down an average of 5kg per person per year.
Preparing and drinking mate is a ritual in itself. One person, the cebador (server), fills the mate gourd almost to the top with yerba, and then slowly pours hot water as he or she fills the gourd. The cebador then passes the mate to each drinker, who sips the liquid through the bombilla, a silver straw with a filter at the end. Each participant drinks the gourd dry each time. Remember it’s bad form to touch the bombilla, and don’t hold the mate too long before passing it on! A simple ‘gracias’ will tell the server to pass you by.
An invitation to partake in mate is a cultural treat and not to be missed, although the drink is an acquired taste and novices will find it very hot and bitter at first (adding sugar can be an option).
Mate is rarely served in restaurants or cafes, but you can buy a thermos, mate gourd, bombilla and a bag of herb at any large supermarket. Cure your gourd by filling it with hot water and yerba and letting it soak for 24 hours. Nearly all restaurants, cafes and hotels are used to filling thermoses, sometimes charging a small amount. Simply whip out your thermos and ask: ‘¿Podía calentar agua para mate?’ (‘Would you mind heating water for mate?’). And start making friends.