At the southernmost tip of the South American continent is a vast region of extremes - Patagonia. Shared by Argentina and Chile, the dividing border is the mighty Andes mountain range. Patagonia plays host to a wide variety of climates, and, subsequently, a wider variety of foods.
When most people think of Patagonia, they conjure up wild scenes of blue glaciers, towering mountains, and other-worldly landscapes. Patagonia is all of these things, but it's the local people and their love of food that will leave the biggest mark on you.
Southern king crab served fresh in Ushuaia, fine chocolates of Bariloche, foraged berries in El Calafate, and wild guanaco, this southern frontier is ripe with life and potential. This article is going to highlight the local’s love of food by offering up six of their traditional dishes. The love of wood-fired lamb is strong in Patagonia so let’s start there.
Cordero al Palo
If there is one dish that represents Patagonia, its people, and their cuisine best, it would be Cordero al Palo. On Sundays, the smell of spit-roast lamb emanates from beyond every home in Patagonia. Traveling through, you won’t have a hard time finding Cordero al Palo on many a restaurant menu. The more local an establishment looks the better.
Staked on a blistering hot metal cross, the whole lamb is cooked on an open flame for several hours. You know it’s done when the skin will is crispy and the meat falls off the bone like butter. If the thought of that hasn’t got your mouth watering in anticipation then you must be vegetarian.
The reason why this dish is held in such high regard is the quality of Patagonian lamb. Grazing on rich pastures in the north, Patagonian lambs have a stress-free time living the good life, until, of course, their time comes.
Known in the west as the Southern King Crab, centolla is another culinary delight of Patagonia. Patagonia’s unique geographical coordinates gain it an all-access pass to some of the best seafood on earth, and Centolla sits atop the pile.
If you are down in the southern city of Ushuaia you will see alive and kicking centolla carted straight off the fishing boats and into the town’s lakeside restaurants ready for the day’s service. It doesn’t matter how it comes, Centolla will be the sweetest, most tender crab you will ever slurp down.
It is also considered by foodies everywhere as the best crab on earth. For this reason, it’s expensive by Patagonian standards but is still a fraction of the price of what Southern King goes for in U.S fish markets.
If you are thinking, Patagonian lamb and crab sound great but what about something totally unique to the region? Guanaco is that something. Similar to the alpaca or llama, Guanaco is a wild animal native only to Patagonia. Although it is far from open season on Guanaco, as a result of their bountiful numbers, Guanaco is legally hunted in Patagonia.
This is a regulated industry with strict laws on what hunters can take and is an important food source for the people and culture. It also tastes pretty special too. Lean and tender like the bouncing kangaroo, order a steak of Guanaco with a side of sweet potato mash for a unique eating experience to write home about.
Empanada de Cordero
As a result of a large portion of Patagonia being governed by Argentina, their shared affinity for food is no surprise. Empanada is everywhere in Patagonia, and locals and travelers alike sign themselves up for it day in and day out with a qualm about it.
The difference between an Empanada de Cordero to a run-of-the-mill Argentine empanada is the addition of succulent roast lamb. That’s right, the people of Patagonia love lamb so much that they are willing to do whatever it takes to eat it at all times of the day. Encasing it in pastry and calling it lunch is just one of those ways.
Just like the lamb, crab, Patagonian trout will probably be the best of your life. Trucha Patagonica thrives in the glacial lakes and rivers of this wild part of the world. This is to the delight of all who catch and eat it as it really does taste better than the next fish downstream.
Patagonian trout is prepared in a number of ways that are all particular to certain regions. A few of the all-time favorites include grilled, pan-fried, roasted, and loaded into a thick and creamy stew. This is great news for you as you will be able to travel around Patagonia while sampling each region's trout specialty.
Patagonia has many impressive towns, lakes, and foods to its name, but nowhere compares to San Carlos de Bariloche. Bordering the glacial waters of Lake Nahuel Huapi and encircled by the Andes mountain range, you can’t help but feel like San Carlos de Bariloche sits on hallowed ground.
The sheer spectacle of natural wonder that surrounds San Carlos de Bariloche will give you multiple “pinch yourself moments” as you tell yourself; you aren’t dreaming, this is real, and you are living it. Something that will elevate your endorphins tenfold is the town’s seemingly endless supply of handmade artisanal chocolate.
Not only is Bariloche regarded as the chocolate capital of South America, but its chocolate is also revered on the world stage. Chocolate lovers flock to this angelic mountain town every year to sample its sweeter side. Luckily, there are plenty of opportunities for adventure in and around Bariloche. This will help you to work off your daily chocolate intake (because it will be staggering).
Patagonia’s insanely high quality of food can be put down to two reasons; First, the people of the region have a strong culture that centers around mealtime. Second, its land and sea both teem with life. Thus creating a perfect harmony of place and people. A symbiosis if you will. Dare to venture due south until the land runs out, this kind of place awaits.
Author: Debra Harris
As founder of Life’s Journey Travel, I’m deeply passionate about creating custom travel experiences that allow my clients to truly savor the journey.