Discovering other countries’ culinary traditions is always exciting and interesting. And this was especially true when I spent Christmas an ocean away from potato salad, goose, and speculaas in Argentina.
Why Argentinians Eat Italian on Christmas
Italian roots, Argentinian tradition.
To my surprise, there was little room for European nostalgia when I was far from home, in Buenos Aires, for Christmas.
In many ways, the culture in Buenos Aires has been defined by the immense influx of Italian immigrants over time.
Of course, these Italian influences are interpreted and adapted to local customs and ingredients.
Even so, these Italian elements constantly reminded me very much of my home festivities—the only difference being that tango music, grilled meat, and the boiling heat placed me firmly in South America.
Traditionally, holiday gatherings in Argentina start on the 24th of December, and in true Italian fashion, include an opulent dinner (despite the tropical temperatures). Moreover, Argentinian Christmas celebrations without mayonnaise are as unthinkable as soccer without Diego Maradona.
Starting in the late afternoon, cold starters are piled up and served for the whole family to dig in. A classic, not be missed, is vitello tonnato—slices of tender veal with a creamy tuna sauce—from the Piemont region.
Rolled dishes are also extremely popular, either filled with meat or as Pionono. The latter is a sweet vanilla sponge cake which is either filled with classic Dulce de Leche or, to my surprise, with chicken, tomatoes, and mayonnaise, to create a sweet and savory roll.
Of course, all-time Argentinian favorite, empanadas, are always within arm’s reach.
In the evening, very hearty dishes, like suckling pig or grilled meat, are served, alongside Christmas-y sweets, like Pan Dulce (similar to Italian Panettone) and Turrones (nutty caramel bars).
The first mixed drinks with Fernet-Branca and Coke start to flow, and, at midnight, Argentinians like to toast with glasses of sparkling wine or cider. Only then, presents are given, and spectacular fireworks invite everybody to move the party to the streets to marvel at the colorful sky. However, there are always a few runaways who head back inside for some ice cream.
Before you realize, somebody is playing the accordion or guitar, your cousins are dancing, your uncles are toasting with more Fernet, and classic flan is served. By then, your nostalgic thoughts of cinnamon cookies and red cabbage have been forgotten, and you realize that you’re enjoying a truly Argentinian Christmas—not because it is similar to your own culture, but because it is its own entirely.
Published on December 23, 2016