Mountains, glaciers, endless horizons, days of hiking in untouched national parks... that’s what most people think of when they picture Patagonia
. But just because this region at the foot of Argentina
is renowned as a trekker mecca, it doesn’t mean that you have to spend your entire vacation carbo-loading on instant noodles and pasta dinners cooked over a wobbly camping stove. In fact, both Chilean and Argentinean Patagonia have an ever-growing foodie scene, with restaurants specialising in preparing fresh, local ingredients to the highest of standards. Dominated by lamb and fresh seafood dishes, Patagonia also throws up a few unexpected wildcard dishes along the way. Here’s our mouth-watering introduction to Patagonian cuisine!
Patagonia is woven through and through with glacial fjords and surrounded to the east, west and south by oceans, so fresh fish has always been destined to form one of the cornerstones of the region’s gastronomic culture. The pristine waters of Patagonia are home to an abundance of flourishing trout and salmon, providing excellent opportunities for both fly fishing
and eating. Trout is often at its best when prepared simply in a no-nonsense butter sauce that allows the delicately flavoured, soft, pink flesh to speak for itself.
Wild boar is not native to Patagonia but was introduced from Europe at the turn of the 20th Century and soon spread along the foothills of the Patagonian Andes in Argentina and out across the open grasslands. Along with lamb, wild boar is now one of Argentinean Patagonia’s staple meats, with a taste that has been variously described as ‘gamey’, ‘sweet’ and ‘nutty’. Wild boar meat is often prepared in a similar way to regular pork, but shouldn’t be overcooked as it can become tough. Smoked wild boar meat is a great way to enjoy this Patagonian delicacy.
Known as the gateway to Argentinean Patagonia
, the town of San Carlos de Bariloche was shaped by waves of Austrian, German and Slovenian immigration to the area, which gave the town its characteristic “Alpine” architecture and sparked its love affair with chocolate. Just walk down the street in the centre of Bariloche and you’ll find a dozen or so boutique chocolate shops. The town even has its own chocolate festival around Easter time with four whole days dedicated to making, celebrating and eating the sweet stuff! Trawl the shops for chocolate creations featuring rum and raisin, dulce de leche
, sugared dates, orange cream, almond mousse and more.
Spit roast lamb
At last we arrive at Patagonia’s most famous dish of all, slow-cooked lamb, teased over an open log fire until crisp and succulent. Whether you’re in Chile or Argentina, all the locals will tell you that you simply can’t leave Patagonia without trying the lamb. Raised on the Patagonian Steppe, the lamb here is lean and grass-fed. In Patagonian cuisine, lamb is typically stretched across a metal frame and then slowly roasted barbeque-style until the lightly-perfumed meat almost drops from the bone.
The Calafate berry, also known as the Magellan Barberry is a dark blue-black berry native to Patagonia. Although almost completely unknown outside the region, in Patagonia you’ll find calafate berries incorporated into jams, sauces, mousses, ice cream and even cocktails (just imagine a calafate pisco sour!) If you’ve never had calafate berry before, its taste is somewhere between a tart blueberry, a cherry and a red grape, but the only way to know for sure is to head to Patagonia to try it for yourself!
Another of Patagonia’s classic dishes, the naturally buttery, sweet flavour and tender flesh of the king crab makes it a favourite for locals and visitors alike. With the Atlantic Ocean to the east and the Pacific to the west you can be sure you’re seafood is as fresh as can be. A typical way of serving king crab in Patagonia is for the shredded flesh to be presented in a soupy stock in its own shell or as a rich and creamy chowder.
As unlikely as it might sound, there are some areas of Argentinean Patagonia where a traditional Welsh afternoon tea is as much a part of the landscape as the towering Andes mountains and the rolling plains. Due to a quirk of historic immigration, some pockets of Patagonia retain a strong Welsh heritage even to this day. Towns like Puerto Madryn, Trevelin and Gaiman are still home to Welsh-speakers and locals who actively celebrate their ancestry. Visitors to the region can enjoy a traditional Welsh afternoon tea with a selection of Welsh-inspired cakes and pastries with the occasional Argentinean twist.