The Merienda is an Argentine afternoon tea with a kick. With dinner hours pushed back to 9, 10, or 11 o’clock, I find that my tummy always starts grumbling protests around 6 o’clock. The merienda is a tradition imported from Spain—a meal between lunch and dinner created to keep that nagging hunger at bay and to indulge in two of Argentinean’s favorite habits: caffeine and sugar.
A merienda always involves an espresso, coffee, or mate (pronounced “mah-tay”). Before arriving in Argentina, I never drank coffee regularly. It was merely fuel for all-nighters in the library or to perk up after a night of little sleep. In Argentina, caffeine is an integral part of daily life. Between tea, cortados and mate, I’m sure Argentines have to consume at least 4 or 5 units of caffeine daily. I have gladly hopped on this vibrating bandwagon. A “cortado” is an espresso that locals will sip for hours. If you order a “café con leche,” you will receive a strong shot of coffee with frothy steamed milk, a closer relative to a latte than a simple “coffee with milk.” Mate is a tea similar to green tea that locals drink from a special gourd (also called a mate).
The second and most sinful component of the merienda is the facturas. Facturas are pastries packed with sugar, dulce de leche, butter, and—I’m starting to suspect—crack. I was never a huge sweet person in the states, always leaning towards saltier snacks. In Argentina, the vast and colorful array of sweets is too tantalizing to ignore. To the right is a photograph of a typical panadería. The panaderías are located about every four blocks, wafting mouthwatering aromas of baked bread and caramelized sugar into the streets. From the simple and sweet medialuna, a croissant glazed with sugar, to powdered confections oozing dulce de leche, every sweet tooth can find something to satisfy.
Dulce de Leche is a caramel concoction that sneaks into most sweet dishes in Argentina. No trip to Buenos Aires is complete without trying a medialuna (pictured above) or a dulce-de-leche filled alfajor. Try the coffee shop Havanna for the most classic version of the Alfajor. You can also get dulce de leche by the jar to bring back as a tasty souvenir or gift! A classic merienda spread always includes something with a dollop of dulce de leche!
Merienda also serves as more than an early evening pick-me-up. The merienda is always a social occasion: an office celebrating a birthday, two old friends catching up for hours over a thimbleful of coffee, a family visit, or sometimes simply getting that dulce de leche fix. The merienda is a sweet excuse to spend time with friends or family and engage in caffeine jolted discussions and debates…what’s not to like?
The Recoleta neighborhood, the location of Inspirato’s new hotel partner The Four Seasons, has many cafes with open air seating that offer the perfect setting to sit and watch the world go by. Contact your PVA for more information about this exciting destination.