MENDOZA TRAVEL TIPS
Getting to Mendoza
Upon casual inspection a visitor to Mendoza may be tempted to enter Argentina through Buenos Aires. There is a lot to be said for the capital city. The tango clubs, the restaurants, the shopping. It is in many ways just another huge city (some estimates place it at more than 16 million people in the greater area). It could be any place in the world, especially Europe. Buenos Aires has its own charms, but it is both a continent away in distance and a world away in attitude from Mendoza.
Mendoza is the name of both the city and the province. In the entire region there is only about one million people. Mendoza proper and the outlying areas are a more rural, laid back, and dare I say even more Argentinean part of the country. The shopping and restaurants are much more modest, and the people are more tranquil (a word that translates well to the language and the culture of the area).
For those wishing to avoid the hustle and bustle of Buenos Aires, or simply wanting to arrive in the most direct route possible, the international airport in Santiago, Chile is the way to go. Mendoza is only a short hop over the Andes away.
For the adventurous and those wishing to absorb more of the flavor of Argentina don’t be afraid to fly into Buenos Aires and then take one of the luxury bus rides across the country to Mendoza. These busses are well priced and are far from what most foreigners think of when faced with a long overland ride. More akin to a flight, the busses have food and wine service, comfortable seats that recline, and some even have entertainment consoles to watch movies as the miles roll by.
However you plan your trip, if you are coming to Argentina for wine, you are coming to Mendoza. 90% of the wine in the country is made in this single region.
A primer on the customs of Argentina would not be complete without mentioning “besos” (kissing). A peck on a cheek (or one on each, or even 3, alternating back and forth) is a common greeting between friends. Not only for men and women or women with each other, but even between men. If someone starts to lean in on greeting or saying good bye, don’t be alarmed, it just means that you have risen to the status of friend in their eyes. One almost always kisses children. Handshakes are not uncommon, but they definitely mark you as a visitor.
What to Wear
While Buenos Aires is the home of the fashion conscious, Mendoza is a casual affair. Jeans and a decent top are acceptable in even the most upscale establishments. It doesn’t take much to over dress here.
When visiting wineries it is important to wear practical shoes, and to bring a sweater or light jacket. Cellars are by definition chilly. That same light outer layer will be important at night as the temperatures plummet, even in the summer months. This is increasingly true the further south you travel.
Mendoza dining is often done outside, right up until the day the rare snows make it impossible. Snow in the winter, and rain other parts of the year are relatively uncommon in this high desert land, but you should none the less be prepared for them.
Summer temperatures range from incredibly hot in the day to cool at night, with winter temps being moderate in the daylight and quite cool, but rarely freezing in the darker hours. The famous Zonda winds blow hot but precede cooler winter weather, so if you are visiting from June to September, be prepared for anything.
Be prepared to eat dinner later than you may be used to. Most restaurants do not open before 9:30 at night, and do not expect customers before 10. Midnight is an average time for families, small children in tow, to dine out.
Mendoza is the land of beef. Vegetarians will not starve, but don’t expect to find much variety in the local restaurants. If you like your meat incredibly well done, you will be right at home. For those that prefer a little more color in their meat order it “jugoso” (who-go-so). This means rare, and on some occasions you may need to ask for it to be cooked a bit more, but as often as not you will find that it is perfectly, or even a bit over cooked for most American and European tastes.
The empanada is the classic savory pastry, usually stuffed with meat and or cheese. The quality can vary, but you will find them on every menu. Carne (beef) will usually be chopped and contain hard boiled egg and sometimes black olives (which may not always be pitted). Jamon y Queso (ham and cheese) is also common and the quality depends on the ham and the cheese, since it will contain nothing else.
Pizza and even pasta can be hit or miss. You can find a few places that surprise you, but all too often pizza is a no more than thick bread with slices of cheese thrown on it, almost as an after thought. Beware the olives, they are ubiquitous and almost never pitted. You would not know that most of the population is descended from Italians based on their pastas. The sauces tend to be simple and the pasta itself rather over cooked.
Don’t be afraid of trying a Pancho (hot dog). They are pretty serious about them here and often offer them with a variety of sauces. It is common to be able to order them with chopped papas fritas (french fries) on top, and this is a treat not to miss.
The finest examples of culinary prowess are to be found at the wineries themselves.
It is for those visiting the bodegas that the most talented chefs are able to cater to an appreciative audience. With a wide range of styles and international flair, the on premise restaurants are where you should expect to enjoy your most exciting meals.
The culinary scene in Mendoza is improving, and in most of the places that cater to tourists you will find a wider selection of foods than in the local eateries. Those local establishments will almost always specialize in Asado.
Asado is the most famous culinary treasure of Argentina. While it is usually translated as BBQ, other than being cooked outdoors with hot coals, there is little relation.
There is no sauce, not even the dry rubbed herbs of some BBQ. Usually the meat is cooked (well done) and served with salt and nothing else. Occasionally, you will be offered Chimichurri, a garlic and red pepper sauce that most locals use sparingly.
The meat for an Asado may often not be the cuts you are used to, and even when they are translated into terms you recognize be prepared for it to be a bit chewier than in other parts of the world. Here they prize texture above flavor and so the meat is cut with the grain, instead of against the grain as is common elsewhere. If you are fortunate enough to attend a local or authentic Asado you may be surprised to find that the different cuts just keep coming. Watch the locals, they only take a little off each plate as it is offered, as there is likely to be another cut on its way soon.
Mendoza is a siesta culture. People stay up late at night, often all night in the case of the club crowds, and then catch a nap in the afternoon.
What this means for the visitor is that with the exception of a few restaurants on the main drag that cater to tourists, everything is closed from 12 - 5 (more or less). If you are not accustomed to napping in the afternoon you may find yourself wandering about looking for something to do.
This can be a great time to visit the parks, or wander the streets and do a bit of window shopping, but be prepared to amuse yourself while the town slumbers. Many locals also take a break after work and before dinner, making those late nights just a bit easier to handle.
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