One Argentine tradition that I have fully embraced is the Merienda. With dinner hours pushed back to 10, 11 or 12 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 weaknesses: caffeine and sugar.
A merienda always involves a tea, coffee, or mate. Before arriving in Argentina, I never drank coffee regularly. I only turned to it as a drug to fuel all nighters in the library or to cure a hangover before work or classes. Here, 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 also think that high caffeine consumption could be a reason that all Argentine men seem to be so short…but that’s another story). I have gladly hopped on this vibrating bandwagon.
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. Below is a photograph of a typical panaderia. The panaderias 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.
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?