Argentina Food — 10 January 2012


Vivi Rathbon


Argentina has many beverages to boast, from its fine wines to its bitter mate.  Sometimes left out from the tourist reviews is the ubiquitous Argentine beverage of choice: Fernet.

What, you may be wondering, is Fernet?  I certainly wondered that after I took my first sip and was sure that I’d just been tricked into swallowing a gulp of poison.  Fernet is another Argentine culinary anomaly–a beverage so hideously bitter, that only the seemingly impenetrable digestive system of an Argentine could stomach it.
Fernet, is a pungent alcoholic beverage made from unnamed and probably toxic herbs. Invented in Italy by a doctor named Branca, who mixed together this magical concoction of herbs and alcohol, the drink migrated along with the Italians to Argentina in the twentieth century.  Today, Fernet Branca is one of the most popular brands of Fernet sold in Argentine supermarkets.  Long used for its medicinal properties, a household bottle would be employed in case of digestive trouble, cholera, or even hangovers.  Today partakers sip Fernet with friends during cocktail hour, or toast to their health while awaiting a midnight asado.

Fernet can be prepared and served in a variety of fashions.  In San Fransico they serve Fernet by the shot.  In Italy it is mixed with coffee.  In Argentina there is one tried and true way of preparing Fernet: with coke.  It is called a “Fernet con coca”, and if you’re coming to Buenos Aires, you’re best off making peace with this beverage sooner rather than later.  Preparation is simple.  In a ice-filled tall drinking glass, mix one part Fernet with two parts coke.  (Personally I prefer one part Fernet and three parts coke).  The drink will curdle a bit, forming a foamy head.

My advice: slip slowly and stop after two.  You won’t become intoxicated, but your teeth might fall out.

Fernet is sometimes served after dinner as a digestif, because it’s magical powers of aiding digestion were no secret.   Fernet is the magical secret of Argentine life, the proverbial salt of their flat earth.  Most importantly, it is the magical ingredient to digest all of the meat that they consume.  Indeed, many suffer from digestive discomfort in Buenos Aires.  The discovery and acceptance of Fernet can greatly aid the transition to the Argentine diet.

Fernet con coca is the classic beverage, but there is also a popular alternative: Fernet Menta.  This spearmint flavored Fernet is mixed with Sprite for a minty, citrusy alternative that may be a bit easier on the palate for newcomers to Fernet.

Fernet has many secret herbal ingredients from the all over the world, making it the perfect drink for Argentina, with its immigrant population stemming from the world over.  Both Fernet and Argentina are unique concoctions created from multiple ingredients.  The first impressions might be hard to swallow, but after becoming accustomed, its almost addictive.


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