I must admit, I was surprised (at my own cultural insensitivity, no doubt) that not all Latin American food is spicy. Graciela patiently explained to me that all Americans expect spicy food, since we're so used to peppers and hot sauce in Mexican/Tex Mex cuisine, but here they don't eat their food with added spice. Aside from meat and a few popular regional dishes, Argentine cuisine doesn't especially stand out in flavor, unusual ingredients, or originality. However, I don't want you to get the impression that the food here is boring. Yeah, you could eat crappy hamburgers and pasta all the time, but I think the Argentine (with Spanish and Italian influence) classics are the way to go if you want culinary satisfaction. Food is rich: meats and cheeses, tartas, creamy coffee, alfajores (cookie layered with dulce de leche and covered in chocolate), freshly baked breads and desserts, winter vegetables, eggs and/or dulce de leche served with everything. It's slow, and meant to be savored and enjoyed with wine or beer, and always with friends.
Breakfast is fairly simple and solitary: every morning I eat two pieces of toast spread with marmeledas or dulce de leche, fruit, orange juice, and instant coffee with azucar.
Since lunch is on my own, I usually head down to the confiteria (panederia to all you other Spanish speakers) and buy a couple of freshly baked empanadas (filled with jamon y queso, roquefort, carne picante, spinach, pumpkin, or chicken, depending on the day) for 3 pesos each. Other days I'll buy some fruit and bread from the supermercado, or nuts and snacks from the health food store. Most afternoons I get a cafe and a snack, like medialunas (sweet croissants) or helado, both of which are cultures of their own here.
I've heard horror stories from other students about their host families depriving them of basic nourishment and/or being terrible cooks, etc, so I guess I can consider myself lucky living with Graciela, who is very health-conscious and provides a variety of nutritious meals. Dinner usually consists of protein and a vegetable, with very little carbs, grease, or dairy. Here's a sample menu of dinners from the past few weeks:
-roasted peppers, choclo (corn), and baked chicken
-corn/red pepper quiche
-eggplant and pasta
-pollo milanesas, calabaza (pumpkin), and fresh sliced tomatoes
-porkchops with salsa de mostaza, or baked with apples
-grilled steak and salad
-soups (cream of cebolla, chicken)
sides: sweet potato, lentils, tomatoes, carrot, peppers, pumpkin...basically whatever's fresh and in season
dessert: fruit, with dulce de leche
I don't go out to eat a lot, because a) there's no such thing as a quick meal here. And b) it's pretty expensive. But I've had enough experience in the BA restaurant/cafe scene to compile a fairly legitimate "Best Of..." list:
Best empanadas: Chantilly Confiteria (best price too-can't beat 3 pesos each!)
Best dessert: churros and hot chocolate at Cafe Tortoni, although an alfajor will satisfy your sweet tooth
Best coffee shop: el Potosi, for cafe con leche, Coco Cola in glass bottles, sandwiches with unusual fillings, and a cozy brick atmosphere. It's a local place I discovered a few weeks ago, and I go several times a week. The old men who sit outside with their friends are so cute and friendly I want to put them in my pocket. And the waitress knows me now that I've been there so often.
Best cocktail: clairivoska (vodka, lime, sugar)
Best (cheap) beer: Quilmes
Best wine: Malbec, duh.
Best savory snack (to enjoy with a beer): picada, a plate of olives, cheese, and cubed deli meats (salami, ham, prosciutto)
Best snack for anytime: medialunas
Best brunch: Oui Oui (the girls and I had a Valentine's Day brunch of eggs, bacon, french toast, waffles, and of course, cafe con leche)
Best all around: steak (de asado). Yes, I do eat meat now. And I'm not going to pretend I'm not enjoying it.