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Llama meat was the protein of choice for the Inca. Not cows or pigs, but llama and alpaca.
During the reign of the Inca Empire in the Andean Region of South America, llama meat was an important source of protein.
At the time, in the early 15th Century, the empire stretched from modern day Argentina to southern Columbia.
While in Argentina exploring the local food specialties, we traveled north to the province of Jujuy.
Tilcara was our base. A rural city in the middle of the Quebrada de Humahuaca known for its striking rock formations.
Furthermore, the indigenous Andean communities in the Quebrada are famous for perpetuating the local tradition and culture.
Much to our surprise, llama meat was a commonly available local specialty. Available at several local eateries, we explored this culinary tradition.
Read on for more about llama meat in Argentina.
Llamas are part of the South American camelid family. They are large domesticated furry animals that were used for the transportation of goods in the Andes.
The other members of the South American camelid family are alpacas, guanacos and vicuñas.
Llamas are also used for their meat and wool. Stands selling colorful socks, gloves, scarves made using llama wool are plentiful in the region.
Llama meat is used in many regional dishes. Llama meat is high in protein and low in fat. Healthy and nutritious, it is considered a good source of protein for the Andean population.
More recently, llama meat is growing in popularity. In La Paz, Bolivia, which is situated in the Andes, llama meat is found on menus at exclusive restaurants.
Outside of South America and the Andes, llamas are raised all over the world. And llama meat consumption is growing in the United States, Europe, and Australia.
Can You Eat llama Meat
Is llama meat edible is one of the first questions we asked ourselves when we arrived in the north of Argentina.
However, seeing that it was offered on several menus, the obvious answer was “yes.”
While intrigued and curious about eating llama meat, we wanted an experience that was authentic and respectful to the local culture.
With a desire to steer clear of tourist trap restaurants, locals recommended Khuska Resto Bar, away from the center of town.
Chef Ines welcomed us warmly on a rather quiet evening. With not many tables to tend to, we took advantage and peppered her with questions about llama meat and local specialties.
Noting our curiosity, she recommended trying her signature, cazuela de llama or llama stew.
Not only did she make us feel comfortable trying this exotic meat, but also explained the context and tradition.
With few options for animal protein, she told us, llamas were eaten and continue to be eaten for their nutritional value.
It was not about llamas being an unconventional choice, but rather a local and healthy option.
This dish arrived beautifully presented. On it was llama meat, thinly sliced and mixed with native potatoes known as papas andinas.
The potatoes were cut into slices and everything was served in a delicious creamy sauce.
We were blown away by the wonderful combination of flavors. The lean and tender llama meat was the perfect accompaniment for the sauce.
And, the native potatoes were some of the sweetest potatoes we’ve ever had.
What Does Llama Meat Taste Like
After eating llama meat on several occasions, we found the taste to be very similar to lean beef. We both enjoyed it and found it to be tender with flavors richer than beef.
When prepared as a stew, llama meat is tender and soft from the slow cooking techniques.
Eating llama, considered an exotic meat, was a way of connecting to the local culture. A mind opening experience and part of the tradition in the Andes.
This reminded me of eating horse meat in France. As a child, my mum would regularly buy horse meat from a boucherie chevaline or horse meat butcher.
Horse meat was praised for being healthy, low in fat and full of iron, and I enjoyed it.
Llama meat, while not readily available in large Argentine cities like Buenos Aires, is a local and nutritious option.
An overall pleasant tasting red meat and one that is worth trying.
Llama vs Alpaca
While llamas and alpacas are from the same camelid family, they are different in physical appearance. Llamas are significantly bigger with longer faces and tall ears.
Alpacas have more wool which produces softer fiber than llama wool.
Unlike llamas which were traditionally used as pack animals for carrying goods, alpacas were bred for their wool.
Both llama and alpaca were important sources of protein among the indigeneous population of the Andes.
Alpaca meat is popular in the Peruvian Andes and found on many restaurant menus.
While in Cusco, the former capital of the Inca Empire and gastronomy city in Peru, we had the chance to try alpaca meat.
Similar to llama meat, alpaca is also high in protein and low in fat. Alpaca meat, however, is more tender due to the fact the animals are not used for transportation.
We tried alpaca steak served with rice, potatoes and vegetables.The alpaca steak was flavorful and tender, though cooked a little too long.
Globally, alpaca meat is gaining popularity. A rise in alpaca farms in the US is making it a trendy new protein.
Whereas in Australia, alpaca meat is found on many restaurant menus under the brand name “LaViande.”
Five Authentic Llama Dishes
A lean meat, llama can be prepared in a variety of ways. It can be cooked on a grill, in stews, pan-fried or eaten as llama jerky known as charki.
In Argentina, the two most common llama dishes were cazuela de llama and lomo de llama.
Cazuela de Llama or Llama Stew
Cazuela de llama or llama stew was our favorite way of enjoying llama dishes in Argentina.
We had llama de cazuela several times and each time it was prepared in a slightly different manner.
While all the versions were prepared as a stew, the accompaniments were different. While the one at Khuska which was cooked with native potatoes, another one was simply stewed in its own juices.
With a lighter broth along with seasonal vegetables, the tender llama flavors were the star of the dish.
Another favorite preparation style was pieces of the llama cooked in a stew with rice, carrots and papas andinas.
Similar to a boeuf bourguignon-style, the slow cooked pieces of llama were incredibly tasty, tender and soft.
Lomo de Llama or Llama Steak
Another llama meat dish we enjoyed was lomo de llama or llama steak.
Similar to a boneless sirloin steak, the lomo de llama we devoured was pan-seared to perfection. The taste was very similar to a cut of steak, with slightly more intense flavors.
Easy to cut into, the meat was moist and tender without much fat.
The llama steak was served with mashed potatoes made using the local native potatoes.
Empanadas in Argentina are extremely popular and eaten throughout the county. In the north, not surprisingly, llama meat is a popular filling.
Unlike the beef and lamb empanadas we enjoyed in the Patagonia region, the llama meat ones were a bit dry.
With the meat not having much fat, the llama empanadas were not as enjoyable as other preparation styles.
Salame de Llama or Dry Cured Llama Sausages
Similar to dry cured meats, we also discovered the llama version known as salame de llama.
Made into boldly seasoned sausages, they contained a mixture of llama meat, fat and various herbs and spices.
We paired the salame de llama with traditional goat cheese known as queso de cabra, for tasty appetizers.
The salame de llama was flavorful and surprisingly tender for dry-cured meat. Another wonderful expression of this traditional meat from the Andes.
Charki or Llama Meat Jerky
Charki, also spelled charqui, is a common jerky from the Andean region of South America. The name comes from “ch’arki”, in the Quechua language for dried salted meat.
Traditionally, llama and alpaca were used as the meat source. This was a way to preserve meat and store it for a long time.
Charqui was popular on trade routes within the Inca Empire and was commonly traded by those raising camelids.
Llama jerky can be found in Argentina, though we saw it most frequently at the bus stations in Chile.
Llama meat can be prepared as a steak similarly to a beef steak. For the best way to prepare grilled meat, check out our article grilling meat like an Argentinian.
To accompany this lean meat, we recommend using Argentina’s favorite grilled meat sauce, chimichurri sauce.
AUTHENTIC FOOD QUEST RECIPE: This authentic Argentina chimichurri sauce is the perfect accompaniment for barbecue or grilled meats. Bright, tangy and easy to make at home,click and get our authentic Argentina chimichurri recipe.
Another way you can find llama meat is prepared as a burger. While not a preparation we came across while in Argentina, llama meat is a healthy and tasty substitute to beef.
Check out our Wagyu beef burger recipe for a comprehensive recipe to prepare llama meat burger. Simply substitute the wagyu beef with llama meat.
Where to Buy Llama Meat?
In the US, a few retailers do offer llama meat or alpaca meat.
You can buy these exotic meats directly from a farm. In addition to raising llamas and alpacas for their fiber, some farms also sell the meat directly to customers or restaurants.
In South America, particularly in the Andes region, llama meat has been a staple for thousands of years.
The use of llamas as a healthy source of protein is not new and is very much rooted in the local food culture.
As llama meat grows in popularity and becomes more trendy, it is worth keeping in mind its traditional origins.
A healthy alternative to beef, consider trying llama meat at least once.
Have you tried llama meat before? Please tell us in the comments which exotic meats you’ve ever tried.
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Looking for More Argentinian Local Food Experiences
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Claire, ex-engineer, is a digital nomad and content creator at Authentic Food Quest. Since 2015, with her partner, Rosemary, they travel the world in search of the best local food experiences. Their mission is to help you enjoy the best local specialties on your travels or via recipes in your home kitchen. Favorite country for food: Vietnam. Favorite local dish: Hainanese Chicken Rice. Favorite way to keep fit: Cycling. Claire is responsible for the website and the fun food & travel videos on Youtube. She is also co-author of Authentic Food Quest Argentina and Authentic Food Quest Peru, available on Amazon.