Merienda is a light afternoon meal that tides Argentineans over to dinner time. There isn’t a set time but any time between 4 and 5 pm is the norm. Our Spanish and Italian acnestors introduced this tradition. Merendar is the verb that derives from merienda, but we usually say tomar la merienda.
Merienda is especially popular with school children. In Argentina, most schools have two shifts, morning and afternoon. Those children who attend school in the morning go back home in time for lunch. And those who go to school in the afternoon, usually from 1 to 5, go home ravenously hungry and expect their snack as soon as they arrive. And sometimes they bring their friends but they usually warn their mothers beforehand. Americans call it after-school snack, the Brits call it tea.
A traditional merienda consists of café con leche or mate and baked items like croissants or facturas or even a sandwich. Yogurt and fruit are also popular, as are cookies. Merienda is not too different from breakfast. Mothers know what their children like to eat and try to cater to their preferences. Because most children drink milk, it is usual to hear mums call “¡A tomar la leche!” when the afternoon snack is ready.
Growing up, we used to eat the usual coffee and toast or cookies, maybe even leftover birthday cake. That was a special treat. One of my favourite memories is the time I was five or six and my mum made cheese on toast for my sister and me for the first time. I absolutely loved it: the crunch of the toast under the gooey, melty, buttery cheese. The fact that I was allowed to eat it in her bedroom, where I was watching TV, was a surprise.
Some cafes offer merienda combos, which involve a huge amount of food like the one I had at Las Violetas.