''WE have meat, meat or meat,'' cried the host at my first lunch in Buenos Aires, jovially waving a copy of the menu in the air. I said I would take the meat, and surveyed the vast steak which overlapped the plate in front of me. After that, the afternoon siesta was blissfully welcome. A couple of nights later, another friend took me to one of the popular barbecue restaurants in the city centre, where a chef stands just inside the front window tending what appears to be a campfire, and where great sides of meat hang from a metal ring, cooking gently. We ordered what was described as ''a selection for two'' and, for US$22, were presented with what looked like a medieval banquet: a huge sizzling trestle stacked with cuts of beef, pork, veal, goat, chicken, liver and kidneys. A day or so later, on a farm a hundred kilometres or so from Buenos Aires, the farmer had laid on a modest barbecue lunch. We had a fat Argentinian sausage, pungent and smoky, and lamb loin rolled with garlic and herbs. There was a great sheet of beef ribs, and then a rueful groan went up as the farmer's son dragged in a whole side of pork from the glowing fire outside. Washed down with several bottles of a fine red wine and the ubiquitous gassy mineral water the Argentinians take with all meals to aid digestion, the lunch stretched on into late afternoon. Yet it would be a mistake to imagine that vast meat dishes are all you will get during a visit to Argentina. Travel to the high plains, the mountains and valleys of the northwest, and especially to the commercial and cultural centre of San Miguel de Tucuman, and you are able to find traditional Andean cooking, which has survived practically unaltered for 1,000 years. Here, the staple foods are maize, beans, potatoes and peppers and meat takes a surprising back seat, especially in the remoter villages. But, as you come down nearer to the main highways and urban centres, you will find some wonderful casseroles of lamb and kid, easier to raise in this somewhat barren region than cattle. In the southern part of the country, meanwhile, along the coasts and the flat lands of Patagonia, you will find blood-pudding, and stews and sausages made from liver and fat, and cooked in the ashes of an open fire. Game fishing is one of the country's favourite sports, and good fish dishes can be found in the restaurants in most of the provincial towns. Nonetheless, it is beef for which the country is most famous, and the first cows - a herd of about 500 head - were brought in by the Garay expedition, which founded Buenos Aires in 1580. The endless plains proved ideal for cattle breeding but, until the invention of meat-packing plants and refrigerator ships, leather was the main product from all that livestock. All that meat begs to have good wine to accompany it and the wines of Mendoza are excellent. It seems that the vine was first introduced via Chile in 1556 but, until recently, wine-making was regarded as being a cottage industry. Now the instruction of famous varietals such as Cabernet-Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Chardonnay and Riesling has given Argentina a fine wine-making base. Although Argentinian wines have still to be seen in Hongkong in any volume, when they do arrive we are in for a treat.