Now I’m going to talk about the land of empanadas. I adore Argentine food. As you may have guessed, I’m a huge fan of their empanadas. For those of you unfamiliar with it, empanadas are like stuffed meat pies. There are many different fillings from beef, chicken, BBQ varieties of meat, blue cheese, goat cheese, and many more. You can find them all over Latin America but I’m very partial to the ones in Argentina because they are baked. I’m not fond of fried food (French fries and fried plantains being exceptions).
So every trip to Buenos Aires has included several stops to empanada shops. On my first trip to Buenos Aires, while I was living there, I remember eating a Roquefort cheese empanada. I had gotten it fresh and forgot the cardinal rule about hot cheese: it’s really hot and gooey. So I burned my mouth, and got a huge grease stain on my only scarf, but it was totally worth it. My other fond memory was of this little restaurant named El Sanjuanino with lovely tiles in Recoleta. I remember having a three or four empanadas there. And the waiter made fun of me for ordering a Coke. (Something I only do when I’m overseas).
Two years ago, when I was in Buenos Aires, I was determined to have empanadas during my short time there. I was with a group so these things are made more complicated. But one night when we had free time, I asked the hotel for a nearby place. It was pouring at that point so the hotel recommended delivery. I couldn’t let myself do delivery to a hotel so I asked for directions. I walked there in sheets of rain during a magnificent thunderstorm. I found the little shop where I was the only customer (everyone else was doing takeout or delivery). I earned those empanadas.
So this trip was all about the empanadas. Any opportunity I had, I sought them out. I went back to El Sanjuanino for dinner of empanadas. I had a wonderful mozzarella and tomato one and a corn one. Very tasty but the service left something to be desired. I’d go back though.
On my last day, I went to a lunch place near Calle Florida. It was mostly an Italian restaurant but they also served empanadas. I got mine to go. It was impressive watching the man behind the counter handle all the different orders coming in over. He had to handle pizzas and empanadas to take away, delivery, and for in-house diners in numerous combinations. He reminded me a bit of the coal spirit, Kamaji, from Spirited Away. I ordered my beloved Roquefort with celery and two other meat based empanadas. I ate them standing up. It was perfect.
For those of you who want to try empanadas here in Chicago, 5411 Empanadas on Clark near Diversey is wonderful. They started as a food truck and opened a brick and mortar a few years ago. The Chicago Reader just named them the Best Food Truck of 2014. They are really good. My favorite is the goat cheese, bacon and date empanada. There is also Lito’s, further south on Clark. They are not Argentine and are fried but they can be good.
One of my newly discovered foods on this trip was octopus. I’ve tried it before but I had found it rather chewy and generally unpleasant. It wasn’t worth the effort. However, we went to Marcelo Restaurante, a nice Italian restaurant (mind you, Argentina had a lot of Italian immigrants), where we ordered octopus. It was incredible. I’m not sure what the style was, perhaps Mediterranean or Sicilian, but it was perfectly done. It was not chewy at all. It didn’t quite melt in my mouth like a great steak but it was damn close.
So finally I’ll get to the food that Argentina is known for: beef. This is the land of beef and leather. Some of the best steaks I’ve ever had were in Buenos Aires. Also, it’s not really a land of vegetables. At least in my experience. Sadly, I never had a truly magnificent steak on this trip. It wasn’t for lack of trying. But none of the steaks I had melted in my mouth. Or were able to be cut with a spoon. The closest was the steak at the Gaucho Fiesta that I previously mentioned. Just means I’ll have to go back.
Argentina is also known for its gelato. There are lots of gelato shops around the city and they are still popular during the winter. We found a shop near the hotel that we must have gone to at least three of the five nights we were there. I always got dulce de leche gelato. It was just the right amount of sweetness.
In addition to empanadas, my other favorite Argentine food is alfajores. An alfajor is composed of at least two cookies stuck together with a sweet substance, like dulce de leche or jam. They can be covered in chocolate or powdered sugar. They are magnificent. You can buy them with candy bars at kiosks, drugstores, and more. My favorite shop is named Havana that serves more upscale alfajores. I personally love their powdered sugar with jam one.
That’s all for now!