Monday, February 4, 2013

The Meat of the Matter

Okay you foodies out there, this one is for you! Let`s be honest, food is one of the joys of travel. Well, food also plays an important role in the families of Argentina. It is common for Argentines to socialize over an asado (barbeque) and as we know, Argentina is famous for their beef. Cows were first brought to Argentina in 1536 by the Spanish conquistadors. The cattle thrived when fed on the lucious grass of the humid pampas. Beef soon became a major part of the culture due to the guachos of the pampas.  

Parillas are restaurants that grill meat over an open fire. They serve side dishes like a mixed green salad or french fries but the main attraction is meat, cuts of all kind. The portions are huge but we have discovered that it is perfectly acceptable to order one steak and one mixta salad to compartir (share).
                                          The parrilla at La Candelaria restaurant in Salta

Salad Mixta

Many Argentines can trace their heritage back to Italy particularly in the Mendoza and Buenos Aires area. So, it is not surprising to see pasta as a major food group in Argentina. Pizzerias can be found most everywhere. A popular pasta  is a "sorrentino"  filled with  ham, mozzarella and ricotta cheese shaped like a sombrero.

A plate of Sorrentino pasta

Dulce de leche is made from cow`s milk and is a carmel color spread that is translated as "milk jam". It is used as a spread on pancakes, toast or to fill pastries or cakes. We saw ladies selling their home made jars of dulce de leche in the remote areas we traveled. It is found in every store. Even in the US this flavor is gaining ground. Haagen-Dazs now has a dulce de leche ice cream and Starbucks a dulce de leche coffee drink! I guess this is a good example of how food cultures begin to blend together.
Jars of Dulce de Leche
Pastries at a roadside coffee shop 
When we toured the south of Argentina a previous trip, we found the influence of  the German culture impacted Argentinian cuisine. The media lunes (half moons or crescent roll dipped in a sweet glaze) come from the German "Halbmond". The German pastries and torta fritas were Argentinized by the addition of the dulce de leche filling. These are served every single morning for breakfast everywhere in the country north or south!

Breakfast Media lunes and Alfajores served at the Loi Suite Hotel in Iguazu
Alfajores are a sweet biscuit filled with dulce de leche and are served as an accompaniment to a cup of coffee anytime of day. In Bariloche (northern lake district) the Swiss chocolatiers are hard at work. We have often had chocolates brought to our room in the evening even in Salta. The cafe con leche each morning rivals anything Starbucks can brew. And of course who wouldn`t want ice cream in summer? The ice cream is so delicious....especially the dulce de leche flavor! (Are you getting my theme?)

Cafe con leche served at the KKala Hotel in Salta

In the north (Salta), we have enjoyed the high andean cuisine that uses local products of  lamb, goat, llama, rabbit, mushrooms, quinoa (an ancient Andean grain), corn, tamales, sweet potatoes and the like.  The restaurant in the Hotel Ameria takes some of these ancient ingredients to new heights with Chef Rita Blanquez presiding over the kitchen at Restaurant Darrical.  She blends the new with the old.... the fresh shrimp comes from Buenos Aires and I doubt the Incas had ice cream!

     A timbale of quinoa and vegetables with a seafood pesto sauce 

Almond ice cream served on baby green eggplant stewed in a sugar syrup

Pork bondiola served with a red wine demi glaze and a timbale of Andean Squash with pistachios 

PRICES:  We shared the meal pictured above at the Restaurant Darrical in Salta and our entire bill was $35 including a bottle of Don David Cabernet and bottled water. The portions were generous.  At the Restaurant Azafran in Mendoza our dinner bill was $95 for one salad to share, one goat filled ravioli dish, one skirt steak, one coconut flan, wine and water. We noticed the price of empanadas on the menu was $3 apiece. Prices are much higher in Mendoza!

Ah yes.....the empanada. You have to thank the Spanish for this one! It is said that the empanadas from Salta are the best in the country and I agree. They are filled with cubed meat, minced  potato, egg, scallion, cumin and cayenne pepper. The girl at our hotel tells me that her family gathers every Sunday for empanadas. Nothing else on the menu, just a variety of empanadas filled with meat, chicken or cheese. (They cost about 75 cents apiece)
The empanadas we ate for a quick lunch in the square at Salta 

When I first came to Argentina, I expected to eat meat everyday. But there really is so much more to experience.  The trout has been delicious and we have found local fish in most every town. Admittedly, some good and some not so good.  

Delicious river trout served to us at a restaurant in the square at Cachi.

One of our taxi drivers yesterday was laughing at a Portena customer (person from Buenos Aires) who was outraged that he could not find salmon on any menu in Salta. Our taxi driver told him that if he wanted salmon to go to Chile!  The first rule of travel: when in Rome do as the Romans do. Yes, it is okay to share a steak, but do NOT ask for salmon in Salta, ask for goat instead! Gail

1 comment:

Tanya said...

I love empanadas and have fond memories of making them, along with tortillas de huevos y papas, and ninyokis (not sure of the spelling) Great blog Gail, made my mouth water! Home cooking is pretty great too. My first asado was out of a fireplace in a back yard visit. So fun, but a little scary because I didn't know half of what I was eating! Nice presentations!