Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Food of Buenos Aires

First off, I apologize about the long post…once I get started talking about food, it’s hard to stop.  We have been eating like kings since we arrived in Buenos Aires.  Even when cooking at our apartment, the availability of fresh pastas and great meat has made cooking easy and delicious.  When not eating at home, we’ve been trying to experience all the specialties of Buenos Aires.  Here are a few of the classics (all available in our neighborhood):

Parrillas ( translates to Mike’s died and gone to heaven)
When you think of Argentina, you think of thick, juicy grass feed beef.  Well, a parrilla is the place to get one!  A parrilla is a simple iron grill barbecue, but also describes a type of restaurant that serves meat on these grills.  Parrillas are everywhere in Buenos Aires.  When ordering, you can get a variety of different dishes with steak, etc, but the ultimate parrilla experience is ordering a “parrillada” or mixed grill.  Our first experience with a parrillada was at a restaurant near our home called Las Cabras.  When we arrived, I wasn’t too hungry and we were looking to save money so we decided to split the parrillada which cost 88 pesos (roughly $20).  Being naïve, we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.  Our first clue…when Mike ordered, the waiter didn’t even ask if I wanted something different.  We speculated that this must mean it would be big enough for 2.  In actuality, it was big to qualify for an episode of Man vs Food.  The waiter brought out a large wooden plank with an iron grill housing a vast array of meats, some of which were a little suspect.  After consulting the internet when we got home, we realized we had probably consumed mollejas (sweetbreads - i.e. thymus, pancreas or other glands of a cow), chinchulín (intestines) and morcilla (blood sausages…yes this is what it sounds like…congealed blood stuffed into a sausage) in addition to the standard cuts of beef.

The man who says he never gets full on meat couldn't finish this dinner!

Dulce de Leche (translates to Pauline has died and gone to heaven)
Ahh, the deliciously caramel flavor of dulce de leche…where do I start!  Since arriving, we’ve had dulce de leche ice cream quite a few times.  I consider it a staple of my diet down here.  Dulce de leche is basically a thick, caramel-like milk-based sauce.  You can buy it here in a jar, but my personal preference is definitely ice cream.  Dulce de leche is also the center filling of a very popular Argentine treat: Alfajores.  Alfajores are apparently found in the Middle East and Spain in a slightly different form, but here consist of two round sweet cookies joined together with dulce de leche.  Some are even coated with chocolate.  Delicious!!

On left: Enjoying dulce de leche ice cream on our street (yes, we have an ice cream parlor in walking distance from our apt...dangerous!); On right: An alfajore

The only drink to make our list, this is definitely an acquired taste.  Made from leaves that have been dried and ground into a powdery mixture called yerba, mate can be fairly bitter (although you can add sugar).  Preparing it was a little foreign to us so we had to get a waiter to show us the correct way.  You start by adding the leaves to a hollowed out gourd (this is the traditional container for serving mate).  You then add hot water and use a bombilla (hollow metal piece that acts as both a straw and a sieve) to drink the liquid.   Mate is very popular in Argentina and we’ve seen many people sitting in parks or at cafés drinking it.  Apparently Argentines are not scared of germs as they tend to take a sip and pass it around to friends (the sip and pass can also happen with beer at bars: you order a few liters and share with your friends…no glasses provided). 
Mike drinking mate for the first time at a coffee shop type restaurant on our street.  Our own gourd, mate yerba and bombilla as we attempt to make mate at home.

Not a food unique to Argentina, but since they are available on every corner, we thought they deserved a spot on our list.  After going to many Mexican bakeries when visiting my grandparents in El Paso, I was already very familiar with empanadas.  For those of you who haven’t been lucky enough to enjoy one, empanadas are bread or pastry that is stuffed with some sort of filling.  The ones I usually have in Texas are filled with apples or pumpkin, but all the ones we’ve sampled here have been on the savory side.  The typical Argentine empanada is stuffed with carne (beef), queso (cheese), or pollo (chicken).  We like packing a few in our backpack for an afternoon snack when out on the town.  The only downside…we get a lot of attention from stray dogs!

Empanadas from bakery down the street