Archives for posts with tag: argentina

Street food mecca! Empanadas…my favorite. Must figure out how to recreate. The crust remains a little doughy, by some magic bakers trick…or maybe because they sit on a hot plate all day until getting popped in the microwave before consumption. Either way, perfection. Available with all kinds of fillings, most commonly, as one empanada-hawker put it in English for me: chicken, vegetables, or meat. Go for meat. Chopped beef (not ground, usually) with onions, olives, and hard-boiled eggs. Mmmm. Also in the parade of street food: choripan (chorizo + pan…sausage n’ bread. I never had one, but Momma was a big fan), steak sammiches (of course), fresh OJ (which they had everywhere, for less than a glass of crap reconstituted OJ here…I drank A LOT of juice…), mega-sweet, mega-good fruit salads, popcorn, caramelized nuts (peanuts and/or almonds made on the spot, a hot copper pot swirled with sugar and vanilla and a splash of water to coat the nuts in crystal sweetness…you get drawn in by the burnt sugar smell and next thing you know you’re all hypnotized, handing over crumpled pesos for a little plastic bag of nuts…), cake (food stand, with stacks and stacks of decadently decorated cakes…tres leches, towering chocolate cakes, cakes coated in sliced strawberries…and hordes of people standing around the stand, shoving bites of cake into their happy mouths while they balance the enormous slice on a wobbly paper plate), and these awesome little grilled tortillas, still doughy inside, charred on the outside.

Mate, it’s for reals. It’s not just for the sweet oldies clinging onto the way it was, not at all. Everyone, all mate, all the time. (Supplemented by a hearty number of cafe cortados though, of course.) Mate cup/gourd, bombilla, thermos of hot water, pack of mate- necessary at all times. Packed into specially designed mate packs, or minimalist-style thermos tucked under the arm, mate in hand, or even jammed in the baby stroller cup holder. There are ultra-fancy gilded, hammered silver gourds, campy little painted ones, pretty little wooden ones, hip little silicone ones. Mate tradition seems strangely a  bit similar to the call to prayer–albeit sans-religion–a little break from the day’s work to reunite with your friends, maybe have a small snack, chat, sit on the curb, you know. Though we had the burnt-sugar mate at Casa Feliz, we never took part in the full on mate sipping deal. It felt a little…intrusive, tourist-posing-as-mega-cultural-traveler, Lonely Planet momenty to buy ourselves a mate set up and mimic all the cool Argentinians.

Produce in Argentina is muy fascinante. As far as I could tell, it comes from like, you know, farms. Farm-wooden crate-truck-bodega. And while big ol’ supermarkets are scanty, specific shops (carnecerias, fruterias, etc.) litter the city along with a mass of bodegas. But whereas an American bodega would have maybe a couple unripe bananas and some carrot sticks packaged with ranch, every bodega has a substansial little produce corner, run by someone entirely different than the shop a lot of the times. Buy your Quilmes and soap at the register, then cross the store to pick out some slightly dented duranzos and bunched arugula, a couple shining eggplants and a bag of oranges for juicing from the produce man hunched over a mini tv behind his wares, yelling at the Boca Juniors. Who knows if it was organic or sustainable or whatever–it’s accessible and plentiful, real vegetables and beautiful fruits available on every street corner! (And how badly did I want a battered old produce crate? Very, very, very badly. And the one place I documented they had plastic ones, of course)

And…tango. It’s delightful. And legit, everyone seems to know at least a little tango. We happened to be in Buenos Aires for “Noche en Vela” or Sleepless Night, a big big night of hundreds of art/music/cultural events all across the city. Cafes filled to the brim with people pressing their ears against stone walls in an attempt to hear the strains of a famous flamenco band, the giant obelisk in the center of town became a massive canvas for a flashy light show, and a whole busy street was blocked off, crowned with a stage for a tango band, the street itself full of swaying couples, some impressively talented, sweeping each other around amongst the gawkers, some just sweetly fumbling through the steps before taking a break for a small sip of mate.

 

Argentina = Beef. Cow-eating capital of the universe. BEEF people, beef. In a big way. More parillas than one could really begin to count, the smell of charcoal smoke and deliciously burning animal fat waft into the streets of Buenos Aire, drawing in hordes for great slabs of beef and platters of papas fritas. The bony asado, with ribs far larger than any American cut, the dinosaur bones laced with fatty meat and overlaid with a triangular strip of charcoaled beef. The run of the mill lomo de bife, as far as we can tell, a tenderloin, available at charismatic corner cafes, white table cloth restaurants, and shoved between two hunks of white bread from a choripan hawker on a busy street. Matambre, a flavorfully stringy skirt steak best dunked in oily criollo. And the ojo de bife, ribeye, which we never tried, too enamored with the garden-variety lomo.

Somehow the sweaty meat-meister comes across totally regal.

The parilla is a bit of a scene, what seem like whole sides of cows hoisted up over smoky charcoal flames, the beef master tending his meat, turning sides of ribs around and shuffling sizzling links of chorizo. You can’t help but get drawn in, ordering a pound or so of cow despite the fact that you just slammed six sugary media lunas. The meat always arrives alone, when you order steak, you get a. steak. No dressing, no side, no drizzling of god forsaken truffle oil. Delightfully, deliciously simple. Metal mixing bowls of fried potatoes or leafy salads are passed around, hot oily potatoes mingled with garlic the perfect side to beef the world ’round.

And maybe it was just my charcoal-smoke-hazed mind full of images of grass-grazing Pampas cows, but the beef is dang good.

And… there are many new photos! Including (but not limited to) clown portraits.

Pumpkin raviloi (which were pink) in Bolognese sauce, “salad” of rice, ground beef, onions, and boiled egg, and a another “salad” of rice, peas, and canned tuna. Argentine bar food at our ancient local bar, El Federal.

Street empanadas. Sweet gift of the gods. Literally every single cafe, street corner, even serious restaurant, has these babies.

Caramelized figs on a stick, shoved into  bag of hot kettle corn. I can work with that.

Chefs! Funny chefs.

Casa Felix is pretty aptly named… It’s Diego Felix’s house. Just about opposite of the mass of spilling-onto-the-sidewalk cafes and hamburger slinging food carts in Buenos Aires, Casa Felix is a closed-door pescatarian restaurant, serving one beautiful meal to twelve guests just three nights a week. Past busy Palermo, Casa Feliz is marked by a glowing door and the somewhat apprehensive diners gathering around it at 9:30, wondering if they’re at the right spot, only to be happily welcomed in by Diego himself, ushered through a lovely home decorated with bright flowers and soft light, through a working kitchen with a very full spice rack, back into a sweet garden patchworked with herbs and gravel.

Little glasses of caipirinha arrived, the mojito’s complex cousin made with herbs from the tree above us. The rest of the guests trickled in and we milled around the dark garden admiring the plants, the garden, the house, the concept, the whole city. A tray of northern Argentinian cheese wrapped in chayote leaves (…from said garden) drenched in dark chamar syrup presented itself and was quickly cleared, the soft salty cheese in love with the fibrous leaves and sweet palm-sugary syrup. A return diner said his previous Casa Felix meal was one of the best in his lifetime…a certain good looking movie star who may have played Che Guevara arrived… (!!!) excitement built.

We chatted with Diego about his restaurant, which is the principal bit of a bigger project. He and his wife and sous chef do cooking tours in the States, bringing the closed-door dining concept with them, taking over people’s kitchens and producing wonderful meals with local ingredients. The local/organic trend is pretty different in Argentina, Diego and a couple other locals explained. While lots of small farmers are probably growing close to organic produce, its difficult to get certified, so produce may or may not be organic, it’s hard to say. Plus, perhaps there just isn’t quite the same market for the Whole Foods mentality here in the nation of sausage-sandwich lovers. Argentina seems to be somewhat unique in the fact that it’s really self-sustained, all the produce eaten here is grown here. The meat is raised here, the chairs made here, the pencils made here- everythings stamped with “Industria Argentina.” So in that sense the local food/goods mentalty is already somewhat established. But Casa Felix takes it way more local, using fresh pungent herbs from the backyard, making oil from the flowers of the tree down the street. The four days of the week they aren’t hosting dinner, they’re gardening, out meeting producers, introducing them to new seeds. Soon we moved inside, the eight of us seated around one big table. Soft brown bread (so unlike the hard white rolls native to Argentina) and white bean pate was set in front of us, but veterans warned us to save room. After a bit more chatting (and champagne) our first course arrived: chipas over green beans and arugula with salsa criollo. Hot crusty cheesy breads stuffed with salty fontina over sauteed green beans and bright green herbs, with a lighter interpretation of a common steak topping here; salsa criollo, diced onions and tomatoes in oil. The next course another play on an Argentine classic; an oyster mushroom and almond empanada over the season’s last tomatoes, a couple beets, and some light pea sprouts.

A world apart from the street empanada wrapped in paper and stuffed with hot beef, yet still prepared with the same crimpy edges, the same soft dough. Oyster mushrooms are heaven on their own, but with the texture of the almonds and the tang of the tomatoes…oh my. To calm us down from this food bliss, a little intermezza, tiny glasses of cold melon granita, lightly sweet and a welcome break from the complex meal. Then on to the main course! Calamari shepherd’s pie over beans and red pepper sauce, with a few slices of grilled zucchinis. Diego explained the mixed Peruvian and Argentine roots of the dish, and we all got a little quieter as we awed at how something could taste this good. An inbetween polenta and potato pie, topped with a smack of brulee-d sugar, holding inside a handful of perfectly prepared tentacles, over soft beans and just spicy-enough red pepper sauce.

Unexpected, this pairing of earthy shephard’s pie with sea-faring squid, and further yet with smoky red pepper sauce and charcoaled zucchinis. But perfect! Later on dessert arrived, plum and peach galettes with an oatmeal crust, over a spoonfull of sticky black currant sauce, topped with chocolate ice cream. The ice cream melted into the galette, every bite holding the sugary sweetness of the chocolate, the brightness of the late-season fruit, and the crunch of the oatmeal pastry. And finally, little cups of mate cocido- the mate burnt with sugar, creating a dark, sweet, caramelly drink just tasting ever so slightly of mate. By this time it was midnight, but we lingered for at least an hour longer, chatting with our new food-friends, a little bond created over this shared meal. The closed-door restaurant is a special thing, bringing the loveliness of a meal at home even further into the restaurant world than family-style restaurants have done. We all have the same plates, the same tastes, but different reactions to the food, different backgrounds and commentary on the parade of gorgeous courses. And Casa Felix is an extra-special thing, with their bountiful garden, their world tours, their combination of Argentine tradition and modern flavors, their cozy dining room and open kitchen. A lovely meal in a new favorite city.