“What do you want to eat?”
“P-I-Z-Z-A! That’s pizza!”
“I don’t think I can take more pizza…”
“Whatever you want, guys. I’ll grab a few empanadas later.”
This is us, every night, in Argentina. With the heat, we generally don’t feel like eating pasta or having a giant piece of meat on the barbecue, no matter how tasty it is. We grab food here and there, from the supermarket, from bakeries, from simple eateries. Carrefour supermarkets are almost everywhere and it’s funny for me to see French brands in Argentina.
But no matter what we buy, the ingredients always revolve around ham, cheese and beef, anyway. The other day, I saw a carrot. I almost cried. It had been so long!
Vegetables aren’t exactly part of the Argentinian diet. They do exist, I see them in stores and occasionally mixed in an overpriced salad in restaurants. But the deli is where people line up at the supermarket, a number in their hand. “Treinta! Treinta y uno! Treinta y dos!” If you don’t pay attention, you’ll lose your turn and won’t be able to buy your pound of ham and cheese.
North America has the famous “PB&J” sandwich, Argentina goes by the initials “J-y-Q”— jamón y queso, ham and cheese. The pair can top a pizza, fill an empanada or a sandwich or be baked in a salado, bite-size savoury breads.
The food isn’t about spices, it’s about texture. By international standards, it’s quite bland—it’s salty or sweet but never spicy, sour or bitter. However, you bite into gooey cheese, enjoy the soft bread of a sandwiche de miga (thin, crustless sandwiches) or the crisp wrapping of an empanada al horno, the flaky pastries, the slightly sandy dough of many small facturas…
I’m a huge fan of empanadas that I pick up late at night. My favourite fillings? Ham and cheese, of course, but also ham and Roquefort (yes, blue cheese), acelga (chard), caprese (tomatoes, mozzarella and basil) or cebolla y queso (onion and cheese).
Argentinian empanadas are smaller than in Chile, and so are pastries, the famous facturas. They are cheap—about 50 cents each for the most common ones. Every bakery usually has an assortment of croissant-dough pastries topped or filled with a spoonful of jam, cream or dulce de leche, masas secas (buttery cookies) you buy by weight, slices of cake and salados (savoury breads). The traditional cookie is the alfajore, a sandwich cookie filled with dulce de leche but I’d say medialunas (croissant) is the second favourite.
Surprisingly, this time, I haven’t seen many people drinking the traditional yerba mate, the traditional infused drink. Maybe it’s too hot?