From Empanadas to Crustless Bread Sandwiches
Whenever I travel, I like to find the little nuances of life that differ from what I’m used to here at home (Chicago). I love to compare the foodways of other cultures to my own and imagine myself growing up in another country. I guess you could call it a hobby I’ve taken up in the albeit spontaneous traveling I’ve been doing lately. It makes me incredibly grateful to have such opportunities to expand my horizons.
For example, did you know that in Argentina the stoplights turn yellow before turning green? Me either! Or that almost all the cars driven there are stick shift, and even when you have 8 lanes going one direction on a highway…that’s still not enough to not justify squeezing in between cars and creating 12 lanes of cars driving practically on top of eachother (Yea, the driving was a little bit crazy there. At one point, I compared it to New York and my friend laughed at me for making the understatement of the century).
But more important than anything car-related, there were certainly some interesting foods I came across. Some were what I expected…others were hardly expected at all. From empanadas to crustless bread sandwiches, below is an itinerary of just some of the foods (and drinks) I discovered in Argentina.
The first on the list is probably the most predictable: empanadas. A mini sort of calzone typically stuffed with ground beef, vegetables or cheese, they make a perfect snack or meal accompaniment. In fact, after a 16 hour bus ride to Iguazu, we arrived at our hostel greeted by a fully stocked bar and a case full of empanadas. I handed over 2 Argentinean pesos for a vegetable empanada and devoured every delicious bit in about…2 minutes. I’m not the type of person who likes snack food. Pretzels, cookies, crackers, they only go so far. I usually crave something warm and more filling…so for all fo these reasons, I am starting to believe I was destined to discover empanadas. Pictured above are two ground beef empanadas served as an appetizer at our tango dinner show.
Another traditional food that I read about before visiting Argentina but hadn’t heard of beforehand was Provoletta, defined as a grilled piece of provolone cheese and often eaten as an appetizer. Frankly, the idea of a grilled slice of provolone cheese did not excite me too much, but dedicated food blogger that I am knew I had to try it before passing any sort of judgment. And I’m glad I did!
Gooey and melty and decorated with herbs, I could certainly see why it was so popular. It was probably the best preparation of provolone cheese I’ve ever been exposed to, seeing as how I usually equate provolone cheese with my Jimmy Johns sandwiches. But seeing as how it was a cheese appetizer, I had a natural inclination to compare it to the Greek version: saganaki. For some reason, this feels a lot heavier than saganaki. I always find myself wanting more saganaki but with the provoletta, one piece was just enough to enjoy. In the photo above, the waiter is dividing the cheese into three pieces.
On another note, have you ever went shopping as a tourist and totally fallen for the little chochkys they pawn off as their country’s tradition? Yes, often they have something to do with their heritage, but more often than not those tourist souvenirs don’t have much to do with day to day life (or so it seems). Well at first, that’s what I thought the mate was going to be. A small pumpkin carved out and embellished with a metal top and made for drinking tea, these things were sold everywhere and labelled as part of Argentinean tradition. Sold with a blend of yerba mate tea (which I had heard of) and a grinding stick/straw, you’re supposed to let the tea steep, grind it and sip with the straw right out of the pumpkin.
And much to my surprise, tons of Argentineans drank out of mates. Everywhere we went, be it a merchant on the street or our Iguazu Extreme tourguide, someone was toting their mate and drinking some yerba mate tea for kicks. I planned to try some for myself, but unfortunately I never got around to it. Perhaps I’ll buy some yerba mate here and report back.
Last, but certainly not least, and something I would never have expected: Crustless Bread Sandwiches were all the rage.
Literally just a sandwich made with crustless bread, these things made appearances on menus all over Buenos Aires. My friends and I couldn’t understand the principle behind the crustless bread sandwich, until one day we just caved in and order ourselves some (at Cafe Tortoni, no less). Our minds were swarming with questions: Does someone sit there and peel all the crust off the bread or does it come like this? Who’s idea was this in the first place? In an American restaurant, if we asked for a sandwich without the crust, I’m fairly certain we’d get kicked out.
But regardless, crustless bread sandwiches made for a pretty decent snack. I ordered one with roquefort cheese and nuts, while my friend ordered ham and pineapple. I eventually tired of too much roquefort cheese (they give you 4 pieces of a three layered sandwich!) but all in all, they were soft and fluffy, and frankly…exactly what we expected them to be.
That’s all for this installment of my Argentinean escapades, hope you’re learning as much as I did while abroad!