I do a lot of thinking about food, and not just thinking either; I do a lot of eating too. You might say that, when I am confronted with food, putting theory into practice is the work of a moment. Now that we’re in a new city, there are absorbing new tastes, eating habits and meal-preparation considerations. It is no exaggeration to say that, for the last four weeks, most of my brain has been occupied with what to put in my stomach and how. Here are some preliminary field observations*.
*Disclaimer: most of these observations are probably wrong.
Yes, Argentina is famous for steak etc. The rumors are true.
Cute Fruit and Vegetable Shops
These are better than supermarkets for getting fresh stuff, especially when it comes to avocados or ‘paltas’. There is one on practically every block. Not only is the merchandise cheap, it is arranged in a visually appealing style.
Inexplicable Lack of Can Openers
Argentinians apparently have some special method of getting inside of cans. The useful pull-tab is found on only a few canned products. All I could find after weeks of scouring supermarket aisles and dedicated kitchen stores was this thing.
After several minutes of experiment, I came within a whisker of unintentional seppuku and desisted. As a result we have now eight unopened cans. Conclusion: locals use their teeth or they carry sharpened daggers in their vests.
This local brand is really good. It tastes chocolatey and will have you striding the calle pushing slow people out of the way for several hours.
Where are all the refried beans? For God’s sake, the only salsa I could find was made in Germany!
I knew there would be pizzerias here, considering the huge wave of Italian immigration. But the northern influence is more pervasive and has even mutated in heretical ways.
For example, I thought vitello di tonno was something limited to northern Italy. Imagine my surprise at seeing huge vats of it at the supermarket around the corner. It is also sold in convenient plastic pouches, like mayonnaise. There are even signs here and there for agnolotti, the lamb-filled ravioli that I also thought was peculiar to Piedmont. It just goes to show.
Cheeses are created along the lines of Italian counterparts but the taste is noticeably different. Fontina in Italy has a particular kind of nutty sweetness, possibly related to the cows’ diet of Alpine grasses and flowers; what is called fontina here is mild with holes in it and comparatively sour. Mozzarella (often called ‘muzzarella’ seems milkier and more formless.
One of the most popular sandwiches here is the ‘Milanesa’, referring to a breaded chicken fillet. You can even get ‘Milanesa a la Napolitana’
Some things are called Italian without a strict adherence to facts. For example there are pasta varieties here that I never saw in La Patria, particularly a dubious bright-yellow corkscrew-cord-type thing. My favorite yoghurt is supposedly ‘Italian style’, but I doubt it The secret of its tastiness is that it’s half mascarpone, half Greek yoghurt, half sugar and has chunks of orange and pistachio in it.
Also, [WARNING: any native Italians should not read this paragraph], I had a plate of spaghetti at a restaurant that gave me an odd feeling of nostalgia. The pasta was mushy and the abundant sauce had a ketchupy flavor. I realized that it tasted just like the old New Zealand staple, Wattie’s tinned spaghetti, which is best enjoyed on buttered toast.
Empanadas are Just Meat Pies
Soy is Argentina’s Main Cash Crop
Argentina is Europe’s single largest supplier of soya-bean meal. This is something I didn’t know but find quite interesting. The economy depends on GM soy, which is problematic because a) climate change is threatening the crops, which would make the country’s bad economic situation much worse and b) extensive deforestation of the Gran Chaco in favor of soy crops is creating environmental havoc. Interestingly, Argentina has fewer regulations than its northern neighbor Brazil, so that no one knows what per cent of soya beans are grown as a result of deforestation.