Buenos Aires: Regional Dishes
Eating in Buenos Aires
Lic. Manuel Mora y Araujo
Successive waves of gastronomic cultures modified the eating habits of the inhabitants of Buenos Aires where the locals are known as porteños. During the times of La Gran Aldea (The big Village) the criolla society would eat what they had been eating during the colony. In this society, the first big change was introduced by the stockbreeding revolution that took place in the Argentine pampas during the second half of the 19th century. This was the time when beef, of a quality not previously known, earned its place on the family table.
The second wave would arrive soon with the immigrants. In a few years, Spanish and Italians-who almost doubled the native population-introduced new products and new ways of eating. These two migrations impregnated the gastronomic culture of Buenos Aires for a century. Old habits mixed with new ingredients and costumes. Italians introduced pizza and pizzerias- which were the porteño fast food for a long time. Beef (the best in the world) reigned as the imperial seal. Milanesa con papas fritas (French fries) was the everyday food for the middle class (where in the world could you possibly eat a bola de lomo (back quarter cut) or rump escalope, a King’s delicacy, as an everyday food for the price of sausage?). Pastas were incorporated in the diet and the “green” ingredients occupied their place as well.
Old habits remained, but not the old ingredients. The criollo dishes were left aside or pushed into the background to the “regional” category. The concept of “well cooked or done” as synonym of “reliable” remained as opposite of “raw”-not safe, imprudent. For decades, the best beef in the world was eaten as well cooked as if it was wild; pasta was homemade and eaten really soft (not al dente). Food was never very spicy, avoiding ingredients that were “bad for the liver”, but food was abundant so people would eat in huge quantities, even at the most humble tables. The construction workers would surprise visitors with their rib barbecues grilled in front of everybody. The common table wine was drunk in every home-with sparkling water- and in amazing quantities (in the 50’s there are records that show the consumption was similar to France).
There were many restaurants but not good ones. Going out for dinner consisted of having just a steak, sans sophistications. At the Plaza Hotel you could eventually find some French style food or some local creations such as revuelto de gramajo or matambre atorrante. At Tropezón restaurant, one could have the “pucherete” that is mentioned in the tango. At La Emiliana, you could enjoy squid in the Lyonese style. The truth is that food in Buenos Aires triumphed not by its refinement but for its ingredients. It is written that General De Gaulle arrived in these lands and was honored with an opulent asado. He commented “good meat but without any gastronomic interest”.
During this second wave, Buenos Aires was remarkable for a feature that still persists: good food reachable by everyone or almost everyone; the best quality-price relationship, the nice average restaurants, modern and popular. The top restaurants did not compete with the better worldwide restaurants, but the average restaurant was unbeatable. This fact is still the same.
So, the new wave arrived and it came together with globalization. With the new winds, porteños got used to light lunches; we learnt to think about the scales and peoples taste diversified: Chinese restaurants started to fill the city; tacos appeared shortly thereafter and even sushi. Then Chefs came on stage introducing self created food (de autor) - and nice wines appeared to accompany the meal (table wines started to disappear and were replaced by beer).
And the unthinkable happened: porteños discovered Italian restaurants “like in New York”, we learnt to eat dry al dente pasta, we found out there are other sauces apart from tuco (filetto) and a couple of fish shops taught us to eat fish. And we started to enjoy our steak rare, immeasurably red which is still the best in the world and is the emblematic seal of Buenos Aires food.
Chimichurri is a sauce that accompanies meat and, curiously, has an English etymology. It seems that when English landowners had lunch, they told the laborers to pass them the dressing as follows: “give me curry.” As a result, natives came to use the word “chimichurri” as the seasoning for meat.
1 head of garlic
1 tablespoon oregano
1 cup wine vinegar
3 tbsp. oil
1 tbsp. red pepper
1 bay leaf
3 cups hot water
1 tbsp. coarse salt
Mix 4 chopped cloves of garlic with oregano, oil, red pepper, salt, and pepper in a bowl. Sprinkle with very hot water. Add vinegar gradually. Place preparation in a bottle, and seal it airtight. Store in a cool place and shake before serving.
Milanesa Napolitana (Neapolitan Breaded Meat)
Despite its name, this is a Buenos Aires dish that was created in a restaurant located near Luna Park Stadium, all thanks to a fortuitous event.
Ingredients (4 servings):
500 gr. beef round steak
500 gr. breadcrumbs
1 sprig of parsley
1 clove of garlic
200 gr. tomato sauce
250 gr. fresh cheese
1 tsp. oregano
Salt and pepper to taste
Clean and cut the round steak into thin slices. Chop the garlic and parsley, mix them with the eggs, salt, pepper, and beat. Pass the slices of meat through the mixture, and coat in breadcrumbs.
Place the milanesas on a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes at a moderate temperature. Flip them over midway through cooking and cover with a tablespoon of tomato sauce and diced fresh cheese.
Remove, sprinkle with oregano, and serve.
Puchero de Falda (Beef Brisket Stew)
This brisket stew is the Creole dish par excellence. It is the legitimate son of Madrid stew and was a preferred dish during colonial times.
Ingredients (4 servings):
1 kg. beef brisket
1 kg. cross-cut veal shank
2 blood sausages
250 gr. bacon
1 cup chickpeas
1 stalk of celery
2 ears of corn
1 head white cabbage
Salt to taste
Boil 4 liters of salted water in a high pot. Boil the cross-cut veal shank; skim. Add the onions and whole peeled carrots, stalks of leeks, celery stalk and the pepper cut into quarters and without seeds.
Once brought to a boil, add beef brisket and cook for approximately 50 minutes. Stir in corn, peeled potatoes, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin.
Cook the previously-soaked chickpeas aside.
In a third pan, cook cabbage with the chorizos, blood sausages and bacon. When ready, serve the meat and, in a separate dish, the vegetables. Serve with Creole sauce.