Tuesday, April 01, 2008

getting stuffed on the empanada trail ...

We'll be leaving Argentina in a few days time, but I couldn't move on without giving a mention to the humble empanada.

A bit like an extra-tasty miniature cornish pasty, they are available with a wide variety of fillings and are sold absolutely everywhere, from bakeries to top-end restaurants as starters. To put it quite simply the Argentines are empanada crazy, and after several weeks here a little of the madness has rubbed off on us too.

So when our friend Sherri emailed from Melbourne with a link to this interesting article by Dan whose secret restaurant we visited the evening beforehand, we started to wonder, would be possible to visit each of the empanada vendors in a single day?

And what if you had to take public transport aided by a copy of the Guia T?

The gauntlet was laid down.

First came the planning. Aside from a couple of "hot spots" with outlets a few blocks apart the locations were spread throughout the city so it was important to try and minimise travel time and connections. I won't go into detail but let's just say it involved four hours, various improvised diagrams and quite a bit of swearing before I finally managed to map out a circuit in preparation for the following morning.

On the back of arriving home at 4am the previous evening, we didn't get started until 11.40am, and we set off for the 15 minute walk to the bakery of La Familia. Thankfully empanadas are great hangover food and served in Santiago de Estero style here they didn't dissapoint - still warm from the oven, the crisp light pastry was filled with a tasty mix of mince, onion and chopped egg. It was our first food of the day and we had to curb our natural instincts to order a second, remembering we had a further 9 stores to visit.

From here we jumped on the subway to the city centre and the small restaurant of Los Chilenos where we sat down and ordered a coffee and empanada apiece. Our waiter returned from the kitchen with devastating news. No empanadas due to lack of beef. It appears we are caught in the midst of a seige situation as farmers blockades attempt to starve the capital into submission. You can read more here.

We quickly moved on.

Just a few blocks away we found El Federal, specialising in Patagonian cuisine. Panic buying is a feature of all good sieges so here we decided to go for their tempting gustation platter (above) of 6 empanadas with beef, lamb, cheese and humita (sweetcorn & cheese) fillings. We found the pastry a touch greasy but the fillings were to die for, the best one being melt-in-the-mouth patagonian lamb.

Taking our first bus of the day to Barrio Norte we arrived at La Cocina - a cafeteria/takeway joint with walls covered in fading rock and reggae posters. We were back in pastry heaven with their Catamarca style empanadas, which we sampled in ricotta and ham, and chicken varieties. Even though we were beginning to feel a little bit sick we thought the fillings were pretty good too.

It was almost a relief when we found the nearby La Querencia closed as it gave us 30 minutes of digestion time while we took another bus out to the suburb of Palermo Viejo. Not only were both the restaurants here closed but Mel had started saying things like "I'm going to be sick" and "I'll get you back for this". It didn't bode well.

Other than a brief interlude where we unexpectedly found ourselves wandering through the middle of a film set as we walked through Palermo Viejo it had been a wasted journey. So when we arrived at our next destination in Belgrano to find it too was very much closed, it prompted Mel to unleash the threat of the ultimate weapon.

Handbag shopping.

We were on the next bus home.

Mel has an irrational fear of sweetcorn, an intolerance of peppers and quite frankly "wasn't in the mood" for the final one (not on Dan's list) I had with my coffee just before we caught the bus home, but here's how they stack up.

Marks for pastry and filling are out of 10, overall out of 20, averaged where applicable.


La Familia

Mel 8/5
Mark 8/7

El Federal

Queso 10.5
Mel 5/6
Mark 5/5

Carne 12
Mark 5/7

Humita 11
Mark 5/6

Lamb 13
Mel 5/8
Mark 5/8

La Cocina

Ricotta/ham 14
Mel 7/7
Mark 7/7

Chicken 13.5
Mel 7/6
Mark 7/7


Rquefort 12
Mark 6/6

Moving on to stuffing of a different kind, I'm pleased to report that the eagle creek pack system is continuing to perform excellently. Although I didn't need to main bag for our recent trip to Uruguay I still used one of the cubes to good effect in my hand luggage.

If I'd started worrying that I was maybe taking things a bit too far by reducing my round-the-world luggage to a mere 12kg, then I needn't have. After checking out Crazy Eric's website I am reassured that I am a sane and well-adjusted individual. Just like he claims to be ...

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