New Yorker chef Dan Perlman arrived in Buenos Aires eight years ago, feeling a little over-stretched by living life in the fast lane. Having travelled around Europe learning about the cuisines of Italy, France and Spain, he was intrigued by the idea of bringing his culinary influences to Buenos Aires.
When arriving into a new city, first impressions are everything, from the aesthetics, food, and rapport with the locals, your initial experiences can stay with you forever, and on occasions, seal your fate. Arriving into Buenos Aires on a late winter’s evening, jet-lagged and tired, Perlman felt enchanted by the city, and his first meal of provoleta, the cheesy-gooey Argentine favourite, provided that all-important comforting sensation that made him feel right at home. Eight years later Dan is running the successful closed door restaurant Casa Saltshaker in Recoleta and has recently published a new book, ‘Don’t Fry for me Argentina’.
The book is a collection of recipes of all the best known Argentine meals and snacks, interwoven with essays and anecdotes about Perlman’s life, culinary inspirations, and the craft of Argentine cooking. Fittingly, the book opens with the recipe for provoleta.
As Perlman describes, the Argentine cheese dish, often served as an entree at a typical asado, is made from provolone – a semi-hard cows milk cheese, created by stretching or pulling the curds. “That stretch pulls it throughout Italy, from Lombardia in the north, to Basilicata in the south, to the islands of Sicily and Sardinia. if you taste it carefully, aromas and flavours of fresh butter and new cut grass leap out at you. Good quality provolone adds in notes of freshly-shelled peanuts, lightly toasted bread, or just-made pasta.”
Perlman stresses the importance of throwing yourself into the local culture when visiting, and especially living in Argentina, and urges people to appreciate the local cuisine and steer away from making comparisons to other similar food cultures. So many expats are quick to criticise Argentina’s food offerings, whether it’s a lack of fish, an over reliance on meat, or pizza and pasta that doesn’t resemble its Italian counterparts.
However, Perlman believes that those non-locals who feel frustrated by Argentina’s culinary differences should instead be appreciating the country’s – and provinces’ – take on certain dishes. And whether it is a traditional Argentine dish, such as stewed lentils, or the Italian-inspired empanada, it’s important to understand that these dishes have been independently cultivated over the years, and that in itself should be respected.
He also says that perhaps unlike many other countries – namely the US and Europe – the local supermarkets may not stock the array of foods that many expats are used to, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that certain foods can not be sourced. Instead food-shoppers may have to become accustomed to visiting fish markets, green grocers, local butchers and other specialised food markets in order to get more creative in the kitchen.
The recipes that feature in the book, which are either traditional or have an Argentine twist, include fish milanesa, veal scallops, locro stew, and the Argentine special chimichurri sauce, among many other of the country’s classics. And as winter approaches, and the customary weekly asados begin to dwindle, what better time to take a break from the norm and start experimenting with some other, and rather interesting, Argentine classics.