Tag Archive | "Food & Drink"

Top 5 Puertas Cerradas

Editor’s note: we are revisiting this article, which was originally published on 18th May, 2011, as part of our food month. Some information and prices may be out of date. Please follow the links to the restaurants’ websites for up to date information

There is nothing like having a home-cooked meal. There is really nothing like having a home-cooked meal prepared by a professional chef. All over the world chefs have been opening up the doors to their hogar and preparing delectable meals from their house kitchen. Puerta Cerrada (closed door) restaurants have become particularly popular in Buenos Aires after the economic crisis of 2001. The Indy sent out one lucky journalist to hunt down five of the best and most unique closed door restaurants in the city.

Casa Saltshaker (Photo: Adam Goldberg)

1.  Casa SaltShaker, Barrio Norte

For the last six years Chef Dan Perlman and host Henry Tapia been inviting strangers into their home to eat, drink and be merry. Originally from the States, Dan says it is fun for him to provide a forum for people to meet each other. With capacity for 12 guests, who sit around two communal tables, the experience is jovial, conversational and international – especially since now-a-days most guests are foreigners. They ask participants to arrive between 8.45 and 9pm so the joint adventure can begin around 9.15. You’ll be greeted with a welcome cocktail followed by a five course meal of “fancy home cooking” – as Dan describes it. The menu, that changes weekly, usually has a historical theme – based on the date. Dan keeps his meals memorable by taking on challenging themes that stretch his specialty in Mediterranean cuisine. Previous meals have been inspired by ‘Cinco de Mayo’ but also ‘Towel Day’.  In his house, Dan’s cooking whims are the way – and everyone is better off because of it. The food is fresh, unique and truly delicious – throw in a group of multicultural strangers (soon to become friends) and you get one hell of a dinner party.

The five course meal is $130 with an additional $60 for wine pairings. Cash only please. For more information, click here.

Paladar ready to host a dinner. (Courtesy of Paladar)

2.  Paladar, Almagro

After you ring the door bell, enter a candlelit escape from the typical night out. A faint red glow, soft background music, and private tables scattered through the space give Paladar Buenos Aires a romantic ‘night in’ feeling – except instead of delivery pizza and beer – you’re being served a divine meal by dedicated service, paired with the absolute perfect wine. And when I say the perfect wine, I mean the suggestion for each course takes what is already an exquisite meal into the realm of heavenly. The presentation of each of the four courses is elegant, but unlike super swanky restaurants, the servings here are hearty and full – with out being too rich or heavy. Chef Pablo Abramovsky combines fresh ingredients with an ingenious command of flavor to make an extraordinary culinary experience. His wife Ivana Piñar, usually the sommelier, skillfully connects the meal with Argentine vino to create a masterpiece. Did I mention I liked the wine pairings? Coffee and a petite cookie make the perfect finale to an enchanting evening. For a particularly special occasion you may want to reserve the table by the fireplace where you and your loved one can snuggle next to each other on the red couch.

The four course meal is $135 with an additional $45 for wine pairings. Cash only. For more information, click here.

Casa Felix dinner

3.  Casa Felix, Chacarita

Walking into Casa Felix is so cozy and welcoming, you immediately feel at home. Chef Diego Felix and wife Sanra Ritten have created warm, intimate space – like you’ve just walked in to your best friend’s really gorgeous, antique house. You take your welcome cocktail in the garden, filled with aromatic herbs growing in every corner of the yard. This is where the chef finds his inspiration. Every course of the meal has a least a little something from the beautiful vegetation he has in the back. It could be lemon, lavender, mint, fuzzy chayote leaves – these he wrapped around a piece of Patagonian cheese to make a wonderful morsel with surprising texture. The 15 puerta cerrada-goers mill about out back, chatting and getting to know each other – but once it is dinner time, everyone is herded through the bustling kitchen, to individual tables. Sanra’s professional photography decorates the white walls and gorgeous multicolour paper chandeliers hand from the high ceilings. Diego makes food for the more adventurous palate – willing to move beyond they usual Argentine fare – the meals are pescatarian – and create mouthwatering surprises like an ‘exotic mushroom empanada’. By the end of my dining experience I felt so at home, I felt like hugging Diego like an old friend.

The four course meal is $150, with an additional $75 for wine pairings, or order a bottle from the list. Cash only. For more information, click here.

Casa Mun dinner (Photo: Angela McCallum)

4.  Casa Mun, Palermo

The newest puerta cerrada on the scene, Chef Mun has already made a name for himself in this world of clandestine restaurants. Their loft home is minimalist and modern. Clean lines, complete with bamboo in the patio. The Asian inspiration continues with the food – fused with some California influences. The May menu includes crispy tempura, melt-in-your-mouth sashimi, sushi rolls, Chinese curry and (my favorite) Korean bibimbap with a quail egg! Chef Mun likes his spice, but is sensitive to Argentine vulnerability, making room for less tolerant taste-buds if necessary. Perhaps the part of the evening, besides the meal, was Chef Mun’s description of each course, his passion for food and love for entertaining are obvious as he beautifully explained each impeccably designed plate placed in front of you. Arrive at 8.30 for a champagne reception and a chance to get to know everyone who will be dining with you. Communal tables and wine pairings make for a jolly night of delicious food and good company – most of the foreign kind – even a little spice can be too much for the Argentine palate.

The five course meal, including wine pairings, is $195. Cash only. For more information, click here.

Cocina Sunae

5.  Cocina Sunae, Colegiales

Chef Christina Sunae spent much of her younger years living in the Philippines and Japan. After several years in a Thai restaurant in New York, she brought authentic Asian cuisine to Buenos Aires. The dining room is spacious, candle-lit and mostly divided up by tables for two. Unlike several of the other restaurants – Christina finds her guests to be mostly Argentine – and unwilling to share a table with strangers. For people who are in the mood for real Thai food – the spicy kind – or Asian cuisine the way it was meant to be – Sunae has got it down perfectly. The chef knows authentic taste and if she can’t find the perfect ingredient, she’ll mix things around until the taste is just right – no exceptions. According to the chef, Asian food is made for sharing. She offers two entrees every night to provide variation and suggests couples order one of each so they can experience more plates. The meal is rich, spicy, playful and filling – for the last two years Cocina Sunae has been expanding the Argentine palate and will continue to do so for a long time.

The four course meal is $110, wine from the list is additional. Cash only. For more information, click here.

Posted in Food & Drink, The Grill, Top 5Comments (14)

Top 5 Tastes of Home

Fed-up of facturas? Sick of steak? If you’ve had your fill of Argentine cuisine, sometimes what you crave most is good grub from home, exactly the way your Mum/Mom/Mamma/Maman makes it. In a city packed full of restaurants boasting every type of cuisine from Peruvian to Japanese, hungry customers really are spoilt for choice. To help you, we’ve focused on British, North American, Italian and French restaurants and come up with these five favourites.

The inside of the Gibraltar Pub (courtesy of The Gibarltar)

1. Gibraltar, San Telmo

Highly regarded as the most authentic British pub in Buenos Aires, Gibraltar has been bringing a piece of the UK to Argentines and ex-pats alike since 2001. The bar’s longevity and proximity to hostels makes for a good mix of tourists and locals. Bosses lived in England for a number of years and were keen to bring the pub concept back to BA with them. Located in San Telmo and fronted by a traditional sign, the interior is attractive dark wood, tables and booths throughout several rooms, a pool table and a small beer garden.

Food reflects the multicultural British cuisine – traditional pies, fish and chips and beefburgers are joined by Thai Green Curry and pizza. The chicken strips with wide chips are highly recommended. Tasty puddings include brownie with ice cream, banoffee pie and lime cheesecake. What’s nice is that you queue and pay to order rather than waiting for service at your table. Happy hour is from 6-9pm, where you can sample the beer and many varieties of whiskey.

Open daily midday-5am. Mains around $40. For more information, click here.

The Office 'New York style' Burger (courtesy of The Office)

2. The Office, Las Cañitas

As you’d expect from classic American grub, The Office specialises in burgers. There are six varieties and, if you can’t decide between them, you can order mini versions of three or five of them. My personal favourite is the tantalising Californiana, a burger accompanied by guacamole, cheddar, bacon and rocket. The Clásica contains caramelised onions, mozzarella and pickles; the BBQ Bacon is what it says on the tin – bacon, barbecue sauce and an onion ring. Aside from burgers, Yankees pining for home will go nuts for chicken wings, fried mozzarella cubes (definitely worth a try!), cheesy fries and ranch dressing (an irresistible combination of mayonnaise and garlic, for those not in the know). Desserts include New York cheesecake, apple crumble and the most authentic brownie this side of Texas.

Owner Alan Epstein moved to Buenos Aires from Las Vegas in 2007 and opened the restaurant in December 2010, having noticed a lack of good American food. Customers consist of ex-pats and Argentines and Epstein sometimes invites friends to hang out, which adds to the friendly, informal atmosphere. Downstairs has more of a diner feel whilst the roof terrace has old movies projected onto the wall and a classy bar with an impressive drinks menu (Mojitos, Bloody Marys, Caipirinhas).

Open nightly from 7pm. Mains around $30. For more information, click here.

The California Burrito Company at the Dot shopping mall (Courtesy of CBC)

3. California Burrito Company, various locations

US-born chain manager Alec Hart took on the business a while back and believes CBC is one of the city’s few providers of quality Mexican food. The first restaurant opened in Microcentro, which was followed by another twelve over sixteen months. Now CBC branches can be found in lands as far-flung as Uruguay, Chile, Colombia and Panamá.

Far from being an ex-pat hangout, meal times in the restaurant are crammed with Argentines. “Young professionals come here because they’re discerning and care about what they’re putting in their bodies,” explains Hart. “We don’t cut corners – our food doesn’t contain lard, MSG or excessive salt.” Nothing is frozen (in fact, the site doesn’t even have a freezer!) and only sweet corn is canned. Even the sour cream is made from scratch.

The range comprises tacos, quesadillas and burritos, filled with lomo, chicken breast or pork. Argentines need not fear – Hart is a strong believer in leaving condiment-adding to the customer so the food can be as spicy as you desire. Accompaniments include nachos, beans, salads and homemade salsas. They also sell beer, soft drinks and cookies for dessert.

Offers include Taco Tuesday (three tacos and a small drink for $30), Margaritas para Mujeres ($10 between 8pm and 10pm) and two-for-one beers on a Friday. The Microcentro restaurant is fitted with a bell that can be rung on exit to show appreciation. Throughout my visit, the bell rings frequently – a sure sign of satisfied customers.

Open 11am-11pm, Monday-Friday; 12 noon-midnight Saturday and 2-10pm Sunday. Mains $22-$36. For more information, click here.

The warm and homely ambiance of the main salon of Sette Bacco (courtesy of Sette Bacco)

4. Sette Bacco, Recoleta

If you haven’t yet made the pilgrimage down Agüero to this Italian restaurant, you’re in for a treat. The brick walls and ceiling softly lit by candle-shaped bulbs make for a cosy atmosphere, combined with the class of crisp white tablecloths and immaculate glassware. Background music manages to be both unobtrusive and funky and a bread basket of little cheese-topped buns is brought to your table as you wait.

Owner and chef Daniel Hansen, originally from Jujuy, trained in New York and fell in love with Italian food, which he describes as “the best in the world”, on his first visit to il bel paese. He has since devoted himself to an authentic learning of the cuisine. Sette Bacco has been open in the evening for the last eight years and as of two weeks ago, by popular demand, now opens its doors also at midday.

The lunch menu is simpler and lighter but you certainly won’t go hungry: for $65 you can have a soup or salad starter, a main (either pasta-based such as tortellini, gnocchi or spaghetti, or a chicken breast), a dessert (such as apple strudel, lemon sorbet or homemade ice cream) and a glass of wine or soft drink. The evening menu is extensive. Starters include pizza and aubergine topped with parmesan, whilst the mains menu flaunts numerous kinds of pasta (even five types of risotto), fish, meat and polenta. If you still have room for dessert, try the panna cotta, homemade dulce de leche mousse or tiramisú. The pièce de résistance, in my opinion, is the Trilogy, a semi-frozen dessert involving layers of biscuit, dulce de leche, chantilly and chocolate ice-cream. Delicious!

Open daily 12.30-3pm and from 8.30pm. Mains $40-60. For more information, click here.

La Petanque in San Telmo (Courtesy of La Petanque)

5. Brasserie Pétanque, San Telmo

Located on a quiet corner of San Telmo on the beautiful cobbled street of Defensa, this French brasserie oozes charm and class. The interior is large and uniform with white pillars and cheer brought by yellow-mounted windows and doors. The bar is beautifully presented and boasts an impressive wine list. In addition to the inside chairs, you can opt to sit on a cushioned bench or outside.

With the lunch menu, for around $65 you can have a glass of wine, starter, main and dessert. The evening menu provides more choice, however. Starters include quiche lorraine, gazpacho, pâté, oysters and onion soup, which comes highly recommended by owner Pascal Meyer. Follow this with a main of meat, fish or pasta. There are traditional options such as rabbit with Dijon mustard, boeuf bourguignon and steak tartare, as well as some surprises: champagne-soaked salmon ravioli and trout with almonds. This mix of the traditional and new rolls over to the dessert menu where nestled among classics such as fondant, profiteroles and apple tart, you’ll find lemon mousse laced with vodka and orange crème brûlée.

Open Tues-Sun 12.30-3.30pm and 8.30pm- midnight. Mains $45-$75. For more information, click here.

Posted in Expat, Food & Drink, The Grill, Top 5Comments (3)

Top 5 Brunch Places

Out of grandmother’s book with tips and tricks, the best medicine for a hangover is…Food!. Only a breakfast is too early and not big enough, while lunch is too late. Therefore many countries found a solution under the name ‘Brunch’; a mix of both of them. However, not everywhere is this brunch phenomenon well-known and implemented thoroughly. With the already popular and highly consumed ‘almuerzo’ and late noon ‘merienda’ we were wondering if there would still be place for brunch in the Argentine kitchen. We went on a search to spot the top five brunch places in Buenos Aires that can not be missed!

Sirop Folie restaurant

1. Sirop Folie, Recoleta

This little gem is hidden in a tiny side street and will cost you a lot of effort to find, but it is definitely worth the mission!. A row of neat white tables are placed in the little picturesque side street outside the restaurant, between Sirop Folie and her older sister restaurant, Sirop. It all started with a pastry shop in 2001, which soon transformed itself to become the restaurant Sirop. Five years later Sirop’s little sister was born, with the name Sirop Folie. The name, which means ‘Crazy Syrup’, reveals the French influence of the restaurant, which is not only noticeable in the dishes but also in the style of the place itself. The beautiful classy interior, with big antique golden mirrors, chandeliers and subtly decorated walls create a quaint palace-looking atmosphere. The background music of Edith Piaf and the old photos everywhere make you feel as though you have traveled back in time for a while.

Brunch is spectacular and available every Saturday and Sunday from 11am to 5pm. You have the possibility to go for the full menu, which consists of five different courses, including a tapas plate with five kinds of different cheeses, olives, ham, four kinds of different breads, a special salad, potatoes au gratin topped with cream, filled peppers with scrambled eggs etc. It also includes two cups of tea/coffee and an apple crumble/pear pie with lovely fresh cream on the side If your wallet will let you ($180 for two), you should definitely go for this complete menu! Not only a pleasure for the mouth but certainly also one for the eye; dishes look so pretty that it is almost a waste to eat them. There is also the possibility to pick some of the dishes from the brunch menu or go for one of the big salads, sandwiches or other dishes

The owners of the restaurant, mother and daughter Liliana and Augustina, could tell you full of passion about their little babies, Sirop Folie and Sirop. Recently the restaurant was one of few in Buenos Aires to be awarded the ‘Disciples Escoffier International’; a prize given to honor the quality of the restaurant’s food and service. Forgetting the busyness of Buenos Aires, sitting in this charming and warm place, makes you feel like a queen.

Open Mon-Sat,10am-midnight, Sun, 10am-8pm. Brunch: every Sat-Sun, 11am-5pm. Prices from $40-$180 for two. For more information, click here.

Casa Mua (Photo: Beatrice Murch)

2. Casa Mua, Palermo Viejo

Entering the place looks is like entering the big cosy kitchen of your grandmother! The whole interior is nicely decorated and fills you immediately with warmth. The pretty wooden bar in the back offers a perfect spot to drink a coffee by your own while reading one of the newspapers or magazines can find in the restaurant, accompanied by some light classical music at the background. The art-deco ambiance is also noticeable outside, where white classic romantic-style tables are positioned at both street-sides of the restaurant. This makes Casa Mua the place to relax; special and sweet, original, picturesque, and feeling as home! That was exactly the intention of the owners, Sonia and Israel, when they started this their Casa in 2009.

A look into the self made bright coloured menus where everything is written by hand makes your body crave food, self made sweets and pastries. The brunch ranges from a ‘Power’; a healthy fruit salad with yoghurt, power juice, granola and a pastry to the ‘New York’ with eggs, bacon, mushrooms, tomatoes, muffins and bread. It will cost you round $20-$40. All the menus are served with a juice of the day and/or coffee/tea. The place is also perfect to bring your kids to, since there are several special kids menu’s round $30 and a children’s play corner. It is noticeable that everything in Casa Mua is home made, from the variety of different baked breads to the little cookies you get with your coffee!

The staff of Casa Mua are a chapter by themselves. They are like the description of how a perfect waiter should be; you will feel like the king of France in the way they immediately notice everything you need. They have eye for detail, which is noticeable in the way they serve and present you the dishes. Besides they give the impression they also feel at home in the restaurant. As if they are part of it and secretly have their bedroom on the first floor of the building…

Open Sun-Wed, 9am-10pm, Thu-Sat, 9am-1am. Brunch, Sat-Sun, whole day long. Prices from $20-$40. For more information, click here.

Home Hotel

3. Home Hotel, Palermo Hollywood

Once you arrive in the restaurant of Home Hotel, it seems like you have made a little trip to the English countryside. The rest and peacefulness is like you are escaping the busy city life for a moment and replacing it with relaxation. The restaurant has a lovely lush garden where white designer tables are spread out and where you can even hear the birds whistling. However, the sleek and stylish interior will not remind you at all to a countryside cottage. With a floor to ceiling glass wall, the Home resto-bar is the modern heart of the hotel. Everything looks clean and minimalist, without any superfluous decor or details. Home Hotel is the brainchild of UK record producer Tom and Argentine PR director Patricia. Having lived in Ireland for nearly 15 years, Patricia was itching to come home, so the couple decided to create ‘Home’: a stylish place to rest your head!

Every Saturday and Sunday from 12.30pm till 4.30pm Home offers a special brunch menu. You can chose from a list consisting of a vegetarian menu, a healthy menu or, if you miss the taste of home you should definitely try the typical English breakfast! All the menus are served with coffee/tea and fresh orange juice and cost round $40. Portions are more than sufficient. Home, a peaceful oasis in the bustling heart of Palermo. The staff are formal but friendly and the restaurant’s name certainly reflects the place itself perfectly!

Open Mon-Mon, 8am-midnight. Brunch: every Sat-Sun, 12.30pm-4.30pm. Prices round $40. For more information, click here.

Wafles Sur Brunch

4. WaflesSur, San Telmo

Tempted by a big brunch, but your wallet does not stretch that far, then WaflesSur is the pace to go! This newcomer opened its doors in Buenos Aires only eight months ago. The owner Javier wants to make a phenomenon of this original waffle concept which all started ten years ago in Viedma, Patagonia. Javier’s uncle and aunt returned to Argentina, after living a Danish life for ten years and came up with the idea of a ‘waffle-stand on wheels’. With this invention they started to drive all along the Patagonian coast. Soon they became experts concerning the waffle making process and they opened their first waffle restaurant in Patagonia. With the assistance of their nephew, Javier, their current objective is to open a new WaflesSur every year in a different place in Argentina, which started in Buenos Aires’ San Telmo.

Entering this place feels like a ‘fresh wave’ grabbing you. The complete interior is light, white and orange-coloured with an open kitchen in the middle. Simple, but clean and friendly looking. This is exactly what reflects the food they serve: simple but very tasty. The menu only shows waffles, but don’t be disappointed, the choice is still huge. With a different menu for sweet and savory waffles there will be a pick for everyone. From waffles with Roquefort cheese, ham or veggie-style to the sweet versions with chocolate sauce, ice-cream or freshly made marmalade. And, if your body is still craving for some alcohol, these tasty waffles can be accompanied by a special-brewed beer, a glass of champagne or a delicious Patagonian wine. Recently introduced is the Sunday’s brunch option, which can be enjoyed all day long. It exists of a self serve plate for two with a couple of waffles served with a variety of sweet and savory ingredients, allowing you to create your own little favorites. This is served with coffee/tea and orange juice. This menu for two will cost you round $60-$80. Sense and simplicity is what you get!

Javier’s every days main goal is making people smile and to give them a good experience. This goal is certainly reached; the service in WaflesSur is extremely friendly and personal. Staff are having fun and visibly enjoying their work. Moreover they can help you in four different languages.

Open Mon-Fri, 8am-midnight, Sat-Sun till 2.45am. Brunch: Sunday, whole day. Prices from $60-$80 for two. For more information, click here.

Brunch at Oui Oui (Photo: Sarah van den Boogaard)

5. Oui Oui, Palermo Hollywood

With a nice looking sunny terrace outside this French/Italian oriented little place will tempt you to enter. Going inside, you can not escape to the smell of freshly baked bread and pastries which will immediately awaken the senses in your nose. Opening your eyes you will be overwhelmed by a warm and cosy feeling, caused by the salmon pink coloured wooden tables, roses and bright coloured flowers everywhere. Everywhere in this quaint picturesque restaurant you will find cute little details, art-deco style and full of accessories: little dolls, funny photos and paintings on the walls, candies in granny style jars and the list goes on. In a nut-shell the best description would be girly, highly decorated, granny-style but trendy kind of atmosphere! This is completed by a subtle 60’s music at the background.

Then, a look at the menu, which is written down on old-classic blackboards spread out in the place. Focussing on the brunch menu, which can be consumed on Saturdays and Sundays and has existed since the restaurant opened its doors in April 2005. The menu consists of many choices including: spinach crepes, bagels with salmon and cream cheese, croque madams, ‘paté oui oui’ with bread, scrambled eggs with salmon, pasta salads etc. Also a lot of thought has been given to the sweet palate, which can be full-filled by a pear crumble pie or a chocolate mouse. Besides you can have a look at the huge table in the middle of the place, displaying over 20 different kinds of pastries, cakes, pies and sweets to try. And if you have any doubts regarding what each one is; all of them have a sweet pink paper heart, which tells you their name. Dealing with ‘after-thirst’ after a big night, there are lot of drinks to chose from: various coffees, ten different kinds of tea’s, juices, frapuccino’s  and milkshakes makes it complete. Dishes look tempting, served with detail and care on old-fashioned dinner plates. You can have a total brunch from shoestring to luxury style, with prices ranging from $40 to $75. Separate sandwiches which are huge in size and will fill you all day long, cost around $35. This is served by a friendly staff who really seem to enjoy their work.

Open Tues-Fri, 8am-8pm. Sat-Sun 10am-8pm. Brunch: every Sat-Sun 10am-8pm. Prices from $40-$75. For more information, click here.

Posted in Food & Drink, The Grill, Top 5Comments (0)

Latin America: Observatory on Food Rights

The Observatory on Food Rights was officially launched today in Bogotá, Colombia. The organization will ask to study and analyze the laws of different countries of Latin America and the Caribbean to ensure human food rights.

The creation of the organization is supported by the United Nations Organization for Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The Observatory will be a centre for information, research and outreach on the regional situation of  food rights.

Another goal will be to generate a debate between universities, the executive, judicial and legislative on policies to be implemented in this field.

Among the participants of the Observatory are experts from law faculties and legal studies centres of approximately 20 different universities. Among them are the universities in Colombia, Argentina, Chile, Cuba, Mexico and Venezuela.

The Regional Representative of the FAO, Alan Bojanic, explained that in recent years he has seen an increased progress in legislation on the right to food in the region. He emphasised other countries that already adopted laws that protect food rights, such as Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Venezuela.

The activities of the Observatory will officially begin with a regional workshop where discussion concerning food rights.

For his part, the coordinator of the FAO project, Juan Carlos Garcia, explained that “the creation of the Observatory was one of the goals that the countries of the region were proposed to achieve through the Iniciativa América Latina y Caribe Sin Hambre”.

Story courtesy of Agencia Púlsar, the news agency of AMARC-ALC.

Posted in News From Latin America, Round Ups Latin AmericaComments (1)

Kensho: Clean, Green Dining

Wander around Palermo ‘Hollywood’ these days and you would be hard pushed to miss the plethora of ‘natural’ restaurants and cafes that have sprung up in the last year or so.

Kensho restaurant interior (Photo: Rafa López Binaghi)

Kensho may be the newest kid on the block, having opened its doors at the end of August, but it is by no means the newest in town, having moved from its previous location. In fact, Buddhist founder and chef Máximo Cabrera has nearly a decade of cooking experience under his belt, having cut his teeth in the kitchen at Bio, Buenos Aires’ first organic restaurant, in 2002. After a few years, Máximo founded Kensho, which began as one of the first closed-door restaurants in Buenos Aires. He then opened Kensho publicly a few years ago in Villa Ortuza, before moving to the current location in Palermo, where he has expanded to include the boutique and deli that feature next door to the restaurant.

So what makes Kensho stand out from the eco-masses?

The slick, chic appearance? True, the interior fits in with true Palermo style – clean simple décor, with not a lick of apple-coloured paint or a hint of wicker in sight. The green philosophy goes much deeper than appearances, so deep in fact, that the restaurant does not try to prove itself on appearances alone. It looks like any other classy, good restaurant with its timeless style.

This was a conscious decision on Máximo’s part – he aims to appeal to people beyond the regular consumers of restaurants whose fare is organic, vegetarian and raw. Yet the philosophy is a throbbing vein that runs through the heart of everything the space is about – every detail has been taking into account. Customers have the option of bottled or filtered tap water, the menu is made from 100% recycled paper, the cover of which explains the ethos behind the food, which changes with the season – proof of Máximo’s adherence to the philosophies of slow food, a movement he is part of in Argentina. The Slow Food movement was born in Italy, and adheres to the policy of using food that is local, grown in a sustainable way – aka organic – and offers a fair price to producers. In Kensho, the concept of changing the menu with the seasons also follows ancient Chinese methods.

So does the food cut it?

We opted for the ‘experience’ which comes in four courses, at a price of $160 for two. It is a good way to try more of a range of food on the menu, especially if some of the options sound alien to you.

Trio de Dips with a light cocktail (Photo: Rafa López Binaghi)

The Trio de Dips were accompanied by a variety of different breads, all of which were 100% wholegrain and homemade. Tastebuds were tickled by the fanciful black bean guacamole and nut pâté; a little green ball made of sunflower seeds, rocket and honey. The combinations made a change from a cream cheese dip and processed white bread that is the standard fare in most restaurants, as well as being healthier and far more interesting.

These were followed by two soups: lentil soup with cashew nuts and parsley; and butternut squash with an apple chimichurri, made of apple, canela and spices. Both were hearty, filling and warming for a chilly Spring evening.

Tofu Tandoori, tofu in a tandoori and orange sauce, accompanied by rice with basil and seaweed, was one of the main courses. I am not a tofu fan at all, fearing it falls into all the traps of being beige and bland, a stereotype of bad vegetarian fodder – but as Máximo explained, it is all about what you do with it, as it doesn’t have a particularly overwhelming flavour of its own. And he may have converted me with this one plate.

The other main, Crumble de Calabaza, was a combination of intense flavours and textures. The base was butternut squash coated in a crumble that was sweet in taste, but contrasted strongly with the melting goat’s cheese on top, accompanied by wild mushroom and beansprouts.

Crumble de Calabaza with goat cheese (Photo: Rafa López Binaghi)

Dessert consisted of a platter with different tastings, each carrying names that reflect Máximo’s love of music: the vegan James Brownie, Banana Nirvana, a banana in a kind of batter, as well as vegan ice cream, and other delights.

We finished full, but not bloated, having tried various new food combinations. And it lives up to its name, in both senses – it really is a dining ‘experience’, and Kensho, which means ‘to wake up the imagination’, carries the slogan ‘food to wake you up’. And it does just that. It brings a new, different focus to the concept and act of eating, encouraging customers to think about where the food has come from, and to try new flavours and combinations. It is a three-dimensional experience, not one that is flat and leaves the diner lacking, as so many vegetarian restaurants unfortunately tend to.

Kensho is a place for food lovers – vegetarian or not. This is what Máximo had in mind when opening the new locale, and he has hit the bulls eye. He wants people to experiment, to alternate between meat and two veg (or meat and more meat, as is often the case in Argentina) and wants Kensho to open people’s eyes – and tastebuds – up to new ideas.

He is realistic in this aim, and the balance he has managed to strike is an intelligent one. Rather than painting the place green, Kensho is stylish and the philosophy goes deeper than a trend or a passing fad, ensuring that it will survive any changes in fashion. The wine menu is a reflection of this, and the emphasis is on quality above and beyond anything else.

As well as organic and biodynamic wines, the menu contains regular wines – again a conscious decision by Máximo. He says that when he first opened Kensho across town, he had wanted to only serve organic wines, but the industry is not as developed as the regular wine trade in Argentina, and he found that often the wines were somewhat lacking, and not up to the standard he wanted to reach. So now he has wines of varying prices and includes organic and biodynamic wines on the list, but the emphasis is on quality. This is mirrored in the drinks menu generally – there is a long list of cocktails and ‘refrescantes’ (longer drinks with less alcohol) and the clients are welcome to drop in to have a drink just as much as they are welcome to eat, another move aimed at tentatively opening Kensho up, and helping Máximo’s food philosophy reach a wider audience.

And he seems to firmly desire growth of a more sustainable food movement – so much so, he teaches cooking classes on Mondays, when the restaurant is closed, in Kensho’s kitchen.

We leave feeling we have learnt a lot and been given a privileged insight into Máximo’s ideology, which he translates into edible delights on a daily basis.

Posted in Food & Drink, The GrillComments (1)

Huertas Educativas: Cultivating Brighter Futures

Radish Harvest (Photo: Helen Morgan)

Yesterday Belén, 8, was picking chips out of a bin and begging for pennies on the subte with her younger brother. Today they are digging up vegetables and feeding chickens out in the countryside.

After Governor Maurice Closs admitted that 6,000 children suffer from malnutrition in Misiones province last week, the concept of educational farms to provide nutritious meals and basic health education has never been more pertinent.

In Escobar, an hour north of Buenos Aires, Silvia Landriel is spending the morning harvesting fat ruby-coloured radishes with a gaggle of rubber-booted children. The former head teacher, who helped set up a day centre for street kids in 2006 with aim of using education to break the downward spiral of poverty and crime in community, has recently taken on a perma-culture farming project to open new avenues out of villa life.

Starving in a Breadbasket

Argentina is a country of polarised living standards: in the space of an hour you can travel from the gated luxury of Palermo, where pedigree pooches crowd the pavements, to slums where people live in corrugated iron and cardboard houses, surrounded by rubbish and fly-ridden dog carcasses.

Despite these acute economic divisions, the cost of living is mushrooming at all levels of society and now that two tomatoes can set you back the same amount as a bottle of beer in some parts of Buenos Aires, access to nutritious food is a growing concern. In villas the scarcity of healthy food is compounded by a lack of basic health awareness and this toxic combination creates a vicious circle of mental and physical health problems from birth.

As the world’s eighth biggest country, rich in natural resources and fertile plains, Argentina should be able to feed itself several times over and yet, according to UNICEF Argentina, 33% of children under five suffer from malnutrition, of which 8% are chronic. Despite government programmes like El Plan Nacional de Seguridad Alimentaria and the president’s calls for social equality, it is ultimately a network of non-government organisations (NGOs) working quietly and modestly under the radar that are plugging holes in social welfare provision.

Silvia Landriel (Photo: Helen Morgan)


Silvia is now president of the Casita para Niños Maria de la Esperanza, a day centre for around 40 children with unprivileged backgrounds in Escobar. Three months ago an area of farmland in Matheu, just outside the town, was donated to the centre by a local businessman. His only stipulation was that it should be used for educational purposes.

The short term effect is that children who may not eat all weekend and spend their days playing in the dirt have the opportunity to eat home-grown vegetables, learn where eggs come from and play football in an open green field. In the long term the project will not only provide better diets but the opportunity to learn a trade that they could use when they finish school, in a bid to combat the twin issues of malnourishment and teenage delinquency.

Far from the railway tracks and busy roads that many of them are sent to beg on, she explains why the project started: “Nobody’s interested in what’s happening to these kids, primarily because they belong to an area of society that politically speaking virtually doesn’t exist. People see them, but don’t think to ask themselves what a barefoot five-year-old is doing crossing busy roads alone.

“We thought, instead of ignoring them, why don’t we start working with them? Instead of losing them to law-breaking and drugs by the time they’re teenagers, we can work preventatively so that by the time they reach that age they have hope and an idea about a different kind of life.”

In a large family of ten, like Belén’s, it is often the older siblings that look after the younger ones while parents work or stay at home. Looking after themselves from an early age, they are used to eating leftovers thrown out of restaurants and don’t necessarily know how to wash or use a knife and fork.

“To reverse all of this is incredibly difficult, it’s taken years to make tiny measures of progress,” says Silvia.

Seed to Stalk

Speaking from her home, heating the kettle for mate, Silvia describes permaculture: “It’s a new approach to working the land; they don’t use tractors and try not to disturb the soil itself. Nothing is lost and everything is useable: from seed to stalk.”

Given the inflated price of fruit and vegetables in Argentina at the moment, this self-sufficient project provides the children’s centre with a source of nutritious ingredients to supplement an essentially carb-based diet.


Dr Nicolas Loyacono is part of a volunteer team providing free medical assistance in villas. Taking a break from his weekly health-check at the Casita, he explains the long-term effects of the children’s diet. The three pillars of nutrition are carbohydrates, protein and fats but eating mainly bread and pasta the body stores it as fat. This has a negative effect on overall health and makes you vulnerable to disease, but is a common problem because this food is cheap and easy to prepare.

Children by the water tank (Photo: Helen Morgan)

“The water they drink is bad because it doesn’t come from the tap, they draw it up from holes they’ve dug in the ground. It’s filthy because they throw rubbish, excrement and urine outside, which soaks down into the soil. They get diarrhoea, which over a long period of time produces a chemical change in the stomach, making it harder for the body to absorb nutrients.

“They’re underdeveloped in terms of their size and immune defences so they easily contract illnesses and infections. They eat little, they eat badly and when they do eat they get diarrhoea so they don’t get any nourishment. Health problems that they already have get worse but coming here breaks that cycle with good food, a loving environment and good education.”

Huerta Niño

Children may only get one meal a day and that doesn’t necessarily contain the nutrients they need for cognitive development. Huerta Niño is an NGO that was first launched ten years ago in Chaco, a province with high levels of rural poverty. It was created in response to a growing trend where children with poor diets would perpetually repeat academic years because they matured more slowly than other children their age. The organisation helps local schools to construct farms so that the children have the source of fresh food and nutrients they need to grow.

Young girl walks through the permaculture field (Photo: Helen Morgan)

Juan Lapetini, the director, says: “The idea is to do something proactive; not to open soup kitchens but to create a project that provides education in these communities so that they can then look after themselves. At first the fruit and vegetables go to the school kitchens, then slowly we want to encourage them to take these skills home and grow food for themselves.”

In ten years Huerta Niño has constructed 82 farms across 18 of the 23 provinces in Argentina. Juan says that they work where there is need. More developed provinces like Santa Cruz for example need their help less than the northern regions of Jujuy and Formosa.

“It’s a lot harder to get people to work if there’s no incentive to earn money to buy food. In urban villas there are more instances of people handing out food, which means that people just sit there and wait for it to be delivered to them.”

Give a seed not a piece of toast

The established concept that bread will feed a man for a day but seeds will feed him for a lifetime is at the core of these farm projects. Silvia says: “The government helps but it doesn’t resolve any of the issues at their core. Giving out mattresses or meals looks good but doesn’t cure root problems. The problem is too big: we need a new social infrastructure but they build on a rotten base instead of realising that to build safely they have to break the cement and lay new foundations.

“There’s a steep scale in standards, depending on what you can afford. And because the state does nothing, people resign themselves to the low standards, meanwhile others are moving to barrios cerrados literally creating divisions in society: they don’t mix.

“Dispensing money for ‘social justice’ is unsustainable: people grow to depend on hand-outs and don’t think about what would happen if the money were to run out. It’s about making a commitment to education: building more schools, maintaining the universities and giving young people the security that they will be able to study if they want to, paying the professors enough that they don’t have to strike all the time.”

Educational Farms

Juan agrees that education is the solution: “We work with children, for example, who don’t know that tomatoes come from a seed – you ask them where they come from and they say, ‘In a lorry’ or ‘From the supermarket’ – they don’t understand that they grow in the ground.”

This is why educational farms like Silvia’s are so relevant to combating the issues of malnutrition that exist in Argentina. The idea is to break the circle of truancy, neglect and poor diets in the villas by providing training in a trade from an early age. Children who will already have spent time on the campito will then go to a local horticulture school while they are still in secondary education so that they can help instruct younger children coming up to the farm.

Feeding the chickens (Photo: Helen Morgan)

Although they have only had the land for less than three months, the fertile soil has already furnished them with bumper crops of spring greens, radishes and herbs, while 18 former battery hens lay fresh brown eggs every day. Due to a lack of funding and dependence on volunteers, progress is slower than it could be but eventually there will be enough for them to live on and be able to sell off the surplus.

“We want them to think outside of their daily poverty, think about what they are capable of and that there are opportunities for them. For all that they’ve been maltreated, forced to work, violated, ignored, they can escape,” says Silvia, “They can decide what they want to do later but this at least gives them one option that isn’t the street.”

Posted in Development, TOP STORYComments (1)

Top 5 Late Night Food Joints

To jet for the nearest take away food joint is a human vice that we all have in common after a night out. Seeing as Buenos Aires is a city that never sleeps, it stands to reason that its late night eateries are of the best quality. If stumbling home at dawn to an empty fridge isn’t on your wish list, take advantage of these five places across the city that will sort you out for the morning after the night before.

1. La Madeleine, Recoleta

Busy Waiters

The Madeline's waiters add to the late night restaurant's positive environment. (photo/Brian Funk)

Nestled on the hustle and bustle of Avenida Santa Fé is la Madeleine; a sight for sore eyes after a night of fernet-fuelled fun that has left you in desperate need of something to eat. As well as being open twenty-four hours a day, la Madeleine caters for all needs with its extensive menu that ranges from delicious pizzas and pastas, simple bites and on-the-go favourites, hot sandwiches, salads and omelettes. It seems that no matter what your crazy craving may be, la Madeleine has it covered, providing you with an alternative to the rumbling stomach that we all know too well.

Their extensive menu also caters to all budgets, allowing you to splurge on an amazing bife de lomo if your wallet hasn’t taken as much of a hammering as your head during your night out. Alternatively, if the evening’s adventures were meant to be a cheap guilty pleasure, you can fill a hole for a little as $5. Either way, you are spoilt for choice.

The staff are friendly and courteous and are only too happy to offer recommendations if indecision strikes you.

The venue itself is a modern restaurant and customers are invited to sit and enjoy their meals in the comfort of its pleasant surroundings around the clock, rather than to endure a messy attempt at eating their food on the first subte of the day or a bus. The environment of the restaurant is clean and welcoming and attracts people of all ages, reassuring you of the quality of the food.

If the thought of going by to the restaurant yourself after a night wearing in your dancing shoes causes you too much pain, never fear as la Madeleine also offers a delivery service, allowing you to sample their delights in the comfort of your own home.

La Madeleine is situated on Avenida Santa Fé 1726 on the corner of Callao. The restaurant is open 24 hours a day. The telephone numbers are as follows for delivery and enquiries: 4815-4500 and 4813-8400. Their website is www.lamadeleine.com.ar. Pricing ranges from $5-60.

2. Kentucky Pizzeria, Palermo

Heralded as a bit of an urban legend around Buenos Aires, Kentucky Pizzeria is known for its outstanding pizzas that are cooked perfectly and keep your mouth watering for more.

The joint is frequently alive with many a porteño, which instantly fills the customer with confidence as there must be something in the oregano that keeps this pizza place a firm favourite amongst tourists and locals alike. There is a wide selection from the staple onion and mozzarella to the spicy Brazilian calabresa sausage. The selection is sure to keep most people happy on their way back to sobriety.

Due to its popularity though, Kentucky Pizzeria is rarely quiet and the atmosphere can be a little hectic. But after spilling out of a bar or two, it is a mecca for every person that has had a good, enjoyable night and is in need of satisfying their desire for a good greasy spoon.

Kentucky also serves alcohol, so if you are feeling particularly adventurous and wish to start an after party, this may be the place to do it!

Highly Recommended.

Kentucky Pizzeria is situated on Avenida Santa Fé 4602 near Plaza Italia. The telephone number is as follows: 4773-7869.

Hamburguesas 24 Horas open for business as usual late into the night in San Telmo. (Photo/Beatrice Murch)

3. Hamburguesas 24 Horas, San Telmo

Never judge a book by its cover is a very important lesson to be learnt here. Clinging to the the corner of Bolivar and Independencia in San Telmo, Hamburguesas 24 Horas appears to be the sort of place out of a horror movie. Its grotty façade on first appearance does make you think that eating here may induce some regret in the morning, when thinking with a clear head.

But for less than $10, you can enjoy a hot cheeseburger that packs a powerful punch to your prejudices for ever doubting the place. There is no show at Hamburguesas 24 Horas. As the name states, it does exactly what it says on the tin. Littered along the bar are different sauces and chimichurris to flavour your burger to taste.

There is not much variety but what Hamburguesas 24 Horas does, it does well and it is the perfect antidote to a heavy night out in San Telmo.

It’s easy. It’s cheap. It’s tasty. It’s fast. And with its no nonsense attitude, you know exactly what you are getting.

For a quick bite on the way home, you can’t go far wrong.

Hamburguesas 24 Horas is located in San Telmo on the corner of Bolivar and Independencia. The restaurant is open 24 hours a day. One burger costs $8.

4. El Rey del Sabor, Obelisco

El Rey del Sabor, open until 6am, is the angel and the demon of late night eateries. Alongside its classic hot dogs, burgers and fries there is the option to have fruit salads and smoothies.

Located at Lavalle 905, it provides an interesting alternative to the massive burger chains that litter el 9 de Julio and Avenida Corrientes, whilst providing all the favourites that you’d normally expect after a night on the town.

On my visit to El Rey del Sabor, I met a group of customers that recommended the ponchos and the virgin cocktails that the joint offers, which must have been a cooling, fresh respite to the alcoholic predecessors earlier in the evening. Try the Hawaiano for a cheap and cheerful trip out of Buenos Aires, priced at a measly $8.

There is no real place to sit and enjoy your fruit or munch on your greasy delight so this place is definitely ideal if you’re grabbing food to go on the way home or before hitting the next bar.

El Rey del Sabor is located on Lavalle 905, close to the Obelisk. The restaurant is open until 6am. Pricing ranges from $4-20.

5. Santa Fé 1234, Barrio Norte

Entrance to the Santa Fe 1234

The Santa Fe 1234 offers pizza 24 hours a day. (photo/Brian Funk)

A traditional restaurant open 24 hours a day, Santa Fé 1234 is a great place to come to enjoy an authentic pizza or pasta dish. However, their menu does not extend just to these Argentine staples as a variety of vegetarian and meat dishes are also available to be enjoyed. Moreover, their sweets menu is fair and allows the late night traveller to decide to cling on to the remnants of yesterday by ordering a dinner dish, or to leave the crazy night behind them and sample some of the medialunas with a café con leche to see in the new day.

Established in 1959, Santa Fé 1234 has been pleasing generations of late night wanderers in search of something to eat for over fifty years. The dimly lit restaurant, its relaxing atmosphere and its traditional décor are a lovely contrast to the crazy stampede for the nearest greasy spoon elsewhere in the city. If you’ve spent the night with someone special, dancing under star-like strobes, this may be the perfect place to have a nibble and get better acquainted.

Pricing at Santa Fé 1234 is what can be expected of a nice restaurant in the heart of Buenos Aires, but may not suit everyone after blowing their pesos on a night of fun that lasted until the early hours.

Santa Fé 1234 also offers a delivery service with three phone lines, ensuring that the popularity of the restaurant will not get in the way of your demand for some high quality food.

Santa Fé 1234 is located on Avenida Santa Fé 1234. The restaurant is open 24 hours a day. The telephone numbers are as follows for delivery and enquiries: 4811-2356, 4813-2769 and 4814-3676. Pricing ranges from $10-75.

Posted in Food & Drink, The Consumer, Top 5Comments (0)

El Baqueano: Bored of Beef?

You might be drawn subconsciously over the road – La Poesia seems much more appealing at first sight, the warm orange-tinted lights and laughter spilling out onto the pavement mean it picks up the majority of the foot traffic on the corner of Chile and Bolivar.

But I would encourage you to stray to the opposite corner. The partially frosted windows add to the intimacy once inside, but make it hard to work out what awaits from the street. But venture in to El Baqueano and there is a Pandora’s box of culinary treasures awaiting you.

El Baqueano offers an intimate dining experience in San Telmo (photo/Rafa Lopez Binaghi)

Born out of the idea that there are many animals native to Argentina that the visitor never tries due to the inundation of parrillas, Fernando Rivarola, from the south of Buenos Aires Province, opened El Baqueano in 2008.

The name was an explicit choice – ‘Carnes Autóctonas’ (meaning native meats), is a purposeful aim to come back to national cuisines.

From yacaré (a local caiman), hare, wild boar, ñandú (a local ostrich) and a range of seafood in a variety of guises, unless you are going to visit the four-corners of the country you will have a hard job trying these delicacies elsewhere.

“Beef isn’t even native to Argentina,” Fernando is quick to point out, highlighting the Spanish conquistadores’ decision to introduce cows nearly 500 years ago. Beyond the country’s famous pampas, cows don’t roam very far, and there are many regions where beef is not the traditional meat at all. But Argentina’s massive centralisation comes into play, and the popularity of beef from the famous pampas, combined with the industrialisation of the food chain, means other meats barely get a look in.

El Baqueano’s response is a tasting menu of five or seven courses that changes on a monthly basis, with options ranging from llama carpaccio, yacaré brochettes, hare risotto, wild boar bruschetta, and seafood such as langostinos from Puerto Madryn.

When asked how they get such a range of animals to the capital, Fernando explains they have slowly built up a network of faithful suppliers and they tend to buy the animals whole and do all the preparation themselves, both ensuring the butchering is done correctly and the maximum usage of the animal.

The tasting menu is a conscious decision too – the restaurant used to offer regular starters, main courses and desserts as well as the tasting menu, but they realised most clients were reluctant to commit to an entire course of one strange animal or unknown flavour, and would be more conservative in their selection. As a result they moved away from the traditional menu to a full tasting menu recently, giving clients the option of trying a variety of different foods, all prepared in ways that maximise the culinary experience.

The staff are well-versed in the produce and happily explain the menu (or reassure their clientele where necessary) as if keen to convert as many people as possible.

Langostinos from Puerto Madryn (photo/Rafa Lopez Binaghi)

Fernando’s partner, Gabriela, is training to be a sommelier, and is on hand to make suggestions about the extensive wine list, which includes organic and biodynamic wines from around Argentina. As with the food, the wine on offer includes many grapes not commonly associated with Argentina viticulture, where Malbec reigns high. We tried a refreshing Pinot Gris from the Lurton bodega and a rose by Villa de la Luna, as well as a couple of lesser-seen reds. If clients prefer to bring their own bottles, El Baqueano does offer a corkage service.

The two desserts on the seven-course menu include a savoury and a sweet option. The savoury is a tasting of five cheeses, including a fondue and something that could be described as a savoury alfajor, both of which were a delight to someone who is on a constant search for cheese with a kick. This also went on to break some prejudices, proving there is cheese with flavour beyond blue or goat’s cheese. That tasteless yellow rubber-cum-elastic combination, which is unfortunately often the standard fare, does not have to be the norm.

A trip to El Baqueano will have you wondering if perhaps more cows could be used to make such cheeses, and more menus would explore Argentina’s other native meat options. If you are bored of bife and up for experimenting, I recommend you try this place.

Posted in Food & Drink, The GrillComments (0)

An Authentic Argentine Culinary Class

Food has always been a huge part of my life, and when I decided to come to Argentina, just one word came to mind: empanadas. No stranger to the kitchen but a novice in Argentine fare, I decided it was time to strap on an apron and finally learn just how they make those little pockets of heaven.

Norma Soued runs classes from her Belgrano home (photo/Jessie Akin)

Familiar with several Argentine cooking classes that were geared for tourists, I decided I wanted a more authentic experience. Enter Norma Soued, a delightfully pleasant Argentine psychotherapist who sees cooking as an inexpensive (and more enjoyable!) version of therapy.

“I feel that cooking gives people an instant gratification: You cook and you enjoy it, and then you eat and you enjoy it! In therapy, it takes a bit more time!” said Norma.  She began giving the cooking classes out of her home in Belgrano a little over a year ago.

Originally, she wanted the classes to be centered around middle eastern cuisine; having middle eastern roots, she thought many locals may be interested in learning how to make hummus and babaganoush. However, when Norma’s clientele began to grow, the majority tourists begging her to teach them how to make empanadas, Norma realized she needed to make the switch.

“I realized that this isn’t just a cooking class, it’s a way of transmitting Argentine culture. You’re cooking in a porteño kitchen, in a porteño house, and it’s an experience that you can take home with you.”  And literally, you can: the class includes your very own recipe booklet, with traditional Argentine edibles like humita and budin de pan.

When I first arrived at Norma’s home, she welcomed my fellow classmates and I with open arms. She introduced herself and told us a bit about her experience with cooking and sharing it with others. Then, she handed us each an apron and it was time to get to work. On the menu was a sumptuous locro, an chunky Argentine stew that’s perfect for cold winter days. Of course, a meal in Argentina isn’t complete without empanadas and alfajores, the piéce de résistance to a hearty meal.

Learning how to wrap an empanada (photo/Jessie Akin)

The locro was nothing but traditional, with ingredients like white beans, corn, squash, chorizo and tomato sauce.

The empanadas, however, were somewhat varied from the usual: we coated the meat with tomato sauce, and added hard-boiled egg, diced peppers and onions, olives and raisins—yes, raisins—which proved to be the perfect touch. We wrapped up the filling in our empanada shells and learned the art of the “twist”: the essential manoeuvre to wrap an empanada correctly.

We prepared the alfajor dough from scratch and filled the fluffy cookies with the infamous dulce de leche, which Norma recommends you buy fresh from the reposteria. Finally, we were ready to eat: we enjoyed our meal with a glass of vino tinto and reveled in our obvious culinary talents.

“I love to teach and I think learning how to cook Argentine foods is a great way to take a piece of the culture home with you,” said Norma. “You can surprise friends at home when you invite them for empanadas and alfajores!”

Classes are ARS$60 per person, and are held on Saturdays from 11am to 2pm at Norma’s home in Belgrano.  The class includes a recipe booklet and lunch with wine. For more information or to sign up, email Norma at nsoued@gmail.com. Buen provecho!

Posted in Food & Drink, The LearnerComments (3)

Cümen Cümen: The Ultimate Empanada?

Empanadas from Cümen Cümen (Photo/Cümen Cümen)

Arguably the empanada is as much a part of Argentine culture as the asado or dulce de leche. There is a flavour for every occasion, it tastes delicious at any hour of the day, fills you up and fits snugly into the average hand. It is the ultimate fast food. I had heard talk of empanadas before coming to Argentina, and ever since arriving I have been on a quest to find the ultimate empanada. It is a question of personal preference, but for me, the ultimate empanada will have the correct pastry to filling ratio, a nice squishy pastry and, most importantly, will not, heaven forbid, be dry.

The ‘Epicurious Food Dictionary’ (‘for people who love to eat’) informs me that these “Mexican and Spanish specialities are usually single-serving turnovers with a pastry crust and savoury meat-and-vegetable filling”. Thought to have originated in Galicia, Spain, they are now all over South America too and have counterparts in the Italian calzone and the British Cornish pasty. Different regions of Argentina have their own traditional fillings.

You cannot miss Cümen Cümen, with its bright orange and brown shop front and interior it is a beacon to empanada hunters as they trudge along Borges, Av. Córdoba or Av. Díaz Vélez. Don’t be fooled by the flashy décor; although this is a chain with branches in Palermo, Barrio Norte and Caballito, it is a family run firm with corresponding values.

They place an emphasis on putting care into each artisanally made empanada, providing consistently high quality food made from trusted sources. They have made economic sacrifices to stay true to this promise and have been using the same suppliers since opening a few years ago.

Empanadas and picadas (Photo/Cümen Cümen)

Although you can sit and eat your empanada on site, the more popular option is delivery, which is free of charge within 25 blocks of the store. There are 22 flavours to choose from, the most popular being carne cortada a cuchillo, which contains ground rather than minced beef and hails from the north of the country. Other popular flavours include chicken as well as cheese and ham. The traditional choclo and capresse are on the menu, but there are also more unusual flavours to choose from such as roquefort, celery and nuts and mozzarella, pancetta and plum. Each empanada comes at the reasonable price of $4.20.

Ignacio, one of the owners was also proud to inform me that Cümen Cümen is said to be the pioneer of the ‘sausage, cheese and mustard’ empanada. The generous layer of mustard gives a nice kick to the ensemble. Another speciality is ‘Carne Cümen Cümen’ which has a different taste and is made from ‘carne matanza’ – a different cut of the meat. It has tasty gravy which satisfies the most important factor on my quest – I can confirm that the Cümen Cümen empanada is not remotely dry.

If you want a change from the traditional empanada, you also have the option of ‘Especiales Cümen Cümen.’ For $6.60 you get a larger tarta made from empanada pastry. There is a selection of vegetarian fillings as well as ham, cheese, tomato and egg. If you have any space left, choose from a variety of traditional Argentine desserts such as pasteles de batata o membrillo or empanaditas de dulce de leche. I particularly recommend the latter which are little empanadas filled with warm caramel dulce de leche.

So, is the quest over? Is the Cümen Cümen empanada the ultimate empanada? Certainly, the ratio of filling to pastry was good, and the pastry itself was a pleasing colour and of suitable squishiness. I did enjoy the gravy in the meatier empanadas and the gooey consistency of the cheese. ‘Cümen cümen’ means ‘good taste’ in the language of the Mapuche. The Cümen Cümen empanada is certainly a contender for the ultimate empanada and lives up to its name, but I am going back on the street, just in case!

Posted in Food & Drink, The ConsumerComments (5)

Follow us on Twitter
Visit us on Facebook
View us on YouTube

As a possible ‪Grexit‬ looms in the old continent, we revisit Marc Rogers' article comparing Greece's current situation to Argentina's own 2001-2 crisis.

    Directory Pick

Magdalena's Party in Palermo

Magdalena’s Party has daily 2 x 1 Happy Hour specials til midnight, and the "best onda".
Sign up to The Indy newsletter