Friday, 4 December 2009

Memories of the past, dreams for the future. Part 1

Forbidden City  
(or confessions of a Foodie)                                                     
(all pictures in this post are images from Google
except the one of my friend Michèle)

It was late October 2009, and wonderful to be back in Buenos Aires, my home town, to hear the familiar accent in the chatter around me, understand the slang – and for once not to mind the traffic chaos.  The red lights were there to be jumped; lane discipline was a 3D maze game, the horn a musical instrument, and the mood surprisingly good natured – not a hint of road rage despite the noise and the miraculous manoeuvres.

[At the suggestion of Patagonian journalist and writer Carlos Espinosa, I was in Argentina for 3 weeks to give a presentation to different audiences in Buenos Aires and Patagonia about my translation into Spanish of The Sand, the Wind and the Sierras – Days in Patagonia, by Mollie Robertson (Geoffrey Bles, 1964), in the hopes of finding out whether a publisher might be interested in taking it up.]

The three days there passed in a happy blur, thanks mainly to my hostess Michèle - buddy since early teenage years, now farmer’s wife and super-organised mum of 5. 

I gave my first presentation at a children’s library to very few people, which was an easy start – nice comments were made, nibbles appeared as if from nowhere, a delicious red wine was drunk… and it was a delight at last to meet Marcelo, my Buddhist pen friend and great supporter of the project since 2006, who had set it up with the owner of the library.

Before continuing with the story, I need a commercial break… sorry, it’s stronger than I am:
The food in Buenos Aires… conjuring it up now makes my tear-filled eyeballs roll.  I know this blog is bandit country, one doesn’t rhapsodise about food one shouldn’t be having – but please would you let me off the hook just this once?  I’d love to tell you about it.  These were the foods I grew up with, deprivation from which has always been the cause of great anxiety to me. 

Many months back in this blog I admitted to a dark night of the soul, when I sat on the edge of the bathtub in the wee hours grieving over the remembered comfort foods from childhood which I had just realised were not band friendly and would have to be resolutely put behind me.  Analysis of the whys and wherefores would yield enough material for a psychologists’ conference, but if you’ve been reading this blog and looking at the pictures of my other self from past posts, you know quite a lot of it.  Now here I was, with a loosened band, my temporary pass into the Forbidden City…

Breakfastfactura, café con leche

These pastries can be purchased from any of the multitude of bakeries around the city; you never need to walk more than two or three blocks.  They’re usually freshly made on the premises, and a couple of dozen choices.

My favourites are the medialunas, or croissants, above, which differ from the British and French versions, being a little heavier and more yeasty, and glazed with sugar. 

Sometimes you can get the variety made with lard, which gives a crunchy finish.  Vigilantes – butter or lard versions in long shapes, and others decorated or filled with jam, and (sigh) dulce de leche – caramel.  All liberally dusted with sugar and lightly seared. 

A rich milky coffee or foaming café con leche combines calorifically and perfectly.

Lunchmilanesa con puré; ensalada

Milanesas are known in other parts of the world as schnitzels – thin slices of beef beaten till tender, coated in egg, dusted in (garlicky) breadcrumbs and fried in hot oil till crisp, then served with a squeeze of lemon and mashed potato. 

A child’s routine lunch in a land where beef is relatively cheap, so it becomes a comfort food by default.  My love of tossed salad comes from there having been a bowl of it available at most meals, with the oil/vinegar/lemon/condiment cruet as standard always on the table.  You just picked at it if you wanted.

Dinnerempanadas; asado y bife de chorizo con papas fritas

Empanadas are savoury pasties served as a starter, which come in a variety of fillings – the traditional and my favourite being a spicy minced beef mixture condimented with cumin and garlic, also containing green pitted olives and some sultanas to give it the hint of sweetness here and there. 

People will virtuously tell you that they prefer them baked in the oven, but there’s nothing quite like the crispy, deep fried one. 

The asado or classic beef barbecue is the Argentine dish par excellence, and I enjoy picking at the various constituent parts, as long as there’s plenty of chips/french fries to go with them. 

The bife de chorizo is a cut of steak which I have yet to find in Britain, and is unsurpassed in delicacy of flavour.  It has the merest hint of smokiness and pepper, and the way they cook it means that the seared top is very dark while the centre remains pink and juicy.  (Excuse me while I sit down.)

Aftershelado de chocolate y dulce de leche

OK – close the shutters and the doors, gather round and listen up, because I’m going to tell you this bit in a whisper.  Bandits should not be hearing it you see, because it’s about ice cream.

Ice creams in Argentina compete only with Italy, where they learned it from. In every village of Argentina, however small, there will be at least two ice-cream parlours, often run by the proprietors, who make it and whip it in large churns on the premises. They will have a board listing the flavours which runs the length of the long counter, with little plastic spoons taped over the flavours which are temporarily out of stock.

At any one time there will be 30 odd to choose from.  The classic best-sellers, ditto with nuts, ditto with liqueur, ditto with chunks of all sorts of things in them.  You want chocolate?  Would that be finely granulated with solid chocolate, Bariloche chocolate, white chocolate, Swiss chocolate, chocolate with whisky, with peppermint?  Strawberry you say?  You mean sorbet, or creamy, or with added fruit, with liqueur, extra creamy, or low cal, non-dairy?  It’s all so exhausting. 

And – er – what size cup?  Well, the elegant cornet looks lovely but it drips out the bottom, and let’s face it, you can’t get as much in.  Go for the quarter kilo polystyrene, environmentally unfriendly but into which they really pack it in.  It leaves your gums numb, your teeth chattering and your stomach feeling like it’s suddenly been dropped in the Antarctic, but who cares.  My favourite is dulce de leche – caramel – made quite dark and very rich and sweet.  (Somebody mop my brow).  Terrible for diabetics – I was using insulin as if it was heroin.

Dulce de Leche, nectar of the gods,
in all its basic beauty!

Got to go and lie down - will carry on with the next adventure in another post...



The Dash! said...

Whoa!!! What amazing pictures - I was drooling over it all - but the one that got me most was the caramel - the last one... OMG so lovely.. I just love caramel.
It sounds like this trip was cathartic for you - which is just wonderful. Now you have more great memories to add to those you already have. Thanks for sharing them, Caroline. :)

Tina said...

I think we all have to mourn some of the foods we can no longer have. I do want to tell you that now...this far down the road. I have figured out how to chew better and a lot of the foods that I gave up entirely I can now eat again. I still max out at 1/2 cup at any sitting but I can have two bites of any of the pastries you showed. Of course the ice cream...oh I love o man.....:) we can eat loads of that no matter how tight the band.

Although the beef really didn't do much for me You will still be able to eat it. I have had a bit here and there. It is all in the chewing and listening as to when to stop. Both very hard but do come with time and practice.

Good luck with the return to cold old England and whenever you get another fill.


Zanna, travelling tart said...

Just loving hearing all about your visit - you write so well - I can taste the caramel and smell the BBQ. Waiting patiently for more... Zxx

Lonicera said...

Yes, I meant to apologise to the non-meat eaters, to whom the asado pictures would look quite gross, but I forgot.
The chewing thing - I know... you're right. You would think a year down the line I would have mastered the technique, but I haven't.

Bunny said...


i wanna go there

( oh and the verification word for this post was HARYREA - hairy rear!! HA HA)

Reddirt Woman said...

Oh my... from the photos and descriptions on this post if I'd been raised in Buenos Aires I'm afraid I would never have left... When I win the lottery Buenos Aires will be on my travel agenda.

The sweets would be my total downfall.

Thank you (I think) for this post.


Diz said...

WOW...I can't WAIT to travel there and partake of all those goodies...and I will! I may be banded, but I'm not dead! It just means I have to limit myself to a bite or two, but I'll make it count.

WOW, your pictures are almost as rich as the words that you've etched in my heart. You are one talented woman!

Nola said...

I love how you write so descriptively and I could taste every single thing in my mind!!! I loved that walk through your culinary delights on the trip!! I can't wait for the next installment:)

Dawn said...

Wow...I have been drooling over your post for most of the evening!!! I've found that I can eat what I want...but only small amounts. Maximum 2 small bites of a pastry, a small bite of beef...well chewed. But the old icecream does go down rather nicely!! Glad you had a great trip


Lonicera said...

Thank you so much for all the comments. I thought for the next post I'd better steer clear of these sorts of temptations - as the blog is supposed to contribute towards group bandit therapy...
Wish I'd taken the pix, but in this first post I didn't. The rest are mostly mine though.
Thanks again!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...