Where I grew up in New Jersey, there wasn’t a lot of ethnically diverse cuisine, but there were Italian restaurants every 50 feet, and almost all of them were good. As such, I never really opened a menu, because any decent Italian place serves ravioli, which has been my favorite meal since approximately age five.
As an adult, as my close friends know, “all-things-pumpkin” joined ravioli on my list of favorite foods. Pumpkin coffee, pumpkin pie, pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin pudding (which I make myself, and once prompted my roommate to say, “What the hell is this? This big bowl of orange goo in the fridge?”).
Well, late last week, in the little outdoor-but-heated café attached to the Evita Museum (which was great, but less relevant), my two favorite foods came together: Pumpkin-stuffed ravioli with thyme cream sauce. I was dying. It may have been the best meal I’ve ever eaten. I have thought about it no less than three times a day since I had it.
Unfortunately, in Buenos Aires overall, I have not been so lucky. My roommate once said—and I believe she was only partially kidding—that Trader Joe’s was the best thing that’s ever happened to her. And now, I have this to say: I don’t miss my bed, or my car, or anything like that, but I miss Trader Joe’s.
Argentina is known for its beef, and it’s legit: The steak here is undeniably the best I’ve ever eaten. The problem is—particularly for someone who eats red meat at home maybe two or three times a month—there’s just So. Much. Meat. So, eventually, you tire of beef, and you branch out to see what else the culinary world here has to offer, and unfortunately, it’s not all that much:
· Empanadas. Empanadas are everywhere and they’re good, they really are, but they’re also just dough and meat—and, occasionally, cheese. They also, too often, include:
· Ham. Sweet Jesus, they put ham on everything here. I don’t even really like ham (it’s kind of one of those foods that’s, you know, fine, and I’m okay to eat it if someone puts it in front of me, but I’d never seek it out). Here, though, you can’t avoid it. Ham empanadas. Ham on croissants. Ham on chicken sandwiches. Ham underneath the steaks. It’s lunacy.
· Superpanchos! This means hot dog, and this means I love it. No complaints on this one except for the fact that they often put ham on them.
· A complete lack of salads. I’ve ordered exactly three salads since I’ve been here, and each one is a little nastier than the one prior. If the lettuce isn’t brown and wilted, the carrots are. And slimy, so slimy . . . Salads are uncommon, and prepared pretty much solely for tourists, it seems. A guy who lived in my building told me that twice he ordered a salad and out came a plate of cut-up bits of ham with a few pieces of shredded lettuce on top.
· Bread. Okay, so I love bread, any kind of bread—plain, with butter, dipped in oil, as a sandwich, whatever. But even I am sick of bread here. It’s on every table and used as a base for most meals. It is also always unnecessarily served with:
· An abundance of pizza and pasta. Argentina has a massive Italian immigrant population, and they brought their fattening, nutrient-lacking food with them. That said, I love both of these foods, and they’re pretty good here, so it’s better than, say, a huge Bulgarian population coming in and bringing their food culture. (I think it is, anyway—I’ve never actually eating Bulgarian food.)
· Cookies. Because I have both a weight problem and issues with self-control, I do not purchase cookies in the U.S. (Instead, I eat the ones my roommate buys.) So, I’m not actually sure that Argentinean cookies are substantially better than American cookies, but I do know they’re more prevalent. Janne, my German friend here (she’s my South American Eva), told me she’s used to large family breakfasts at home on the weekend mornings, and because she’s staying with a family here rather than on her own, she thought she’d have that to look forward to. “But instead they just microwave some powder thing they call coffee with water in the microwave and eat a cookie. A cookie!” This was confirmed in my Spanish class a few weeks ago when we worked our way through the unit on food. My teacher called on Connor, an Irish guy, to talk about breakfast. He gave what I considered to be a pretty standard and impressive (in Spanish) answer: “In the mornings, for breakfast, I eat fruit salad, and I have some tea.” My teacher replied, “No, for breakfast, not a snack. What do you eat in the morning?” He explained that he had understood the first time, and he has fruit and tea for breakfast. The teacher looked at all of the other students and said, laughing and pointing, “It’s very strange, no? That’s so strange! Fruit? What about cookies? No cookies? No croissants? You must be hungry all the day without cookies in the morning. Yes? He must be starving all day long, don’t you think?!” Hoping my response might count as my turn for the exercise, I threw Connor under the bus and said, “Yes! So strange,” because I knew those words, but did not know the word for eggs.