21 Marzo 2009
It's a mixed bag.
The meat is incredible, as I have mentioned. The beef and sausage here can't be beat.
Also incredible are the tomatoes. In USA tomatoes taste like water. Here they are extremely flavorful. I am wont to eat three or four tomatoes strait from the fridge as if they were apples.
But looking at the overall picture, I'd say the food here is not as good as in New Jersey.
There's a lot of repetition. Argentines don't like to experiment with new dishes. Once you've tasted one asado (barbecue), you've tasted them all. There's a lot of disappointing plain bread with plain cheese, and plain spaghetti with plain cheese. Sandwiches are eaten very frequently, and usually consist of nothing except bread, a thin slice of ham, and a thin slice of cheese. Nothing is spicy. Nothing.
There is certainly a lack (for better or for worse) of "gourmet" food. More popular are food that don't involve forks; hotdogs and pizza. The pizza I don't dig too much - maybe just because I'm so used to NY/NJ pizza. Pizza here is made without mozzarella cheese (I don't know the name of the cheese they use), and too little tomato sauce.
Mediocre foods include empanadas (not as good as colombian empanadas, and never spicy) and tartas (pies sort of like a quiche - cheese, egg, onion, corn, etc.). Apples are mushy, and there's not enough variety of fruit.
Of course there are exceptions to the mediocre-food rule. For example, Lomito (a regional special) is one of the best sandwiches I have ever tasted. Lomito is similar to a burger. Two toasted pieces of bread, meat (lomo), lettuce, tomato, cheese, mayo, and fried egg. Egg on a burger sounds weird I know, but trust me it is delicious. If you are vegetarian in Argentina you will suffer. If you're vegan you'll die.
Another exception: A friend of my host mother, a woman named Adriana, invites me to eat with her and her elderly friends on Thursday nights. We all gather at a nice summer house in la quebrada ('the gorge' - an area near the mountains where the weather is cooler and the town is quieter) and Adrinana's elderly lady friends cook for everyone. One night they cooked pizza. I was upset, because I was expecting the usual lousy Riojano pizza. But their pizza transcends the standards of La Rioja and even of New York. The pizza came to the table with onion and tomato, another with egg, olive, and oil, another with sausages and a medley of herbs. The cuisine was accompanied by fine red wine and black beer, and afterwards we enjoyed a elegant fruit pastry with cream.
Those ladies can cook. No matter what plans I have on Thursday night, I cancel them to go eat at la quebrada.
About the sweets I can actually say "It's not better, it's not worse, it's just different." The operative difference is dulce de leche. Yes, the same dulce de leche you learned about in Spanish class. It's a sweet paste with a consistency between nutella and grape jelly, and a flavor that's just.... sweet. It's pretty good, if not a bit too sweet for my liking. Oreos here have a dulce de leche center. Cakes have dulce de leche fillings (and frostings). Icecream tubs come in "chocolate, vanilla, and dulce de leche." If you like the flavor of dulce de leche, you will be happy in Argentina. Right now Mauricio (my host brother, 17-years-old) is constructing a layered cake of chocolate cookies dunked in coffee and dulce de leche.
People rave about the alfajor, but I'm not a big fan. Alfajor a cookie-dulce de leche sandwich that's famously Argentine. All I can say is, "...Eh."
Overall, I miss the food from home more than I enjoy the food here.
Now I will lament things I miss most: peanut butter, Chinese food, Indian food, Vietnamese food, Japanese food, Mexican food, Thai food, Indonesian food, sweet potatoes, chocolate, soymilk, cliff bars, M&Ms, tabasco sauce, any fish or seafood, salsa (yes, I'm in Latin America and I miss salsa. There's none here), breakfast cereal, and of course, my mother's cooking (well... some of my mother´s cooking anyway).
I'll eat double asado for the sake of everyone in my country. For me, you guys enjoy the many flavors of USA that don't exist here.