(September 23-24 – written by Dave)
We are enjoying our downtime in Salta. It is a very relaxed city. In fact based on what some of the locals tell us, Salta is the “chill-out” capitol of the Argentina. People don’t often come here with big agendas, they come here to relax.
Relaxing for a hungry touring cyclist has to include food. So when a tour called “Food Coma” popped up after making our AirB&B booking, our interest was piqued. We took the plunge last night and took the coma tour – it was great. The tour was hosted by Felipe and we were his second customers – the first customers were the night before us. Felipe is just getting the business off the ground.
Felipe was born and raised in Mar de Plata, just south of Buenos Aires. He lived in the USA from ages 8 to 16. And for us, best of all, he spoke perfect English. The gist of “Coma” is Felipe takes you to local food haunts, he orders all kinds of different treats and then he explains everything to you. Because he is “local” we used the night to also pick Felipe’s brain on things that have made us curious about Argentina.
The focus of our evening quickly became the humble empanada. Our first stop was El Patio de la Empanada where 5 of the region’s best empanada cooks have stalls. There is an annual tournament in early September where up to 150 different regional empanada cooks take identical ingredients, make their best empanada and finally put themselves up for judgment. The top 5 winners are given free rent for a year in a stand in El Patio de la Empanada.
While winning and earning a spot would seem an amazing opportunity, Felipe informed us that at least two of the winners rarely show up at their stands. It turns out the winning is almost more important than getting free rent where they can sell their wares. Not that it mattered for us as we had more than enough choices at the stand Felipe chose – we tried empanadas with cheese, beef, dried beef, chicken and cornmeal.
And we learned a lot about empanadas. As you’d probably guess, there are considerable regional differences in the contents and preparations of empanadas. And every region thinks that their way is the best. Mostly empanadas are baked but they can also be fried (we tried both). They have to be made to order as the dough and ingredients get soggy otherwise – this explains why we have to wait whenever we order them. I think you can get premade versions in the frozen food section of the major grocery stores but why would you?
Once we were completely stuffed with empanadas, Felipe took us onto part two of the night, dessert. We visited a rather famous chain shop called Havana in search of alfajores. Alfajores are made throughout the world but naturally, Felipe is a fan of the Argentina version – in particular the version from his home town (yes, there are regional differences in these cookies as well). They are made with two round cookies, sandwiching dulce de leche (sweet milk paste) and generally covered in some form of chocolate (dark, white, milk, your choice) or sometimes powdered sugar and/or coconut. For friends in North America, think fancy Moon Pies.
If the empanadas didn’t cause a coma, well, the alfajores certainly did. They are incredibly rich and you could never eat more than one. I choose dark chocolate, Nancy choose milk chocolate. We liked our choices but later sleep was a hard time coming – that was a lot of sugar.
The tour lasted from about 7:30 until 10:30. During this entire time, Felipe didn’t eat anything. He says that dinner for him never comes before 10PM and often it is much later. After dessert he offered to take us to a peña – a type of restaurant where they serve massive amounts of grilled meat and which often host local singers and musicians. Unfortunately the action doesn’t really start until after 11PM and goes well into the morning, often until 4AM. We took a pass on that and waddled home with full stomaches. We may need more late night sleep deprivation training if we’re going to survive our time in Argentina.
We were scheduled to leave Salta tomorrow but are staying one more day. Our AirB&B owner, who happens to be a sommelier, is giving us a private wine tasting – A “Wine Coma” perhaps! Check back later for a full report…