Friday, May 14, 2010

"Oh, The Things I'll Eat" - The Trip Back, part 3

Oh, The Things I Will Eat

It would be disingenuous to claim that food is not a huge part of the reason I’m looking forward to going back to Buenos Aires.. I’m curious as to whether my memories of how good the food is are really accurate or whether it’s a case of rose-colored glasses. In either case, here are the dishes I’m most looking forward to:

Steak: Argentina is known around the world for the quality of its beef, so of course I’ll have to see if my grown-up, more discerning palate really thinks it’s that much better.

Provoleta: Take a slab of provolone cheese and throw it on the grill just long enough for the outside to get a little crunchy and the inside to get soft. Then, pour some olive oil on top and sprinkle on some oregano. Serve with bread.

Milanesa: Sort of a pan-fried veal cutlet. I usually had it topped with ham and cheese and, on a good day, a fried egg.

Ice cream: The ice cream in Argentina is much creamier, more akin to what we’d call gelato.

Choripan: A combination of the words “chorizo” (sausage) and “pan” (bread). It’s basically a sausage sandwich, served with baguette style bread with a super-hard crust. It’s best when served with chimichurri, a sauce which is delicious and defies description.

Pasta: Seriously, they eat a LOT of pasta in Argentina. I’m hoping to have at least some ravioli and a little cannelloni.

Wine: For obvious reasons I didn’t get a lot of the local wine when we lived there before, but Mendoza wine is world-renowned. I frequently buy Malbecs here in the States and I’m excited to see what they serve locally.

Dulce de leche: Sort of like caramel, but Argentines use it like Americans use peanut butter. It’s spread on toast or breakfast pastries, and they even blend it in with ice cream. I’ve never found it here in the States.

Parrillada mixta: This is definitely the most exciting thing on this list. Every year on our birthdays, my dad and I would go out and treat each other to a parrillada mixta, an event we lovingly called our "Guts 'n' Grease Galore Gala." A tray is filled with hot coals and grilled meats are placed over the coals so that they stay hot at your table. The selection of meats varies depending on which restaurant you go to, but it usually had some ribs, sausage, a couple pieces of chicken, some small pieces of steak. The good parrilladas had some more exotics stuff as well: morcilla (blood sausage), molleja (some kind of cow gland; this was one of my favorites), chinchulines (small intestine), and tongue. I even got one once that had brain. Getting a parrillada mixta is an absolute must for at least one meal while we're there.

We should be arriving in about 24 hours, and I’m having a really hard time deciding which kind of food I’m gonna go after first. Also, I’m hungry now.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The trip back, part 2

When we go back to Buenos Aires in two weeks, it will have been almost exactly sixteen years since I left. I’ve been examining my own life and what has changed in those sixteen years and wondering how much Buenos Aires itself has changed since then.

My sister and I boarded the plane to leave Argentina on June 24th, 1994. I had just graduated from high school and this was my first time to travel without an adult - and I had my kid sister in tow, headed halfway around the planet while my parents stayed behind to pack up our stuff. I remember the date so specifically because we woke up on the plane on June 25th - my sister’s 13th birthday. I asked the flight attendant if there was something special she could do for my sister. I was hoping they might have a nice muffin or an extra dessert. She suggested I buy her something out of the SkyMall magazine. To this day I marvel at how that lady just didn’t “get it.”

When we left I was a kid, now I’m a grownup. I have a college degree and a nice house in the suburbs of Houston. I have a wonderful wife and two beautiful children (happy third birthday, Vanilla Bean!). I have agood job and pay my taxes. I am, by any measure, a bowl of vanilla ice cream - not necessarily very exciting, but nice and predictable.

Buenos Aires has always been a melting pot. I usually describe it as a European city that just happens to be located in South America. Many people assume that since Spanish is the primary language in Argentina, it must be at least somewhat similar to Mexico - nothing could be more untrue. The food, the architecture, even the racial ancestry of the people in Argentina is very Western European.

I don’t know how much it will have changed in the time I’ve been gone. Will there be a more unique, independently Argentine identity? Will there be a strong American influence? I suspect Buenos Aires will not have changed as much I have. I would never have described it as a particularly fluid society. When I lived there in the ’80 and ‘90s I think it was probably much the same is it’d been since the British were kicked out in the ‘40s and ‘50s. All that being said, I wonder how differently the 34-year old will respond to what the 18-year old left behind?