Expats and the porteño food experience

Cooking Torta Frita

I like Argentine food. I like pretty much all of it. However I have noticed that there is a certain distaste among some expats, especially Americans, for Argentine food. Every expat has had their love affair with the juicy steaks, red wine, and dulce de leche on everything. This lasts about a week. Then they begin to get bored, then to whine a bit, then the real bitching starts. “I hate empanadas.” “Not pizza again.” “Please, gets me a real salad.” They complain that pizzas here tend to be overloaded with cheese, inevitably somehow involve ham, boiled eggs, or something similar.

Sure, things aren’t going to be the same as at home but they have a point: the flavors rarely change and there is little diversity. The same ingredients are repeated over and over. The classic place has eight flavors of empanadas and some places can boast 10 or 12 but really everyone here orders the same thing anyway. Porteños simply do not demand or want a variety in the dishes they are served. Pasta is traditional and good but they tend to stick to very strict ingredients and recipes — no crazy pink vodka sauces to be found here.

Going to the spice aisle, even in a very large store is at an exercise in frustration. Here, the idea of a large selection means 10 brands of salt, 10 brands of pepper, and five brands of Parsley. Porteños look on with fear as their expat friends add spices that they had to buy Barrio Chino .

Argentines have a lot of respect for their cooking tradition. As a culture folks here don’t like mixing in random things and experimenting with the same “no rules” attitude typical of Americans. One thing that’ll be interesting to see is if Starbucks’ presence pushes local coffee menus into offering more iced drinks. It might not be so. Diva provides one porteño reaction in her blog entry: Just say no [to Starbucks]. It’s a really interesting read and it’s good to see porteños aren’t just opening the door to US corporate culture. God knows how many expats are here just to escape Starbucks…

While many American expats miss the crazy diversity of home, perhaps there’s a method behind the staid and conservative Argentine cuisine. Apart from the famous eating disorder problem, perhaps this explains their thinness when compared to their yanqui counterparts. I was recently listening to a radio show about rethinking our ideas about thinness and one caller mentioned a very important point: that in places where they sense of cuisine, people feel more connection and derive more pleasure from their food than in places where folks are confronted by many choices, none of which they have cultural connections with. In turn, this connection and pleasure has been linked to gaining more nutrition from the food one eats, allowing for smaller portions. Personally, I think that this sense of cuisine helps porteños maintain their weight, even in this dulce de leche culture of medialunas, alfajores, and cream sauce.

8 replies
  1. exnat
    exnat says:

    now that you’re confrontational i’m not sure if i like you anymore, alan…

    even so, to show my magananimity i’ll go one step better. I’ll TEACH YOU HOW TO MAKE TORTA FRITA in an upcoming blog entry on how to be porteño in 5 easy steps.

  2. Alan Patrick
    Alan Patrick says:

    well, really i could ask my fiance or suegra to teach me… and i was kind of looking for a Torta Frita bribe for a link, but anyway, the post sounds interesting, so i’ll look out for it, even if you don’t like me anymore – i’ll rise above it because all that really matters in this world is high quality blog content, right?

  3. exnat
    exnat says:

    hey jen,

    i thought you were gonna rag on the fact that i used the word “cuisine” three times to describe the nutritious chicken fried steak known as milanesa (“Vitamin M”).

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