This is my third visit to Mendoza and the third time I haven’t gone to a bodega.
This is unacceptable for a variety of reasons. First of all, Mendoza isn’t just wine country, it’s MALBEC WINE COUNTRY. For anyone with a set of tastebuds and eyeballs, you’ll know that Malbec is lovely and that I prefer drinking this over almost anything else in the world. Furthermore, I’ve had three chances to get my ass to a vineyard and spend my day lazily tasting wines and gazing out over the grapes. Have I done this? No. Why not? I have no idea. Maybe next time.
This visit to Mendoza has been very pleasing and lovely for other reasons. We’re going to be here about a week in total and in this week I have tried more typical Argentine dishes than Chilean dishes in my whole year and a half in Chile.
Some of you may already know my thoughts on Chilean cuisine (see tag: Hey Chile, you could use a little more salt), but this isn’t just a personal palatte issue, or even a personal vendetta. It’s a fact: Chilean Cuisine is notably sparse.
Typical Chilean dishes are as follows: Completos (Hot dogs piled with avocado, mayonnaise, and tomato in what resembles a veritable condiment boat), Curanto (a big stew of meat, chicken, and seafood), Chorillana (French Fries, fried egg, hot dog, and caramelized onions, all mixed together. Great hangover food. Also great heart attack food), Empanadas (think of an overgrown hot pocket from scratch, with a variety of vegetable/meat/seafood and cheese fillings).
Also: seafood in general, because of the access to the sea.
That constitutes la cocina chilena. And it took me the full year and a half and plenty of interrogation to get the real scoop on Chilean cuisine. It’s just…not their strong suit.
But here in Argentina?
I get to Argentina and take a bite of bread and there is a shuddering wave of contentment. I think to myself, “Yes. This is what BREAD tastes like!” And the butter is tastier. And the asados….don’t get me started.
In this one week in Mendoza I’ve had two traditionally Argentinian homemade dishes.
The first one was pastel de papa (potato pie). Our friends Sergio and Sandra made this dish with Sandra’s 1st-generation Italian immigrant grandmother, and watching the process alone convinced me that this was already my favorite dish without even having tried it.
Thin layer of flimsy dough. Slather on a nice layer of mashed potatoes, add a layer of “picadillo”, which is essentially ground beef and onions and picante and tomato mixed together. Then a layer of cheese; another layer of mashed potatoes; and then final layer of thin flimsy dough. The dough is pinched shut at the perimeter, coated with a whisked egg glaze, and then it bakes for 30 minutes.
And then you put it in your mouth and the heavens open and angels shriek and things rain from the sky.
The next dish I had the extreme pleasure of trying for the first time this visit was locro de choclo. Hell if I know what this means in English, except that choclo means corn, and this was certainly a corn-based dish.
I was able to witness some of the cooking process and it seemed that corn boiled for three hours and then suddenly onions were cooking and it was ready. I think I missed part of this process.
At any rate, what ends up in front of your face at the lunch table is a steaming bowl of (let’s say) corn soup, with a nice variety of condiments, a dollop of homemade tomato sauce with caramelized onions, and a couple variety of squash or potatoes mixed in. Two or three cubes of a creamy cheese are added, you wait until it no longer scorches the top layer of skin from inside your mouth, and then you shovel that down your throat.
Sopped up at the end, of course, with homemade Argentinian bread.
*kicks leg in the air* YES!
The first time I came to Argentina, I was able to have a few first-timers then: if we’ll recall Jorge’s family greeting us with lamb, and then the crowd favorite milanesa, breaded meat fried to perfection. To be fair, milanesa exists in all countries to some degree (except in Chile). In Mexico, my mama used to make this for me almost on the daily, with a nice side of mashed potatoes. In the USA, it’s consumed under the name country fried steak, also with mashed potatoes.
I don’t know what it is about Chilean food. There are, of course, extremely tasty options available, but mostly in fine ass restaurants with a strong outside influence (as in, the owner studied cooking in France). Desserts in Chile were always pretty disappointing, as well. I don’t know what the problem is. Lack of sweet? Lack of salt? Or lack of full-bodied flavor in general in the ingredients?
We can probably boil the debate down to this: when I first got to Chile, it took me approximately one year to come to terms with the fact that the butter sucked.
I’m talking like, the regular supermarket nice brand. Not the cheap crappy supermarket brand.
After a year there, I found the artesenal butter, made in the countryside of Patagonia, and yeah, that butter was great, and distinct.
But there is something lacking in the majority of Chilean food. It has to go back to what the animals are eating, and any Argentinian will regale you for hours about the superior feeding process of their cows and pigs that allow that award-winning reputation to flourish. Chile doesn’t have bad meat by any means, but there is something under the surface that is missing, and I can’t put my finger on it.
If it doesn’t come from Patagonia/the general south, if it hasn’t had exposure to outside influences, or if you don’t make it yourself…it’s probably going to be bland.
I’m sorry, Chile. I love you, we’ve had great times.
But you could use a little more damn salt.