Italians who immigrated to Argentina in the late 1800s definitely left their mark on its cuisine. They brought their love for pizza, pasta, and gelato, called helado here. Every block or two in Buenos Aires, helado shops are as common as those for lattes in Seattle. Instead of round scoops, helado is piled into an Andes-like mountain peak, with a little plastic spoon stuck into the side. With two fellow travelers, one from Germany and another from the UK, we went to Jauja, a shop that specializes in flavors from Patagonia, and serves gelato as good as any I’ve had in Italy. The ice cream server indulged us with samples made with Patagonian berries: murta, sauco, and lupulo. After little spoonfuls of at least a half-dozen tastes (he was not only patient, he was enthusiastic!) I narrowed my choices to Argentinian strawberry and dulce de leche, a creamy milk caramel, with walnuts harvested in the Andes. My new pal from Germany chose maqui, a native Patagonian berry. It’s the dark purple-blue scoop in the bottom of her cone.
I chatted with an Argentine in her late 20s and asked what her family typically eats. Like many, she has a sliver of Italian in her DNA. Every Sunday, the family of about 25 people gathers at grandma’s house for mid-day dinner. They alternate between having homemade pasta one week, then an asado (family barbecue) the next. But never both at the same meal. The asado begins with provoleta (thick slices of grilled provolone, set on the counter the night before to dry out) sprinkled with oregano. And empanadas, of course. Next comes an array of beef organ meats: chinchulines (small intestines), mollejas (sweetbreads – a charitable word for steer thymus gland), and morcilla (blood sausage). She loves sweetbreads; it’s one of her favorite foods, and she convinced me to try some. Then there’s the star of the show, beef, and lots of it. Thick steaks and ribs are served with chimichurri sauce on the side. Dessert might be flan with dolce de leche. The final course, she says, is a nap!