Buenos Aires – Catamarca is a province in the northwest of Argentina, along the border with Chile, essentially in the Andes mountains. None of this is particularly relevant. It comes up because I am exploring the world of the empanada. If you’re not familiar with these, they are essentially savory turnovers, either fried or baked, and can contain a variety of fillings. As I’ve wandered around Buenos Aires, the most common seem to be beef, chicken, ham & cheese, cheese & onion, cheese & corn, and roquefort. In reading about empanadas, I’ve seen references to various styles.
Now, I have yet to find a cogent explanation of the differences. There are various references to different additions to the primary ingredient – these seem to be various combinations of olives, potatoes, eggs, raisins, and differing spices. I’d heard about empanadas catamarqueñas spoken about as both one of the spicier versions, and one of the better versions. The only place anyone could recommend to me in BA that makes them is a little place called la cocina, Pueyrredón 1508 in Recoleta, that specializes in the food of Catamarca.
La cocina has a half-dozen seats at side counters, and another half at a communal table. Most of their business is apparently take-out/delivery, though, the attractive and friendly couple of folk who work there make it worth staying, just for a bit of eye-candy. They offer a selection of empanadas, locro (remember locro from a few days ago? we’ll get to that in a minute), and a few other dishes. I will say that so far, these are the best empanadas I’ve ever had. Anywhere. (This is, of course, subject to change as I explore.) Eggs play a part in the filling – a ham and cheese variation has a sort of whipped egg and ricotta-ish filling with a dice of slightly spicy ham; the spicy beef contained potatoes, hard-boiled eggs, and plenty of garlic, onions, and chilies. Delicious!
I now understand why Henry thought the locro we had the other day was mediocre at best. That one consisted of corn, potatoes, squash and a piece or two of meat and tripe braised together. It was salty, but not particularly spicy. This one was packed full of white beans, sweet white corn, grain, diced steak, and several different kinds of sausage. The server also asked me if I wanted it picante, and when I said yes, drizzled a spoonful of fiery chili oil across the top. It was served with a side of a slightly crisp, slightly chewy flatbread for dipping. Yum!