“Wherever in the world I might sense the smell of gum trees, I feel as if I had been take back to Adrogué. And that is exactly what Adrogué was: a large and quiet maze of streets surrounded by lush trees and country houses, a maze of many peaceful nights that my parents liked to traverse. Country houses in which you could guess how life was behind those country houses. In some way, I have always been there, I am always here. You take the places with yourself, the places are within yourself. I am still among the gum trees and labyrinths, that place where you can easily get lost. I guess you might as well get lost in Paradise. Bizarre statues turn pretty, a ruin that is not a ruin, a tennis court. And then, in the very Las Delicias Hotel, a big room with mirrors. I have certainly found myself in those infinite looking glasses. Many arguments, many scenes, many poems that I imagined were born in Adrogué or were fixed in Adrogué. Whenever I talk about gardens, whenever I talk about trees, I am in Adrogué; I have thought about that city, it is unnecessary to name it.”
– Jorge Luis Borges, Writer
Adrogué – I mentioned some time ago that this summer I was going to start ranging out from the Capital and exploring various spots in the surrounds. This last week seemed like as good a time as any to start. I’ve heard, numerous times, about this town to the south – famous for being the home of Las Empanadas de las Abuelas, a restaurant that regularly wins awards for its empanadas, and also now and again from visitors who stay at a little B&B called Teresita, which doubles as a cooking school, making it a destination for folks looking for a vacation that includes a bit of training in local cooking. One of these days I’ll check the school out and get back to you…
The trip to Adrogué starts off at the beautiful Constitución station here in Buenos Aires – a pretty stunning building that formed part of a complex of buildings that included not only the rail station (and now bus station), but also connected into one of the main Mercado de Las Frutas, a center for the sale of farm fresh produce. The trip currently costs a whopping 60 centavos, which perhaps seems less of a bargain when you find yourself on a train that’s literally in tatters – ripped up seats, broken windows, missing hanging straps. The riders a mix of all ages and backgrounds – this train passes through various southern neighborhoods, both savory and un, on its way to a final destination of either the town of Glew or Alejandro Korn. There are other ways to get to Adrogué, but this is the simplest and least expensive, and at least during the day, felt safe, if scruffy.
Arrival in this town of 30,000 inhabitants, the “capital” of the partido of Gran Buenos Aires called Almirante Brown, is a slightly less imposing experience… The town is named after the “founder”, i.e., the person who donated the land for it – Esteban Adrogué – in the late 1800s.
The first thing to do was find a map – which doesn’t really separate out Adrogué, no boundary definitions, but a large page of the entire partido. I had two plans in mind for this first visit – empanadas, and a walking tour of the principal plazas – the latter to be covered in a subsequent post…
I first delved slightly into the downtown and La Delicia neighborhood, the sort of green zigzag heading off to the upper right of the station (by the way, for whatever reason, the map is not oriented with either north or south at the top, but sort of east-northeast – the red line showing the train actually runs off to the north as it heads off the picture). I didn’t know about the famed hotel mentioned by Borges, and if it still exists, either actively or as a monument or museum of sorts, it will have to wait for a future visit.
I then headed back to the station after orienting myself a bit to the commercial center, which is filled with little cafes and shops, and plenty of interesting looking restaurants – so this might well be a spot worthy of returning to for a bit of dining. From there, I headed to “the other side of the tracks”, into the western part of town…
And, on to Las Empanadas de Las Abuelas, the yellow dot at the end of the green two block trek to the west, which turns out not to be anything like I pictured. I had visions of adorable grandmothers (abuelas) busily slaving away in the kitchen, serving up carefully hand crafted pies with a smile and a twinkle in their eyes. Instead, a fairly commercial seeming spot, with a couple of twenty-something whatever girls in attendance, you know the type. Perhaps a bit of eye candy as the delivery boy brings in tray after tray of empanadas from wherever those truant grandmothers are actually working, if they are.
A query as to the specialties of the house yielded the one word response “empanadas”. An attempt to clarify that into baked or fried and one of the dozen or so choices of fillings yielded the same single palabra. Since clearly no guidance was going to be forthcoming, I forged ahead and picked baked, one each of the carne, carne picante, and the unusual palmitos y queso – hearts of palm and cheese. It seemed different enough to be worth trying. I also ordered an humita, a cousin to the better known, at least in other parts of the globe, tamal – but made with fresh corn added, cheese, and generally lightly sweetened.
The verdict on these cute little pies, a basket of them, individually wrapped in napkins, each with a name card telling you what it is… well, I can’t say these are the best empanadas I’ve ever had. They’re good… quite good in fact. The crust is a bit flakier and almost more pastry-like than many. The meat filling is nice and savory and juicy – cut bits of steak, not ground beef, the basic version having a nice mix of olives and sweet peppers, the picante adding in a bit of hot pepper flakes – not many, and in fact, other than side by side I’d be hard pressed to have said they were different. The hearts of palm version interesting, in a sort of… if I hadn’t remembered ordering it I’d be surprised to find it in front of me way… I swear that in addtiion to the palmitos and a bit of cheese, it was filled with salsa golf – a mix of mayo and ketchup that’s wildly popular here. The humita, well, I should just stick with tamales… the former are simply too sweet for me most of the time. Nothing bad about it, it fits local tastes, but it’s not my thing… let’s leave it at that.