“From the beginning of my interest in veggie burgers my approach has been to regard the veggie burger as a cuisine unto itself: It is far more varied than its meat-based counterpart and ungoverned by any particular geographical cuisine or generally accepted set of rules. The veggie burger is a very accepting category of food. Which brings up the question: What is a veggie burger, then, besides something that is meatless and shaped like a disc?”
– Lukas Volger, in the Introduction to Veggie Burgers every which way
A review coming up on the book quoted above, but I’ll tell you upfront, if the genre of the veggie burger is one that you enjoy, this is the book for you. I acquired it recently as part of a project I’m thinking about, and at the same time, it brought up the question here in BsAs, are there any good veggie burgers out there in the eateries? The typical plate that arrives if you order one is nothing more than a soy milanesa, i.e., not much more than a slab of tofu, perhaps smoked or seasoned, breaded and fried, and then topped, generally, the same way a burger might be. They tend to be tasteless and do little more than add protein to the sandwich, and perhaps some crunch. Even those places that gussy them up a bit, like, say Befrika, can’t disguise the fact that the “burger” is not the star player on the plate. So I’ve set out to sample the offerings out there, avoiding those that fall into the soy block category, unless someone can assert that they’ve somehow turned one out that’s amazing. Here, round 1:
It’s been nearly five years since I reviewed Bio, Humboldt
2199 2192 (as of early 2013), in Palermo, and that was the last time I’d tried their hamburguesa vegetal. It hadn’t been bad, it just hadn’t impressed me, and on subsequent visits I’ve always had something different. So it was worth a revisit and a more in-depth look. As best I can tell, looking at the pictures, nothing has really changed other than I’d say that the accompanying salad is now more generous, and with more stuff in it – some radishes, sprouts, etc. – and a nice vinaigrette. The burger looks exactly the same. It is patty of millet, cooked in vegetable juices, with beet juice being the dominant flavor, and giving the burger a vivid red color. There’s nothing else to the burger itself however, it really is just a packed disc of millet, lightly toasted on a griddle, topped with melted cheese (I noted last time that they specified it was soy cheese, and that may be, but if so, it’s pretty darned good soy Swiss cheese, something that isn’t generally available here – I didn’t ask this time whether it was soy or dairy), and it is still topped with those onions which I’d guess are simply cooked in oil with a little turmeric. At 31 pesos it’s a bit pricey for what it is.
Bio also offers up a second version, called the hamburguesa proteica. In this case it’s a barely held together mash of cooked barley and lentils. It has little seasoning, perhaps a touch of salt, though likely it’s just that either or both of the components were cooked in a light vegetable stock. Barely held together is operative, as really it’s not much more than a vaguely formed pile of the mash. It was fine, but I think veers off the path of being a veggie burger other than in abstraction. The salad that comes with it is even another step up, actually quite good. I’m not sure why, but this version is an extra peso, coming in at 32.
At nearby Buenos Aires Verde, Gorriti 5657, a relative newcomer that offers a mix of vegetarian and raw food vegan options in both cafe and grocery, the hamburguesa vegetal napolitana goes hardcore Argentine. The burger itself is pretty basic, cooked millet, likely in vegetable stock, packed together, and honestly pretty tasteless on its own, but it’s topped with a reasonably zippy tomato sauce and then a slab of melted cheese over the top (an option for tofu cheese isn’t listed on the menu, but is, I’m told, available). I guess I understand on a grain based “burger” the lack of a bun of any sort, at least in a logical thinking approach that it might be “too much” on the grain side, but for a burger, I want a way to pick it up, so, like Bio above, it just becomes a patty on a plate. The salad on the plate is decently sized, and on its own would be a meal with all its sprouts and seeds, however, for my tastes, it is doused in a way too sweet honey mustard ginger sort of dressing that would be at home in a TGI Friday’s alongside something fried and unidentifiable. At 32 pesos, it’s a bit much, and since Bio has a millet burger for a peso less that’s better… well, you can do the math.
It may be unfair that I didn’t go for the “with salad” option on the veggie burger at another newcomer, Meraviglia, Gorriti 5796, just a block and a half further on [Now closed.]. But so be it, I couldn’t face another pile of lettuce leaves. And since it’s an option, I opted out. There was potential here, Meraviglia is known for its baked goods, also offered up for sale along with other organic groceries in the cafe, and the menu specifies that it comes on whole wheat bread. Finally, a sandwich form of a burger! Turns out to be a small, wholewheat pita bread, split and toasted, so kind of anemic, but okay, it’s pick-up-able. The patty here was an also wan – it’s rice. Cooked rice. Okay, brown rice. The rice is flecked, flecked I tell you, with little teeny bits of colorful things that were likely once vegetables – you know, those little dehydrated ones for making soup? They’ve been rehydrated here and mixed with the rice, which is then tamped down into a dense puck, fried until crisp near through and through, and set unceremoniously inside the pita bread. There’s also lettuce and chopped hard boiled egg in there, along with a schmear of what I think was carrot puree – more of which accompanies on the plate. The resounding crunch when you bite into this patty crocante is impressive to the ears, if not the palate. It’s also only about 2/3 the size of the already small pita bread, not much bigger than a silver dollar pancake, which, though the lowest priced of all the burgers in this round at 25 pesos, makes it the most expensive in terms of return on investment – had this been my sole lunch, even if I’d opted-in on the salad, I’d have likely still been quite hungry at the end. This burger is better suited to industrial use than culinary.
That’s round 1… all grain-based versions. Hoping there’s more out there that are a cut above, as this quartet was a disappointment. I’m open to suggestions if anyone knows of places that fit the criteria – and even if it’s not a wow, I’d like to try it just to be able to review it (leave off those soy milanesas please…).