Okay, so we’re going to go a little out of order here. I have to apologize to all my faithful readers for my tardiness in completing my entry on a recent trip to Iguazú falls, but trust me, there’s one in the works, and it just may be worth the wait. My original plan was to spend a quiet Sunday night finishing the account of our trip to one of the seven natural wonders of the world, but something very special happened today that I just have to share: I ate some good food. To be more specific, I ate some very good food, so good that I decided there may be somebody out there who wants to hear me try to describe it. If, for whatever reason, food is not your thing, or you have something more pressing to do, I promise I won’t be offended if you leave me here and wait for the entry about Iguazú, which will include much more than my gastronomical ravings. For the rest of my fellow food lovers, try to imagine…
Last night (Saturday), my friend and fellow foodie, Katie Mercer, mentioned to me that there was “some sort of food fair thing” going on in the Palermo section of Buenos Aires this weekend. She didn’t know much about it, other than the fact that, well, there would be food. Never one to pass up an opportunity to treat my taste buds, I agreed to meet her there around lunch time for a bit of exploring.
The fair was called “Masticar,” a Spanish verb meaning “to chew,” and apparently Katie and I weren’t the only ones that had heard about it. I arrived at the exhibition area, at 2:30 only to be greeted by a line of about 500 people, wrapping around the complex and taking up about 10 city blocks. I’ll admit, I almost gave up right there. Luckily, strong sunlight and clear blue skies had given me some patience, and I decided to join the train of diners shuffling towards the entrance. We chugged along relatively quickly, and by the time Katie joined me in line the smell of sizzling meat was so strong I could almost taste it. We followed our noses through the doors, at which point I realized why so many people we were willing to stand hundreds-deep on a sidewalk during a beautiful Sunday afternoon. Dozens of vendors, from some of the most popular restaurants in Buenos Aires, had set up shop in an enormous warehouse-type space. The kitchenettes stretched down both sides of the building, spilling into an outdoor space strewn with more tents, grills, and tables. In the middle of it all were more rows of bakeries, ice cream stands, cheese, bread, olive oil, vegetable, and fruit stands. A mass of bustling people filled every ounce of available space, carrying all manner of delicious dishes.
In a half daze, Katie and I wandered through just a few of the storefronts. Gourmet sandwiches, burgers, vegetarian offerings, waffles, crepes, cheese, ice cream, cakes, pastries, coffee, beer, wine, pastas, fish, salads, sushi, grilled meats…every type of dish that I could imagine was available somewhere, ranging from grilled flatbread pizza to savory lambchops to handmade veggie burgers to seared fish. To say it was overwhelming would be an understatement, especially for someone who was surviving on a breakfast of a single banana. We were, quite literally, kid’s in a candy store. Except this wasn’t just a candy store, it was Willy Wonka’s factory. A lesser pair might have taken the easy way out, and simply thrown themselves at the first dish that looked good and wasn’t blocked by a line. It was tempting; within the first minute I saw 5 plates that I would have given the shirt off my back to enjoy, but caving that early would have been an amateur mistake. Katie and I collected ourselves and came up with a plan: We had 1.5 hours and 50 pesos worth of food tickets each. We would search, explore, do research, take notes, make selections, and then share everything. Here’s what we came away with:
To start, I fought my way through to a place called La Crocantería, which was dishing out three different types of crostini mini open-faced sandwiches. I selected two, which Katie and I enjoyed at an outdoor table with the suns warming our backs. The first layered avacado and smoked salmon, drizzled with a touch of olive oil and sprinkled with a few greens. It was simple, delicious way to break my afternoon fast. Soft, slightly salty fish tempered by smooth avacado and the satisfying crunch of crostini. The second was a little more unique: thick slices of brie cheese over caramelized onion, topped with caramelized pear. It was a crazy mixture of creamy, slightly salty, and sweet that left my taste buds ringing.
To follow up the “appetizer” Katie led me over to a little outdoor stand she had spotted earlier. Two women were selling taco/empanada hybrids out of brightly painted trailer, complete with mini kitchen. Katie ordered one of the little creations, selecting pork as the meat. Crispy, chewy, fatty, succulent strips of pork were paired with caramelized onions and a sweet plum sauce, all wrapped in a warm, doughy shell that could best be described as pita bread crossed with puff pastry. It was the definition of comfort food; an explosion of sinfully good texture and flavor.
After our pork “taco,” Katie had her eye on another unique offering, which was like a gourmet, savory take on carrot cake. The bottom third of a glass jar was filled with brown cake-like crumbs. This was followed with a wild carrot puree, topped with a generous layer of goat cheese. To finish, the chef stuck 3 wild carrots in the top..perfect for dipping. Again, textures and flavors went wild in my mouth. Creamy, rich goat cheese was complemented by the slight sweetness of carrot, finishing cleanly thanks to a touch of simple dryness from the cake. Delicious and totally unexpected.
Next up was what probably proved to by my favorite dish of the day. After a brief discussion to collect our thoughts (and senses), Katie and I ordered what was described as an “Apple Goat Cheese Tort.” It could quite possibly be the most amazing use of those two ingredients that I have ever had the pleasure to taste. A thin crust of puff pastry played host to a thick layer of goat cheese, this one slightly sweeter than the last, almost like a cheesecake. On top sat an equally thick layer of apples, baked with brown sugar and cinnamon so that it resembled pie filling. The whole thing was warmed just enough so that the cheese quite literally melted in you mouth. The first forkful alone would have made the whole day worth it, and I’m sure my sighs of contentment drew some stares that had nothing to do with me being a Gringo.
With our money and time winding down, Katie and I had to make quick work of selecting a more classic dessert. We swam through the crowd and found our way over to the stand of a local bakery, weighed down with all manner of cookies, brownies, muffins, scones, and torts. We handed over our final coupons for three little sweet treats: a banana, nutella, almond cookie; a pecan, brown sugar, short bread tart, and a chocolate peanut butter brownie. We split each one down the middle and enjoyed them one at a time on our walk back towards the bus stop. The sun was warm, my stomach was happily full, and all manner of food endorphines were flowing through my brain. The only regret came from the knowledge that I may never see that much amazing food in the same place again.