This online store for Argentinian products really delivers
Argentine products used to be hard to find in the US. For years, we had to make our own dulce de leche by boiling cans of condensed milk or cooking it from scratch. Making empanadas meant making the shells by hand, and if you wanted yerba mate or Argentinian sweets, you had to wait until someone brought them to you from a trip.
Slowly in the 90’s and then quicker in the 00’s, Argentinian products started to make their way into Latin markets in the US. For years, I was able to find them at Casa Lucas in unincorporated San Leandro, but this closed a few years ago. Fortunately, there are several Argentinian stores in the LA area, so I’ve been able to fill my needs when I go to visit my parents. The pandemic, however, has put a stop to this so I went looking for a place to buy Argentine products online. Enter Pampa Direct.
Pampa Direct sells a wide variety of shelf stable Argentine products, from candy and snacks, to all sort of Dulce de Leche products, wines and even mate gourds. Their prices are very reasonable, in line with those of the Argentinian markets in LA, and most amazingly, they ship from Argentina.
I made a HUGE order that included alcohol and it took about 10 days to arrive. Shipping is free in order over $50, and they have a free gift if you order at least $100. They also added some extras to my order, perhaps because it was so big.
During the 1970’s the fondue sensation reached Argentina and it quickly became one of our biggest “special occasion” treats. My parents would make it from time to time using the recipe below. Instead of the traditional havarti and emmental cheeses, which I assume were not available in Argentina (or at least in our town), it uses the Argentine cheese Talhuet, which melts nicely. Otherwise it’s rather traditional
My parent’s cheese fondue recipe
- 1 tsp. corn starch
- 1/2 liter white wine
- 1 garlic clove
- 1 cup kirsch
- 1 lb. Gruyere cheese, grated
- 1 lb. Talhuet cheese (an Argentine cheese), grated
- White pepper to taste
Dissolve corn starch in 1/4 cup of white wine, set aside.
Rub garlic on pot. Put on the burner and add the rest of the wine and kirsch. When it boils, add the grated cheeses bit by bit, mixing with a wooden spoon until they melt, then add the white pepper. If it cools down, add more wine. Once it’s ready, add the corn starch. Mix well and serve.
Traditional Fondue Recipe
Marga’s Best Recipes
Alfajores are Argentina’s unofficial national treat. An alfajor is basically a soft cookie with a sweet filling. The cookie is usually cakey, though in some versions it’s phillo-like, and while traditional alfajores were filled with jam (quince jam is particularly popular), the most delicious Argentine alfajores have a dulce de leche filling. Some alfajores are covered, most typically with a powdered sugar or a dark chocolate bath, though many of the alfajores from the Northwest as well as many of new “alfajores artesanales” (i.e. the non-mass produced kind) are plain.
Several of the northern Argentine provinces have their own type of alfajores, and as during our trip to Salta, Jujuy, Tucum
Argentinian diary products are all excellent. They taste quite different from American products, most likely because the cows have a different feed. Some day – I can only hope – they’ll start importing these products to the US and they’ll take it by storm.
I’m not a milk drinker, so I can’t comment on the milk – but butter and cream just taste better.
Yep, even mayo tastes better. It might be the eggs (not an egg eater, didn’t try them) but most likely it’s the oil they use: sunflower seed oil. I’m going to have to check at stores that carry Argentine products if they sell Argentine mayo as well.
I don’t exactly know why, but Argentine french fries are all yummy. They are usually on the thin side – a little bit fatter than your average McDonald fry – and non-coated. But I think the secret is, once again, the oil on which they are fried. On some cases it may be sunflower seed oil or grapeseed oil, but in others it’s just a comercial mixture.
They were in season when we first got there, and OH MY GOD – the little, totally ripe strawberries where unbelievable. It reminded me of why, as a kid, strawberries and cream was my favorite dessert to order at restaurants.
Need I say more?
As a kid I LOVED pollo al spiedo or rotisserie chicken. There was a deli kitty corner to our house and its amazing aroma teased me every time I’d go by. But it was a special treat which we could only have once in a while. No wonder, even now a rotisserie chicken costs U$6, pretty much the same as in the US and substantially more than beef. Rotisserie chickens are no longer widely available in Argentina, they’ve been supplanted by grilled chicken, but we had it a couple of times in Salta. And OH MY GOD, it was soooooooooooo good. Surely the marinades must be a reason, if I could only find those recipes.
Argentina’s croissants can be great – but they not always are. At the hands of the right bakery they can be heavenly, though.
These bite-size pastries often featuring dulce de leche are also a wonderful treat. They are expensive – often costing U$7-11 a kilo (depending of the bakery).
This typical Argentine treat consists of multiple layers of very thin phillo-like dough covered with dulce de leche. Again, it’s a matter of which bakery makes it, but at the hands of the right bakery it can be delicious. I had to bring a kilo of milhoja to my sister back from Argentina.
This is another typical Argentine tea-time treat. It’s a rectangular cake of hard merengue and cream. Yummy.
They deserve a whole entry of their own. Stay tuned.
Bocaditos bonafide and cabsha
Yummy dulce de leche is covered by a thin layer of chocolate. I’m eating one as I write this. It’s heaven.
Dulce de leche
Argentine ice cream rocks. It’s lighter than American ice cream and with more intense flavors. Apparently this is because it has less air and less cream but I don’t really know. And of course, it’s made with Argentine milk which makes all the difference. It’s relatively expensive for Argentinians – one reason why ice cream was such a treat when I was a kid – with a kilo costing between $5-7 depending where you buy it.
Flavors are also significantly different from those available here. There is strawberry (choice of water or creme based), chocolate and vanilla, of course, but much better are dulce de leche granizado (dulce de leche with shaved dark chocolate), crema americana, sambayón, tramontana, mantecol and others. We ate ice cream at least once every day and I already miss it!
Paso de los Toros Pomelo Light
This is a diet grapefruit soda manufactured by Pepsico which is actually delicious. The regular version is quite good, but the light version, which is less sweet, is even better. If you like grapefruit soda, you’d go crazy over it. Alas, it’s not available in the US. Which is difficult to understand as it’s just sooooooooooooooooo good. Please, someone at Pepsi, bring it to the US!
Now, as for things that are not good in Argentina:
They suck, they are dry and lack flavor.
Just try to find cereal without sugar. I dare you. Try (OK, maybe a health food store, but not at the supermarket).
In Buenos Aires you can find a number of ethnic restaurants, but forget about having non-Argentinian food (other than Chinese or Spanish) almost anywhere else.
Vastly inferior to American or European chocolate.
Other than asado, empanadas are probaby Argentina’s most traditional food. They are also one of its most popular. They are widely available at restaurants, cafes, bakeries, pizzerias and, of course, empanada shops. I’ve always held that empanadas are the perfect food. They are portable, you can eat them anywhere (often with little mess), some are good hot or cold, eat one and it’s a snack, eat a few and you have a whole meal. Mike seems to have adopted this philosophy as he pretty much had an empanada or two (or three or four) every day we were in Argentina. Of course, he swore that mine are better than anything he tried, but he’s a smart man.
As far as I can tell there are three basic types of empanadas: fritas, al horno and souffle. Baked empanadas are most common and most popular, they are lower in fat, easier to make (deep friers are still a novelty in Argentina) and they can be eaten at room temperature or reheated without loss in quality. Fried empanadas are considered more traditional, and when we’ve had them we’ve remarked at how good they are. Still, I don’t think they are probably worth the extra calories. Souffle empanadas are a variant of fried empanadas, according to my quick research on the web they are made by taking the empanadas out of a cold refrigerator and quickly introducing them into very hot oil. The results are fluffier empanada with a drier dough. We only had them the last two days we were in Argentina, at an empanada place in La Plata called El Ladrillo (where my parents used to buy them decades ago) and they were amazingly good. Yep, even better than mine.
As for fillings, the standard ones are beef, chicken, ham and cheese and humita (corn). Also popular are Roquefort cheese (they must mix it with another cheese, I’d like to find out which), Napolitanas (with tomato, ham and cheese), onion and spinach. In some places we tried empanadas
I’ve concluded that Argentine pizza is an acquired taste. Not one difficult to acquire, mind you, but I have to admit that we didn’t enjoy that first bite of a pizza in Argentina nearly as much as we did subsequent ones. By the end of the trip, I, at least, greatly preferred it to American pizza (with the exception of Zachary’s, of course).
Argentine pizza tends to have a bready thin-to-medium crust which tastes quite good on its own. It’s covered by a extremely thin layer of tomato sauce, so thin that sometimes I wondered if it had any sauce at all, and then by a ton of mozarella cheese and whatever other topping you’ve chosen (the choices are usually much fewer than in the US, ham being the most common one). Each slice then is decorated by a green olive and, sometimes, by a slice of preserved red pepper. Oregano is sprinkled on the pizza before baking. Most often pizza is baked in a pan, though some places serve pizza a la piedra, or pizza baked on a stone. I can’t say that I’ve noticed a significant difference between the two.
Argentine mozarella cheese, like all diary products, tastes different from American mozarella and I think that might be the reason why Argentine pizza is tastier. In general, diary products in Argentina are just good (all that Pampa grass is good for something). Though of course, having a pizza that just oozes cheese everywhere doesn’t hurt – your average Argentine pizza probably has at least 3 times as much cheese as your average American pizza.
What was perhaps most amazing to me is that Argentine pizzas were served just about everywhere, and they were just as good whether served at a pizzeria, a regular restaurant, a cafe or made at home from a pre-pizza (a la Boboli). Indeed, even the frozen pizzas were much tastiers than the ones here. Pizza is also quite cheap, we generally paid between U$2-3 for a “large”pizza, which was probably 8” in diameter but was large enough for the 4 of us (of course, 2 of us are under the age of 4).
The *only* place where we had a pizza we didn’t like was a restaurant in Mar del Plata (forgot the name) where they show a movie with your lunch. I guess that’s enough to get the tourists in, and they don’t have to bother to make even passable pizza. Needless to say we only went once.
Even the pizza at the tenedores libres, or buffets, was quite good.
Tonight we’re babysitting and our usual ritual on babysitting nights is to order pizza – and truth be told, I wish I could have an Argentinian pizza rather than an American one.
I haven’t updated this blog for the last month and half or so ’cause I’ve been visiting my home country of Argentina. Though Argentinian food offers little variety it can be quite good and satisfying. Indeed both Mike and I were surprised that by the end of our trip we weren’t craving for any particular food from back home (California) and would have been quite happy to eat another empanada, milanesa or steak.
Rather than writing a whole posting about eating in Argentina, which feels too daunting now, I thought I’d write whatever comes to mind in individual postings. Hope you enjoy it.