Was it coincidence, or was it fate, that brought us to the sun-drenched shores of South America’s largest Spanish-speaking country on the same weekend that its national football team would face off against Germany in a tense final match of the 2014 FIFA World Cup? That’s right. We were headed to experience the food, the history, and the culture of Argentina.
In preparation for our breakfast on Saturday morning, Jess had earlier in the week performed some culinary magic by boiling an unopened can of condensed milk until it had turned into dulce de leche (“milk candy”). We spread this caramel-like delicacy onto some plump croissants (the closest equivalent we could find to Argentina’s media lunas) for a delicious meal:
We enjoyed our breakfast along with yerba mate, a Native-American herbal tea that is still drunk today throughout much of South America.
Later that morning, we got a virtual tour of Argentina’s twenty-three provinces, as well as its capital city of Buenos Aires, in the hour-long documentary below. The narrator introduced us to the many historical cities and scenic landscapes found throughout the country.
For lunch on Saturday, my hard-working fiancée had already made the sweet corn filling for some empanadas de humita. You can find the recipe here. Empanadas are small turnovers that are popular in several parts of the world, including South America. (We cooked up something similar, called bolani, when we visited Afghanistan.) Before putting them in the oven, we took turns folding the empanada dough around large dollops of the humita filling and pinching the edges closed in a traditional Argentinian pattern.
After giving the empanadas some time to cool, we sat down for a delicious lunch. In addition to the empanadas, Jess also made a Buenos Aires heart of palm salad (recipe here). Because Jess and I were also celebrating two happy years together that Saturday, I had secretly purchased a bottle of torrontés, the famous Argentinian wine. Our 2013 bottle came from the province of Salta, in the very north of the country.
Although we managed to do a bit more research about Argentinian cuisine during the afternoon, that evening we broke character to celebrate our anniversary at T. W. Foods, the gourmet restaurant where Jess had made reservations long before deciding to plan the rest of the weekend around Argentina. It didn’t quite fit our theme, but the meal was superb nonetheless.
Leaving the restaurant, we strolled through Harvard Square on our way to witness one of Argentina’s most famous cultural treasures: tango. The sun was just setting over the trees when couples young and old stepped onto an old stone footbridge high above the Charles River. Then, with the sounds of a tango drifting over the water, they began to dance.
I didn’t try to teach Jess any of my tango steps, but we did make our way onto the footbridge and enjoyed watching the sunset as the dancers tangoed nearby.
On Sunday morning, Jess prepared some more croissants to eat for breakfast with the remaining dulce de leche. I had tried to locate a live Vatican broadcast of a Catholic Mass conducted by Pope Francis, a native of Argentina, but settled instead for this cute piece of propaganda:
Literature is another of Argentina’s many cultural strong points, so we also (re)aquainted ourselves with one of the country’s most famous writers, Jorge Luis Borges (1899–1986). Jess managed to locate two of his translated short stories, “The Garden of Forking Paths” and “Borges and I,” in an anthology that she had used as a student.
We still hadn’t eaten all of the dulce de leche, so Jess spent part of the morning folding it into some empanada dough to make a sweeter version of the turnovers we had enjoyed yesterday for lunch. There was a bit more humita filling in the refrigerator, too, so we folded up a few savory empanadas as well.
With a couple of hours to go before enjoying more empanadas for lunch, we decided to watch our only Argentinian film for the weekend. This was Valentin (2002), a warm story about a young boy living with his grandmother in 1960s Buenos Aires.
Just before lunch, as we were waiting for the empanadas to come out of the oven, I grabbed Jess by the hand and taught her the basics of Argentine tango, which is far more casual and improvisatory than the rather stiff style of ballroom tango. For most of the weekend (and the week before) we had been tuning in to Fresca Radio’s online tango station, and now we slowly maneuvered around our small apartment, arm in arm, as the music played.
We didn’t actually plan on watching the final World Cup match between Argentina and Germany, which began as scheduled at 3 PM. Instead, we had already embarked on a quiet afternoon spent sitting in the warm breeze by the shores of Spy Pond in Arlington. We had journeyed out to Arlington in advance of our 5:30 dinner reservation at Tango, the area’s only Argentinian restaurant. By dinnertime, however, Argentina and Germany were still 0–0 in the final match, which had gone into overtime. The restaurant was packed with cheering fans, all wearing the country’s blue and white.
Apologizing for the hubbub, our hostess seated us in the distant corner of the restaurant, far away from the several large television screens that it seemed the management had set up especially for the game. Our kind waiter brought us bread and explained some of the menu items, but then—to his later embarrassment—forgot all about us in the excitement of the game’s final minutes.
At last, Germany scored a point and won the match. Would there be a riot in the restaurant? To our relief, the tables around us merely broke into polite applause for a game well-played. Our food soon arrived:
I had ordered a 12-oz. churrasco sirloin steak with a side of puré porteño (a butternut squash and sweet potato mash) while Jess enjoyed the canelone de champiñones (a type of crépes with mushrooms, tomato sauce, and lots of cheese). For dessert, we shared this decadent flan served with dulce de leche and fresh whipped cream:
Argentina, like the United States, is a cosmopolitan country whose rich heritage represents a mixture of cultures from all over the world. The national football team may not have won the World Cup, but our weekend was surely a globetrotting victory all the same.