Argentina Where Wine & Food Are Marvelous!
Today, Norm Goldman, Editor of Sketchandtravel.com and bookpleasures.com is pleased to have as our guest, travel writers and authors, Dereck Foster and Richard Tripp.
They have recently written a book entitled: Food and Drink In Argentina: A Guide For Tourists and Residents.
Good day Dereck and Richard and thank you for agreeing to participate in our interview.
Dereck and Richard, could you tell us a little about yourselves and your travel writing.
How did you get started and what keeps you going?
I was working Spain in 1953 as a young journalist, covering many assignments. During one of them, I visited a winery and thus began my love affair with wine and food. I soon shifted into writing about gastronomy and travel.
My vocation and avocation has permitted me to travel extensively and I have visited over thirty-six countries on five continents. I have also lectured on food and drink and have been a judge in many wine and food events
in Argentine and elsewhere. I am fortunate to make my living doing things I really enjoy doing.
Norm, please call me Dick. Richard is the name on my passport but in conversation, I use and feel more comfortable with Dick.
As for writing about food and wine, I defer to Dereck as the experienced writer and expert on Argentina. I became involved by a series of small steps. My wife and I had spent four years in Madrid just before moving to Buenos Aires. We thought that moving to Argentina would be a simple transition. However within the first 24 hours we realized it wasn’t going to be that easy, at least as far as food was concerned.
Upon arrival in Buenos Aires, we went directly from the airport to our apartment. After we unpacked, we walked across the street into our local supermarket to stock our kitchen. The produce area was our first and possibly greatest shock. Almost none of the names we saw for fruits and vegetables were the ones used in Spain.
I soon afterward realized that the menu guide that had served us faithfully in Spain was useless in Argentina, particularly as I tried to relate recipes to items in the grocery. Meat cuts, pastries, everything was different. Also, the strong Italian influence in Argentina did not exist in Spain.
When we realized there was no handbook on Argentine food, we immediately thought of Dereck, whose articles on food we enjoyed in the Buenos Aires Herald. I approached him to suggest that he author the guide to Argentine food that we needed! He liked the idea but due to other committments suggested a collaboration instead, and Food and Drink in Argentina is the result.
I understand you specialize in writing about Argentina, particularly its food and drink. Please tell
us where is Argentina and why did you write about its wine and food?
Argentina is the southernmost country in South America. It is where I was born and raised and I started
writing about it as part of my work.
I became interested in the history and development of Argentine gastronomy and the wine industry and wrote about what I learned in articles, magazine pieces and books.
As I traveled in other countries I began to appreciate Argentina’s wonderful variety even more!
Argentine food is fascinating because it is so varied, like the country there are five major climate zones, from sub-tropical to Antarctic, and the range of ingredients is much greater than one realizes if you think of
Argentina you’ll likely think of the pampas and the beef, but there’s so much more. As I noted earlier, Italian
immigrants have a major influence in the cooking, particularly in Buenos Aires. I had some of the best seafood in my life in Patagonia. Roast lamb is very popular as well as beef and barbecue menus feature all parts of the cow, not just the tenderloin or ribs. Up in the Andes area the foods of traditional peoples have shaped the cuisine.
It’s all very complex and interesting and I thought underappreciated outside Argentina, so it was very
satisfying to share what I learned about it with others.
What is your favorite Argentinean dish and wine, and why?
As for wine, I am a fan of Malbec and Rutini Malbec in one of many favourites. I enjoy an empanada as a starter for most any meal and if one is enjoying an asado outside, a juicy empanada with a good glass of Malbec cannot be beat as a prelude to the main event. One of my favorite choices for lunch is a well-made Milanesa. I also like morcilla (blood sausage) and a genuine puchero. For desserts, a properly made panqueque de manzana is number one for me.
Wow! That is a loaded question because it implies that there is a single favorite but I do not have one. I am not someone who likes to eat the same thing day after day and I suspect your readers are not either.
In terms of wine, Malbec is the signature grape of Argentine wines but there are many other outstanding wines. One of my favorites is Fabre Montmayor Gran Vin, a Cabernet Malbec Merlot mix. Argentina is a land of immigrants, primarily from Italy and Spain but many other countries as well, who tried to make wines similar to those in their native region. As a result of that variety, coupled with increasingly sophisticated winemaking, there are many excellent wines available other than Malbec.
With respect to dishes, it would depend on my mood and my location. If I were in Ushuaia, at Argentina’s southern most city, I would select centolla (snow crab), because it would be sweet and fresh. Although many other options would be available, I prefer my centolla simple, natural, i.e., steamed and served with butter but without sauces. In the main part of Patagonia I’d go for cordero (lamb) cooked slowly over a wood fire. This part of the country also makes wonderful chocolate, but I’d take fruit for desert the fruit raised here is simply outstanding (it doesn’t get to the US much because the Europeans buy it up!) In Buenos Aires, I’d take beef in some form, with an ensalada mixta (lettuce, tomatoes and onions) accompanying it, with a flan casero – homemade flan – to complete it. I am always ready for a choripan – the Argentine improvement on a hot dog, consisting of a grilled chorizo sausage in a small roll. I could go on and name special foods I would select in every province but for that your readers need to consult our book.
If you had to choose 5 of the most romantic dining establishments in Argentina you have
experienced, which ones would you choose and why?
I think every reader has his or her own image of what a romantic dining establishment is. Just the fact that a couple from the US or Canada is in a restaurant in Argentina adds a certain romantic element. To complete that, one needs a place where the service and food is excellent and the ambiance is conducive to relaxing and focusing on each other vice outsiders. However, I think it might be better to talk in terms of romantic getaways, which would be away from Buenos Aires and romantic dinning in Buenos Aires
For romantic getaways my first choice would be a place my wife and I visited in Misiones. We stayed well off the beaten path in the Estancia Santa Inés, a former mate plantation. It was a very special B&B. During the day, we visited the nearby ruins of Jesuit Missions (remember the Robert De Niro movie, The Mission) and in between we relaxed at the estancia, walking in the lovely grounds and gardens and nearby woods, entertained by howler monkeys. Meals were served family style with a very interesting family. When we came returned from touring or walking a full tea was provided in front of the fireplace. Our room was very large, with high ceilings and was quite private. It is a nice place to relax with your significant other.
Many people believe that the falls at Iguazu are in Brazil. However they are shared by the two countries and the best access and best views are from the Argentine side. For a romantic location make a reservation at the Sheraton in Iguazu, which is actually located inside the Iguazu National Park. Your window will overlook the falls and you will have ample opportunity to walk all around the falls. It is truly a beautiful and romantic location.
Another romantic getaway, indeed a good spot for a honeymoon, is near Bariloche: the Isla Victoria on the island of the same name in Nahuel Huapi. It is a five star hotel in a nature reserve, which is accessible only by boat.
In another direction and another province another romantic getaway would be the Posada Bodega La Rosa, in Cafayate, Salta. This is the Spanish Colonial style home associated with the Michael Torino winery. It is a lovely place, with excellent meals and there are many interesting things to see from there. Bedrooms have fireplaces and again there is total privacy.
For those travelers constrained to Buenos Aires, I would suggest a place where you are not going for the food but to watch Tango in a rather intimate atmosphere, El Querandí. The tango is excellent and the food is OK.
Buenos Aires is a huge city with many neighborhoods and the Bonarenses enjoy eating out. Thus there are many excellent places to eat. One of the neighborhoods, which my wife and I and all of our guests have enjoyed, is Palermo Viejo. It is very much like Soho or the Village, with lots of trendy clothing and jewelry boutiques to browse through before or after a meal. When we were there most recently, we liked La Baita for its excellent Italian food and atmosphere. For those who visit the San Telmo area, a must if you are interested in antiques or near-antique treasures, La Brigada is an excellent place to eat Argentine beef. Another of our favorites is Lola’s at Recoleta, in the row of restaurants opposite the famous Recoleta cemetery. In the Puerto Madera, waterfront area, we like Parolaccia de Mar, Cabaña Las Lilas and Il Gran Caruso. An offbeat and fun Italian restaurant is Lucky Luciano in Palermo Botanico (near the Botanic Gardens).
Which cities or areas in Argentina would you recommend to the first time visitor and why? Could
you also elaborate when would be the best time to visit and how easy is it to travel to Argentina
from the USA, Canada or Europe?
Buenos Aires is a must for several reasons. It is the main entry point, whether by plane or a cruise.
It is one of the major cities of the world, with incredible shops as well as restaurants, and cultural offerings
that are hard to match anywhere. Buenos Aires is also the air travel hub, and given the distances most
people will explore other destinations by flying there but don’t worry, almost all flights are non-stop!
Bariloche is a very popular destination in the lake country, and its German heritage is immediately evident. In winter it offers excellent skiing. In warmer seasons, it is very popular for hikers, and the starting point for a beautiful trip by lakes that crosses into Chile. South of Bariloche is Calafate, the town closest to the
glacier fields on the Argentine side of the Andes. It is a modest town and the accommodations are nice
although generally modest, with one exception, Hosteria Los Nostros, a lovely inn right in the glacier park.
The glaciers are simply extraordinary, and there is a lot of interesting countryside as well.
Another Patagonian destination is Puerto Madryn, a small city on the coast at the entry to the Valdes Peninsula, a nature reserve where the Right whales return every year to have their babies – and a good place for whale watching. Penguins, sea lions and orcas (killer whales) can also been seen along the shore.
Near Puerto Madryn is Trelew, a Welsh community, where you can have a complete Welsh tea, and
an area of dinosaur finds with a fantastic small dinosaur museum.
For wine lovers, Mendoza is a must. It is a major city in the heart of Argentina’s most important wine
district. There are many excellent restaurants. Shopping is good and you can easily arrange or join tours
to visit wineries. Outside Mendoza, another must-do is to head for the border with Chile to see the
Andes close up. Truly spectacular scenery. Anconcagua, the highest mountain outside of the Himalayas,
is visible on the road to Chile. Many wineries have accommodations, some very nice indeed, and there
is at least one chateau (Chateau Anton) where you can stay in full view of the Andes.
In the high Andes, where some of the most spectacular scenery of all can be found, you can stay in a
hotel built right in the ruins of a pre-Inca city, or in a inn, the Manantial del Silencio in Purmamarca, home
of the famous seven-colored mountain, or in a boutique hotel in colonial Salta.
There are so many choices, I could go on for many more pages maybe I might mention that my wife
is hoping to complete her book about travel in Argentina this year! The only hard part is choosing!
Everywhere you go, by the way, you can hire a car and driver to take you around for very
reasonable sums no need to struggle with directions or worry about traffic.
As for seasons, that’s really a question for the traveler there’s something going on in every season,
and it depends on individual preferences. From mid-December through February, many Argentines
take their vacations (much as Europeans all head for the beaches or mountains in July and August)
and there’s an obvious impact on prices and availability.
If you want the best of the cultural offerings, that’s not the best time to visit Buenos Aires….
How safe is travel in Argentina?
Tourists in Argentina, particularly in Buenos Aires, face the same problems with petty thieves such as pickpockets as they do in other large cities. You just have to exercise caution and not take all your credit
cards, etc in fact, that’s a good idea in any tourist destination. And don’t carry your passport take a
photocopy of the i.d. page. Pay attention to your surroundings also a good idea in any country. One will encounter beggars but they will not rob you. Outside of major metropolitan areas, crime is generally less
the pickpockets go where the best pickings are! .
What would you say are the five most romantic cities or venues in Argentina and why?
Dereck and Dick:
Well, see my previous thoughts on romantic getaways…You can find romantic venues almost anywhere you
go. One thing that is really romantic is the solitude many places are isolated and at night it’s just you and the stars.
How would you compare hotels, lodges, B&Bs etc from the point of luxury, comfort, and price, etc to those that exist in the USA or Europe?
Dereck and Dick
In the city and province of Buenos Aires, there are several world-class luxury hotels and some fine hotels
in other cities. We’ve stayed in, or dined in, first-class inns in all parts of the country. Estancias (ranches or plantations) will range from basic to luxury there are lodges in the Delta outside Buenos Aires, for example, that are as luxurious as anything you’d find in the US. Others are very simple but can be even more satisfying.
One of our favorites was an estancia that took a day to reach by car after a two-hour flight to the nearest commercial airport, and had no electricity. A generator was started around sunset and ran just until dinner concluded. We were so exhausted from our day exploring or riding that it was not a problem to have an
Is there anything else you wish to add that we have not covered?
Dereck and Dick
Argentina is still an undiscovered destination for North Americans it’s a mystery to me, as it is such a
wonderful place. The people are welcoming, the food and wine are terrific, and it has an incredible array
of choices for nature-lovers as well as fans of great cities and cultural destinations.
Hiking, skiing, horseback riding, bird watching, it’s all there. Don’t miss it!
Thank you for your participation and good luck with all of your future endeavors.
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