By and large, Argentinians are obsessed by food and eating. Social life centers on meals.
Frankly, that’s one of the things I like most about them. Folks here take time to cook and time to sit down and enjoy the food. Yet people do seem rather picky by my standards as a California foodie. The menus seem so limited in ingredients and cooking styles. (One journalist estimated there are only about 25 ingredients commonly used here, in comparison to 80 or 100 in other cuisines.)
So this morning I jumped to the article, “The Ten Foods Argentinians Hate Most” in La Nacion, which reported the findings and commentaries from a recent local survey. Here are the most despised foods, according to what was a nonrandom and apparently only somewhat representative sample:
1. Tripe. Okay, raise your hands: Who wants parts of the cow’s stomach for lunch today? As the writer noted, eating tripe is about as appetizing as swallowing a hot towel. Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay revived this cheap staple a few years back for his menu. Did it catch on in the UK?
2. Liver. I’m with them on this one. I haven't eaten it since my former husband forced it on me while pregnant (okay, the kids turned out fantastic!). Slabs of glossy organs and coral looking blogs abound in the meat counters, but I'm not ready yet. If I need to raise my blood iron level, I head for chocolate.
3. Cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. Cruciferous veggies, so healthy for us, are pretty hard to find in good condition, especially Brussels sprouts. I adapted an old Martha Stewart recipe that calls for chopping the latter in a food processor and then sautéing with olive oil, onions, and spices. Not for Valentine’s Day dinner, but good! I still have not found the nerve to offer guests a dip with cauliflower and broccoli sprigs as folks here prefer meat and bread before their dinner of meat and potatoes. Actually, vegetables in general seem to be rather unpopular.
4. Roquefort cheese. The blue cheese here works great in salads and other dishes, and posted article comments suggest that the survey respondents were not typical. Alas there is no cheddar cheese, which in a mild form would no doubt be popular. Bland is more or less the order of the day for Argentine foods, including cheeses, of which there are sadly limited varieties. (Please send me cheddar, jack, and feta for my birthday! No customs or postal agent would touch them!)
5. Morcilla/Blood sausage/black pudding. This is a love it or hate it dish. My Scottish heritage must be at work here as I actually like this sausage made from pig’s blood, onions, and spices, if it is well grilled. (Will this make up for skipping the liver?)
6. Polenta. Apparently this is kid food. I think it has potential in other forms, but experimentation with food is not common here. My Argentine husband and guests gobble up corn bread made with polenta meal and raisins. Fried or baked polenta specialties could be such a nice change from all the highly refined wheat flour bread served here when you want to feel “full.”
7. Chinchulines and kidneys. More strange things in the butcher case. Frankly, I have to admire the Argentinians for eating a lot more parts of the cow than I knew existed. Even so, I’ll pass on these and the “nervios” and leave the marinated tongue for my son, who craves it. I once tried to make a version of the steak and kidney pie I ate in England, and even the dog wouldn't touch it.
8. Sushi. Real men don’t eat sushi, according to this poll. Since Argentines eschew fish in general, don’t even try to convince them. Sadly, the only restaurant in my town to add sushi to the menu skipped right over the traditional to embrace the cream cheese rolls. Ugh! I've found some of the makings for sushi and will look for a good youtube instructional video when I get the urge.
9. Gnocchi. This surprised the pollsters as gnocchi has a popular image. I think it fits right in the same category as Kraft mac and cheese. Fast and fattening comfort food.
10. Fish in general. Unpopular in any form. “The truth is that here nobody cares that these marine creatures are high in Omega-3 fatty acids,” the article notes. Argentines scarf down an incredible 143 pounds of beef per person per year according to some reports. And while beef is sold in lots of markets, you have to go to a special fish store to buy fish (or a health food store to get those Omega 3 capsules).
Well…there you have a nonscientific report on what Argentines hate. Of course this only covers the foods that actually exist here. It would be cool to see a report on the most popular.
My short list of disliked Argentine foods, by the way starts with those slimy “nervios” and any other white part of the cow and ending with the super sandwiches that have a fried egg and cheese piled on top. I also find the highly popular dulce de leche in any form sickeningly sweet.
Of course I know that what we Californians consider standard fare (including Mexican, Thai, and Indian food) would get two thumbs down here in the land of simple, bland fare. I've had several Argentine guests refuse (or say that they'd rather not have) anything spicy, iced coffee drinks, bittersweet chocolate, cranberries, pumpkin pie, among other things.
So what’s for dinner?