It’s 29th of the month. That means ñoquis are on the menu for dinner… again. I’m not going to complain, especially if they are covered in melted cheese.
But why exactly are we eating ñoquis today in Argentina, and why do we do it on this day, every month? Why is money left under the dish we eat from? Why is it not pizza? Probably because we eat that every other day of the month. Sorry, venting.
Well, my friends, gather around because there are various tales that explain this Italian-inspired but (of course) Argentine custom. The dia de ñoquis finds its roots all the way back to the 8th century. This tasty tradition started with a Nicomedia- (ancient city in what is now Turkey) born, doctor-turned-Saint named Pantaleon. After converting to Christianity, the young man pilgrimed his way through the north of Italy where he used a combination of expertise and miraculous powers to heal the sick. Exhausted and hungry, he was welcomed by locals who fed him at their humble table, to which he promised that, in return for their kind gesture, their next fishing and farming year would be filled with success. This awaited day came, and has since been celebrated with the simple and traditional ñoquis dish.
Practically speaking, the 29th is also the end of month, AKA when we all regret having gone to the bar every.single.night after work and spending our leftover pesos on taxis rather than paying a 20th of the price on a colectivo ride. That time of the month when we are all too tight on money to afford a medialuna for breakfast, let alone any dinner. Since ñoquis are simple and cheap to make from raw materials, the dia de ñoquis tradition also stems from the idea that these soft dough balls are the answer to save us from starving until pay day. Your ingredients are water, egg and flour. And then there’s ñoqui del pobre for those who really went all out with their pesos: water and flour. That doesn’t sound too dear, I guess. They are also rather reasonably priced at the holiest of local institutions we refer to as fabricas de pastas.
It is also thought that the tradition comes from a pasta restaurant in Montevideo called “La 29”; the supposed pioneer and promoter of ñoquis in the region. Sure, maybe – but I think I’m going to go with the doctor-turned-saint story though.
The money under the plate gesture is linked to the whole ‘end of the month’ story and symbolizes future prosperity. Although ñoquis dishes are popular in France and Croatia too, this tradition is true only to the Latin American countries who adopted the Italian dish as their own, i.e.: us and our northeastern neighbors: Uruguay and Paraguay. Since the ñoquis dish is synonymous with times of financial struggle, placing a bill under the dish enables the eater to start the next month in economically better off conditions. Some also say that if that money is donated to a charity, you will have good fortune for the rest of the month.
According to other sources the money tradition isn’t actually as old as we think. It would in fact be a business strategy for restaurants to attract customers as a luck of the draw sort of idea. I wouldn’t be surprised.
Lastly, and this is no myth but interestingly 29th-of-the-month-related, those who out of nepotism or corruption earn an Argentine government salary for doing absolutely nothing, are also called ñoquis. Probably because they don’t work yet turn up on pay-day, and ironically don’t ever have to resort to ñoquis at the end of the month. Or maybe just because they are potato heads.
Long story short, it’s an affordable, hot and hearty dinner that is easier to make than to pronounce. I’ve settled with nyohkey.
Now go get yourself some melted cheese on those pan fried balls of starchy goodness. And slow down on the pints this month, okay.