Before we dive in, let’s get one thing straight. Empanadas are not exclusive to Argentina. In fact, they can be found all over the region, from Mexico all the way down to el culo del mundo. The symbol for Latin America should just be a flag with an empanada-shaped symbol in the middle. But empanada culture does in fact vary a lot from country to country.
In Venezuela, empanadas have more to do with beach vibes, for example, though not exclusively. In other places they have more of a festive feel, ideal partners for holidays and special occasions. But in Argentina, there’s an everyday quality to them. They’re can’t-miss invitees to any gathering, party, or solo binge-fest.
Empanadas are amazing companions. They won’t judge you when you’re drunk at 2 AM and eager to scarf down anything in sight and are more loyal than any friend. So, without further ado, let’s dig into the World of Empanadas, which sounds like the name of an amazing amusement park that still hasn’t been created (entrepreneurs, take note).
What are empanadas, exactly?
For those of you who don’t know what empanadas are, you don’t know what you have been missing. They are half-moon shaped, savory turnovers stuffed with all sorts of delicious fillings. In Argentina, they’re usually baked but are sometimes fried as well because #gordos.
In this neck of the woods, fillings have traditionally been limited to a handful of flavors, and usually stretch out as follows:
- Beef (ground or diced, cortada a cuchillo)
- Caprese (tomato, mozzarella, and basil)
- Ham and cheese
- Onion and cheese
- Humita (a sweet corn and cream, typical of the northern provinces)
- Vegetables (usually a combination of spinach, chard, onion, and leeks)
Thankfully, empanadas have diversified mightily and restaurants are now including different, more daring rellenos, some more popular than others. Meat with mushrooms, chicken with mustard, BBQ pork… The sky’s the limit in the empanada game today (“empanada game” could be one of the attractions at Empanada World, btw).
There is even one glorious creation that stole my heart from the moment I tried it: plum and pancetta. It tastes like happiness and glee came together for a night of passion and created a little love child. Seriously, God bless the mind that created that amazing concoction. You are my hero.
When should I order empanadas?
There is really no wrong time to have empanadas. I’ve known people who have them for breakfast, I’ve known others who have them for lunch. The magic of them is that you can simply measure your appetite by how many empanadas you consume: two if you’re not too hungry, half a dozen if you’re tougher to satisfy, and so on.
But hands down, the best moment for empanadas is at nighttime, when the lights go out, the friends get together, and the munchies take center stage. Even though sushi, shawarmas, and other treats have been doing their best to upstage them (especially since the delivery wars of Rappi/Glovo/PedidosYa ramped things up big-time), emps still reign supreme as the kings of the get-together (along with pizza, of course, but we’ll leave that for another day).
How can I tell the empanadas apart?
With all the technological advances and innovations occurring all over the place these days, you would think there would be a full-proof, “no way we can get this wrong” solution for identifying empanadas. But here we are, in 2018, and people still have to appeal to the old bite-and-look-inside routine.
Sure, there are restaurants that have carved out different strategies to combat this, mainly stamping the initials of the content on the corners of the dough. But make no mistake, these are not the majority.
A popular method involves applying different shapes for the repulgues, one for each flavor. What is a repulgue, you ask? In empanada terms, it’s a fancy name for that little crimped fold you have to make with the dough to close the damn things. This helpful diagram, which looks like a sort of archaeological fossil guide, is how one place in Buenos Aires decided to classify their bad boys, for example.
Are all empanadas in Argentina the same?
The short answer is no. Every province in Argentina has some sort of variation, with widespread opinion being that the best ones are from up north, in Tucumán and Salta. In fact, Tucumán even has its own Ruta de la Empanada, which is basically like a perfectly curated roadmap to stuffing your panza with the province’s best of the best.
I have a close friend whose mother-in-law is from Salta and I can attest to their amazing flavor. For those of you who refuse to marry someone from Salta for the sole reason of enjoying his or her mom’s home cooking, there are some nice little places that serve northern cuisine right in Buenos Aires you can also enjoy (although I wouldn’t necessarily rule out the mother-in-law thing).
They’re a bit smaller than the ones in the rest of the country and have potatoes and hardboiled egg in their filling, along with meats, peppers and cumin, among other tasty ingredients. The ones from Tucumán are similar, without potatoes and egg.
Not to be outdone, the nice people from Jujuy have made empanadas which are very similar to those from Salta, except they include even more ingredients like peas, olives, and even raisins. In some places they even add a spicy little tomato sauce because they’re cool like that.
These incredible folks made the decision top them with powdered sugar, which I personally feel is a nice touch. I knew I loved Córdoba.
Although they do have meat empanadas, the main contribution to the genre from Entre Ríos, Corrientes, and Misiones comes via fish empanadas, showcasing local river swimmers like dorado, surubí or the mighty pacú. Sign me up.
Things get pretty exquisite down south, with fillings ranging from lamb to shellfish such as crab. Not too shabby!
So, are empanadas cheap?
The year is 2018. The place is Buenos Aires, Argentina. The short answer is: nothing is cheap nowadays, my dear friend. NOTHING. I lived in a time in which empanadas were less than AR $3 each, and I’m not 90 years old, for the record. So yeah, any empanada that costs more than AR $10 still gets me a bit riled up. And it’s not difficult to encounter some right now that are AR $30 or more. Yikes.
Nevertheless, empanadas still remain a viable option when compared to other foods. They’re filling and they usually come cheaper by the dozen so those on a budget (anybody I know in Buenos Aires, tbh) can still trust that empanadas will get them through these tough times we live in. How many friends can actually promise that?
The Bubble’s Top 10 Empanadas in Buenos Aires
- Rincón Norteño Multiple locations | Website
- Costumbres Criollas Esmeralda 1392, Retiro | Website
- 1810 Several locations across Buenos Aires | Website
- La Cocina Av. Pueyrredón 1508, Barrio Norte
- Empanadas Gourmet Multiple locations | Website
- Ña Serapia Av. Las Heras 3357, Palermo | FB page
- La Paceña Echeverría 2570, Belgrano | Website
- Parrilla Peña Rodriguez Peña 682, Congreso | Website
- El Desnivel Defensa 855, San Telmo
- El Banco Rojo Bolívar 866, San Telmo | Website
+ Bonus Track: El Hornero Carlos Calvo 455, San Telmo | FB page