We’re approximately 124 days into the first month of 2019, and there seems to be no end to our misery in sight. We’re breaking into a sweat before our feet even hit the floor each morning, returning to the daily commute is more akin to a budget-level spa than efficient ride on public transport (I’m looking at you, Subte B), and we’re reconsidering every life choice that has brought us to where we are at this moment. Whoever said summer in Buenos Aires was enjoyable is *definitely* a masochist.
There is, however, one teensy little silver lining in this heavy storm cloud brewing above our heads. M.E.S.A. de Verano, the foodie initiative that highlights eating local, seasonal ingredients at the city’s best restaurants, kicks off on January 29th and will run through February 3rd. So hang in there, kiddo, because there’s some good eating in your future.
Each season, M.E.S.A. serves as a reminder of the abundance and variety of produce that can be found around Argentina. Years ago, you could get away with whining about the proliferation of one too many limp ensalada mixtas or a dearth of any fruit besides mealy manzanas or unripe bananas at your local veg stand. But the reality is that there’s a veritable cornucopia of options ready for the munching, and dozens of chefs around the country who know how to help each of these ingredients reach their maximum culinary potential.
- Read More: Take a Seat at ‘MESA de Primavera’
This time around, the rockstars of the dinner table basically scream summer: peppers, tomatoes, basil, and peaches are stepping into the limelight and ready to be celebrated (and devoured, by you). Is there anything more evocative than biting into a juicy, vine-ripe tomato sprinkled with just a bit of salt and pepper on a balmy summer afternoon as you enjoy the soft breeze on your front porch? What about washing a bountiful bouquet of fresh basil, fragrant and aromatic, before you prepare a heaping bowl of pesto? Can you imagine that first bite of your aunt’s peach cobbler, served with creamy vanilla ice cream on the side?
M.E.S.A. also seeks to educate the general public about the importance of eating seasonally, beyond just the yum-factor. By highlighting local producers and offering talks that provide information such as tips and recipes, the program transcends a traditional restaurant week by working to effect positive change. The Ferias Itinerantes de Abastecimiento Barrial (FIAB) also fall under M.E.S.A.’s umbrella: these weekend markets set up shop across the city’s different neighborhoods, creating links between producers and consumers, and making it easier for residents to access affordable, nutritious foods.
Without further ado, let’s dive in and explore this season’s protagonists and our top picks for where to enjoy them.
According to the Mercado Central, tomatoes are the second-most important crop in Argentina after potatoes. Annually, around 750,000 tons are produced; it’s estimated that each citizen consumes around 15 or 16 kilograms of fresh tomatoes each year. That’s a lot of lycopene, folks. The tomato has found itself at the center of a debate polémico in recent years, though. When was the last time that you ate a tomato that actually tasted like a tomato? What we find at large chain supermarkets is often colorless, flavorless, and altogether sad. Industrial agriculture douses them with ethylene – the gas that fruits naturally emit as they ripen – to accelerate this process, which explains why it’s red on the outside but green-white and pathetic on the inside.
This is why the return to local production and consumption is so essential. Tomatoes aren’t supposed to be eaten in the middle of winter, my dudes. Luckily, there has been a revival of heirloom varieties in Argentina that chefs and gardeners are touting across social media as a reminder that 1) supermarket tomatoes = depression and 2) there’s still hope for us, yet.
Uno del super. Uno de la huerta. Sin filtro. pic.twitter.com/4VZfJqWpeM
— Martin Rosberg (@rosbergmartin) January 5, 2019
Damn, I love basil. What’s not to love? It blends well with nearly any cuisine, bringing fresh perfume and brightness to salads, curries, drinks, and desserts. With origins in Iran, India, Pakistan, and other regions in Africa and Asia, there are more than 160 species worldwide of the Ocimum genus. In Argentina, it’s grown in Buenos Aires, Santa Fe, and Córdoba. In Catamarca and San Juan, production focuses primarily on the seeds; in Corrientes greenhouses are used to cultivate the herb in the off-season.
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En general, las plantas jóvenes de albahaca poseen mayor proporción de compuestos aromáticos que las más viejas, hasta cinco veces más. Las sustancias aromáticas se encuentran en hojas y brotes tiernos y su perfume recuerda el limón, la lima, la canela, el anís y el alcanfor. ¿Qué platos cocinás con albahaca? #MESAdeVerano #MESAdeEstación
First off, if you think of the Rockford Peaches when you read the word “peach,” I salute you. Peaches can grow throughout Argentina, but production is centered around Mendoza – Valle de Uco in particular – which represents 83 percent of national consumption. In fact, Argentina is the second-largest producer of peaches in the Mercosur, and actually ranks fourth worldwide, so save that little bit of trivia for the next pub quiz night or something.
All peppers from the Capsicum genus originated in the Americas (except for C. anomalun, which was always a bit of a rebel). It’s believed that the epicenter of their cultivation lies somewhere in southern Bolivia, spreading from there as birds carried the seeds along migratory routes. It’s believed that peppers made their way to Mesoamerica even before humans did, which is actually kind of incredible. In Argentina, peppers are grown in Buenos Aires, Salta, Corrientes, Formosa, Mendoza, and Jujuy, as well as Chaco, Tucumán, Santa Fe, San Juan, Catamarca, and Río Negro.
Where to Eat
There are *loads* of restaurants participating in the latest edition of MESA, so be sure to check out the website and peruse the complete list. If you’re short on time (or money), however, we’ve put together a top five to make it easier for you to decide.
Treat yo’self to something magical at this temple to all things #aesthetic in Palermo. Chef Julieta Caruso will be serving a chilled roasted tomato soup, house-made pasta with fresh peas, mint, and basil, and roasted peaches with yogurt and candied frutos rojos for dessert. Drool.
Casa Cavia | Cavia 2985 | Tel: 4809-8600/15 3640-7805 | Instagram
Gran Bar Danzón
One of the city’s greatest – and oldest, with 20 years under its belt – restaurants, Danzón will not disappoint. Start with an heirloom tomato salad with grilled prawns and basil, then dive into a white risotto with peperonata (bell peppers stewed with onion), duck confit and feta, and finish it off with a peach pavlova and sorbet. Hang around after dinner and sip on a cocktail at the bar – smattered with what looks like constellations of the night sky, it’s not to be missed.
Gran Bar Danzón | Libertad 1161, 1st floor | Tel: 4811-1108 | Instagram
Kho – Green Bamboo
If you find yourself looking for a delicious meal on the go, Kho has got you covered. Tucked inside the Mercado Belgrano, this offshoot of Southeast Asian powerhouse Green Bamboo will be serving bibimbap (!) with red pepper and roasted chile, a banh mi sammie with basil oil and fresh hot peppers, and a chilled tomato coconut soup. Sign me up.
Kho | Juramento 2527, Local 36 | Tel: 4857-9095 | Instagram
We can always count on Narda to #BringIt when eating seasonally is involved. You’ll nosh on tomatoes with anchovies from Mar del Plata, “Ranchuka” eggs (think of it as a riff on the classic shakshuka), with peppers, tomatoes, onion, cilantro, feta, and avocado, and indulge your sweet tooth with fresh roasted peaches and almond ice cream.
Narda Comedor | Sucre 684 | Tel: 15 6131-0664 | Instagram
This hipster haven is always on point, and MESA will be no different. Play a spicy Roulette with shishito peppers (think pimientos de padrón), tomatoes with pickled melon, capers, and black quinoa, roasted eggplant with stracciatella, pickled dates, and basil, and peaches with dulce de leche blanco and buckwheat for dessert. Remember though, they don’t take reservations, so show up before 8 PM and hope it’s a slow night.
Proper | Aráoz 1676 | Tel: 4831-0027 | Instagram
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