It’s that time of the year again. Temperatures are starting to rise, trees are beginning to show the first signs of blossom (and pollen), and the pharmaceutical market is about to make a killing as anti-allergy tablets fly off the shelves. The streets are bursting with affordable and seasonal fruit and vegetables, yet for some reason, we are all still guilty of walking straight into Coto, rummaging around for a genetically modified winter grapefruit before waiting in line for 20 minutes to pay for it, only to return home and find out that it is flavorless, dry, and a massive waste of time.
Eating sustainably in Buenos Aires is incredibly easy (as we established in The Bubble‘s Guide to Eating Organic) – with an abundance of locally-produced ingredients and independent vendors, you just need to know where to look, and what to look for. With this in mind, Buenos Aires brings you the latest edition of M.E.S.A: seasonal menus with Argentine flavors. A celebration of flavor, and a platform to teach, inspire and promote a nutritional and environmentally-friendly lifestyle, without breaking the bank. But not only held Buenos Aires, M.E.S.A has also spread to Mendoza, Rosario, Neuquén and San Martín de los Andes, and continues to grow every year.
Collaborating with a wide range of different Argentine restaurants, each season M.E.S.A (Menus de Estación con Sabores de Argentina) hosts a week during which each participating restaurant offers its own menu based on four seasonal ingredients, with the challenge to be as innovative and creative as possible.
This year, from November 6th-12th, chefs around the country will be experimenting with chickpeas, asparagus, strawberries, and blackberries, in both individual dishes and a set of courses, to prove that all ingredients, no matter how dull they may appear, have the potential to triumph. Through this collaboration, M.E.S.A is not only forging a strong relationship between local producers, chefs, and diners, but is also creating an enriching and virtuous cycle that benefits all parties.
It’s run by A.C.E.L.G.A (Association of Chefs and Businesses dedicated to Argentine Gastronomy), and sponsored by HSBC Premier, both initiatives that share a vision of the wealth and potential in Argentine cuisine, with an aim toward rebuilding the connection and values that are gained in eating as a community, inviting individuals to disconnect with the outside world and reconnect with their senses. They recognize the challenges that lie ahead, and through their investment, aim to reaffirm a professional ethic of honesty, modesty, and environmental responsibility.
As affirmed by Luis Morandi, the former president of A.C.E.L.G.A and owner of iconic eateries BASA and Gran Bar Danzón, “Through M.E.S.A we have the chance to learn more about the products, to be in close contact with produces from different regions, listen to the world of the experts, and enjoy the creativity of all the chefs and restaurants.”
Further contributing to the success of M.E.S.A is BA Capital Gastronómica, a government-sponsored initiative which intends to position Buenos Aires as the food capital of Latin America. Encouraging family, friends and loved ones to unite around a table and share Argentine flavors is principal to its ethos, bringing the word “collectivity” back into Argentine eating.
Chickpeas (Garbanzos): An autumnal crop that is harvested in spring (mid-October to December, depending on the region), chickpeas originate from Turkey, but quickly spread to the Mediterranean, Africa, America (Mexico, Argentina, and Chile) and Australia. Here, it’s predominantly produced in the regions of Salta and Córdoba where the air is less humid. They are high in fiber and protein and the perfect ingredient to add to any salad, curry, or soup.
Se cultivan dos tipos de garbanzos. Los Kabuli -de grano medio a grande, redondeado y arrugado, de color claro-, que se producen en Argentina. Los Desi, pequeños y con formas angulares, de color verde, negro, amarillo, marrón o crema, producidos principalmente en la India. pic.twitter.com/DUAEGFuxv9
— MesaDeEstacion (@MesaDeEstacion) October 24, 2018
Asparagus (Espárragos): With more than 100 different variations in the world, asparagus has a very short, two-month harvest season. While green asparagus grows in the wild, with a more bitter taste and thinner in size, white asparagus is more commonly harvested and is more delicate in flavor. Cultivated in Buenos Aires, Santa Fé, San Juan, Mendoza, and Córdoba, asparagus has made its way up in the world, with China currently standing as its main worldwide producer.
Strawberries (Frutillas): Commonly grown in greenhouse-like structures to protect them from changes in temperature, strawberries have to be one of the most popular of the “berry” family. While Argentines are more modest in their level of consumption, eating less than 500 grams of strawberries per person annually, the US and various European countries consume on average a whopping 2-4 kilos per year. High in Vitamin C, they are most commonly eaten as a dessert, so it will be interesting to see how these restaurants incorporate them into a three-course meal. Rumors are currently circling about a mozzarella, brie, and strawberry pizza… Yum.
¡Brillantes! Cuando compres frutillas, observá que tengan brillo: eso indica su grado de frescura. Las frutas que llevan días cosechadas se opacan (ya que se deshidratan) y pierden calidad. Además, deben estar firmes, sanas, sin manchas ni lesiones. #MESAdePrimavera pic.twitter.com/6oOBrGm3xr
— MesaDeEstacion (@MesaDeEstacion) October 24, 2018
Blackberries (Moras): Blackberries bushes are perennial plants, losing their leaves in winter only to re-sprout in spring. While the name “mora” is commonly used as a default to label any black type of berry in Argentina, it’s important to note that blackberries are grown from bramble plants, and are typically sweet in flavor. Yet, it isn’t surprising that they are commonly confused with other berries due to the existing 300 known variations. The harvest season differs according to their variation and location throughout the country, with the Tucumán, Corrientes, and Entre Ríos harvests lasting from November to January.
With 65 restaurants participating, there will definitely not be a shortage of creative and varying menus. From informal spots such as Möoi and Yeite to heavy hitters Don Julio and Tomo I, the collaboration is growing bigger – and better – each year. Read on for a selection of our favorite restaurants and menus.
This posh oyster bar in the heart of Palermo never fails to disappoint. Start things off with asparagus, goats cheese, elderberry, lemon, and an almond “air” before moving on to calamari sautéed with organic chickpeas. For dessert, indulge on Patagonian seasonal berries and sorbet.
Now’s your chance to snag a seat at one of Argentina’s most coveted tables. i Latina crafts haute Latin American cuisine, with a strong focus on seasonable, sustainable ingredients. Their M.E.S.A tasting menu will include chicha (beverage derived from corn) with blackberries, a strawberry aguachile with pineapple and turnip, beef in a coffee sauce with textures of asparagus, and a black Oaxacan mole with achiote and chickpeas.
Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, Danzón always manages to keep things interesting. The menu stars with grilled asparagus with provoleta, crispy chickpeas, a fried egg, and a herb butter. Dive into the steak with chickpea croquettes and bacon accompanied by aioli and a bell pepper and watercress salad with chickpeas. End things on a sweet note with strawberry cake with creamy white chocolate and a fresh strawberry-blackberry sauce.
This laid-back vermouth bar in Chacarita takes a decidedly unfussy approach to eating with the seasons. Nibble on asparagus, chistorra sausage, and cremona cheese. If that doesn’t intrigue you, try the fainá with chickpeas, tomatoes, garlic, anchovies. and olives. For dessert? White chocolate panna cotta with fresh spring berries.
In addition to all of this, there will also be an open meeting to the public on November 5th at 6.30 PM at the Belgrano Market. It will be led by the legendary Narda Lepes, who will offer her perspective on the importance of eating seasonally and create a more profound understanding of the utility of the selected ingredients.
Though it is an open event, it is incredibly popular, so make sure you keep an eye on the MESA Facebook Page to sign up and guarantee yourself a free spot.