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Day 88 – Food of El Bolson

January 6, 2011

Location: El Bolson, Argentina

Date: Thursday, January 6, 2011

If you like to eat, you’re going to love El Bolson. This town knows how to do food. This could be in part to the hippie culture–a commune can’t survive without at least one vegan which means someone’s gotta know how to grow a vegetable. This alone makes El Bolson a culinary oasis in the meat-only wasteland of Argentine cuisine. This is a country, after all, that considers the tomato in your meat sauce and the grain in your milanesa enough vegetables to last the week. This country hasn’t met a vegetable that it wouldn’t rather eat pre-ingested and processed in the form of a cow.

But let’s not get hung up on that. El Bolson is a food town for more than just its greens. Amongst the great ice cream and yogurt, a variety of empanadas, fine chocolates, alfajores, and a horde of fine microbreweries and you’ve a lifetime’s work for an aspiring fat man like me. Let’s do a quick rundown of some of the highlights.

Jauja Restaurant – Oh it’s good. After nearly a month eating almost all meat, this place was like heaven. The food had colors other than brown, red, and potato white. The vegetables were crisp, not limp. One sauce used a berry reduction—a fruit! Tasty, if a bit pricey. Well worth the expense, however.

Jauja Ice Cream – You read that right. Jauja isn’t just a restaurant; it’s also the most popular heladeria in town. There’s a good reason why. The mate ice cream alone would make this place a must-see (it’s the only place in Argentina where I’ve seen it served). Between unique flavors including sheep’s milk, local fruits, and a surprising amount of ice creams with dulce de leche, this is a must eat place, even for a lactose intolerant like me.

The Empenadas of La Salteñita – Get out of the city center and head out of town on Avenida Belgrano until you find the La Salteñita corner storefront. The owner runs the place with his daughters who, I must say, are made all the more attractive because they’ve inherited their father’s ability to cook.

The menu has one-of-a-kind empanadas that challenge the stereotype that Argentine food is boring (which, for the most part, it is). Empanadas filled with OJ, ham, and pineapple; trout and cheese; palm hearts, egg, and green pepper; trout and leeks. Not all work out, but the man deserves a medal for pushing the Argentine palate.

This man also takes pride in his work. When asked if he had anything ready to go, he looked horrified. “That’s not possible,” he said, “We make everything to order.” I love it. It can’t quite top La Cocina in Buenos Aires for a singularly good empanada, but it trumps it for daring and uniqueness. A memorable meal.

Outdoor Market Empanadas – Two empanada places in one town! Yup. Even though empanadas come in all shapes in sizes, this stand in the middle of the El Bolson market day loop manages to be unique. And it’s encircled by beer stalls. What more could you ask for?

The man serves an Eastern European take on the classic. I have no idea what his stand is called, but you can’t miss it if you look at the empanadas. That’s because instead of folding the masa (dough) in half over the meat, he makes a triangle pie. No one makes it like him. Add that his carne empanadas have a bit of a spicy kick and you’ve got a home run.

Best Alfajores Ever – I don’t say “best” lightly. It’s partly personality and it’s partly because American’s like me have a rep in the international community for exaggeration (“This is the most beautiful sunset I have ever seen.” “It’s the best song ever.” ”Saddam Hussein has Weapons of Mass Destruction.”) When I say something is the best, I want people to believe me.

Now let me say this: El Bolson is home to the best alfajore I’ve ever tasted.

Found at the El Bolsonero stand at the tip of the El Bolson market day crescent, it sells a variety of Argentina’s version of the candy bar. My favorite: Mousse de Choco al Whiskey (Chocolate Mousse with Whiskey). Somewhere between cakey and brownie, it’s not too sweet, but still rich, and not overdone with dulce de leche. It’s like a cake cookie.

[Note – Two months after the fact, Mervyn has yet to find a better alfajore anywhere.]

Best Chocolate in El Bolson: TrivigniJauja (mentioned above) has a chocolateria but this is El Bolson’s hidden gem. The pastry chef here used to work at Jauja and decided to open his own shop. He seems to sell a wider variety of goods and, best of all, he’s about a third cheaper than his old employer.

Head north of town and look for the shop on your left where Onelli meets Merino. It’s right next to a friendly, reliable lavanderia, which means, if you drop off your clothes to be washed, you’ll have an excuse to come back and buy more chocolate. It’s what I did.

Best Beer in El Bolson: Araucana – Amongst Argentines, El Bolson is renowned for its beer. The town is littered with microbreweries. The best is made by a company called Araucana. They run a bar on Avenida San Martin south of Plaza Pagano (home to the outdoor market). You can also pick up a bottle at La Salteñita (another reason to go!).

With more flavor than most South American beers, the lager is a personal favorite. Sip it with a spicy empanada and you’ve got happiness in your hand.

This, folks, was only a sample. There’s so much more to explore. Add that the town is quite a bit cheaper and quainter than its bigger Lake District cousin El Bariloche and it’s officially one of my favorite places in Argentina. And that’s no American exaggeration (WMD’s!).

Random Pic That’s Cool But Didn’t Fit the Narrative

GALLERY: No bonus pictures today.

Mervyn is a traveler who brings too much, eats too much, and writes way too much.  To learn more, read his overwritten FAQ or flip through the archives.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Doug permalink
    March 29, 2011 6:24 am

    This posting alone might get Karem down to Argentina.

  2. Alan permalink
    March 29, 2011 10:09 am

    I actually licked my iPhone several times.

  3. February 7, 2012 4:47 am

    Hi Mervyn,

    I am a writer working on an article about El Bolson and would like to use some of your images in Food Loves Beer Magazine.

    Your name would be credited in the publication.

    Please let me know if that is ok!

    Thanks!
    Isabel

    • February 16, 2012 3:55 pm

      Isabel,

      You’re welcome to use the pictures so long as there’s a link back to the blog and citation that I took the pic. 🙂 If you’d like higher quality, higher resolution versions please e-mail me at mervyn shorthandedgoal and let me know which pictures you’d looking to use.

      Whether you use the pics or not, I’d love to read the El Bolson article so please forward it my way!

      Mervyn

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  1. Visiting El Bolson from Bariloche - Argentina4U

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