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Saturday, July 10, 2010

Argentina - The 2010 FIFA World Cup Bites and Boozes

Argentina

Argentina got destroyed by Germany (who plays today in the third place match against Uruguay) to eliminate them from the World Cup, but I'm still finding time to feature the South American nation's bites and boozes! The cuisine of Argentina is distinctive in South America because of its strong resemblance to Spanish, Italian, French and other European cuisines rather than the other Latin American cuisines. Another determining factor in Argentine cuisine is that the country is one of the world's major food producers. It is a major producer of meat (especially beef), wheat, corn, milk, beans, and since the 1970s, soybeans. Given the country's vast production of beef, red meat is an especially common part of the Argentine diet. Similarly, the enormous quantities of domestically-harvested wheat have made white bread (made with wheat flour) the most commonly found on the table, the wheat-based Italian dishes popular, and Argentine pizza uses more dough than Italian pizza. While certain foods can be found in all corners of the country (Asado, or barbecued meat; dulce de leche; empanadas; and yerba maté; in addition to all sorts of Italian, Spanish, and French dishes) one can map out four broad culinary regions based on major trends.

An empanada is a bread or pastry. The name comes from the verb empanar, meaning to wrap or coat in bread. An empanada is made by folding a dough or bread patty around the stuffing. The stuffing can consist of many things such as meat or vegetables. In Argentina empanadas are normally small and semi-circular. Argentine empanadas are often served at parties as a starter or main course, or in festivals. Shops specialize in freshly made empanadas, with many flavors and fillings. The dough is usually of wheat flour and lard with fillings differing from province to province: in some it is mainly chicken in others beef (cubed or ground depending on the region), perhaps spiced with cumin and paprika, while others include onion, boiled egg, olives, or raisins. Empanadas can be baked (more common in restaurants and cities) or fried (more common in rural areas and at festivals). They may also contain ham, fish, humita (sweetcorn with white sauce) or spinach; a fruit filling is used to create a dessert empanada. Empanadas of the interior regions can be spiced with peppers. Many are eaten at celebrations. In restaurants where several types are served, a repulgue, or pattern, is added to the pastry fold. These patterns indicate the filling.

The Argentine wine industry is the fifth largest producer of wine in the world. Argentine wine, as with some aspects of Argentine cuisine, has its roots in Spain. During the Spanish colonization of the Americas, vine cuttings were brought to Santiago del Estero in 1557, and the cultivation of the grape and wine production stretched first to neighboring regions, and then to other parts of the country. The French brought Malbec, which now makes most of Argentina's best known wines. I do love a good bottle of Malbec! In the late 20th century, as the Argentine wine industry shifted it focus on premium wine production capable for export, Malbec arose to greater prominence and is today the most widely planted red grape variety. Malbec is a variety of purple grape used in making red wine. The grapes tend to have an inky dark color and robust tannins. Long known as one of the six grapes allowed in the blend of red Bordeaux wine, the French Malbec grapes are now celebrated as an Argentine varietal wine, and is being grown around the world.