Thursday, March 22, 2007

In search of world peas (Ken)

In the USA, we eat a lot of green beans and broccoli. Those are almost unseen here. When we do see them--in the almacen or vegetable stand--the green beans and broccoli don't look very good.
In the USA, we also have a variety of canned vegetables of assorted types and a mutiplicity of manufacturers. Here, there seems to be only canned peas. Shelf after shelf of canned peas.
In most of the restaurants, the accompaniment is usually puréed potatoes or squash. Here they tend to prefer starchy vegetables.
When you ask for a salad, you have to specify which ingredients you want in your salad: lettuce, carrots, celery, onions, eggs (they are big on the eggs here). As for salad dressing, it is oil, vinegar, lemon. You will not get the choice of thousand island, bleu cheese, or French. You can find them in the grocery store in the imported foods section. And they are fairly expensive at $7-12.
The best food deal in town is lunch where you can find the menu ejecutivo. This comes with a appetizer, drink, entre, and desert or coffee--all for about $20. Sometimes, there are a few selections; other times, it is menu del dia--you get what they made. It is consistently good, and I can almost never finish all of it. The portions here are not America-huge, but the food is more substantial.
And once I got used to the restaurant culture--if you want the waiter's attention, ask for it--I now find the restaurants and cafés to be a relaxed and unhurried experience.
But, in Argentina, if you are cooking at home and looking for a quick and easy vegetable side dish--think peas.


Mia said...

My Grandfather couldn't chew very well (gum disease). He and Granny lived right across from the Disco supermarket, on calle Talcahuano (between Avenida Santa Fe y Arenales). One day Grandpa discovered the frozen mixes (corn, green peas and carrots) which he would mix with mayonesa Hellmann's and lots of black pepper. That was his favorite lunch. He loved the sweetness of the veggies. Granny loathed the stuff. So, if Disco on Talcahuano used to sell frozen veggie mixes back in the early '80s how is it that frozen peas aren't available now? Algún argentino que esté leyendo puede explicar, por favor?

Broccoli used to be available in every supermarket, feria and verdulería.

As I've said a while ago in another comment, to understand why this year Argentine supermarkets are selling such crappy veggies and fruits, you should read Robert Wright's article: "From the source."

Here's an excerpt:
"So what’s the scoop? It seems like price controls are having a very negative effect on the average consumer. By law, supermarkets are prohibited from charging more for basic produce. Seems like in turn they pay their direct suppliers the same as before price controls were put into effect & receive lesser quality goods. Their profit margin is remains as high as before, but the consumer suffers. I hope people wake up before the next election…"

Don't buy your groceries at the supermakets, get them from the ferias or the verdulerías.

At any restaurant, when you order "una ensalada mixta" they'll bring you a tomate, lettuce and onion salad. That's the classic salad Argentines eat with their asado, bifes, milanesas, pollo a la parrilla.

If you are having to specify what you want in a salad, you must be patronizing trendy restaurantes or those who cater mostly to tourists.

The "colchón de arvejas" (literally: mattress of peas) is a traditional dish. An old favorite, made in a frying pan with canned peas in the bottom (that's the mattress part) and a couple of eggs on top. I've tried to make it here with frozen peas and it tasted really bad, too sweet.

Green beans (chauchas), especially broad beans, have always been available. The "ensalada de chauchas" is another old favorite.

And, yes, USAmerican "meat and potato" folk would feel quite at home in the land of the gauchos, provided they bring their own sweet bbq sauces and salad dressings.

Ken and Helen said...

I was referring only to canned vegetables. Yes, there are frozen green beans and broccoli. I used the canned green beans example because it was funny. Maybe not accurate, but funny. I was going for the cheap laugh here. Work with me.

Mia said...

Thing is, Ken, I wouldn't want anybody in the US who reads your blog to believe that "green beans and broccoli are almost unseen" in Buenos Aires because it is more than inaccurate, it's just not true.

Robert Wright says in his article "I used to brag about how good broccoli was here."

Argentina grows the highest quality vegetables, fruits, livestock. It is the politics that suck.

The reason I take the time to comment here is because you are one of the very few USAmericans visiting Argentina who tries to understand the culture, and you are respectful even when you don't quite understand the whys and hows, and because this blog is one of your project's teaching tools. I wouldn't want your non-Argentine readers to get the wrong idea about how things really are in Argentina.

Y siempre con buena onda. Eso es lo importante, amigo Ken.

SFO said...

I've found that even when fresh pea and beans are available, they've been picked when they are old and starchy. The brocolli is always going to seed and turning yellow.

The frozen varieties are better (but still not great). Jumbo has several brands of frozen peas and beans.


Juan said...

Mia, today COTO chain is much better than Disco. Ken IMHO you must try with the COTO in French st. and Av. Pueyrredón. Here you find also a good selection of salads and meals to go. Anyway the best selection on vegetables and fruits are in Verdulerías.
Some tips:
Ensalada Rusa (Russian salad)
Matambre (kill-hungry)
Lengua a la vinagreta
Hígado a la veneciana
Provolone al oreganato (at your local parrilla)
Centolla (our king crab from Ushuaia)if you want to surprise Helen.
Close to Vicente López and Rodriguez Peña look at Mazzeo with the best fresh pasta in town.
Ravioles, Canelones and Lasagna mmm....yum, yum, yum
Mia se que te estoy torturando pero tips son tips :)

Frank.Sugar&Spice said...

Hi Ken,

I agree with some of the commentors here and I also can not comment on the veggies in the supermarket. I always get them from the small veggy stands. We, as a family, frequent the same ones so they know us and we don´t have to tell them to pick the best stuff, they do it automatically and if they know a particular batch is not good they will tell us.

Mia said...

Hola Juan,

How is "hígado a la veneciana" made? I can't remember. I'd kill for a good "kill-hunger" :)

You know, Disco was never good. I used to shop at Norte (Scalabrini Ortiz y Cabello), much better than the Disco on Salguero. There was a COTO nearby (Cerviño y Salguero, I think) but, back then, it was just a butcher shop.

John says he finds nothing but old broccoli and the arvejas and chauchas frescas are always viejas y harinosas, is that your experience as well?

How about the taste of the vegetables and fruits? Do the tomatoes taste like tomatoes or do they taste like water? Do you find ripe fruit full of flavor on the shelves or do you have to buy fruit as hard as wood and leave it to ripen on the kitchen counter for a few days?

Juan said...


Higado a la Veneciana and Kill Hungry recipes here:

Quality of fruits and veggies may vary too much from one shop or market to another so consider some research to find your perfect place.

TangoSpam said...

Broccoli and green beans (chauchas) are available here and they are excellent. Both are at the end of their season right now. You don't seem much canned garbage here because the Argentines like their food fresh.

If you are buying your fruits and veggies in the supermarket that is why the quality is poor. You need to check out the Fruiterias. Coming from the salad bowl of America, I feel the quality here is way better. The fruit really tastes like something here.

To order a salad with everything - lettuce, tomatoes, etc. It is called an "ensalada completa."

Ken and Helen said...

OK guys, let me recap. I am not EATING the canned vegetables, I was commenting on the abundance of canned peas and the lack of alternative choices. I AM eating the fresh vegetables. I was remarking that what I encounter in Coto and Disco is different than what my North American friends and readers encounter at home. I wasn’t complaining, I was pointing out a difference that I found amusing and thought might be of interest to people in the USA.

I saw shelf after shelf of canned peas, and it made me smile. I thought others might have been equally amused. I was not making a value judgement about Argentina produce--just writing about how everyday things can be so different here.

Juan--I do shop at the COTO at French and Av. Pueyrredón. That is where the picture is from.

Juan said...

Ken I understood your effort to illustrate your people in USA.
Of course you have a better selection of choices in any kind of product. You have 300000K market and here is probably 40000K.
And of course we don´t have a strong money in our pockets.
USA (to do country), Argentina (to be country) that is the big difference.

Mia said...

Juan, gracias por los enlaces (acá de le llama simplemente "liver and onions").

tangospam, thank you for confirming what I've been saying all along. So, folks, if a Californian says it, you'd better believe it.

Ken, now you know how popular that "colchón de arvejas" is!

don~a said...

Ken, I think in search of world peas says way more than you really are just "trying to get along", and even when you try to make a joke (which I got & laughed at, and I bet most of us reading from home in Frederick got) it manages to get folks stirred up. Cultural competency sure isn't easy. P.S. Sorry I couldn't figure out how to type a tilde over the n, I was trying to use my high school Spanish with a southern accent name.

Alan Patrick said...

Ken, I also got the joke.

For a visitor from the US or Western Europe (myself the latter), it is a VERY ODD SIGHT to see literally one whole aisle full of canned peas, one whole isle full of crackers, one full of oil, etc... a very surreal sight.

No incisive cultural commentary there, as Ken says, just a funny observation.