Monday, June 1, 2015

Argentina Food Culture and Black Bean & Barley Burgers

I’ve now been in Argentina for several weeks and the immediate culture shock is wearing off. I’m still amazed, but no-longer as shocked that the buses (or boni’s as they’re called) open their doors to let passengers off before coming to a stop, or that they begin moving while passengers are still boarding, or that they often just blow by you without stopping at all for no reason other than the driver just didn’t want to pick you up. Whenever this happens, a smile spreads across M’s face as she says, “Welcome to Buenos Aires,” in her most sarcastic tone. 

Also, currency is a little fluid here. Because the peso is currently so cheap, they really don’t use anything smaller than a one-peso coin. As a result places often round to the nearest peso to make giving change easier.  However, sometimes at some of the small markets, instead of giving change, they try and give you little candies instead. That’s right, their money is so cheap it’s comparable to small tasteless candies. While astonishing, and slightly hilarious, it is troubling that candy is given instead of coins, considering the President (who in my opinion is both delusional as well as dangerous) declared that diabetes is a rich person disease while also saying Argentines should be proud that they are now the world’s largest consumers of Coke. All of this on top of the fact that nearly 60% of the adult population in Argentina is obese.

There have been other really interesting learning moments as well. For instance I’ve stopped saying I’m “from America” or am “an American.” (Soy de America). I’ve stopped doing this not because I’m ashamed to be from the US, or because I’m afraid how people will respond towards me. (While Argentina’s government hasn’t been particularly warm towards the US, the average person has nothing against us.)

Instead Argentino’s find it arrogant that people from the United States use the term “American” to apply solely to themselves. They are also “Americans” in their view. So are people from Uruguay, Mexico, and Canada. In fact, in school they are taught that there is only one American continent, while those who grow up in the US are taught that North and South America are separate. It’s true, I’ve looked this up, and apparently the concept of a continent is a completely unscientific term. Instead I now say “Soy de Estados Unidos” or just tell people I’m from New York – although they insist on calling it “Nueva Chork” (In Argentina the Y makes a CH sound.) I wonder how they would like it if I referred to Buenos Aires as "Good Airs?"

The food culture here is also really different from the one I was use to. In New York, you can literally get any type of food or spice at any time of the year – not to mention you can order anything you want from the internet. Here it is a different story. First off, Argentina remains more of a seasonal eating culture than the US. It’s almost winter, and produce like grapes are very hard to find, and berries are non-existent. The idea of ordering food from the internet seems to be completely foreign to them. Instead we eat what is in season, and M and I and are currently inundated with incredible, and very cheap and delicious squashes, gourdes and other root veggies, which I’ve been enjoying immensely. Except mandiocas… I don’t see how anyone can enjoy these dirty, little, fibre-packed roots…

Veganism and plant-based eating is still pretty unknown here. If I had to guess, I’d say it is roughly 8-10 years behind New York, which, all things considered, isn’t so bad. In fact, I think veganism is more advanced in Buenos Aires than it was in south central Pennsylvania. I was given a “go vegan” leaftlet when I walked passed the National Zoo, and increasingly places and products are advertising as "vegano." There are also two restaurants here that can compete, if not beat, any restaurant in New York  for creativity and flavor – and for ½ the price!

While it is true that much of the Argentine meat is “free-range” even this is starting to change and increasingly (and without much comment in the press, or the publics awareness), their cattle management is being more industrialized. The northern provinces of Argentina, which looks like could be a completely separate country, is a Monsanto powerhouse. GMO soy has become the nations leading export. Much of this soy ultimately fattens animals for consumption in the States.

And if you are thinking there is nothing wrong with that, think again. Not only have cancer rates in Argentina recently doubled according to a report from the Ministry of Health in Cordoba, Argentina, but birth defects in the agricultural regions have also risen. 

See… the decision to consume meat is not only a personal choice but impacts all of us. Just ask California how our consumption of animals is impacting their state. As a result, M and I have put an increased importance on purchasing organically grown food when possible.

All of this said, I love Argentina, besides Spanish, I am learning a lot about their culture and politics and it all fascinates me. The culture is a unique blend of ancient and modern, and Argentina is a physically beautiful nation. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to travel beyond the city soon.

Over the weekend, I invited two new friends over for dinner when M was working a 24 -hour shift. These black bean and barley burgers were on the menu for that night, and they are absolutely delicious. Since they are perfect for a summer-time BBQ, I hope you enjoy them as well!

Black Bean & Barley Burgers
Makes 8 Patties

1 cup black beans or two cans of black beans
1 cup barley* 
½ cup old fashioned oats
3 cloves garlic
1 carrot – chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon ground flax seed
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 bay leaf
¼ - ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
Black pepper and salt to taste

Cook the beans for 30 to 40 minutes in boiling water (if you are using dried beans). Add barley, garlic cloves, bay leaf, and more water (if necessary). Cook until the beans and barley are soft and fully cooked – roughly 30 more minutes. About 8-10 minutes before the beans and barley finish cooking, add the garlic powder, carrot, and turmeric. Cook until the water is fully absorbed.

Transfer the beans and barley with the remaining spices and flax seed to either a blender or food processor. Blend until almost smooth (you want to keep the mixture slightly chunky).

Add the oats and tomato paste and mix well using a strong fork or your hands. Let the mixture sit for 10 -15 minutes. During this time, check the spices and make any necessary adjustments.

Heat a pan while forming patties with your hands. Place each patty in the hot pan and cook for 3-5 minutes before flipping. Repeat until both sides are well browned.

I've learned some traditional Argentine dishes as well, and will be blogging them soon, so be sure to keep checking back!


*Barley contains gluten so these are not suitable for those following a gluten-free diet. Try subbing brown rice for a gluten-free version. 

As always the information presented in this blog is for educational purposes only. It should not be considered as specific medical, nutritional, lifestyle, or other health-related advice.


  1. ha! very fun review of Argentina. Seems like a cool place to visit. Enjoy your time there and stay safe. Also drool....

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  3. I loved reading this article about Argentina. I'm soon going to plan a 5 day stay at Ushuaia. I have heard it is a very cool place for a tourist. If you want to suggest something to a first time traveler to Argentina then what would you suggest?

    Great Journeys
    Argentina Road Map